Nadia attends the KLF

By Zubeida Mustafa

ON the weekend of Feb 11-12, the Karachi Literature Festival unveiled a treasure of intellectual delights for the third consecutive year to those who attended.

Graced by eminent writers from Pakistan and abroad with whom one doesn’t always get the opportunity to interact, the event allowed one the luxury of disconnecting oneself — though momentarily — from the brutal realities of life in Karachi.

At the time when Vikram Seth, the author of A Suitable Boy, was engaged in a one-on-one conversation with Prof Shaista Sirajuddin, a few kilometres away, the Defence of Pakistan Council was indulging in India-bashing at its rally near the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum. An umbrella organisation of 40 reactionary parties, including some banned ones, its message was quite the opposite of the themes the KLF was expounding.

The gist of the speeches was: confront the US, do not submit to Indian ‘hegemony’, support the freedom fighters in Kashmir, and defend the country’s ‘ideological’ frontiers.

Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy, the inveterate champion of sanity in our defence and foreign policies, and an advocate of rational thinking and peace and tolerance, noted this contradiction in the soul of the largest city of Pakistan. Hoodbhoy specially spoke of the fact that while tens of thousands would register their presence at the DPC rally, only a few thousands were attending the Literature Festival.

This highlighted a sad characteristic of our society because this is generally interpreted — and Hoodbhoy is not the only one to feel that way — as the radicalisation of the masses, especially the youth of Pakistan. But I feel we ourselves are partly to blame for this phenomenon.

While the bearded gentlemen made extraordinary efforts to reach out to as many people as they could and make their rallies inclusive, we at the KLF had tended to make our events exclusive. Of course, no notices are put up saying who is allowed and who is not. But the location of such events and the language spoken send a very clear message about who is welcome. Away from the madding crowd in a hotel set in a serene spot near the Arabian Sea, and most proceedings in English the KLF is inaccessible to the common man who travels by bus and speaks the local language.

It is not only the KLF. We tend to make all the good things in life, including intellectual, cultural and educational activities that mellow a person and broaden his outlook on life, beyond the reach of the masses.

This approach is hurting us because in the race to win the hearts and minds of the common people, the conservatives and religious groups are gaining the upper hand simply by proactively opening their doors to all and sundry. Of course their motives are political — to seize power — but their methods are social. Their strategy is designed to interact with people on the personal level on popular terms and they succeed.

We would do well to remember Unesco’s charter that says that since wars begin in the minds of men it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. By not providing the children of the masses good education that would teach them about love and peace, we are failing to build the defences of peace that are so badly needed.

Aren’t the children of the poor entitled to the enjoyment that the KLF brought to those who are affluent? To say that they are not interested in such intellectual activities is the unkindest thing to say. Provide them the opportunity and make such enjoyments accessible to them. Then only can their interest or lack of it be gauged.

To test this hypothesis, I decided to introduce the KLF to Nadia (12), who lives in a katchi abadi called Shireen Jinnah Colony and is one of the 60 per cent of our population who live on less than two dollars a day. Together we attended the storytelling session by Fauzia Minallah, an artist and writer, who works with children.

Being sensitised to the needs of underprivileged children, Fauzia knows the secret of connecting with them. Nadia had read Fauzia’s book on Amai, the peace dove that I had given her. But hearing the author in person was a new experience for her. The message of peace and tolerance in the book came out stronger when Fauzia demonstrated it by interacting with the children.

For Nadia, the KLF was an event to remember when Fauzia asked her questions about the book and then hugged her. One can be sure that this little girl from Shireen Jinnah Colony will cherish for life her autographed copy in which Fauzia asks her to carry for ever “the light of hope in her heart and mind”. In the span of less than an hour the KLF had inspired Nadia as I am sure the DPC could not have in its rally of thousands.

What made Nadia comfortable was also the language factor. Fauzia narrated Amai’s story in Urdu. If Fauzia had spoken in English Nadia said she might have understood her but not fully. “I couldn’t have answered her questions in the way I did in Urdu,” Nadia commented.

There are individuals and small groups trying to reach out to the people and create an impact on them as Fauzia had on Nadia. But these are drops in the ocean. It is time the big organisations and groupings, such as the KLF, whose reach is more expansive followed suit.

Source: Dawn

15 thoughts on “Nadia attends the KLF

  1. Your piece on KLF is very apt and crisp. KLF should avoid becoming elitist and learn a lesson from recent series of muck ups at JLF, Jaipur where Opera Wnfrey was invited, more for style than for substance.

    1. Great insight I think, the way Zubaida you are talking about is the only way to go further taking the common people of Pakistan with us. My thesis has been that secular educated class has impeded development and not the so called religious one – Ayub, Zia, Musharraf and so on – thev DCs Acs, judges, laywers, patwaris? Do you think the last DOP show would have been possible without General Gul ? This exclusiveness and distance with the common people is due to the colonial heritage which India and Bangladesh have been able to shed to a great extent. but we are still proud of it. This stems up in our daily lives and this is why a Major is not ready to work with a supreme court judge and a prime minister with the DG ISI – due to mistrust, miscommunication, etc.

  2. Wow! Zubeida, Spot on! I was at the KLF and each time Dr. Hoodbhoy mentioned that perhaps 200 were attending his session on political discourse[ entirely too much focus on this than on literature at the KLF in my opinion] whilst 20,000 were attending the DOP rally I wondered if he really understood why this was. As you said, KLF was in an exclusive though dingy hotel, while the mullahs were expounding their views near the mazaar of the Quaid, a popular spot on a Sunday in Urdu. The KLF mela was for the English speaking generation, a vanishing group, and the DOP, for the young teeming vernacular speaking masses.The KLF was openly, and proudly I might add, sponsored by foreign embassies, the US, being the most prominent, while the DOP was a local [ one can quibble that the right wing forces too are funded by outsiders, but the fact that they do not speak in the language of such powers covers this up completely.] On an aside, when foreign powers become arbiters of our language and literature, then woe is us.
    Each year, I attend the Doctor Akhtar Hameed Development Forum, held in December at NIPA, as do you. All issues including culture and intellectual ownership are discussed, in Urdu, and is attended by seven to eight hundred young men and women from all over Pakistan. The solutions to our problems offered by these young grass roots community activists give us real hope that indeed Pakistan is not a failed state, [not so much Anatol Levin's announcement that failed states do not hold litfests]. By the way the December local Karachi Book Fair at the Expo center was filled to the brim with young people. A delightful sight..

  3. Zubaida Sahiba, your current piece on

    KLF very thout provoking as ususal. In our society people and organizations want to show off and it was better the procedings of the festivals mix with Urdu , English and Sindhi langauges that more participants was involved in the program.

  4. Few questions:
    – Is there a website for KLF?
    – Has someone recorded videos of this event?
    – How about pictures of the event?

    Kindly let me know at

    Syed Azam

  5. Brilliant insight, education should reach to common man, we all must join hands to uplift people morale and help them unlearn extremism and negativity. And help them learn to move forward with enthusiasm and positivity. Open up venues where they can also add value and participate as per their competence and capacity.

    1. Thanks, But there are so many Nadias in Karachi and they are equally keen to go to such events. I would love to bring each and every one of them but it is not in my means to do so. I wish the KLF would itself open its doors to all the Nadias and their families who would love to come. Someone said they are not interested. I thought that was an unkind thing to say. They are, but if you erect barriers such as that of language and accessibility all they (the Nadias) can do is stay away.

  6. What a great thought–exactly what I was discussing with my siblings the other day. Indeed, there's no need to organize such events in the far-off and inaccessible posh neighborhoods of Defence and Clifton. I still couldn't understand the rationale of organizing such exclusive events in the secluded areas and five-star hotels. Why can't Vikram Seth or Mohammad Hanif converse and spend some quality time with the middle-class knowledge-seekers and students? If these intellectuals and liberals are sincere about enlightening the beleaguered and uncouth lot of this illiterate country, they need to break the barriers of exclusivity and sophistication and learn to mingle with the people of lower social strata, so as not to further deprive them of their basic right of education and intellectual development.

  7. Karachi literature festival was virtually a whiff of fresh air for karachiites, who are accustomed to live a midst a raft of problems such as bomb blasts, killing, looting, bank heist etc. To begin with KLF did provide the people with an opportunity to get themselves familiarized with literary figures and other new faces. The intellectual fraternity made good use of the occasion to highlight the grievances facing the humanity of today,s world and sensitize the common people about them. The traditional literary event is a positive one which ought to continued with.

  8. Sorry!

    The subject matter is totally out of my clear understanding hence inner conscience does not allow to post any comment except UNESCO's finding that WAR starts from mind.

    From MIND not only war but influences brain and body in many actions of a human being.

    All that I know Karachi is a historic city as well as famous for Karachi Halwa. In all major cities of India one can find a sweet shop selling KARACHI Halwa.

  9. KLF is elitist because the idea of having a literature festival in a city which has no public libraries is a ridiculous one. If ordinary people don't have access to books, then KLF is definitely an elite-only event. What's more, the authors who make appearances in this festival are the English speaking elite. Finally, the KLF events are covered in the press by elitist journalists. Events like the KLF and Pakistan Fashion Week should be boycotted for these very reasons.

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