By Minerwa Tahir
KARACHI: We often hear on electronic media that voters are jahil [ignorant]. They are never jahil. They are people who are aware of the fact that they are the ones carrying the burden of society on their shoulders.
Noorul Huda Shah, an author who writes in Urdu and Sindhi, said this while delivering her keynote speech on the first day of the 9th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) at Beach Luxury Hotel on Friday. While she was the last person to speak at the opening, she earned the most amount of applause from the audience.
According to her, KLF began nine years ago at a time when people had forgotten that they could speak. “Distribution of fatwas of kufr was at its height,” she said. “It was a time when no festival would happen.”
She said that it was KLF that introduced people to the reality that they could speak and listen. She went on to add that the only language that keeps a nation alive is the language of love. “Literature and art form the language of love that can combat the fatwas of kufr,” she said.
Talking about languages, she said that both Urdu and Sindhi are her languages. She added the two are the languages of “Sindh dharti”.
According to her, Pakistani society has been divided into three sections. First, there is a civil society. “In layman’s terms, it’s the educated class that has concluded that this is a country full of jahils and its people are crazy,” she said. She added that this is the class that knows that they can leave the country to settle abroad once they are done. The second division that Shah pointed out comprises the people who are extremists and actually want blood. “The third kind, the majority, is the bare-footed common man who ploughs the fields. These people can’t care about who is Muslim and who is not – all they care about is earning bread. We have to join these people and own them if we want to prosper.”
She also lamented how we blame the extremists for their wrongdoings without considering how we are the ones creating them. “Why shouldn’t they be extremists?” she asked. “Did we give them schools? We gave them to the maulvi by sending them to madrassas after creating a country in the name of Islam. And today we curse them.”
Shah was of the view that we can’t abandon the extremists either. “The state is like a mother,” she said. “She doesn’t throw away her wayward children. Instead, she tries to correct their behavior.”
Historian Francis Robinson, Oxford University Press (OUP) Managing Director Ameena Saiyid, author Asif Farrukhi, Italian Consul General in Karachi Anna Ruffino, German Consul General in Karachi Rainer Schmiedchen, French Consul General in Karachi François Dall’Orso and US Consul General in Karachi Grace Shelton also spoke at the event.
“KLF is not just an event – it’s a movement,” said Ameena Saiyid. “I regard KLF as a mini university.”
She thanked the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi for issuing visas to eight Indian guests gracing the KLF. On a lighter note, she thanked the high commission for providing a cup of tea to the Indian guests while processing the visa.
“Karachi is the greatest city of the world,” she said.
The need for peace and love
Meanwhile, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria also addressed the event and stressed the need for healing the ties between India and Pakistan.
He said this was his maiden visit to the festival as well as Karachi. “I’m less than two months old as India’s envoy in Pakistan,” he said. “I have heard much about this festival in India. I think the next best thing to reading a book is to hear its author.”
He said he was happy to see that Indians are coming to attend the festival. “Both India and Pakistan are celebrating seven decades of independence. Our engagement has never been easy. Recent times have been troubled in the India-Pakistan relationship. But I do believe that we can imagine a future substantially different from the past. Writing and literature can shine the light. Free thinkers can often show us the way when politics becomes complex and unmanageable. We hope to see the relationship between our countries improve. We hope that we can help create an atmosphere free of violence and terror in which we could approach each other. We could continue in mistrust and suspicion or imagine an alternative universe. We could take the high road to peace.”
Bisaria stressed the need for healing relations. “We could fight our common enemies, which are poverty, illiteracy and disease, and certainly not each other.” He added that he hopes we could move to such a future. “I look forward to attending several sessions over the next two days and hope that some of the reflections here also dwell on the path to peace.”
The opening session ended on a Kathak performance by Shayma Saiyid, after which simultaneous panel discussions and a Sindhi poetry recital took place.