Book Your Weekend! KLF 2012 is here.

Tomorrow’s a big day for Karachi’s book lovers! The Karachi Literature Festival kicks off at the Carlton Hotel at 9.30 am on Saturday, 11th February, for the third year in a row.

After the success of last year’s event, there’s an even bigger line-up of drool-inducing writers this time, indicating that the KLF is finally coming into its own. William Dalrymple, acclaimed writer but known best in recent times for founding the enormously successful Jaipur Literature Festival, is flying in for the event – a sure thumbs-up to the KLF organisers’ efforts. Another star to look out for is Hanif Kureishi, British-born but with Pakistani family roots, who was named one of Britain’s top writers since 1945 by The Times in 2008 (a good year for South Asian writing in English in general). Kureishi does not make appearances often in Pakistan, so make sure you attend his session. There are a few Indian writers attending the festival this year, but the one we’re most excited about is the utterly charming Vikram Seth who’s re-entered the writing scene with a bang recently.

A welcome addition to this year’s festival is also Anatol Lieven, a known expert on international conflict and author of the recently released ‘Pakistan: A Hard Country’. His presence ought to help hoist the standard of discussion at current affairs sessions to a higher level. One writer who will be conspicuous in his absence will be late journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, author of ‘Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11′, the controversial book that many believe he was murdered for. We’re hoping that Shahzad’s a contender for the KLF’s book prize this year, which is awarded for the best non-fiction title of the last twelve months. A book worth dying for is worthy of a prize, or at least a special mention.

One disappointment in this year’s schedule is that, apart from one session featuring Ayesha Jalal, there seems to be no marking as such of 2012 being Manto’s centennial year. With a special theatre performance for Dickens’s 200th birthday, we feel Manto Sahib deserved a bit more attention.

No peeves apart from that; our usual favourites will be present at the KLF, including M. Hanif (who caused near stampedes of admiring female fans at the Jaipur

One of M. Hanif's many adoring fans at Jaipur

Literature Festival), Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid and Bilal Tanweer, among others. We’re particularly looking forward to seeing the screening of Meherjaan, the film that has caused an uproar in Bangladesh for showing a love affair between a Pakistani soldier (played by Omar Rahim) and a Bengali woman during the 1971 war.

Cancel your plans, folks, because that sounds like one helluva weekend.


Karachi Literature Festival – Day 1 contd.

By the end of the first day, the festival was running well behind schedule. Mics weren’t working, sessions were starting up to an hour late and audiences were getting fidgety. Fortunately, an amazing aura of excitement continued to surround the hotel, so while there was some annoyance amongst the festival goers, no one really cared for too long. In retrospect, it’s quite possible that the organizers just didn’t plan for so many people to attend the event and got overwhelmed with the response. Some of the sessions were crammed to maximum hall capacity, particularly the Works in Progress session at the end of the first day.
This session was going to be a crowd puller from the start. The US embassy, which was a major partner in organizing this year’s KLF, had brought together quite the celeb group at one table: Ali Sethi (The Wish Maker), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), H.M. Naqvi (Home Boy), M. Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Sunil Sethi (The Big Book Shelf). I don’t think anyone was expecting anything really solid to come out of this little sitting; for most of the fans sitting there, it was probably just a chance to kill five birds with one stone. Considering that, one still managed to walk away with some interesting little nuggets from the aforementioned writers.
Ali Sethi was the youngest and the most intense member of the panel. Everything about him was geared to create an impression, from the stark rims on his glasses right down to the dramatic way in which he read out passages from texts about religious minorities in Pakistan. Evidently the writer still most concerned with ‘finding himself’, Sethi spoke passionately about the need to know one’s social reality and to figure out what one’s ‘social and economic inheritance’ was. His investigations into violence against religious minorities were driven by this same need to understand events as they unfolded around him; a process that his idealistic education abroad did not prepare him for, he said. Writing could help you decide what you believed in, said Sethi. This was an interesting turn from what one had normally heard, which was that you inevitably put to paper what already exists in your head and heart.
Daniyal Mueenuddin was by the far the most relaxed person sitting at the table. Leaning back comfortably for the most part, he listened with careful (though at times incredulous) attention to the rest of the panelists. He was adamant that writing was play for him – that he sat down to write when he wanted a break from real life. This stood out in sharp relief from the others’ descriptions of the writing process. M. Hanif, for example, spoke about the sense of loss that he felt when he was done writing a book: as if ‘an old friend or lover you’ve quarreled with every day has suddenly upped and left’. “I think all writers are mad,” Hanif grinned. “What kind of person sits in a corner and makes up stories and expects to be taken seriously?”
Sunil Sethi then followed with the opinion that all writing was ‘a hardship post’… by which point Mueenuddin, who’d clearly had enough of all the intensity, was compelled to sit up and disagree. Somehow, listening to him speak, one understood why he felt this way. Daniyal Mueenuddin’s work thrives on honesty and simple statements of fact. Nothing is strange in his world. The entire strength behind his debut novel was its easy, un-judging frankness. So yes, if I were to imagine Mueenuddin working at his desk, the image would not be of a tortured artist wringing his hands over the multiple layers of meaning hidden behind every sentence; it would be more a picture of a slightly relieved man writing his diary after a day of not quite being himself.
It was Hussain Naqvi who brought the whole picture back into perspective.“The production of prose becomes incidental,” he said. “Being a writer means negotiating life, family, making a living; and producing something that resonates within you as well as with others.” While Ali Sethi’s write-or-die attitude was infectious and Mueenuddin’s writing-is-play approach made sense, it was probably Naqvi’s exposition of the process that summed up the reality of being a career writer most effectively.

This Business of Books – KLF 2011

The Karachi Literature Festival (5th and 6th February 2011) has followed fast on the footsteps of its counterpart in Jaipur and, some say, has held its own against larger, better funded literary events elsewhere in the sub-continent. With an impressive array of authors in attendance even in its nascent stages (Kamila Shamsie, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Ali Sethi, Hussain Naqvi, Mohammad Hanif and Mohsin Hamid, to name a handful), the festival has boldly sent out an important message to the literary community within and outside Pakistan: We can do this, and we can do it well.
The festival is being attended by a contingent from DWL, mainly: Hamdan Malik, Jalal Habib Curmally, Batool Habib, Afia Aslam, Faraz Mirza and Madiha Riaz. Perhaps more than a learning experience, this has been a fantastic networking opportunity for DWL and Papercuts. We have distributed our signature yellow flyers promoting Vol. 7 and have brought the magazine to the attention of many authors at the event, ranging from the newbies on the scene to the biggest names in the industry. 
Keep watching this space for news on how the festival went! We’re going to start compiling it for you as soon as it rolls to an end on Sunday, the 6th of February.