Literature Festival for all (Daily Times)

Praying for the Law of jungle!

By Babar Ayaz

Suna hai janglun ka bhi koi dastoor hota hai
Suna hai sher ka jab pait bhar jaye
to woh hamla nahee karta
Darakhton ki ghani chhaon mein ja kar let jata hai
Hawa kay taiz jhonke jab darakhton ko hilate hain
To maina apne bache chhor kar 
Kawway kay andon ko paron mein tham leti hai
Suna hai ghonsle se koi bacha gir paray to
sara jungle jaag jata hai…

Suna hai janglon ka bhi koi dastoor hota hai
Khuda wanda, jaleel o mohtbar
Daana o beena, munsif o’ akbar
Mere is shahr mein 
Ab janglon ka he koi qanoon nafiz kar

Zehra Nigah

That was the representative poem portraying feelings of the thousands of educated people of all classes and ethnicities who thronged the 5th Karachi Literature Festival a few days back in the city. Yes when terrorism, target killings and extra-judicial torture and murders are everyday happenings, these bleeding issues are hard to be brushed aside by the hapless people of the country. The barbarians responsible for these killings have insatiable hunger they are not like the ‘Sher’ (lion) of the jungle. Each day people are being blasted and killed, what else does one expect from the sensitive educated people but to feel sad and pray for the ‘law of the jungle.’

On 8th February, the second day of KLF there was strike call by MQM to protest the death of their worker who they said succumbed to the torture inflicted by the law enforcement agencies. A day earlier fiery Asma Jehangir, journalist-cum novelist Mohammed Hanif and political activist Aasim Sajjad Akhtar in a jam-packed session were blasting human rights violations by both the state and the terrorist gangs. Asma is hopeful that the people of Pakistan would resist religious fascism. In the long run that indeed would be the verdict of history as the majority of Pakistanis are against the Talibanisation of the country. Thinly veiled Sharia of the Taliban and their political agents is fascistic. They want to exploit the religious feelings of the Muslims of the country to achieve their undemocratic goal.

But for the Karachiites the spring of literature — popularly known as KLF, Karachi Literature Festival – was too short. Only four days after the KLF concluded 13 young policemen were killed in an attack by TTP and 47 wounded which included some civilians also. Most of the killed had just joined the police force in the last two years, knowing policing is a dangerous profession ever since the hydra-headed belligerent monster of terrorism has turned against its masters in the establishment.

In the last few years, killings of policemen have been increasing in Sindh  from 24 in 2010 to 190 in 2013, which includes 19 rangers. While the killing of senior officers hangs on with the media for a few days, the ordinary policemen are buried, unsung unwept, such is the sad reality of this highly status conscious society. In a civilised society when a policeman is killed in the line of duty the city gives him a hero’s burial. Unfortunately Pakistan has now the distinction of being the most dangerous place in the world for policemen and journalists. One cannot move on to writing on other issues redeeming or depressing without paying tribute to all those who die while trying to make Pakistan safe for us.

In this backdrop for many who feel that Karachi in particular and the country in general is facing threat from terrorism, KLF is where hundreds of literary flowers bloom and defy intolerant obscurantist’s narrative.

Each year since it was started by Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi five years ago the expanse of the KLF has grown. In three days last week KLF had packed 110 sessions with over 160 writers coming from 11 countries. At any given time there were five parallel sessions making it very difficult for the visitors to choose one and miss another which was equally interesting. The situation reminded famous Lahori refrain “Haftay dey saath din te atth melay, hai oh Raba me kethay jawan.” (Seven days in the week and eight fairs, oh God! Where should I go?).

Contrary to some brooding souls the people who come to KLF are from classes who have interest in different genre of literature and non-fiction books. There was also a separate strand for the children. That makes it an event for all ages and classes. Of course only those who have interests in books and writers would come to spend three days with the writers they like and books they prefer.

When a fellow journalist who is always happy to cover KLF asked me “what do you think about the corporatization of literature?”  My view was that the organiser Oxford University Press is a non-profit company and it does not try to control the content of discussions and accommodates both non-conformist and conformist writers and intellectuals.

I also told my young friend that in the olden days the kings, Rajas and church patronized art and literature, but that does not mean that Ghalib’s poetry and Michael Angelo’s paintings are of no value.

Our litmus test should be that whether we can speak out on pro-people issues at such forums or not instead of missing the opportunity to reach out to thousands people who throng events like this willing to listen and question ???. Left ‘Salafism’ has led us to dismiss everything which is successful and which we have failed to do. If we can’t do it then why the corporate sector should do it attitude? is rejectionist.

The good thing about the KLF programme content is that it caters to a wide spectrum of literature lovers. Urdu, English, Sindhi and Baloch writers talked about their books and trends. The high point of KLF was when revolutionary poet Habib Jalib was remembered by the audience in a jam-packed session.

 While talking on post 2014 Pakistan the panel of ex-diplomats painted the realistic scenario, though it was the bitter truth. The experts agreed that the perilous fall out of Afghanistan after the NATO forces draw-down in the current year would be of serious consequence for Pakistan. However, they failed to pin the responsibility of much of the mess on the establishment where it actually belongs to.

But the star attraction of the KLF was learned historian and political scientist Rajmohan Gandhi, who abhors politics of violence like his grandfather Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.  He remarked that literature and art doesn’t recognise boundaries, politics creates borders and divides people. At a private dinner he told me he was very disturbed about the rising Sunni-Shia killings and suggested that young Muslims of the world should launch a movement against this dangerous trend. And I thought when states are funding this proxy war in the world, can pacifists like him and I do something to stop this?

The writer is the author of ‘What’s wrong with Pakistan?’  He can be reached at


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