THE BEST OF THE BEST FROM THIS YEAR’S LAHORE LITERARY FESTIVAL
Turkish author and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk headlined the 8th edition of the annual Lahore Literary Festival, opening and closing the festival with his signature brusque wit. He emphasised the importance of world literature, “We are curious about other people’s lives. Compassion is about going into details about people’s psychology. Novels are not self-expression only but an attempt to see the world through others.”
If we’re reading about people different from us, e.g. if the West reads about Pakistanis, Turks, Arabs, it will be “harder to put a bomb on them.” The literary spills into the political which affects all our lives. Literary festivals are not just a celebration but a vital part of society and our place in the world stage. As Pamuk said, novels allow you to say the “unsayable”.
ORHAN PAMUK LOVES LAHORE, FEMINIST CRITICISM AND IS WRITING ABOUT THE PLAGUE
“This is my first time, I’m embarrassed to say, in Pakistan and I’m happy that the Lahore is the first town. All my childhood, whenever there is Pakistan, there was Lahore and Iqbal”
– Orhan Pamuk, author and Nobel Prize winner
LLF kicked off with Pamuk charming the packed hall on a Friday morning. “Salamulaikum, Walaikumassalam and all that [crowd laughs]. It’s such a great pleasure for me. This is my first time, I’m embarrassed to say, in Pakistan and I’m happy that the Lahore is the first town. All my childhood, whenever there is Pakistan, there was Lahore and Iqbal,” the Turkish author and Nobel Prize winner shared in his distinct manner of speaking. He was in fine form, speaking to longtime friend, journalist Ahmed Rashid.
Orhan Pamuk’s opening speech at LLF 2020
Rashid remarked how Pamuk’s depiction of women is so incredibly sensitive, despite belonging to a “macho” Turkish society. Pamuk responded with clear-eyed honesty, “I was not like that in the beginning – my early works were criticised for not being sensitive to women. I learned feminist criticism is good. I improved myself with it. Just like my self-imposed determination to write about Istanbul beyond the middle class, secular society. I wanted to write women in a way they were not being written.”
Pamuk revealead he’s been working on a novel for the last four years: Nights of Plague based on the 1897 plague that started in China/India and had Europe so worried; millions died in Asia but no one in Europe. Considering the coronavirus pandemic these days, the novel seems “prophetic” Rashid commented. Pamuk replied, “Not prophetic. These are common things that keep happening. They recur.”
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER – THE FUNNY CRIME NOVEL DEALING WITH TRAUMA AND TOXIC LOVE
“There has been excitement about a woman being a perpetrator rather than a victim”
– Oyinkan Braithwaite, Booker Prize longlisted author
“There is love but the problem with the love is it is toxic on both sides. It is based on duty and trauma,” Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite delves into the relationship between the sisters in her Booker Prize longlisted novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer. Aysha Raja, of The Last Word bookstore, remarked how funny the novel actually is, despite being a murder novel.
Braithwaite got excited when Raja asked her about her thoughts on marriage: “I did critique marriage a little bit. Marriage is now about what you can get from the other party. People don’t have a sense of loyalty. You have to see underneath the surface when choosing a mate.” Nigerian society seems pretty similar to Lahore in terms of older women “pushing marriage” on unmarried women despite having a “negative experience” themselves, and the obsession with whether a woman can cook.
“There has been excitement about a woman being a perpetrator rather than a victim,” Braithwaite remarked about the female serial killer in her novel. “It is more fun when characters aren’t pure and kind. You’ve seen that a lot with women characters where they’re angels,” she continued. As publisher Faiza Sultan Khan said, we need more books like this.
Interestingly, the book took Braithwaite a mere two months to write. She was also inspired by the wild characters and imaginative storylines in Japanese anime.
FATIMA BHUTTO IS A LITERARY POWERHOUSE AND BELIEVES ASIAN CULTURE IS ON THE RISE
“Until the lions start writing their own stories the hunters will always be the heroes”
– Fatima Bhutto quoting Turkish President Erdogan praising historical TV show Ertugrul
The articulate, charismatic Fatima Bhutto captivated the packed hall from the moment she stepped onto the stage for her session on her new non-fiction book New Kings of the World. She talked about how South Korean, Turkish and Indian films and TV shows are on the rise globally while the influence of Hollywood wanes.
About travelling to Dubai and Abu Dhabi to meet Shah Rukh Khan, she said, “More interesting than the interview itself was just watching how people connected to him. I think part of [the reason for his massive fan following] is the loneliness of modern life.” Such sensitive, astute and humane observations mingled with pop culture facts that the author had on her fingertips, making this session seamlessly engaging.
Fatima Bhutto talking about her new book, New Kings of the World, at LLF 2020
Bhutto remarked how Turkish dramas are second to only American TV shows in terms of distribution. Mera Sultan was seen by 500 million people globally. “It has traditional values and morality… It’s also incredibly well done.” She shared a story about when she went to Istanbul to interview the lead actor in Mera Sultan, the actor sang jeevay jeevay Pakistan.
She concludes: “If Asia is to succeed, Asia will not succeed through enmity. We will succeed through doing it together.”
JUSTIN MAROZZI CHRONICLES THE RISE AND FALL OF ISLAMIC EMPIRES
“The secret ingredient of a successful city is it pulls in the world and an unsuccessful city expels its people”
– Justin Marozzi, author of Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization
Historian and writer Justin Marozzi had two sessions at LLF, one on Baghdad and one on Islamic Empires, his new book where he chose 15 crucial Islamic cities through time. The Baghdad session was filled with tragedy, terror and gore (the clip Marozzi played of Saddam Hussein will haunt me for a while) – but he also reminded us of how advanced we used to be. Baghdad had the largest collection of books in the 9th century, for example. He also explained, “Europeans flocked to Isfahan but there was monumental disinterest on the part of Safavid rulers.” It’s sad to keep reliving old glory but sometimes it’s important to consider what we did right. Marozzi concluded, “The secret ingredient of a successful city is it pulls in the world and an unsuccessful city expels its people.”
THERAPY IS NOT A THREAT TO SOUTH ASIAN CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
“The more you look into your own emotions, the more you own your own identity, the stronger your relationships within the community develop”
– Therapist Jasmyn R. Khawaja
In a refreshing departure from political, art, and literary sessions, there was a session on the resistance to therapy in a collectivist, religious society like ours. Seasoned counsellors Maryam Suheyl, Jasmyn R. Khawaja and Daheem Deen spoke eloquently and convincingly. Deen pointed out that people mistake mental health for mental illness, further placing a taboo on seeking therapy. Jasmyn R. Khawaja explained how collectivist societies are shame-based, putting the fear of ostracisation into its members, and therapy is about overcoming shame. Khawaja explains how therapy actually strengthens your bonds in a community: “Relationships can be more authentic, stronger, they can have various boundaries, and they can still be in a collectivist society but exist without shame.”
Jasmyn R. Khawaja also explained that, “Unconsciously we already, as a culture and society, identify with a need for therapy but it’s taking place in different forms (e.g. moderator Fatima M. Naqvi’s research suggests going to shrines has a therapeutic element).” She also cleared the air that there is space for our religious beliefs within the therapy room, making therapy less “threatening” in our culture. Jasmyn R. Khawaja also explained how therapy is an “alliance” between the client and therapist, “It’s me experiencing you, and then it’s you experiencing yourself through my experience.”