How often do you see a sea of academics, writers, readers, scholars, artists and celebrities congregated in a single space? I witness this at the fourth Adab Festival Pakistan that took place on November 26 and 27 at Frere Hall, where not only these but many other people from myriad professions are gathered to celebrate literature.
Let me pen down a brief anatomy of the arrangements. Right at the front, under a grand canopy, is the British Council Garden, adjacent to which are two more canopies; the Bard's Children's Pavilion and the Food Court. As you enter the premises, on the left are several book stalls lined up and inside the building are the Habib University and Lightstone Halls. And of course, on the floor above is the Sadequain Gallery.
The first session I attend is Tariq Alexander Qaiser's A Story of Survival – a talk on replanting the mangroves that once surrounded Karachi (you could spot them from the Native Jetty Bridge). "In 2012 there were mangroves all around Karachi," says Qaiser while he screens his documentary that he recently showed at the Cop27 Conference in Egypt. "These mangroves have been cut down and are now almost non-existent.” Nevertheless, Qaiser seems optimistic about his endeavour. He tells his overflowing audience (there are people peeking in from both doorways) that mangroves are Karachi’s oxygen and play a vital role in sustaining Pakistan’s climate.
Following his talk comes the lunch break and my chance to check out the space. People are flooding in from everywhere as I make my way to the Bard's Children's Pavilion. There is a performance by the students of the Lightstone School System. A few stalls line the other side under the canopy; one is selling handmade crafts (set up by the Ra'ana Liaquat Craftsmen Colony); another is an education consultancy booth by LGS and the last one has been set up by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi and is filled with children. In a way, you could say that the Adab Festival is not only for adults; it is also a learning opportunity for children.
Upstairs in the Sadequain Gallery there is an exhibition The Lost Lullaby of Mother Nature by Fauzia Minallah and which showcases intricate flowery and leafy patterns atop vibrant colours. Her exhibition is an ode to the beauty of nature that we are gradually losing to the climate crisis. This exhibition is curated by Pomme Gohar who is also moderating a talk on the launch of this art show. Other guest speakers include Sheema Kirmani, Meher Afroze, and Minallah herself. I also spot Rumana Hussain sitting among a small crowd of women and children from different schools who are also attending the session. On the right, on a projector screen, Sharmeen Obaid Chinnoy’s documentary Pakistan’s Climate Change Heroes is running. I sit down to catch glimpses of it and I wish I had more time to watch it. Thankfully, the representative of SOC films tells me that I can find the documentary on YouTube.
Next, I head downstairs to the Habib University Hall to attend a talk among novelists with H.M. Naqvi, Saad Shafqat and Syed Kashif Raza leading the conversation. Moni Mohsin’s book launch is happening simultaneously in the British Council Garden, and I am hoping to at least get a glimpse of it, but this conversation among novelists has me hooked. In times like these I wish I had Hermione Granger’s time turner.
After this insightful talk, I head to the British Council Garden to attend a talk on Wasatullah Khan’s Sailab Diaries, moderated by Akhlaq Ahmed. I am elated to see that climate change has been one of the most discussed topics this year, as it should be. Ahmed reads an essay from Khan’s Sailab Diaries, which provides a detailed account of the 2010 floods in Pakistan. In this context, Khan highlights the way the media handled this crisis. “I saw a kid clutching his father for warmth when a reporter came and asked him if he was excited to celebrate Independence Day.” Several people in the crowd gasp and I hear a few women sitting behind me uttering words of disbelief. This session in particular is turning out to be more engaging than I had expected.
The next session scheduled to take place in the British Council Garden is Nadeem F. Paracha’s book launch of Faith, State and the Soul, moderated by George Fulton. Paracha talks about how Pakistan’s pop culture has played a pivotal role in the faith and the state of our country. He emphasises the fact that during his research he could not find credible information about the culture of Balochistan. “I had to talk to the people of Balochistan to extract as much information as I could because I couldn’t find anything on Google.”
As the sun begins to set, there is a talk in the Lightstone Hall called Contagious Connectivity: Art and The Pandemic, a session that I want to attend given how the pandemic halted (or rather catalysed – in some people’s opinions) the art scene. The session is mediated by Naila Mahmood and Dr Samina Zahir. Although Mahmood is of the opinion that the pandemic was a loss of two years, some among the audience disagree; many think that artists, writers and content creators used that time to expand their portfolios. One such person is Bina Shah, sitting right next to Christie Lauder, Assistant Professor, Communication and Design at Habib University, both of whom are the hosts of the next session.
As soon as Mahmood and Dr Zahir’s conversation wraps up, Shah and Lauder make their way to the stage. They are set to talk about the rise of Netflix and other streaming channels and how they are changing the way books are conceived and written. After the introductions, Shah gets right into the topic by talking about how much a novel has to be altered to make a TV adaptation of it, so much so that in most cases it loses its original essence. She adds that “it is an unhealthy obsession as many novelists including Fitzgerald pitched to Hollywood in their forties and later became alcoholics upon rejection.” (An interesting insight for someone who dreams to be picked by Hollywood someday. Sigh)
Other than the interactive sessions and book launches, both days of the Adab Festival ended with an entertainment programme. The first day concluded with a comedy routine by comedians Natalia Gul and Mariya Dada, and the second day with a concert by Lal, the band. As the Adab Festival winds up, Arfa Sayeda Zehra, soulfully concludes, “Adab is nothing but an expression of life.”