As Pakistan is about to say a well deserved goodbye to the winter chill, festivals abound! Scholars, teachers, students and art lovers are awash with cultural activities of amazing varieties! During last few years, art connoisseurs have reveled in the fruits of healthy competition between Lahore Literary Festival and Karachi Literary Festival! Our dear capital, ever like a sleeping giant, is also awakening slowly to galvanize its cultural side. A planned city eventually getting a life of its own? How much more amazing could it get! 

Finally, we seemed to have found a perfect antidote to whatever ails our cultural ethos.  Thumping success, which Karachi Literary Festival enjoyed, clearly depicted this great city’s resilience and spirit to make a comeback, even from the brink of a precipice, thanks to indefatigable efforts of our law-enforcing agencies. Proving  once again that, as you can’t keep a good man down, you can not keep a good city down, as well. Like a slowly recovering grieving person, Karachi is getting back its moorings! Its not for nothing that this city of cities is known as a ” mini-Pakistan”! Fact is that Subcontinent is never at its best as when it wears a festive look! All these literary festivals are a unique celebration of ideas and books.That reminds me that our politicians, who have been lamenting lack of cultural interaction and harmony among the peoples of South Asia, have already tried every maneuver to achieve this laudable aim, primarily through fiercely competitive games of hockey and cricket— more in cricket than in hockey, of course. But, to their chagrin, they had been utterly dismayed. Instead of fomenting a spirit of neighborly togetherness and mutual bonhomie, desperately fought, cut throat game of cricket, euphemistically known as “The gentlemen’s game”, turns into a gladiatorial version of theatrics displayed at our borders every evening! Contrary to general expectations, the game of cricket between Pakistan and India gives uncanny resemblance of another version of vicarious war.  

Given these ugly shenanigans, both sides have now given up the very idea of playing cricket to augment neighborly peace. Pakistan reluctantly, India willingly. However, literary festivals are a different species altogether. They are all about dialogue, debate and discussion, sometimes very heated discussion, with no holds barred! Writers, thinkers, philosophers, artists, journalists all become one big family, and, as Leo Tolstoy says:” All happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own fashion.” Unfortunately, Subcontinent, at this juncture in history, is a one, big unhappy family. Throw nuclear arsenal into the mix, and you have a disaster waiting to happen! After attending, Karachi Literary festival, I went to see Lahore’s annual Kitab Mela at Lahore Expo Center! Now it is no secret that Lahorites are famous…notorious?…for their irresistible penchant for hearty eating! But at Lahore Book Festival, one is glad to see the other side of Lahorites! Young and old were thronging every stall like they were at the shops of Naan-Kabab! One could feel that perhaps special discounts on offer, left much to be desired! Generally, good books continue to be prohibitively expensive…a challenge which requires attention of powers that be! Given a choice between Metro train and a good book, good book trumps every time! As I came out of  and Lahore Kitab Mela, I could sense the zeitgeist speaking through our intellectuals. They ruefully maintain that, at this juncture of time, Pakistan stands at a crossroads: one way lies a dark ravine of death, destruction, mayhem and terrorism, on the other lies a rickety, shaky, unpredictable and quirky process of democracy. What to chose and what not to chose, that’s the question! Reasons for country’s travails are myriad, not the least psychological and cultural. As Pakistan faces one crisis after another, one is left wondering: Are we, as a nation, not wired for a democratic dispensation?

(The writer is a Ph.D. Researcher at GCU, Lahore.) rai300@hotmail.com

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