Riz Ahmed steals the show on LLF opening day

  • In another talk, titled: ‘The New Pakistani Middle Class’, scholars shed light on evolution of middle class

LAHORE: “After a lapse of 13 years, visiting Pakistan is somewhat like visiting an ex,” said Riz Ahmed while speaking at the Lahore Literary Festival at Alhamra Hall on Saturday.

Riz Ahmed, a British actor-cum-rapper and activist, also known by his stage name, Riz MC, graced the LLF with famed novelist Mohsin Hamid in a talk titled ‘MC Activist’, wherein both artists shared thoughts on creativity and the relation of an artist with his surroundings.

Shedding light on his visit to Pakistan after such long time, Riz said he was amazed at how Pakistani culture had evolved and how out of touch the families that had migrated in the 60s and 70s were with it. “The families that have migrated are sort of living in a time capsule.”

Sharing his recent experience in Lahore, he told the audience how he was pulled aside by the army before entering a cantonment area, who agreed to let him go if he rapped for them. “I thought then, wow, this is a country that takes its poetry seriously,” he chuckled.

Expounding on the artists’ engagement with the society, Riz started off by telling the audience that the major reason for him to have engaged in various forms of art was the innate desire that he had to express himself in any way possible. “The idea that no one’s really watching, no one is really listening, was kind of liberating,” he said.

Riz Ahmed went on to explain as to how while growing up, he used his art to vent the frustration that was common in British of the 80s and 90s. “I knew I could not make a considerable impact but I could vent. A creative act is an act of defiance but in many ways, it is an act of helplessness as well.”

He said that creativity is almost like an act of selfishness since artists mostly work for their own selves.

Referring to what Riz Ahmed said earlier, Mohsin Hamid said that artists do feel certain helplessness, but they also have a tremendous capacity to make people feel a connection with other human beings.

“When human beings feel connected to each other, something transformative happens— it proves that an experience of love is possible that ultimately alters our relationship to the universe and to everything around us,” Hamid said.

The conversation concluded in a thunderous applause with Ahmed rapping for the audience.


The event was not just about art and creativity; it also touched upon social phenomenon, particularly the emergence of a new middle class in the society.

Author Ammara Maqsood sat with Arif Hasan, in a talk moderated by Khaled Ahmed to discuss her new book The New Pakistani Middle Class.

In her talk, Maqsood focussed on the changing middle class in Lahore, the competition between middle-class groups, particularly on why Lahore’s women are still averse to working as opposed to Karachi’s.

The panellists touched upon the various differences between the middle classes of Karachi and Lahore and how they are evolving differently.

Arif Hasan said that the middle class in Karachi is now increasingly inclined towards forming nuclear family units, whereas according to Maqsood, in Lahore, the joint family system is still going strong.

It was discussed as to how the Pakistani middle class of yesterday was more progressive than it is now. Maqsood said that the middle class that is now emerging in the urban cities of Pakistan, mainly in Lahore, is more religious and consumer-oriented in many ways.

About the similarities in the middle classes of Pakistan and India, she said that both have changed the public sphere towards more conservative values, but no matter how much the focus on religion is now, it cannot be said with certainty that it is going to shift towards a certain kind of religion.

“The new middle class in Pakistan is much more conservative but whether it is religious in one direction or towards one stream, we cannot say with surety,” she said.

Speaking about the possibility of co-existence in various middle-class groups in Pakistan, Maqsood said, “Barring the eruptions of violence that take place at times, there is enough evidence to support the fact that people can still live together in this country.”