A little something for everyone
‘Without the pains of last minute venue changes and cancelled sessions, attendance was high as literati of different strains flocked to get a hit of their preferred sort of literary experience, making the event not purely a high browed affair.’
‘While he may not be the most well-known figure in Pakistan, compared to active television and social media personalities such as Reza Aslan and Riz Ahmed, Ben Okri was by far the biggest name at the event and the undoubted headliner.’
That the Lahore Literary Festival took place in Alhamra this year was a huge relief. After bouncing around different hotels for the past couple of editions over security concerns, with last year’s festival even being cut down to a single day, this year the event was tinged with a sense of homecoming.
After all, Alhamra just seems to be the natural host for an event like the LLF. And without the pains of last minute venue changes and cancelled sessions, attendance was high as literati of different strains flocked to get a hit of their preferred sort of literary experience, making the event not purely a high browed affair.
Big guns on stage:
With much at stake and everyone on high alert, it seems that the organisers of the event were not shy in starting off with a bang, throwing their biggest names all on the stage at the same time to talk about a topic talked on to death: Donald Trump.
The panel was strange for a political talk, but Booker prize winner Ben Okri, and acclaimed writer and scholar on religion Reza Aslan maintained poise and brought new ideas to the table, with Okri going so far as to dominate the supposedly more seasoned Mark Leonard, who is the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. While attendance for this particular session may not have been at its peak, the handful of empty rows at the back of Alhamra’s Hall 1 can be forgiven for at 10 AM it was scheduled a trifle early for a Saturday.
Something for everyone:
But as the event progressed, one could see how it was laid out to cater to the different tastes and aspirations of those attending. While Hall 1 filled up with millennials and stand-up fans in minutes for the arrival of television personality and comedian Riz Ahmed and his talk “MC Activist”, it was a completely different generation that made up the crowd in Hall 2, where FS Aijazuddin was in conversation with Audrey Trsuckle on her latest book “Aurangzeb Alamgir, The Man and The Myth.”
The festival did start to pick up pace as crowd favourites such as Mohsin Hamid had returned again this year to some spectacular reception. And while the crowds flocked to see these talks, there existed discussions on some more niche topics, such as a fascinating conversation on Istanbul and its architecture, which turned into a debate on the City’s historic role as a center of the Muslim world and its continuing religious significance under both Roman Catholics and Muslims.
The end of day two perhaps best encapsulated the diversity of the festival as the final two events taking place simultaneously were Zia Moheudin’s “Why Shakespeare is, Shakespeare” and a performance by the band Laal in honour of the late Asma Jehangir. Hall 2 filled beyond capacity as Zia bewitched his admirers by bringing alive some of the best parts out of Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps he should have been given the larger hall considering that Laal’s performance failed to fill the seats of the much larger Hall 1, still driving those present to a frenzy.
The headliner steals the show:
While he may not be the most well-known figure in Pakistan, compared to active television and social media personalities such as Reza Aslan and Riz Ahmed, Ben Okri was by far the biggest name at the event and the undoubted headliner.
To cap things off on the first day, there was an enchanting story-telling session featuring Ben Okri with Zareen Saeed in which the writer talked about his latest work, and the philosophy of both reading and writing he ascribes to. Even if there were not many admirers of his work present, to hear him in person was a privilege, not to mention the mesmerizing discussion on Okri’s trademark ‘fictive philosophy’ style of writing.
On the second day, Ben Okri engaged in a ‘Poetry Slam’, hosted by Shaista Sirajuddin, along with Salman T. Qureshi and Sinan Antoon which put crowds on an emotional roller-coaster as he led the two poets in a whirlwind starting from politics and going on the themes such as parenthood, home and love in tones sometimes profound and wistful, while at others bone-chilling.