Laughter and Liberation at Karachi Literature Festival 2020
“Literature and the arts do not teach us to tolerate differences among ourselves, they rather teach us to enjoy and celebrate those differences,” explained the articulate British-Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif as she wrapped up this year’s annual Karachi Literature Festival.
The festival boasted another unique line-up ranging from authors, critics, activists and more. Situated at Beach Luxury, audience members dappled in sunlight, under palm trees, across the mangroves, enjoying pakoras while absorbing literary joys from across the globe.
Within the melting pot of ideas, debates and dialogues were much needed conversations, from pressing talks about Kashmir to lighthearted chats about humour in literature, to empowering and informative glances back at our collective history.
WOMEN OF SUBSTANCE: FATIMA JINNAH, BENAZIR BHUTTO, AND ASMA JAHANGIR
Setting the tone for the discussion, activist, dancer and force of nature Sheema Kermani in regards to the three iconic women stated, “They persevered, because they believed in their truth, so I think the thing that I look up to is the fact that they were such brave women.”
Endorsing Kermani’s statement, historian Victoria Schofield, a regular KLF visitor who was well acquainted with both Benazir Bhutto as well as Asma Jahangir spoke of how each woman had played a role in raising the glass ceiling in turn creating a domino effect that has helped shape today.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS AND MUSLIM WOMEN’S WRITING
“Similar to It’s Not About the Burqa that was released last year, A Match Made in Heaven goes over hilarious truths relatable in different ways to different people”
Centering much of the talk was A Match Made in Heaven – an anthology compiled by editors Claire Chambers, Dr. Nafhesa Ali and Richard Philipps.
When asked to discuss the importance of anthologies by moderator Ilona Yusuf (poet, critic and associate editor of the Aleph Review) Muneeza Shamsie referred to a quote by literary critic Neelam Srivastava:
The author of Hybrid Tapestries suggests that anthologies relate to the identity formation of its leaders upon which Professor David Waterman agreed.
Similar to It’s Not About the Burqa that was released last year, A Match Made in Heaven goes over hilarious truths relatable in different ways to different people.
BOOK LAUNCH: ON THEIR OWN TERMS: EARLY TWENTY FIRST CENTURY WOMEN’S MOVEMENTS IN PAKISTAN BY FOUZIA SAEED
Discussing the stories of women including Tahira Shah and Bushra Arain, who was also amongst the audience, the book On Their Own Terms is a collection of four successful women’s movements since 2000. These include the provincial movements of Punjab peasants, the Sindh fisherfolk, the nationwide movements of lady health workers as well as AASHA, a movement against sexual harassment.
Shedding light on the importance of financial empowerment amongst women and the roles each woman played in bringing about change, Bushra told her story to the audience. Tahira Shah’s daughter also came up to stage to discuss her mother’s activism amongst the fisherfolk communities.
Fouzia Saeed spoke of her findings during the course of writing the book, “I view social change and movements separately from the domain of development projects, the change and achievements amongst women have come through these movements as opposed to development projects – not one percent of credit goes to the development projects.”
PUNCHING UP: YOUNG COMEDIANS REDEFINING SATIRE
“If you’re wondering who promised a Mard March, it’s him. He organised a fake Mard March,” stand-up comedian Natalia Gul, speaking of fellow comedian Shehzad Ghias
Moderator Hamna Zubair, former editor of Dawn Images, kicked off the session by requesting the panelists to introduce each other instead of themselves.
“If you’re wondering who promised a Mard March, it’s him. He organised a fake Mard March,” stand-up comedian (and dentist) Natalia Gul admitted as she spoke of fellow comedian and serial prankster Shehzad Ghias.
Misconceptions about the genre of comedy, specifically in Pakistan were addressed thoroughly. Shehzad Ghias stated two points “don’t make fun of who they are, make fun of what they do” as well as “Punch up on those who have power”.
“Punch up on those who have power” – comedian Shehzad Ghias
Head writer at Teeli, Gul Zaib added to Shehzads statement, “You always punch up, you always call attention to somebody’s behaviour if they have a certain standing in the society, you never punch down to somebody who’s already marginalised”
Hamna also directed the conversation towards more serious issues such as women in comedy upon which both men on the panel voiced their opinion. Both Ali Gul Pir and Shehzad recognised the issues around sexual harassment or abuse stemming from men and their need for power.
Problematic issues that each comedian has gone through in their own careers such as censorship were also discussed. “I feel art is revolutionary, I think an artist should have the right to express,” said Natalia. Joining in, Gul Zaib added a cookie cutter statement to sum up the conversation, “We need to learn how to have a dialogue – especially online”.