“I’ve been in a rickshaw”: Some critical reflections on the Karachi Literature Festival 2011

Related post: Comparing Karachi Literature Festival 2012 with Difa-e-Pakistan Conference

Was the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) a gathering of the urban elite and their middle class flatterers (aka Fake Civil Society) and their foreign donors to (mis)appropriate Pakistani culture and literature? Seen from a ‘Peasants for Democracy‘ perspective, it seems that rural and poor Pakistanis were unwelcome in this event. In this post, I offer some extracts from various articles and reports to highlight the not so publicized dimensions of the Karachi Literature Festival 2011. (AN)


Who kidnapped Karachi Literature Festival?

When I attended the Karachi Literature Festival last year, I thought that this could be the platform or the bridge to bring our two classes, elite and common man, close to each other and help them to make friendship.

While I totally forgot that our elite class does not want to sit with a man chewing pan and wearing simple shalwar suit, the common man who sometimes smell, smell of human’s sweat which comes after the hard labor.

The elite class, who have stolen everything from common man, his happiness, hope, love, even reason of life.

This time common man does not even know what has been stolen from him because he didn’t even know that what was there in the Karachi Literature Festival for him because he was not invited even though entries were free.

And let’s suppose by spending his one weeks pay, he somehow could manage to hire a cab to come so far away. Honestly speaking there was nothing in the Karachi Literature Festial for him.

The writers present in the Karachi Literature Festival don’t write for common man.

Actually they didn’t even know that they are now “writer” until they reached Pakistan few days ago.

The columnists present in Karachi Literature Festival don’t think that Pakistan needs anything…they think that the whole purpose of human race of Pakistan now is to kill, condemn, terrorism, otherwise all is well.

This Literature Festival does not represent Pakistan, not Karachi, not even literature.

I remember when I was a little girl I used to buy small story books of almost ten to fifteen pages with weird pictures on the cover. They cost almost rupees one to five. I used to buy it from my pocket money.

Even those writers were better than the ones present in the Karachi Literature Festival, having whole half an hour session on their writing and books.

But just because they wrote their books while living in UK,USA, they are the best writers.

The writers on which whole Pakistan should brag. They are the pride, the grace of Pakistan.

Karachi Literature Festival is a festival, there is no doubt about it, but a festival for elite class only.

The reason behind the creation of Karachi Literature Festival is to create, generate another occasion for elite class, to make new dresses, to make appointments for beauty saloons, to look beautiful and rich, and happy too.

They are bridging gap of course but from rich to… hmm…more rich people.

And the same, simple hearted, poor, common man, tonight will see on his 14 inch television so many news about Karachi Literature Festival, where he would see that people with shining eyes and glittering ear rings were saying the same repeated words.

“aaa…aaammmm….this is the best literature festival….aa…ammm…and it should continue….aaa…aaammm…I am so happy to attend the festival….aaa….this is the best way to bridge the gap between our apart classes….aaammm….this sure will portray Pakistan as an educated country…aaammmm….I am so much thankful to the ….. and…..to organizers of this festival.”

And after viewing and hearing the same repeated words again and again the common man will change television’s channel, a channel where he can see and hear

Munni badnaam hoi, Darling tere leye!

Source: Thinking


I’ve been in a rickshaw

Inevitably in a country where mastery of English remains the preserve of the elite, who often live more luxuriously than the middle classes in the West and where the poor struggle on less than a dollar a day, there were cries of elitism.

While the event was free to all, sponsored by the British Council, Oxford University Press and USAID, some complained it was not on the public bus route.

US-educated novelist Bina Shah, whose new book “Slum Child” was snapped up like hotcakes, was asked how difficult she found it to write about a slum when she herself did not use public transport or go out to work.

“I’ve been in a rickshaw!” she hit back.

“My experience of a slum is obviously going to be different. It should convince you enough that a slum person could have told the story,” she said.

Source: Dawn


“US-educated” local writers and the slums story line

I really wish our “US-educated” local writers find some thing over and above the slums story line. It has been done to death and given the writer has no real connection to such lives, it does sound like a bit of cheap western oriented book peddling. I would have a lot more respect for some one who actually lives in slum or for that matter outside the elitist area, write a book with a genuine touch to it, and get to make it to broader audience without the elitist connections. Now THAT would be real literary merit.

Source: Saima (Dawn)


Where is the common man?

کراچی لٹریچر فیسٹول اختتام پذیر

انور سِن رائے
بی بی سی اردو ڈاٹ کام، کراچی

گزشتہ سال کی طرح اس سال بھی سندھ کے دارالحکومت کراچی میں کراچی لٹریچر فیسٹیول ہوا۔ سنیچر سے شروع ہونے والا یہ دو روزہ ادبی میلہ اتوار کی رات ختم ہو گیا

میلے کا انعقاد برٹش کونسل اور آکسفرڈ یونیورسٹی پریس اور آصف فرخی نے باہمی تعاون سے کیا تھا

میلے میں شریک اردو کی ممتاز شاعرہ اور ادیب کشور ناہید نے میلے کے بارے میں کہا کہ اس بار میلہ پہلے کے مقابلے میں دو گنا ہے۔ ’پہلے دو دو سیشن ایک ساتھ ہوتے تھے لیکن اب چار چار ہو رہے ہیں لیکن ہوا یہ ہے کہ انگریزی بولنے اور سمجھنے والے ایک طرف ہو گئے ہیں اور اردو بولنے اور سمجھنے والے ایک طرف ہو گئے ہیں۔ جو ایک پُل بننا چاہیے دونوں طرف کے لکھنے والوں کا وہ نہیں بن پا رہا۔‘

’دوسری اہم بات یہ ہے کہ اردو میں پچاس پچاس، ساٹھ ساٹھ اور اسی اسی برس کے لکھنے والے جن کی تحریروں کی کشید ہم نے ساری عمر پڑھی ہے ان کے مقابلے میں انگریزی کے ایک ایک کتاب لکھنے والے کو بہت اونچا اٹھایا جا رہا ہے۔‘

کشور ناہید نے اندیشہ ظاہر کیا کہ یہ چیز کہیں ان کے احساسِ تفاخر کو اتنا اونچا نہ کر دے کہ آگے لکھنے سے ہی چلے جائیں۔ پھر اس میں کراچی کی ایلیٹ زیادہ ہے۔‘

کراچی آرٹس کونسل کے صدر احمد شاہ نے میلے کے انعقاد کا خیر مقدم کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ اس بار میلے کے فرانسیسی اور امریکی سفارت خانوں نے بھی میلے کے انعقاد میں برٹش کونسل اور آکسفرڈ یونیورسٹی کی مدد کی ہے اور کراچی میں تو ہو تو ضرور رہا ہے لیکن یہ کراچی کے عام آدمی کی رسائی میں نہیں ہے۔

’لیکن باہر سے آنے والے ادیبوں کی وجہ سے ان کی کچھ دشواریاں ہیں جس کی وجہ شہر کے بیچوں بیچ واقع آرٹس کونسل جیسے جگہ میں اس انعقاد ان کے شاید ساز گار نہ ہو لہٰذا شہر کے جو نسبتاً زیادہ لکھنے پڑھنے والے ہیں وہ قدرے کم ہیں اور انگریزی والا طبقہ زیادہ ہے لیکن اس بار کی شرکت پچھلے سال کے مقابلے میں بہت زیادہ ہے لیکن اس سے یقیناً لوگ ادب کی طرف راغب ہوں گے۔ اس لیے یہ انتہایی خوش آئند ہے۔‘

اردو کے افسانہ نگار اور سینئر صحافی اخلاق احمد کا کہنا تھا کہ کہنے کو تو بہت سے شکایتیں ہیں کہ کچھ سیشن وقت پر نہیں ہوئے اور وہ جنہیں اس طرح کی تقریبات میں ہونا چاہیے نہیں آ سکے، کچھ انتظامی اور کچھ معیاری دشواریاں بھی رہیں لیکن کراچی جیسے شہر میں جس پر گویا ایک مہر سی لگا دی گئی ہے کہ بدنظمی اور دہشت گردی کا شہر ہے جس میں ادب سے تعلق رکھنے اور ادب کو چاہنے والے لوگ دور دور سے آئیں اور دو دن تک ایک سرشاری میں رہیں۔

ان کا بھی کہنا تھا کہ ’کاش یہ میلہ کسی ایسے مقام پر ہوتا جس میں عام آدمی کی شرکت کی گنجائش ہوتی۔‘

Source: BBC Urdu

کراچی کے ساحل کے قریب پوش علاقہ میں واقع کارلٹن ہوٹل گذشتہ روز سے لوگوں کی توجہ کا مرکز بنا ہوا ہے جہاں مصنفین ، نوآموز لکھاری ، طالب علم اور کتابوں کے شوقین خواتین و حضرات جوق در جوق کراچی لٹریچر فیسٹیول کا رخ کر رہے ہیں۔ دو روزہ کراچی لٹریچر فیسٹیول کا انعقاد برٹش کونسل، آکسفورڈ یونیورسٹی پریس اور یو ایس ایڈ کے اشتراک سے کیا گیا ہے

Source: VOA

فیسٹیول میں جس چیز کو سب سے زیادہ محسوس کیا گیا وہ اردو کے مقابلے میں انگریزی ادب سے تعلق رکھنے والی شخصیات کی کثرت سے شرکت تھی۔ ناقدین کی رائے ہے کہ اگر فیسٹیول کا انعقاد عام شہری مقام پر کیا جاتا تو اس سے عام شہریوں کی زیادہ بڑی تعداد مستفید ہوسکتی تھی۔

Source: DW

18 responses to ““I’ve been in a rickshaw”: Some critical reflections on the Karachi Literature Festival 2011”

  1. The best literature festivals in Pakistan happen at the mausoleums of Rahman Baba, Data Ganj Bakhsh and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar where we can see thousands and thousands of smelly, hungry men and women appreciating poetry and music which is as attached to the land as those people themselves.

  2. “I’ve been in a rickshaw!” she hit back.

    almost has a let them have cakes ring to it

  3. well see the pictures of the festival, the people attending and the speakers/moderators. They are the elitist (if not elite already) of our country.

  4. Urdu writer Kishwar Naheed, who is known for her works on feminism, had a rather stern tone and she started with an almost complaint. Referring to Mohammed Hanif, who was also on the panel, Naheed argued that the younger generation is disconnected with old literature; literature that was written by people who had experienced certain events firsthand that were later told as secondary content by authors like Hanif.

    “We were the ones who experienced the events, and authors like Hanif wrote about them,” she explained, saying that now the youth relates to his work but fails to read the older literature.

    The writer said that what the sessions at the festival should have aimed to achieve was to make people like Intizar Hussain, a popular Urdu writer, and Mohammed Hanif sit in one room and bring literature from both languages together.
    “We have to bridge the gap between old writings and new writings, else we will always have a parallel system,” she said.

    Naheed pointed out that such festivals which were focused on English and Urdu literature were not fulfilling the purpose of bridging divides as there were no writers belonging to other languages – Pashtu, Balochi, Sindhi – present in the room. She emphasised on future festivals being held in areas where they are accessible for such people as well.

    If the panellists were not enough to digress, there were enough people in the audience who pointed out other divides they thought were more important. For instance, a gentleman remarked that at this juncture, addressing the divide between extremism and liberalism would have been more appropriate, while another member of the audience pointed to the fact that Pakistan itself was a product of a division, which later on was partitioned even more, and so could not achieve any sort of bridging.

    Towards the end, while there were several suggestions given to solve the varying divides facing Pakistan today, one thing was sure: there were a lot of divides.

    Karachi Literature Festival: Too many divides to bridge
    By Ali Syed


  5. ‘Bridging divides’, as the name suggests, was about a certain disparity within the Pakistani society, perhaps religion vs secularism, moderation vs extremism, or even the gaps that have grown between Pakistan and India.
    However, what could not be deducted for sure was what divide would be talked about. Interestingly, when the session went underway, it became clear that it was not just the audience that was faced with this mystery – each panellist chose to shed light on a divide of their choice.
    English and Urdu
    Writer and blogger Raza Rumi, who was moderating the discussion, began by taking the audience back to the first Karachi Literature Festival and how it was criticised for mainly revolving around literature in the English language and not laying any emphasis on Urdu writings and thought. He spoke about how there are a number of perceptions about Urdu and English writers who differ in style and message, which are perhaps shaped by their location, audience expectation and differing experiences. While Urdu writers are expected to be more connected to the people, there is a general perception that English writers mostly construct their work abroad.
    Rumi passed on the mic to the first panellist with a concluding line to his introduction: “If these divides exist, we have to see whether there is even a possibility to remove them. And, if not, should they really be criticised for being different?”

    Divides within society

    Rukhsana Ahmed, known for her translations including a book by Naheed, decided to take the discussion even further away from what Rumi had started with. Ahmed mainly spoke about the racial, ethnic and religious divides that exist in the world. “I thought the discussion was going to be about bridging divides between people, knowing how fractured Pakistan is,” she said.

    Ahmed said that she, in her works, had always used literature to bridge differences and that any literature that does not aim to do so is “irrelevant to humankind.” She gave an example of people who fight over the method of cooking daal. “You can either dwell on the differences or you can empathise with their hunger or appreciation of food.”

    The haves and the have-nots

    Mohammad Hanif, author of “The case of exploding mangoes”, started his talk with the “daal” example used by Ahmed earlier. “Instead of talking about people who cook daal differently, the more important divide exists between those who have daal and those who don’t,” he said.

    Also responding to Naheed’s argument about the divide between old and new literature, Hanif argued “the divide is there and not there at the same time. If people hadn’t read the old literature in the first place, how would they be able to write about it?”

    The author said that the gap between the rich and the poor was constantly rising and while in the past it was possible to get by with what little one had, it was becoming increasingly difficult. Referring to the importance of tolerance pointed out by Ahmed, Hanif said that he did not see people achieving it as one cannot ask a hungry man who has nothing to eat, to be tolerant towards someone who has a full belly.


  6. I, too, had a couple of celebrity encounters. Mohammed Hanif asked me if I knew where the bathroom was. [LUCKY CHAP]

    And the highlight of my literature festival experience was watching former Ambassador to the UK Maleeha Lodhi eat a biscuit while deftly using her handbag as a napkin at a session. I was also able to acquire a flyer from a civil society group which seemed not to have realised that everyone in the room was probably already bickering amongst themselves on its listserv. [CFD?]

    For the most part, though, I was oblivious to my surroundings. After I read on Twitter that MNA Farahnaz Ispahani was going to be attending, I excitedly told a friend that she was on her way. With a withering look that combined pity and amusement, my friend informed me that I had been chatting to a former boss of mine at the same time as Ispahani.[THE PATRON IN CHIEF OF FAKE CIVIL SOCIETY?]

    There were books and authors there too.[REALLY?]

    Failing to schmooze at the Karachi LitFest


  7. At one point on the first day of the Karachi Literature Festival, a man came up to me and asked if I was a novelist. Since scribbling a few hundred words on politics or sports is about as much as I can handle, I told him I wasn’t a writer. Undeterred, he then wanted to know if I was an organiser. Nope again.

    By now the man should have realised that he was wasting his time on a clearly unimportant person. But he was intrepid. “Aah, so you’re an enthusiast,” he beamed. He then whipped out a business card that identified him as an Author/Campaigner/Consultant and said, “If you are ever on the internet check out my blog.”

    Since I have watched American Psycho many times and memorised this scene, I have steadfastly refused to ever carry a business card. That made me an outlier at the Karachi Literature Festival. Books were an afterthought.


  8. Hmmm … next time KLF ppl should deffinately invite those PPP jiyalas (from the masses) who are on record condoning taseer’s murder. So let’s have a post on that too.

    And, oh, yes, let’s also call masses from the constituincies of all those PPP MNAs and PM, who offered their asses to the mullahs by backtracking on the Blasphamey Law issue.

    Sorry to say but this article smacks of that typical petty-bourgoise pretence of being a lover of the masses. Is this all what you had to say about a creative event that took place in this day and age of fire and hate?

    Kindly keep your shodapan to yourself, and btw, I am convinced you too are as clueless as that literati bimbo, Bina Shah, as to exectly what constitutes a slum.

    And, uff, that Nadir Hassan guy. Yet another NFP wannabe.

  9. @Seven

    “those PPP jiyalas (from the masses) who are on record condoning taseer’s murder”

    For example?

  10. KLF, fancy….what I would like to ask is how much is average price of a book in Pakistan? is it affordable by an average Pakistani? How many libraries are in our country? that question may sound strange (on a country scale), but I really want to know; and number of books in an average library, average number of members of a moderate library, topics on which books are available, facilities.
    May sound strange, these questions, and yes I can be mocked around, but I really want to know.
    Has anyone discussed the ground realities of the literary scene in Pakistan? no one tells me that.

  11. Zahida Hina’s comment about Pakistani intellectuals being a tribe of liberal fascists was quickly sidelined and dismissed. Perhaps this was because the audience had never read about the term at college in Massachusetts.

    When the audience were such convinced progressives, who was the festival meant to liberalise? As I left the hotel, I walked past a car with its front window rolled down. Waiting for the owner, the driver reclined on the seat. Blaring from the speakers was an Urdu sermon in a Pashto accent, enlightening us in simple, yet powerful tones about what awaited us in heaven or else in hell.

    “Ye festival awaam ka kuch naheen bigaar saka”

    I thought, not knowing whether to feel distress or relief.

    Our little social clique of an ‘intelligentsia’ has just no idea how irrelevant their little debates are to everyone else. This is the time of fear. We package and sell fear eloquently, convincing foreign embassies to give funds to spread the message of love (for them) and peace (not stand up to them) which we spend on fun little parties.

    So what? It’s good.

    At least, some genuinely good writers get a side room to display their talents and true lovers of poetry got a chance to discover them.

    Karachi Lit Fest: Liberalising the liberals
    Zahra Sabri
    Express Tribune

  12. That’s right Abdul. next day they should replace KLF with Karachi Naat & Masia Festival for the ‘masses.’

  13. Nothing wrong with Naat and Marsiya. They are part of Pakistani culture and literature.

    Watch this video, particularly at 2:30. Let’s hope this crowd was invited to the KLF

  14. دوسرے لوگوں کے ساتھ جب میں ’مہاراجہ‘ ہال سے باہر نکل رہا تو مجھے اپنے پیچھے سے یہ جملہ سنائی دیا ’یہ اردو اور اردو بولنے والے ختم کیوں نہیں ہو جاتے؟‘۔

    میں نے مڑ کر دیکھا تو ایک نوجوان اپنے ساتھی سے مخاطب تھا۔

    میں نے پوچھا: کیا مطلب؟

    نوجوان کو سوالیہ نظروں سے اپنی طرف دیکھتے ہوئے میں نے کہا کہ آپ نے ابھی جو کہا ہے کہ ’یہ اردو اور اردو بولنے والے ختم کیوں نہیں ہو جاتے؟‘۔

    کہنے لگے: جی ہاں۔ اب دیکھیے نا، یہ سارا ہجوم یہاں جمع ہے اس میں کتنے لوگوں کا اردو سے لینا دینا ہے۔ یہ انگریزی کے لوگ ہیں اور ان میں سے جن کی مادری زبان اردو بھی ہو گی انہوں نے بھی کوشش کی ہو گی کہ ان کے بچے اگر اردو بولیں بھی تو انگریزی ہی میں بولیں کیونکہ جناب سب کچھ تو انگریزی بولنے سے ہی ملتا ہے اب اگر ہم جیسے جن کے ماں باپ انگریزی پڑھانے کے متحمل نہیں ہو سکتے، جو انگریزی بولنے والوں کا بوجھ اٹھاتے ہیں ختم ہو جائیں اور سارے انگریزی والے ہی رہ جائیں کیونکہ یہ تو ہو نہیں سکتا کہ سارے اردو والے ہو جائیں تو پھر پتہ چلے کہ صلاحیت کیا ہوتی ہے۔ عارفہ سید نے ٹھیک ہی کہا کہ اردو ہماری بدنصیبانہ وراثت ہے۔

    ’اردو ختم کیوں نہیں ہو جاتی‘

    انور سِن رائے


  15. Selling Faiz to the rich for Rs1,000
    March 5, 2011

    Having different Faiz days for different classes is unimaginable.
    Lahore’s mall road was as crowded as always. Beyond the zooming vehicles and amongst the old silent trees, I saw him walking slowly on a footpath.

    There was something dramatic about the old man’s appearance. He reminded me of realist Soviet paintings; ragged dusty clothes, long gray hair, wrinkled face and clutching a small piece of scarlet, a little red flag. He was heading towards the Alhamra Art Complex which was covered with life sized posters of the legendary socialist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

    The poet’s centenary celebrations were about to begin and the parking lot was almost full. The old man stood there for a short while and looked at the smiling photograph of the poet. He entered the main gate and headed towards the hall.

    It was full of ‘cultured’-looking men and women who walked in with a superior attitude. But while I saw all of those well-dressed, well-spoken people enter the old man kept standing outside. The guards would not let him enter.

    He remained there until the gates were closed and the hall echoed with the familiar words of Faiz Hum dekhaingey (We shall see).

    But the old man never saw anything!

    When the audience left the hall they chattered cheerfully. They sounded excited to have seen VIPs from Bollywood. I heard an elderly gentleman say:

    “We’ll drink late into the night. It’s Faiz’s birthday after all!”

    I saw the old man was still sitting on the stairs. “They asked me to buy a ticket to enter. I don’t have a thousand rupees,” said the poor working class admirer of the working class poet.

    “I came from Faisalabad to celebrate the 100th birthday of our beloved poet,” he added.

    I found out his name was Rahmat, a power loom worker, who, like thousands of others, could not afford to enter that high society gathering dedicated to the proletarian poet Faiz.

    A celebration of the man who fought against class distinction all his life was clearly divided into classes.

    Ammar Aziz


  16. BinaShah Bina Shah
    Who are the people behind Critical PPP, the web site?

    sanasaleem Sana Saleem
    @BinaShah PPP supporters, they do social media for PPP. Backed by Fauzia Wahab.

    sanasaleem Sana Saleem
    @BinaShah On twitter, don’t want to tag you with them, but have met them at conf.

    BinaShah Bina Shah
    They’re incredibly crazy. They keep calling me a fake urban liberal (I’m a Sindhi feudal’s daughter!!!). @sanasaleem

    BinaShah Bina Shah
    When they say someone is a “fake” liberal they mean they actually support Deep State. @Anomaly_777 @sanasaleem

    BinaShah Bina Shah
    @sanasaleem Are they PPP members, or are they “critical” of PPP?

    sanasaleem Sana Saleem
    @BinaShah They called @abbasnasir59 a Shia phobe and the likes of Malik Ishaq. Have lost it.

    BhaiChod Bhai Chod
    @sanasaleem PANDAAAAA #fromcutestsanta2pandaaaaaa 😀 #SanaSaleemDps: Inspiring warm, gushy, “aiee” feelings on my twitterverse

    sanasaleem Sana Saleem
    @BhaiChod Thank you thank you thank you 😀 lots of love!! HUG!

    BinaShah Bina Shah
    @weareourdesires Who is the Aman Committee?

    Repatriated Aly
    @BinaShah Lyari based PPP support group, previously headed by Rehman Dakait, mainly Baloch in KHI @weareourdesires

    BinaShah Bina Shah
    Oh that explains their whole “Shia, Baloch” spiel. @Repatriated @weareourdesires

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