As interest in Pakistani writing in English grows rapidly worldwide, some of Pakistan's rising literary stars as well as a handful of visiting writers from India, Bangladesh and the UK have gathered in Karachi to kick off the country's first literary festival.
It was an idea that the festival's organisers hatched after attending the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival in 2009. Last year's festival featured a number of celebrated Pakistani authors, including Mohsin Hamid and Daniyal Mueenuddin, who was named a regional winner of the Commonwealth Writer's Prize 2010 last week for his story collection 'In Other Rooms, Other Wonders'.
"I saw how writers were being honoured, the attention they were receiving, and I thought, we have such a wonderful list of authors in Pakistan," said Ameena Sayyid, managing director of Oxford University Press in Pakistan and director of the Karachi Literature Festival. "With this festival, we want to put Pakistan on the literature map of the world."
A joint venture of OUP and British Council, the Karachi Literature Festival spans two full days of lectures, readings and panels and features headliners Mohammed Hanif and Hamid. Other artists slated to appear include debut novelist H M Naqvi, translator M A Farooqi, British biographer Victoria Scofield and Australian travel writer Sara McDonald. While the main emphasis will be Pakistani writing in English, the programme will also include sessions on literature traditions in Urdu and Sindhi, including an Urdu poetry reading or mushaira featuring noted poet Shamsur Rahman Faruqi.
"Karachi is a meeting place of cultures, of languages. We want to bring back the joy, the pleasure of literature to this city" said Aslam Farrukhi.
The festival' welcome event on Friday evening, held on the lawn of the British High Commission normally used as a football field, included the prize ceremony for a citywide youth writing contest, intended to demonstrate the link that the organisers envision between the festival and the young people of Pakistan.
"Our goal is to use literature to show them who they are. Identity creates security, a strong sense of confidence. When you are sure of who you are, you are no longer a Pakistani, no longer an Indian, you are a citizen of the world," said Syed Mashood Rizvi of the British Council.
Although the British Council closed its much beloved library eight years ago, the organisation is determined to demonstrate its continued commitment to the written word. "Instead of bringing you books, we will bring you the people who write the books," said Rizvi, amidst enthusiastic applause from the audience.