The first ever Lahore Literary Festival (LLF), a two-day mega event was held at the Alhamra Arts Council on February 23 – 24, 2013, which according to the Dawn newspaper attracted a crowd of around thirty thousand people. Students from LUMS participated actively in the event, and members of the LUMS Literary Society were amongst the student volunteers who assisted the organisers in various ways.
Images of the Pak Tea House in the 1960s – meetings of Halqa-i-Arbab-e-Zouq, engagement in intellectual discourse, an appreciation of literature, intense discussions of revolutionary poetry and its significance in the political set up of the time – all these memories seemed to come alive at the Lahore Literary Festival.
The event was indeed a revival of the literary tradition of Lahore that was once celebrated. Veterans from diversified careers and students from colleges and universities showed great enthusiasm as they flooded the Alhamra Arts Council, packing the halls to full capacity or otherwise standing in corners just to hear a few words being said by eminent intellectuals.
People keen about Urdu and English Literature were present at the event. Many were eager to get their hands on the new books launched by writers Nadeem Aslam and Mohsin Hamid. Many had their copies of Pakistani novels in hand as they rushed to writers like Muhammad Hanif, Moni Mohsin and Daniyal Mueenuddin to get them signed.
Panel discussions were held on a wide range of topics including fiction, poetry, politics, drama, architecture and the culture of Lahore. Some literary connoisseurs of the past like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Saadat Hassan Manto were discussed in great detail by distinguished panelists. The fate of Pakistan in the global context, the problems facing the country and who would hold the reins after the upcoming elections, debates on these issues excited several concerned citizens of the country – citizens who watch every talk show and were eager to have the academia share their view.
Intezaar Hussein gave his age-mates a ride into the past, talking about the country in its glory days, remembering his walks on the Mall Road as being an inspiration for his writings. The elder generations left his talks feeling nostalgic while the youth felt displaced, unable to identify with the memory of Lahore that Intezaar Hussein relished. This talk was moderated by the patron of the LUMS Literary Society, Ali Usman Qasmi.
One of the very highly attended session was called “Pakistan a Modern Country?” which was a conversation among Ayesha Jalal, Francis Robinson and Tariq Ali. The contrast created between Jinnah’s Pakistan and the country seen today was highlighted and the concluding question about who would win the upcoming elections created a tense crowd as they did not expect “Imran Khan” as the response from Mr. Ali.
While Karachi has had the privilege of holding such events in the recent past, this was a huge step made for Lahore as it was starved for intellectual activities. Some highlights of the event included a Kathak performance by Nahid Siddiqui, a Mushaira and a musical performance by Laal and Qayaas bands. Other notable persons who were present at the event as speakers were Bapsi Sidhwa, Zehra Nigah, Jeet Thayil, Chiki Sarkar, H.M. Naqvi, Selma Dabbagh, Aysha Raja, William Dalrymple, Tehmina Durrani, Shehan Karunatilaka, Rafay Alam, Owen Bennett-Jones, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Ebba Koch, Ali Sethi and Henna Babar Ali.