Islamabad, which was once known as a dead city, is now an emerging center of arts and culture activities. Even this month alone has seen a literature festival, a music festival, a book festival, a cultural festival and a short film festival. Out of all these, the most happening event was 5th Literature Festival by Oxford University Press from 14 to 16th April 2017. The festival, organized at Margalla Hotel Islamabad, featured a line-up of around 150 leading Pakistani and international authors, academics, journalists and artists along with exhibitions, book fair and a sumptuous food court.
The inaugural session was attended by the leading journalists, writers, poets, intellectuals and a large number of visitors. Addressing the inaugural session, OUP MD Ameena Saiyid said “Our goal is to make reading a pleasurable activity for young and old, men and women. We are aware that engaging and appealing books can entice children into the golden web of readership, promote creativity and imagination, and kindle hope for a more inspired and accomplished Pakistani generation in the future. This year popular personalities of 8 countries including Germany, France, Canada, Singapore and Italy will participate”, she said, adding ‘that this year we are celebrating 70 years of Pakistan at the 5th Islamabad Literature Festival.’
The best session on day 1 was “Judiciary and a common man. Moderated by renowned journalist and anchor Mujahid Barelvi with panelists Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Afrasiab Khattak, Hamid Khan, Bushra Gohar and Huma Price, the session talked in detail about the challenges common Pakistanis face in search of justice. Other sessions included a conversation between Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro and Elisa Iori was held on heritage and social mobilization in post-conflict reality; Prison Narratives, a book by Akhtar Baloch held the complete attention of the audience. Renowned writer Mohammad Hanif discussed the burden of a translator for searching appropriate words while writing.
Day-2 was bigger and better. My favorite session of the second day was “Living through seasons of fear” featuring the great poet Iftikhar Arif sahib. Iftikhar Arif had a detailed conversation with Harris Khalique and Asif Farrukhi while the session was chaired by Zehra Nigah. He recited his famous poems like ‘Barhwaan Khiladi’ and others.
On the eve of the second day, ILF hosted an amazing Mushaira (poetry recitation) which was moderated by Shakeel Jazib. Leading poets from the twin cities and other parts of Pakistan including Kishwar Naheed, Iftikhar Arif, Imran Aami, Saeed Shaariq, Saeed Ahmad, Qamar Raza Shahzad, Harris Khalique, Ali Akbar Natiq, Manzar Naqvi, Zia ul Hassan, Akhtar Usman, Sarwat Mohiuddin, Qasim Yaqoob, Rehman Faris, and Nasira Zuberi read from their writings.
Most attended session of day-2 was a performance by Nimra Bucha and Sarmad Khoosat on readings from Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry focusing on their unique vision and elusive, unspoken romance was also featured on the second day of ILF. Attendance in the hall was reflective of the people’s interest. The hall was so much full that people were seen sitting on ground.
Third day was even more happening. The session I attended third day for was “Zara Hutt Key” featuring Zarrar Khohro, Mubashir Zaidi and Wusatullah Khan, based on their famous TV show. The panelists discussed how casually they select content for their show daily. Panelists said that they don’t want to sensationalize news but discuss any topic that is being discussed in every household or any topic that could be discussed in a drawing room. They also mentioned why overhyped issues are not their priority but a common man’s issues are.
Another favorite session of the day was “A one-man mushaira” conducted by Syed Nusrat Ali, an unassuming management consultant and motivational speaker who stole the show on the final day of ILF. The jam-packed audience was treated to a side-splitting performance by the accomplished mimic, who impersonated the style of more than two dozen of the biggest names in Urdu literature. All that is, except Ahmed Faraz. “I can’t do it the way he did it, because it would ruin the beauty of the verses for you,” he told his audience when hecklers requested him to recite something by arguably the greatest of the modern Urdu poets.
The session ‘Will Technology Influence Music?’ featured Noori’s Ali Noor, Rakae Jamil, Masuma Anwar, Akbar Yezdani and moderator Taimur Rahman. Starting off the session, Laal spokesperson Mr Rahman said technology has always impacted the arts and music. Mr Noor said technology has become paramount for live performances which are complicated, because artists need to be able to hear themselves to play well. “For me, the biggest problem was the people who were providing sound and technology in Pakistan had nothing to do with music. They were people who were doing car rentals and began new businesses renting sound equipment,” he said.
The key note speakers at the closing ceremony of the fifth Islamabad Literature Festival included famous poet Iftikhar Arif, Omar Shahid Hamid and Nafisa Shah. The concluding address was delivered by Oxford University Press MD and founder of ILF Ameena Saiyid and Co-founder Dr. Asif Farrukhi.
While addressing the closing session, OUP MD Ameena Saiyid said that “As this festival comes to its end, I hope that, each of us will have found his or her knowledge added to, or viewpoint altered, in some way or the other. This is a unique kind of event, one that does not leave anyone unaffected”. She further said that ILF will bring more and more colors in the future. This ILF has focused on Partition and Independence as this is the 70th year of Pakistan’s creation. At Oxford University Press, we are celebrating this important year by publishing 70 books on Pakistan, its literature, history, culture, sports, economics and as many disciplines and subjects as we can. We call this series the Platinum Series, she added.
The three-day Islamabad Literature Festival is a fresh air for those who are looking for a shelter under arts and culture among problems of the world.
The best part of the festival was participation of all age groups in everything from books to sessions to poetry to questioning. The festival is surely a magnificent addition in Islamabad’s cultural scenario.