Pakistan is all set to host its first major literary event, the two-day sthat kicks off on Saturday. In collaboration with the British Council, this is the brainchild of the Managing Director of Pakistan’s Oxford University Press, Ameena Saiyid.
She hit upon the idea of hosting such a carnival after attending the Jaipur Literature Festival in India last year. “I had never before seen such a big gathering of writers at one place,” she says. “When I returned to Karachi and discussed the possibility of having a similar kind of event, not one person was discouraging.”
Authors from India, the United States and Britain will rub shoulders with ‘local’ writers that include Bapsi Sidhwa, Muhammad Hanif and Mohsin Hamid.
India’s presence is marked by only two Urdu writers, though many were invited. “William Dalrymple is not coming because the date is clashing with his birthday,” says Sayid. “Sadia Dehlvi (Indian author of the Pakistani bestseller, Sufism: The Heart of Islam) was coming, but she was refused a visa.”
“This festival will help in dispelling the notion that Pakistan is just full of the military and mullahs,” says Karachi-based columnist Irfan Husain. “The world will realise that the country has readers, writers and other people living normal lives and that the current terrorism, hopefully, is a passing aberration.”
“For millions of people, even a cheap book costs double their daily wages. Millions more can’t even read because we never bothered to educate them. So reading is mostly a pastime for a middle-class minority who somehow acquired the habit at an early age,” says Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
“It was more depressing till some time back,” says Junaid Zuberi, a financial analyst in Karachi’s posh Clifton neighbourhood. “Bookshops were closing down. Libraries could be counted on one’s fingertips. The arrival of the Internet further dampened the book-reading culture.”
However, publishers are now taking more initiatives to organise literary gatherings through book launch parties and reading sessions. Karachi has also seen the opening of a few literary cafes that hold at least one book-related event a week.
Pakistani writer Ali Sethi, the star at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival, won’t be able to make it to Karachi. He is on a promotional book tour in the US.