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Saying the unsaid, touching the untouched at the Faiz International Festival in Lahore

Spirited: A scene from the Faiz International Festival held in Lahore, Pakistan.

Spirited: A scene from the Faiz International Festival held in Lahore, Pakistan.   | Photo Credit: Irfan Aslam

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Faiz International Festival, held in Lahore last month, talked of poetry, politics and revolution

In October, Lahore was declared the City of Literature, making it part of Unesco’s Creative Cities Network. Lahore has always been known for its colleges, universities, poets, writers, art and artists. In united India, it was the second city after Calcutta to produce films.

However, this fresh honour is chiefly because of the surge in literary activities that Lahore has seen over the last one decade. One of the biggest festivals in the city’s literary calendar is the Faiz International Festival, named after Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the greatest Urdu poets of the last century, who lived in Lahore.

Good films, bad films

This year’s edition of the festival, organised annually by the poet’s family, was held from November 15 to 17 at Alhamra Art Centre on Lahore’s historical Mall Road. Despite its name, Faiz Festival is not just about poets but also other art forms, as well as areas like the media and politics.

There was a session on cinema presided over by actors Sarmad Khoosat and Samiya Mumtaz. Talking about the reasons why there are more independent filmmakers in Pakistan, Mumtaz rejected the tags of commercial and alternative films.

Khoosat, who played Manto in the 2015 biographical drama based on the life of the writer, spoke along similar lines, saying that there are only two categories of films — good and bad.

In one of the sessions, British poet and novelist Ruth Padel talked about the influences on her life, her background in music as well as themes of migration and colonialism she explores in her poetry. Talking of nature in her poems, she explained how her fascination with tigers took her to India.

Padel spoke of her mother, who died early last year, and read the poem she had written for her from her latest poetry collection, Emerald.She read out another poem, ‘Jaipur’, composed after her visit to India for the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Hanif on translation

Writer Mohammed Hanif was among the stars of the festival. His first and best novel so far, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, has recently been translated and published in Urdu. With his trademark humour, Hanif discussed how he got away with writing a novel on an army general, military dictator and former president. Talking of the translation, Hanif said that his translator, Syed Kashif Raza, must have found it convenient because of the way the language of the novel is embedded in Urdu cultural references despite being English.

The session was moderated by novelist Osama Siddique.

Ghalib and the times

One of the most interesting sessions was on Urdu poetry, with poet Zehra Nigah and academic Arfa Zehra. The latter lamented that Urdu is being discarded by Pakistanis, and English taking its place. “People in this city meet me and say, ‘You know, we love Ghalib,”’ she said sarcastically. Nigah defined poetry thus: “It is saying the unsaid and touching the untouched”. Discussing ghazal, she said poets have to be extra careful in choosing words, as ghazal cannot have any superfluous words, which other forms of poetry allow.

Both she and Zehra talked of Ghalib, with the latter saying that Ghalib’s ghazals are historical documents, like those of Mir, who had witnessed two wars. “Ghazal is the essence of Urdu poetry,” she said.

There was a session on politics where Imran Khan’s government was lambasted for being too nationalistic. Nafisa Shah, a leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), questioned both the Kartarpur project and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, wondering about the reason behind opening up Kartarpur if the Khokhrapar border with India in Sindh was still closed and trade was off with Afghanistan.

Raza Rabbani, also of the PPP, questioned the timing of the Kartarpur project in another session. “We’re not against the opening of the corridor but have reservations about its timing. For Indian Occupied Kashmir is under lockdown for over 100 days, women there are being raped and the youth tortured. It’s not appropriate to send an all-is-well signal to the world through this event,” he said.

Long live

Journalist Munizai Jahangir criticised the government for stifling the media and described how hard it has become for journalists to do their work.

There were sessions on Jallianwala Bagh, Sikhism in Punjab, the art of translation, Gulzar’s Ijaazat, as well as music performances. There was an exhibition of historical oil paintings, depicting different phases of Guru Nanak’s life, dance performances and recitals of Faiz’s poetry. There were bookstalls galore on the lawns.

During the festival, some Left-leaning students and activists raised political slogans. On the last day, a video clip of activist Arooj Aurangzeb reading aloud the famous revolutionary ghazal of Bismil Azimabadi, ‘Sarfaroshī kī tamannā ab hamāre dil meñ hai, went viral, drawing flak from right-wingers.

However, the Left activists could not have chosen a better platform to voice their dissent than in this festival named after Faiz, whose association with the communist party is well known and who suffered for his ideas and poetry.

The writer is a journalist and poet based in Lahore.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 2:11:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/saying-the-unsaid-touching-the-untouched-at-the-faiz-international-festival-in-lahore/article30209339.ece

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