Karachi Literature Festival 2012 was fortunately organized at a time when I had no clash with anything except one extra class on Sunday morning. Having missed the first event on account of being out of city visiting my sister and getting stuck there due to PIA strike, I was looking forward to attend interesting sessions. I was not disappointed and the two days had gave me a lot to think on.
Here are some of the sessions that I attended.
Manto and Partition
The first session that I attended was on Manto by historian Ayesha Jalal and it was moderated by M.R.Kazimi. After introductions, Mr. Kazimi spoke at length that made me yawn but I tried to keep up as much as possible. When Ayesha Jalal herself took the podium, the real fun began. I never read Manto but heard a lot about it and hearing about his life from AJ was a treat. Some of the cheeky statements made me laugh, such as:
“Manto was a heavy drinker, he became alcoholic after coming to Pakistan”
“Manto never fell for Ismat Chughtai, his wife did”
The perspective was new and gave a lot of insight into Manto’s life before and after partition.
Pen as Sword: Expressing the New Pakistani Narrative through Fiction
This sesssion was moderated by Khaled Ahmad and the real star in it was Ahmed Rashid. Although not a fan, I was looking forward to listen to the acclaimed expert on Afghanistan. I never read any of his books but read a lot about Ahmed Rashid’s views in articles. Khaled Ahmed made a sound beginning and compared the title “Pen as Sword” with the Urdu idiom. The session was designed to be conversational and once Ahmed Rashid finished his speech, the question and answer session proved enlightening.
To cut the story short, Ahmed Rashid stressed the importance of a sound political front with regards to Afghanistan and use English to greater level to bring awareness. Everyone, including the audience, lamented the fact that Urdu language was slowly dying due to its delegation to level of propagation language for the country and supporting only establishment and right-wing viewpoint. Fresh ideas are not encouraged in Urdu and neither is any narrative contrary to the army’s, making it difficult to bring any worthwhile addition to Urdu language and literature. Not much is being done except for some poetry which has lost its quality as well one compares it with the likes of Urdu poets from pre-partition days. Ignoring regional languages has also played a big role in restricting the level of education in the country and have stagnated their growth. Only Sindhi survives as Sindhi writers are still generating content for local consumption.
At one point, towards the end of the session, well known writer Zulfikar Haliphoto stood up and brought everyone’s attention to the matter that mainstream is only limited to English and Urdu, with the former reserved for the elites who attend such festivals and latter for those who don’t bother knowing what is happening in the rest of the country. He said that there are plenty of modern, secular and effective Sindhi writers raising their voice and on Salman Taseer’s murder, over 200 articles were written in Sindhi newspapers and magazines. One only has to pick them up and read but alas most of the country think the only worthwhile content to read is written either in English or Urdu which is a mistake committed by most, particularly those who live in the Urban areas.
A Conversation With Anatol Lieven
This session had a lot of promise but proved rather disappointing. Anatol Lieven, who wrote the popular book of 2011 “Pakistan: A Hard Country”, was the main star of the show with Ayesha Siddiqa, Mohsin Hamid and Ghazi Salauddin as the moderators. Anatol gave a short summary of the book that focused on Pakistan as a society that was resilient and was against extremism as a whole due to its blood relations and bonds … but the same structure prevented it from progress and held it back.
When the time came for questions and answers, Ayesha Siddiqa fired some direct and pointed questions that forced Anatol to say something about the lack of criticism on army in his book. Anatol however remained evasive and never answered her properly, forcing Ayesha to ask harder questions. At one point I really believed that she will simply grab his collar, shake him and threaten to sit on him if he didn’t answer properly. Thankfully the turn moved on towards Mohsin Hamid and Ghazi Salauddin who remained a lot more receptive and polite, their questions a lot more relaxed.
I felt that Anatol, despite his brilliant writing, was not made for stage. He seemed flustered and it was difficult to follow his chain of thought as he attempted to answer questions. It could be stage fright or the mere fact that he sat with Ayesha Siddiqa on the stage was terrorizing him (there was a tweet circulating that Anatol had requested more moderators as Ayesha Siddiqa would eat him alive at one-to-one session). Except for one question towards the end, Anatol simply beat around the bush while answering and that kind of made the session disappointing.
Today’s Pakistan: An Economic and Political Perspective
I came late to this session and didn’t get the chance to hear much. The session included Asad Sayeed, Ishrat Hussain, Anatol Lieven and Maleeha Lodhi with Ghazi Salauddin as the moderator. I remember some parts of Ishrat Hussain’s talk where we told how some of the technocratic solutions for Pakistan’s economy, as they had prepared and hoped to work during Musharraf’s time as the sole leader of the country, failed due to the fact that they were simple but flawed. The solutions to Pakistan’s economic woes should have been dynamic in nature and take into account various factors that would have made a better impact on the country.
Anatol also shared his views by talking about the complexities of Pakistan’s political system and how it affects the economy (and he slowly gained strength in his voice since the crowd was smaller and the sight of tea got him excited).
Pakistani Zabanon Ka Adab/Pakistani Languages
I came late to this session on Sunday owing to an extra class that had quiz as well. The session was curated by Mohammed Hanif and the poets were Amar Sindhu, Ahmad Fouad and Nukhbah Langah. At the time of my entry it was Nukhbah Langah’s turn and she started to read the Seraiki poem “Meda Ishq” for the audience. Her voice had clarity and a hint of haunting melody, creating a peaceful listening environment which was made lively by Hanif Mohammed at intervals.
At one point when Nukhbah apologized to the audience regarding speaking in English despite the session being about Pakistani languages, Mohammed Hanif chirped
“Koi masla nahi, aakhir English bhi to Pakistan ki ilaqai zaban hai”
(No worries, English is also Pakistan’s native language)
Education In Pakistan With A Focus On Textbooks
This proved to be a enlightening session. Although I had a thorough understanding of the topic, it was still great to listen to the expert. The panel included Rubina Saigol, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Tariq Rahman, Faisal Bari and Baela Jamil. The moderator was Ameena Saiyid. I didn’t listen much to Rubina but Faisal Bari presented a good case regarding state of education. His points were referred by others when their turn came.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, in his great style, stressed the importance of proper education at lower levels. He gave the example of surface tension, a concept in Physics, which was poorly explained in Pakistani textbooks while even the lower quality textbooks around the world explained it better. He said the culture of handing down information and root-learning it without explanation and understanding is hurting students growth and has been a major factor in making them run away from science and maths. The lack of trained teachers and large number of ghost schools in the provinces is a major obstacle in Pakistan’s progress.
Tariq Rahman was as enlightening as ever as he stressed the importance of education from linguistic point of view. He explained about Pakistan’s languages that are used in the country and how they contribute to early education. He shed light on how the students were misguided in history regarding languages and attempt to bring them under the official narrative by painting a “Hindu India” and its “Hindu Languages” that have nothing to do with Pakistan and Pakistani languages (namely Urdu). He also traced the origins of Urdu and how it is being used as brainwashing medium for students throughout the country.
Baela Jamil was last to speak but she spoke well. She told about the state of textbooks and how attempts were made to improve them. She said that Urdu writers that have been writing Urdu textbooks for decades are stuck in the same mindset and despite repeated attempts they still haven’t seen reason. Urdu books look more like Islamic Studies books as they start from “Hamd” and “Sana” (respecting Allah and his last Prophet) and following up with lessons in morality, good living, Jihad etc. She also gave example of a research that was conducted in 85 districts of the country and students were interviewed. As per the result, about 45% of the students couldn’t read Urdu despite it being compulsory subject and most complained about the subject being too Islamic, full of repetitive lessons across different classes and little in the way of learning.
The Mother-Tongue As A Medium of Instruction
This session could have been much better. The panel included (Retd) Justice Wajiuddin, Zubeida Mustafa, Abbas Rashid and Ray Brown. The moderator was Arfa Sayeda Zehra. Everyone, including the moderator, spoke in favor of having Mother Tongue as the early education language except for Justice Wajiuddin. He said he suffered a lot due to his early education in Urdu and when he came to college, he couldn’t understand a single thing for first 6 months and through sheer hard work managed to learn English. He stressed on the fact that all the hard work done to prepare knowledge in English should not be thrown away by attempting to use native languages as medium of instruction, otherwise great institutions like KGS, Aitchison College etc will wither away.
Both the audience and the moderator of the session took on the retired judge on this and reminded him that it wasn’t about discarding everything but only about using mother-tongue for early education and then introducing other languages. Ray Brown gave a great example of an African country where British Council not just attempted to develop written script of their spoken languages but also saw the remarkable results on children that were educated in the mother-tongue in the initial school years before introducing them to English.
The Silent Minority: A Voice for the Voiceless
This proved to be disappointing session. The hall was barely 30% full and the panel included Khaled Ahmed, Tariq Rahman and Stefan Weidner with Haris Ghazdar as the moderator. Haris spoke well and gave the podium to Khaled Ahmed who spoke about ethnic minorities (Shias mostly). He stressed on the fact that how killings take place with impunity and anyone can get killed for speaking against, just like in the case of Salman Taseer; therefor there is a great need for effort to give minorities such as Shias and non-Muslims greater share of voice in the country.
Tariq Rahmen spoke about linguistic minorities as there are about 62 languages in Pakistan that make around 4.5% of the country’s population and are in danger of going extinct. The reasons he stated was the power rested with languages like Urdu (which was made national language by Jinnah on the ill-advice of his companions) as well as overwhelming population of other popular native languages.
Stefan Weidner simply said he is no expert and was placed in the wrong session as a panelist, thus his part concluded fastest compared to any speaker I heard in this festival.