Ameena Saiyid Talks about the 2012 Karachi Literature Festival
“Translations have an important place in the discourse here, and the KLF provides a strong forum for promoting a dialogue between authors from diverse languages and cultures.”
- Ameena Saiyid
Last year’s event was an incredible success. This year, the organisers seem to be raising the bar further.
With 146 scheduled participants, including novelists, journalists, economists, educationalists, political analysts, artists and architects, it is clear from the outset that the 2012 Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) will be bigger than ever before. With everyone from Kamila Shamsie and Zehra Nigah to William Dalrymple and Saad Haroon, it is clear that the books and topics to be discussed are diverse.
In the run-up to this year’s KLF on February 11 and 12, 2012, Newsline speaks to Ameena Saiyid OBE, the co-founder of the annual literary event, which was launched in 2010 and is jointly organised by the British Council and Oxford University Press.
How has the KLF progressed in the past two years, and how will 2012 be different from the previous years? Approximately how many people attended the 2011 festival?
The KLF has grown rapidly from 2010 when it was launched. The audience doubled from 5,000 in 2010 to 10,000 in 2011. The 2010 edition had two parallel sessions with about 30 participants and the 2011 festival had up to four parallel strands with almost 100 participants.
Around 140 participants and 12,000 to 15,000 audience are expected this year. We have booked additional rooms and halls/garden at the Carlton Hotel in Karachi to cater for this. The 2010 festival had nightly performances of plays by Tehreek-e-Niswan at the Arts Council. For logistical reasons and for the convenience of authors, we shifted the venue for the cultural performances to the Carlton Hotel for the 2011 festival.
The programme this year has an impressive international line-up. Which big names have confirmed their participation?
The line-up of authors includes those from India, the UK, US, France and Germany, as well as from all over Pakistan, so that Urdu and regional languages will also be covered. Our keynote speaker this year is the celebrated writer William Dalrymple, and the closing speech will be given by the well-known author Hanif Kureishi.
Your session subjects travel across genres, from literature to activism, from Sufism to history; what are some of the new sessions planned for this year and which ones are expected to be major crowd-pullers?
This year, for the first time, we are introducing film screenings into our diverse line-up of events, followed by Q&A sessions. The films to be screened are Meher Jan and A Certain Liberation. A new session on satire will be added this year with Ali Aftab Saeed of “Beghairat Brigade,” stand-up comedian Saad Haroon and the Banana News Network, moderated by Nadeem F. Piracha. Salman Ahmad’s book Rock & Roll Jihad will be launched this year and there will be a concert at the closing event by the former Junoon singer.
The 2011 festival began with homage to Amir Khusro by Sheema Kermani’s group, it featured Ajoka’s performances of sections of Shahid Nadeem’s Bulha and Dara and ended with a tribute to Faiz on the centenary of his birth with literary and musical favourites such as Zehra Nigah, Tina Sani, Laal, Raza Rumi and Ali Sethi. These were major crowd-pullers. In 2012 we have added a fuller children’s strand with fixed and walking puppet shows, the Muppets, storytelling, cartoon presentations and the screening of the award-winning film Arun Harun.
You wrote once that “creative intercourse between languages leads to plurality and inclusiveness.” How do translations feature in Pakistan’s literary discourse and what is their place at the festival?
Translations have an important place in the discourse here, and the KLF provides a strong forum for promoting a dialogue between authors from diverse languages and cultures. A translation of Attiya Dawood’s book Ainay ke Samne will be launched this year, and we will also showcase authors writing in Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Seraiki, Bengali, French and German.
How does the publishing industry in Pakistan benefit from a literary festival held in Pakistan? How many new books will be launched at the 2012 festival?
The publishing industry benefits enormously as it draws the audience to books and reading by connecting them to authors who they get to see in flesh and blood for the first time. Interacting with authors provides a strong incentive to buy and read their books. It also provides authors a rare opportunity to interact with their readers who at times can ask insightful and difficult questions. Author signings are an integral part of the festival as is a book fair.
Do you find that the festival encourages younger people to read, especially since much of the younger generation is more interested in the Internet and TV?
Most definitely, the younger generation made the Harry Potter books bestsellers and actually prefer to read printed books as they can line them up on their shelves and point to them and announce proudly that they have read them. Also they prefer to see books in their liveries rather than on an iPad where they become somewhat unrecognisable and homogenous.
Are you concerned by the inevitable comparisons to the Jaipur Literary Festival that takes place just a few weeks ahead of the Karachi event?
No. We are not competing with Jaipur or Galle, but learning from them, getting ideas and also becoming alert to pitfalls. The more such festivals the better because they create a hype and buzz that raise the profile of all such festivals.
What is the most challenging aspect of organising a festival in Karachi?
I think dealing with the growing requests from authors to include them. We would love to but just don’t have the space and funds to have any more than we do. Thus we try to get different authors each time though there are some repeats in cases when they have published something new.
If you missed last year’s festival, then you can get a sense of the depth of the conversations and the intensity of the neuron activity that characterised the event in this video by matteela films. Click play to watch:
For more information on KLF 2012, click here.
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