TWO recent events — the International Urdu Conference and the International Book Fair (both held in Karachi) — are a welcome reminder that the country’s soul, though gasping for air, is alive. The usual symbols associated with Pakistan are of violence and anarchy, so it is good to occasionally witness cultural events which prove that some aesthetically inclined citizens with a taste for literature and learning also live here. This was the fifth edition of the Urdu conference, which lasted four days, while the book fair attracted book-lovers over a period of five days. The audience at the Urdu conference was treated to highly absorbing discussions focusing on literature and critiques, while papers on the lives and work of giants such as Manto, Miraji and Krishan Chander, among others, were read out by scholars from all over the country. Debates also centred on the condition of Urdu. New questions were raised while rarely discussed literary topics were highlighted. It was encouraging to see young Urdu aficionados as well as families at the sessions. Some of the discussions were jam-packed while certain debates ran late into the evening. Nevertheless, the organisers should note the views of some literature buffs who felt that the event could have been smoother — maybe next time more Urdu scholars from India could be invited too.
Meanwhile, at the city’s Expo Centre, bookworms flipped through an assortment of tomes; here too it was heartening to see families in attendance. However, the number of books on religious topics overshadowed other genres — a sign of the times in changing Pakistan. The next time, the organisers should try and include a greater variety of titles. In a society where debate and freedom of thought are becoming endangered concepts, such cultural activities need to be encouraged to defend against the onslaught of ignorance.