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.

Karachi Literature Festival – A DWLer’s observations

This entry has been submitted by Hamdan Malik.

Day 1: Confused, anxious, even shivering slightly.
My first KLF sitting was the Zulfikar Ghose writing workshop, which was quite interesting even if more of a lecture than a workshop. Some of what he discussed had already been advised on the DWL forums. He encouraged writers to write with brevity and recklessness and insisted on avoiding generalization and abstract notions.
At the end of the session, I met Jalal, Batool, Afia and Faraz. After a few minutes of chitchat, they ordered lunch and I took a zuhar break.
Returned to attend “Kia Urdu parhney waley kam hotey ja rahe hain” late and was sure I won’t find a place to sit, but all went well for me since they’d had technical difficulties and were running a half hour late. 
The session started with Ms. Arfa Sayeda Zehra apologizing for the delay in very pure, refined Urdu. After a few initial remarks, she handed the floor to panel members – interrupting only when the discussion veered too far off its course. It was pointed out that regional languages were facing the same problems across the Indo-Pak region as Urdu; various causal factors were put to light. One of the problems noted was the print and binding method used here; others were more abstract like natural birth and death of languages.
Day 2: Ego, anger, compassion and conclusion.
“A talk on Sufism with a foreign majority panel… this should be interesting,” I said to myself. It was interesting but to be honest I felt the only thing they did was to endorse contemporary mazaar culture and very safely ignored the real essence of tasawwuf . I had a question for Wasim Frembgen that I tried to ask in the lecture but they didn’t have the time to field it then.
Came back after Zuhar to find Afia distributing flyers. Then she had to buy a book and at the bookstall we bumped into fellow DWLer Madiha. We went back to the same table where we were sitting the day before and started chatting with some people who were sharing the table with us. They left after a while and we still hadn’t placed our order before Afia started running around again, trying to catch celebrities to milk interviews out of them. Finally, we had coffee and a short while later I spotted Wasim Frembgen and had my questions answered. It didn’t change what I thought of the Sufism talk, but we finished off nicely with a walk to Karen Armstrong’s lecture.

We’re Back!

So that didn’t take too long! We’re back online after having switched to our new host. The forums are up and running and within the next day or so, Papercuts will finally be available on its permanent address www.desiwriterslounge.net/papercuts.

Meanwhile, watch out for the next installment of Vol 7 material, coming your way on February 15th!

We are grateful for your patronage and your patience during the host switching.

– The DWL Team

Website down for maintenance

Hi everyone,

Just an update that the DWL website is undergoing maintenance right now. We hope to be back online within 24 hours. Till then, you can always head over to the temporary Papercuts site www.paper.takhleek.com and read the latest issue and comment on the pieces.

We’ll see you soon!

The DWL Team

Karachi LitFest – Day 1

Well into the first half (okay, the first paragraph) of this blogpost, a nasty little strain of Karachi fever came around to make my acquaintance. It started with a pain in the legs that, in the subsequent delirium of the fever, was misdiagnosed by me as a blood sugar surge (this assessment also had something to do with the fact that I’d guiltily consumed half a tub of pure, Swiss chocolate ice cream just minutes earlier). It was only after I’d groaned to Shehla that I’d finally given myself diabetes and had started preparing for my final farewells that a well-timed cup of chai parted the heavy curtains of delirium and showed me that I was simply running a temperature.
Yes, Lipton can do that.
Anyway, the fever’s been beat and we’re back to the real blog entry! As we’d mentioned earlier, there was a DWL contingent at the Karachi Literature Festival 2011, which kicked off on the 5th of February at the charming little Carlton Hotel in DHA Phase VIII. One look and you knew that the programme was an ambitious one. The organisers had divided the day into one-hour sessions running simultaneously across several of the hotel’s halls. This meant that attending one session almost always entailed missing out on another promising one, which was frustrating but also made one feel like one was pleasantly spoilt for choice.
It was evident that the ‘celebrity author’ card had been played to pull in the crowds and that the strategy had worked amazingly: an enormous number of people attended the event and there was a fantastic buzz throughout. The true success of a literature festival probably depends on its ability to create that vibe, trumping other more obvious indicators such as the number of books being launched or sometimes even the quality of the discussion. For two days, one could have contentedly sat in the central café area of the Carlton and soaked in the charged conversations for hours without getting bored or attending a single session. It also helped that after every twenty unknown faces you’d see a famous one. (I’m a celebrity junkie… now stop raising your eyebrow and move on.)
Those of us who were there the first day were excited about attending the creative writing workshop by Zulfikar Ghose. If you’re interested in creative writing, here are some of the lessons we took away from that session.
Probably the most valuable thing that Mr. Ghose tried to drum into our heads was to ditch the nonsense and get straight to the point. He spoke in some detail about the model of the traditional, well-made story as exemplified by Anton Chekhov’s work and shared some golden ‘rules’ of writing stories (all the while insisting that there were no rules, btw) that Chekhov himself had penned in his time.
The key thing about this form of writing is that it is pretension-free and doesn’t beat around the bush. Clarity and brevity are the order of the day, and the skillful storyteller is expected to steer clear of abstract words, generalizations and subjective assessments. Consequently, Mr. Ghose himself seemed to be a little wary of a stream of consciousness approach, which lends itself more easily to the dreaded abstractions, biases and generalizations that Chekhov warned against. He seemed to be more in favour of a good, old fashioned story, written with complete objectivity and brimming with expectation, continous action and ‘fluid movement’.
Not to worry, though, as achieving this is not as difficult as it sounds. Mr. Ghose made a simple and (I thought) utterly gorgeous articulation of what we as writers set out to do. In his opinion, writing is nothing more than a formula of language to understand the world around us. In other words, everything is an ongoing story… you just need to figure out how to get it down on paper. And for this, you don’t need an idea or a great Point to get started; you could just as well begin with an image. After that, stay with objective description and the rest will take care of itself, said Mr. Ghose. Aim for clear images, cliché-free messages and none of the tedium of lengthy, overly descriptive paragraphs.
The technique he suggested for this was to imagine that you, the writer, are a camera and that you can only see as much as the lens will show you. Move from character to object to situation, describing things as you see them. Weave background information into that description, thus allowing the reader to absorb the details at a subconscious level without being hammered over the head with them (we keep saying this on the DWL forums as well: show, don’t tell). Aim to create an image that will convey a larger story, basically, and that will give the reader subtle insights into the plot.
There’s a hilarious example here from a short story that he was reading out to the workshop group (A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor). The writer describes the character of the mother as ‘a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears’. To compare a face to a cabbage was odd, to say the least, Mr. Ghose pointed out to us. But could she have done it any better? Probably not, in my humble opinion, because the cabbage says it all. It implies that the young woman’s face wasn’t radiantly innocent as the face of a saint may be, rather it was bland and insipid. Right from the first sentence on her, we get the feeling that this is a woman who lacks character. Another thing our workshop moderator pointed out was that no woman in the West would wear a head-kerchief unless she was bald (unlikely in this case as the woman was young) or her hair was unwashed! Suddenly, the young mother was sketched out clearly in front of us and we knew exactly what kind of person was being introduced here, all with the help of a cabbage reference and a hair accessory.
Mr. Zulfikar Ghose highly recommended reading O’Connor’s story, incidentally, as a perfect example of a narrative with continuous action. For an alternative look at restrained characterization, he pointed to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. As general reading, he suggested that any aspiring writers go through Henry James’ famous essay, titled The Art of Fiction.

Hope you enjoyed reading this and got something out of it. God knows it took long enough to write! Next we’ll be posting a more informal entry by Hamdan Malik, one of our DWLers who was present at the festival and who proved amazingly adept at dragging unwilling waiters to our table to take down the order!

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.