Bigger and better, I really don’t know. Or I think I can’t say that for sure so soon. Today was the first day of the much-awaited Lahore Literary Festival 2014. It just had to rain; same as last year. I arrived at Alhamra at sharp 2:30pm, the exact time the first session at the Lit Fest was going to start. Excited, I would get to see Vikram Seth in person. Seth is one of my all-time favourite novelists, mostly because of A Suitable Boy and it won’t be too much if I mention here that my copy of A Suitable Boy says, “J’adorelivre (I love/adore this book)” on its very first page in bold as abhorrent, as I am to scribbling on books.
So I arrive. Surprisingly, Vikram Seth’s session was not much over-crowded. Something I was glad about but also a little sceptical. Because at least, my experience with LLF last year taught me that the sessions with the more popular writers were usually more crowded.
As I had expected, Seth was lively. Because despite my limited concentration span, I managed to listen to every word he said. Seth read out some passages from A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music and Hanuman Chalisa. I was mostly interested in A Suitable Boy of course. I never really liked An Equal Music, always thought it was located too far from my roots, Europe that is.
His choice of passages from A Suitable Boy were rather a clever choice this way. He read out the exchange of the mother-daughter repartees on marriage between Mrs Rupa Mehra and Lata, which were of course bound to leave the crowd laughing, even those perhaps who were not acquainted with the book.
That is the beauty of it I think. It is so relatable because it is so deeply South Asian (read Indian and Pakistani). And from there on, he went on to read a few passages from An Equal Music at which point he also talked about his relationship with music. Most of all, the highlight of his session was his lyrical recitation of the original passages from Hanuman Chalisa. It was mesmerising, almost. The way language flowed, with perfect rhyme and intonation.
And later, when he was done with the passage reading and recitation, he talked about his family: his mother; his grandmother, who according to Seth is not far from being Mrs Rupa Mehra; his father for whom he recited his poem “Host” and his nieces, Nandini and Anamika, who he has taught to master bridge.
Seth’s talk was the highlight of my first day at LLF, and of course the chanay pathooray, which are now officially my ritual at the LLF – two years and going.
Throughout the day, we friends kind of felt something was missing from the festival this year. It did not feel like last year’s LLF. Last year, when we came out of each session, we as undergrad juniors felt a little inspired, a little awed. I don’t know if we had too much of it last year or just because we are seniors now, we feel more intellectual ourselves to not have enjoyed it as thoroughly. But last year was of course better. For one, the crowd was better and bigger. I don’t know what the official statistics are but I did not think it was bigger than last year. We could not attend as many sessions. Apart from Vikram Seth’s talk, I managed to attend Vali Nasr’s session with Ayesha Jalal. And that too almost forcefully because Mira Nair’s session happening simultaneously was full and nobody would let me in. There are times when even my press card fails me too. Sniff sniff. Same thing happened during Shahzia Sikander’s session – we were apparently too late. But hey, the people I saw coming out of Sikander’s session were mostly art students. I say that with a conviction because I have been to school with half of them. Whatever happened to the first come, first serve basis. Could it simply have been a coincident?
So, my experience of LLF this year, at least so far, hasn’t been as good and inspiring as last year. As I already mentioned, the sessions with more popular people are always more crowded. Hence, I need to be a little faster than the rest of the crowd for I have some journalistic duties to tend to. Besides, there are a little too many book launches this time around which I know can be as intellectually stimulating as any other talk at a literary festival but somehow it just forces me not to go anywhere near them.
Schedule for the second day :
8 Beyond the Global Novel
K Anis Ahmed, Hugh Eakin, Mohsin Hamid,
Samia Mehrez with Razia Iqbal
10am to 11am | Hall-I
8 Politically Incorrect
Shobhaa Dé with Shehrbano Taseer
10am to 11am | Hall-II
8 Qawwali's Maestro, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Pierre Alain Baud with Yousaf Salahuddin
10am to 11am | Hall-III
8 Reading Fiction to Children
Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Saman Shamsie, Sophia Kasuri
10am to 11am | Baithak Hall
8 An Equal Music: A Writer and his Other Arts
Vikram Seth in conversation with Asim Fareed
11:15am to 12:15pm | Hall-I
8 Zia Mohyeddin Recites Mushtaq Yusafi
Introduction by Naveed Riaz
11:15am to 12:15pm | Hall-II
8 Angrezi Mushaira
Athar Tahir, Bushra Naqi, IIona Yusuf, Jocelyn Ortt Saeed, Muneeza Shamsie, Sadaf Saaz with Shaista Sirajuddin
11:15am to 12:15pm | Hall-III
8 Book launch: The World in my Hands
K Anis Ahmed in conversation with Mahvesh Murad
11:15am to 12:15pm | Baithak Hall
8 Fault-lines Across the Middle East
Vali Nasr in conversation with Ahmed Rashid
12:30pm to 1:30pm | Hall-I
8 Reportage on Pakistan
Matthieu Aikins, Shahan Mufti, Willem Marx, and Zahid Hussain with Munizae Jahangir
12:30pm to 1:30pm | Hall-II
8 Book launch: A Small Fortune
Rosie Dastgir with Kamila Shamsie
12:30pm to 1:30pm | Hall-III
8 Readings: Another Gulmohar Tree and The Swan's Wife
Aamer Hussein with Feryal Gauhar
12:30pm to 1:30pm | Baithak Hall
8 Filming: 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'
Mira Nair and Mohsin Hamid with Rachel Dwyer
2:30pm to 3:30pm | Hall-I
Musk Deer: The Contemporary in Tradition
Rajeev Sethi with Noorjehan Bilgrami
2:30pm to 3:30pm | Hall-II
8 Victoria's Secret
Shrabani Basu with FS Aijazuddin
2:30pm to 3:30pm | Hall-III
8 Book launch: In Good Faith
Saba Naqvi with Shahan Mufti
2:30pm to 3pm | Baithak Hall
8 Book launch: The Faithful Scribe
Shahan Mufti with Saba Naqvi
3pm to 3:30pm | Baithak Hall
8 The Making of Political Satire
Ali Aftab Syed and Jugnu Mohsin with Khaled Ahmed
3:45pm to 4:45pm | Hall-I
8 Crisis of Education: Tagore's Meaning Today
Amit Chaudhuri, Mushirul Hasan, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Rubina Saigol with Khaled Ahmed
3:45pm to 4:45pm | Hall-II
8 Print is Here to Stay!
Gavin Francis, John Gapper, Maina Bhagat with Michael Dwyer
3:45pm to 4:45pm | Hall-III
8 The Body in South Asian Art
Naman Ahuja with Rachel Dwyer
3:45pm to 4:45pm | Baithak Hall
8 Afghanistan on the Brink
Ahmed Rashid, Hina Rabbani Khar, Maleeha Lodhi, Vali Nasr with Rashed Rahman
5pm to 6pm | Hall-I
8 Zia Mohyeddin Recites from His Own Works
Introduced by Asif Farrukhi
5pm to 6pm | Hall-II
8 Dissonance to Detour
Diana Campbell, Kamila Shamsie, Shahzia Sikander with John Zarobell
5pm to 6pm | Hall-III
8 Book launch: Gone with the Vindaloo and Curry
Shrabani Basu and Vikram Nair with Libby Owen-Edmunds
5pm to 6pm | Baithak Hall
8 Performance: Sachal Orchestra
8pm to 9pm | Hall-I