Lahore is a city that nurtures talent, many a Lahore lovers will tell you. The organizers of the inaugural Lahore Literary Festival went a step further – they gave us the opportunity to meet this locally-bred talent.
In a fantastically moderated session, writer Afia Aslam introduced the audience, mostly comprising school students and friends of the panelists who had come to show support, to three aspiring writers from the city all of whom are waiting for their books to be out this year.
The session, despite all the hurdles in its way to success, was fascinating because of Aslam’s great questions and the boundless enthusiasm and energy of the panelists. It began 20 minutes late, as the organizers tried to find a venue for it as they had to move it from the Main Garden owing to rain. After changing locations twice, they finally found a nice, cosy spot and the session began. Panelist Anam Zakaria described it best when she quipped how apt it was that a session on aspiring artists was this chaotic before finally settling down.
Aslam began the session by introducing each of the panelists. Kanza Javed, who spoke very eloquently about her novel Ashes, Wine and Dust, was the only Pakistani to be shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2013. Haroon Khalid, who Aslam called an overachiever since he has already started on his second book, has written an exciting travelogue on festivals of religious minorities that live in Pakistan. He has included 19 festivals of five groups, including the larger Hindu and Christian minorities and the smaller Bahaai community. Anam Zakaria has also written a travelogue about people travelling between troubled neighbors India and Pakistan.
Each of the authors then explained their book, before reading out an excerpt for the audience. Javed said that she had used each of the things used in her novel’s name to describe and represent the relevant period from the life of her protagonist Mariam. ‘Ashes’ is her childhood, ‘Wine’ encapsulates her experiences in Washington DC and ‘Dust’ is when she has to return to Lahore following a tragedy that changes her life. Considering that Javed herself had studied literature in DC, Aslam asked her how much of her book was biographical. “Well, I certainly drew from my own childhood for the Ashes part. But I had written about DC before I had even visited it. But when I did a year later, I realized to my delight and surprise that I was right!” Javed said.
Introducing his travelogue, amid requests to speak up in the absence of microphones, Khalid said that he had tried to explore what it was like being non-Muslim in Pakistan.
Zakaria said that she had spoken to and traced four generations of Indians and Pakistanis and their perception of the partition of 1947. “When I started working with CAP, I was working on the Oral History Project where I spoke to the partition generation many of whom told me stories of how Hindus and Muslims lived together in harmony. At the same time, I started working on the Exchange for Change project, where I saw that these young children had hostile opinions about each other. So it was a quest for me to find out where did the disconnect come in between all these generations.”
Seeing that most of the audience members were students in high school who would soon be making decisions about further study, Aslam asked each of the panelists what they had studied in college.
“When I was younger, the only period I would wait for was English. So when the time came for college, my father said you should study literature,” said Javed. “The first two years of college were very intimidating. I was reading Hemingway and Shakespeare and I just put my manuscript aside! Then I studied South Asian Literature and decided it was time to go back to my work.”
Khalid had the audience very amused by his first comment. “I hated reading and writing! I would always get a B or C in English when I was in school!” he said. “Then I took Anthropology at college and I absolutely fell in love with it, even though teachers told me I would have to read and write a lot. Now, writing has become an uncontrollable urge to express what needs to be shared.”
Zakaria had a similar answer. “I was never the sort of person to go out and talk too much to people. At college, I studied International Development. So I kind of decided to get over myself and just go out and write about what I needed to.”
This article was written for Dawn Books & Authors and originally appeared here in edited form: http://www.dawn.com/news/789972/lahore-literary-festival-stories-from-gaza