THE literature festival in Lahore has made a promising beginning. The city had been longing for such an event. The organisers were able to gather a large number of renowned literary figures for the inaugural show and to run the programme smoothly. The turnout was impressive even if, like the list of speakers, it could have benefited from diversification. A large number of those who attended were students and professionals, and many of the issues raised by the audience, often with women in a majority, reflected the people were prepared to ask questions. Of the more secure colleges and universities, this was an example of more public defiance against the silence and resignation. This was a rare opportunity for Lahorites to come face to face with celebrated English-language writers like Nadeem Aslam, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Bapsi Sidhwa, Tariq Ali, Ayesha Jalal, William Dalrymple and a host of others. These English-language writers debated, lectured, read out from their work and launched books to frequently overflowing halls. No less remarkable for a city hosting a literary event of this scale for the first time was the attendance at sessions where Intizar Hussain and Zehrah Nigah, two venerated veterans of Urdu literature, held sway.
The fair has provided Lahore with a platform to build upon. It can expand by including a bigger number of writers from local languages the next time — even though, some festival participants concluded there was little merit in seeing the English that has evolved in South Asia as a foreign language. In any case, Urdu, Punjabi and other languages need to be given a larger presence in future festivals, which would consequently help attract a wider pool of followers. The variety in the festival’s content and its largely anti-status quo themes owed hugely to it being a private initiative, which was facilitated by the government. Fortunately, it did not bear the official ownership stamp. The diversification and sustaining of the project without too great a dependence on officialdom will be central to the success of future literary festivals in Lahore so that they retain their independence and appeal.