Literature and longing in Lahore
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Were Pakistan still the kind of place that had public celebrations as opposed to rallies, this is about the time of year Lahore would have made itself pretty to host basant, the kite-flying festival celebrating the arrival of spring. At the risk of sounding geriatric, it was lovely: everyone wore yellow, flew kites in sunny skies and the sense of celebration spilled out on the streets for days. For reasons as sad as they are irreversible, basant is dead and a resurrection seems unlikely. Until this year, we had nothing to take its place but resentment and a stocked bar.
Thank heavens for the Lahore Literary Festival!
The rise of the Pakistani author has been steady and increasingly global. No one agrees on who the "first" big writer was and even fewer on who the "best" may be, but everyone recognises that, until this weekend, you probably had to be in a different country to see our stars speak, usually India (you can see the dilemma, right?). Every year we send our litter of literary lovelies to festivals at Jaipur and Kolkata and Dubai and London, and then read with anticipation the next day about what they said or who they dissed, all with a twinge of longing. Given how many new writers have emerged from Pakistan in the last two decades and the space Pakistani fiction takes up at other festivals, it seemed strange not to have a literary festival in Lahore. (Karachi started one a few years ago, ever the over-achiever.)
Whenever the topic came up, people assumed the security situation would be too much to handle or that logistics would be a nightmare. The more jaded bemoaned the lack of a local publishing industry and the truly bitchy were usually just jealous they hadn't been published yet. All in all, people were downers. That's what makes the fact of the LLF this weekend such a watershed moment. Its very existence is an act of reclaiming public space; its resounding and undeniable success is proof, long-awaited, that that was still possible.
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