A long, long, looong post on the KLF

Posted: February 7, 2011 in Social Events
Tags: , , ,

KLF 2011: the Good, The Bad, And The Ugly:

If it wasn’t for my creative writing teacher, I’d have never head of the Karachi Literature Festival last year. At his urging (and threats to cut marks if we didn’t attend a single panel) I dragged a friend along, and had a surprisingly pleasant time. Consequently, we were both eager to spend more time there this year around, and I roped in some friends from my English Lit class in college to tag along as well.

Momentarily overwhelmed by the crowd, we managed to find our way to the Maharaja lounge to catch the last bits of a talk on literature and extremism. Therein began the bad. The room was less of a discussion, and more a press slash socialite event. People were standing around chatting to each other (oh dah-lin, that dress is just too-too is a huge exaggeration, but the impression it leaves should give you an idea of what I mean), cameramen were rudely shoving their way around, and someone please explain to me why journalists that were supposed to be covering the story were the ones that wouldn’t be quiet! Despite the appeal of Raza Rumi moderating the discussion, we were disgusted and left to attend Bina Shah’s book launch, Slum Child. On the way, Muhammad Hanif passed by; “Oh my God that’s Muhammad Hanif! It’s him, it’s really him!” I squeaked and maybe jumped a little bit in excitement, making it halfway across the room to get my book signed before getting embarrassed by my admittedly fangirl-ish reaction.

Bina Shah proved to be eloquent, witty, and charming, to my pleasant surprise, having heard a lot of negative things about her. One of my friends, who had been her student, whispered, “Ghausia you’ll like her, she’s a lot like you.” While I can’t possibly see the similarities, I was instantly charmed and rushed to buy her book, which I luckily enough, got signed later. At the end of the session, she read out an excerpt from Slum Child, which I managed to record on my phone, despite being wrapped up in the story. “Swinging my braid over my shoulder-I liked to do this ten times an hour, its weight and thickness pleasing me greatly …I didn’t mean to step in the filthy water overflowing from the drain, stinking of urine and excrement and chemicals. The whole slum smelt like that anyway and I didn’t want it on my skin as well,” she intoned, as if she was talking about personal experience, rather than a character in her book.

Witty, eloquent, charming, Bina Shah is my new crush!

The worst part for us though, was lunch. I hesitate to write this for the same reason that I hesitate to tell people I have a stomachache; they automatically give me a once-over, as if to say, “With your weight, I’m not surprised.” But the food setup was simply abysmal. Crammed in the same area as the book stalls, stale, burnt, or raw, we settled for the ridiculously overpriced café inside, where despite sitting for about forty-five minutes, we never managed to get our table cleared. Half an hour passed, and they brought us one cookie, which apparently came with my coffee. Still as hungry as we’d been before, we headed to the ballroom to catch Mohsin Hamid and, once again, Bina Shah.

The ridiculously ill-run, over-priced cafe which ran out of chili!

Sadly enough, we weren’t too late because all the panels were running one hour later than the prescribed time. We caught the ending of the Ajoka panel, and the play on Bulleh Shah and Aurangzeb Alamgir. Luckily for me, there weren’t many people sitting around us to be annoyed by me constantly asking a friend to translate the Punjabi in Bulleh Shah’s play.

Some dude told Bulleh Shah to listen to him, which apparently, he didn’t.

As a Sikh exclaimed that others may doubt Shah’s religion but he was still a Muslim to him, I couldn’t help quipping, “I wish someone would say that about me heretical ways.”

Apparently others may not believe in Bulleh’s musalmani but to the angry Sikh, he is a Muslim

The Sikh almost hugged Bulleh when he burst into song, but ran away like a pussy instead.

Aurangzeb’s play brought tears to my eyes as Shah Jehan wailed over the head of his eldest son, while the fakir taunting Aurangzeb sent chills down my spine. The only flaw? There wasn’t a real, or even fake human head shown, just a covered tray. They should have shown some sort of head at least, but hey, I’m creepy that way.

Yeh meray Dara ka sar hai!

Fakir defying Aurangzeb Alamgir, the twat.

Yeh tumharay bhai Dara ka sar hai! (Soemthing about his daughter Zebun-Nisa) Mein apna nangapan chupaun, ya tumhara nangapan?!

Having heard a lot of negative things about Mohsin Hamid as well, I was surprised to see that wasn’t the case at all at his discussion titled ‘A Vision, A Country’. While I question the fact that Veena Malik is his new hero, which I bemoaned and the rest of the room hooted over, it was fun to listen to the author of one of my favorite books talk about writing and the dismal state of the country, attempting to find positivity where possible, and good-naturedly answering questions, much amused at hearing that one reader initially thought Moth Smoke was ‘a druggie book’. At the end of the session, I went to get my book signed by Bina Shah, where the ugly head of KLF reared its beastly head. “Bina!” snapped a nasty looking organizer who wanted to move away the table. “Just a second!” Bina Shah shot back, giving me an exasperatedly amused look. As she attempted to flourish the last H in Shah, the woman jolted the table from under her, making the poor writer yelp in protest. “Oh, sorry,” said the cranky woman, not sounding apologetic at all. Catching up with a friend who had been getting Moth Smoke signed, we took a short break and returned to find Mohsin Hamid still signing a book at the back of the room.

Mohsin Hamid in all his glory!

Sadly though, it was time to go home after meeting up with my dad, who was glowing with praise for Ahmed Rashid’s talk which I’d avoided, not wanting to attend something too serious. I ended up missing Muhammad Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Ali Sethi’s  discussion on Work In Progress, which brings me to another criticism of KLF; punctuality. The day started off with things running half an hour late, and that gradually became a one hour delay. Various reasons were given on Twitter, but it still shows a bit of ineptitude towards the basic organizing of the event.

Due to personal reasons, I couldn’t spend Sunday there but managed to wheedle my dad into letting me attend Daniyal Mueenuddin’s session.  Once again, the session started fifteen minutes late, for whatever reasons, but once it started, the audience was hooked as Mr. Mueenuddin read out an excerpt from an unwritten story, talked about novels and short stories, and discussed his upcoming novel. I managed to get my copy of ‘In Other Rooms, Other Wonders’ signed despite the women jostling and threatening to trample on me, and he ended up misspelling my name. “I think its Ghausia,” said one kind lady, trying to help. “Oh my God  its Daniyal Mueenuddin, he can write or say my name however he wants!” I squeaked excitedly, still trying to register that I was standing in front of Daniyal Mueenuddin, of all people, who graciously apologized, both verbally and on my book.

Poor guy was so sheepish. Siiigh.

However, it must be said that if it wasn’t for the star-studded guest-list, I doubt KLF would’ve been this successful, due to various problems. To top it all off, people wearing an Oxford University Press (OUP) were mostly the ones that were standing around chatting in a lot of rooms. The organizers might also want to consider a change in venues, considering that there were more people at the event that the hotel could hold. Aside from delay in timings, too many great panels were arranged at the same time, making us miss a discussion on publishing in Pakistan in favour of Sheema Kermani’s talk on literature and the performing arts. Perhaps the organizers should consider extending the event to three days, and considering what a roaring success it was despite the shoddy arrangement, people would be ecstatic at the event lasting longer.

Bad experiences with the management aside, it was a breath of fresh air to attend the KLF. It’s heartening to see how many people flocked to listen to and meet writers, and discuss literature, and I was mildly star-struck by the crowd and the fact that I saw so many writers. Heck, I saw Fasi Zaka but was too shy to get my Liberty Books bookmark signed; a friend texted simply saying “omg snt akt srprzed!” which I deciphered to mean that she’d met George Fulton (omg, don’t act surprised, which was the title of Fulton’s op-ed in ET some time back, and a much-debated over topic in my class). The writers were the saving grace of the event, constantly apologizing for the delays and good-naturedly dealing with the staff. We need more events like these in the city, because a hotel brimming over with people proved how starved the educated literature-loving population was for such festivals.

(A shorter, more precise version of this can be found on ET. Applause for the poor soul that chopped this down to its blog-version!)

  1. Ali says:

    This makes me wish I lived in Karachi (and that’s saying a lot).
    Btw, watching the ajoka plays without proper sets is preposterous. I am not even sure why they performed like that.

    • Ghausia says:

      Quick publicity maybe? It was really good despite the lack of sets, the Bulleh Shah one had us in giggles because I kept asking my friend “what’s he saying now? What’s he saying now? What just happened?” due to lack of Punjabi skills plus Bulleh kept bursting into song and that made us laugh every time. 😀 Take a train out to Karachi for two days next time, seriously. I’m just bummed I didn’t get to attend a single Muhammad Hanif panel. 😦

  2. Wow, detailed, quite the reporter your becoming! Makes me feel like I was there 🙂

    • Ghausia says:

      Aww shucks. *scuffs toe* Its too rambly, it should be more precise and to the point but I couldn’t help being rambly. 😀 And you should’ve been there dude, lots of hot chicks. My wingwoman radar was going off like crazy!

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