It all began with the launch of ‘Language, Gender and Power: The Politics of Representation and Hegemony in South Asia’ by Shahid Siddiqui, followed by Bilal Tanweer’s novel ‘The Scatter Here is Too Great’ moderated by Ali Sethi.
Mr Sethi said Tanweer’s book was a collection of short stories and a novel at the same time, to which Mr Tanweer responded that half of the book comprised standout shorts with an obvious connection. Sometimes the manner in which you told a story was also ‘content’, he remarked.
Referring to the ‘bomb blast’ that takes place in his tale, he said the story revolved around the lives that were disrupted by the explosion (for example, a boy who is out on a date and has to get back home), which was why the form needed to be used intelligently. “When a blast happens at a place it takes away its memory,” he commented suggesting bombs replaced stories. Alluding to a leftist character in the book, Mr Tansweer said till the 1970s there was a viable Left in the country crushed by the state. He enjoyed meeting the old people who were still committed to their cause.
Arifa Syeda Zehra conducted the launch of ‘Jazeera-i-Sukhanwaran’ by Ghulam Abbas. Speaking about the prescience in Abbas’s stories, writer Masood Asher said the writer had foreseen the situation that the clergy would one day take over the country. He had tremendous sociopolitical awareness and his stories, such as ‘Reengne Waale’, were testimony to that. He wasn’t a prolific short story writer which was why whenever his story got published, it became an event.
Writer Zahida Hina said many considered ‘Overcoat’ to be Abbas’s masterpiece but ‘Anandi’ was as brilliant a story in which he unmasked the hypocritical faces of many a man.
The room was bursting at the seams when the programme on Raza Rumi’s book ‘Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveler’ was held. Moderator Asif Noorani’s question that why the writer chose to write on Delhi and not on Lucknow was met with the answer that he didn’t get the visa for Lucknow.
On a serious note, Mr Rumi said he had visited India regularly from 2005 to 2008 and found Delhi to be a wondrous place. The language, cuisine, Sufi heritage etc there made him realise that the history of Delhi was in continuum of the 900-1,000-year history that we shared, and which carried on despite ruptures like 1947. From a very young age we were taught that India was our enemy country, but when we interacted with the people we realised how our pluralistic legacy was undermined by our state. We were not comfortable with our multiple identities, had a fabricated version of history and needed bombs to justify high military spending. He urged that we would have to challenge all such things.
Next up was the launch of the book ‘Pakistani Nationalism: The Extremist Threat’. Moderator Javed Jabbar said it recognised the uniqueness of Pakistani origins.
The book ‘Ganga Jamuna: Silver and Gold – A Forgotten Culture’ by Naz Ikramullah participated by artiste Sheema Kermani and conducted by Raza Rumi was also attended by a large number of people.
Shedding light on the changed cultural trends, Ms Ikramullah said in the past we would greet each other by saying Aadaab (my respects) and not by Salaam. It was a non-denominational greeting. Those of us who had a religious bent of mind did not impose their religion on others. And now Pakistan had been hijacked by regressive forces; “we shouldn’t allow that to happen”.
Highlighting people’s narrow-mindedness, Ms Kermani said even dance forms such as kathak were branded as Muslim or Hindu.
Two more books – ‘Pakistan: Not a Failed State’ by Syed Shabbar Zaidi and ‘The Prisoner’ by Omar Shahid Hamid – were also on the list of to-be-launched books on Saturday.