By Fatima Hafsa Malik, DWL Events Coordinator, Lahore
When I decided to attend Khayaal Network’s literature and art festival a couple of weeks ago, I expected to enjoy myself.
What I didn’t expect was to be blown away.
A two-day event at Al-Hamra Theatre, it lived up to its promise, at least for me.
Regrettably, I could not attend on Sunday but the four sessions that I did attend were nothing short of brilliant. I could only make it to the afternoon sessions after work and so when I walked into Hall 1 at 2.30 or so, Mira Sethi’s session with Mohsin Hamid was already underway.
Mohsin is one of my favourite Pakistani authors and his was a talk that I had been looking forward to the most when I saw the schedule. And he did not disappoint. He was supposed to talk about English fiction and the Pakistani imagination, but he and Mira covered so much more. When asked which one of his three novels was his personal favourite, he said they were like his children but perhaps the latest one was the closest to his heart, although Moth Smoke being his first work of fiction would always be special. Talking about How to Get Rich in Rising Asia, he said that it was his attempt at a ghazal. And that he wanted to write about love like it has been written about in Sufi poetry, referring to the beloved in the ‘you’ form and lifelong love affairs. He said he wanted to explore what a non-transactional love would be like, what it would be like when you say to somebody that you love them and instead of meaning that they make you less lonely, if you meant that you would like them to be less lonely whether or not that includes you. When wrapping up before the Q and A portion, Mira asked Mohsin what his hopes and dreams were for Pakistan as a writer and a Pakistani. He said quite simply, ‘I don’t need much actually. I would be happy if Pakistan became a place where people stopped killing each other so much.’ Enough said, wouldn’t you agree?
The next session was ‘Main Manto’ with readings by Sarmad Khoosat and Salman Shahid. How does one even begin to talk about Manto and the sheer impact of his genius? And how does one appreciate the talent of the two speakers who chose such different pieces and transported you to another world altogether? Suffice to say that I had goose bumps by the end of both readings. Salman Shahid read a short story by the name of ‘Thanda Gosht’ and if you haven’t read it yet, you must. A punch to the gut in typical Manto style, it was a very powerful
reading. And Sarmad Khoosat simply stole the show. He read a letter of Manto’s and the resounding applaud he received after the reading was an honest testimony to the effect he had on the listeners. After the two readings this session also included the screening of a short teleplay by the name of Main Manto. And let me tell you, the audience was mesmerized. There was a hushed silence throughout the hall while we watched the life story of Manto play out before our eyes. It had a star studded cast including Sarmad Khoosat as Manto himself, Saniya Saeed as his wife and Arjumand Rahim, Mahira Khan, Faisal Qureshi among others. I think it deserved a standing ovation. And when it ended, I realized for the hundredth time how lucky we are to have such amazing talent amongst us.
The session after that was ‘Literature and Culture – a Discussion between Khaled Ahmed and Intizar Hussain’ and it was great listening to these two veteran writers talk at length about the Urdu language and the effect literature has had on our culture. They were both of the opinion that literature has suffered at the hands of politics and extremism. Intizar Hussain remarked that the beauty of the Urdu language lies in that it has been born from many languages and we must acknowledge that fact to appreciate it.
The last session for the day in Hall 1 was ‘Lights Camera Action’ and it had a few members from the teams of both ‘Waar’ and ‘Mai hoon Shahid Afridi’ who were interviewed by Shahnaz Sheikh. I haven’t watched either movie and so it was an interesting session for me as I had no opinion about them. And as proud as I am of the effort that has gone into both these films, the session seemed a bit ‘promotional’ to me. Maybe that was intentional, who knows. The audience seemed divided about the movies as well, some completely thrilled with them and others not so much. When asked why Waar was in English, Bilal Lashari said it was easier to promote at an international level and that it had subtitles. ‘But a large percentage of the population cannot read, Bilal,’ someone said, to which he replied that people still seemed to connect to the movie in spite of the language barrier and it had had a lot re-watchers in theatres. My take? Why not have English subtitles? Aren’t a lot of international movies in their local languages? Is it a reflection of the gora complex that seems to have ingrained itself inside us? Or am I reading too much into this?
All in all, it was a very intellectually appeasing day for me and I had a foot wide grin when I walked out of the complex to head home. There were a few technical glitches during the teleplay screening but it was worth the disruption. The attendance could have been better in my opinion but it was still heartening to see Lahoris of all ages turn out for a literary adventure. I am sure everyone who attended it had a great time and to all those who didn’t, mark your calendars for next time. It wasn’t an event to be missed!
Fatima Hafsa Malik alternates between medicine and writing. She can be found at www.fatimahafsamalik.blogspot.