Elite literary festivals are often irrelevant to the masses


Pakistan appears to be vying to be recognised as a normal country. Consequently, several literary festivals are held throughout the year, mainly funded by foreign donors, primarily in three major cities: Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. This year, too, two festivals were held in different cities but with varied clientele, audience, expectations and socio-political idioms. They also differed in terms of media and elite attention.

Literary festivals are indeed political expressions of both their organisers and audience. The annual festival in Lahore is of an international nature and meant to cater mainly to the English-speaking audience that many would term as a dominant part of the elite. It usually receives a lot of media attention because the organisers know the art of international and national networking. They jealously guard the event and its reputation as the key forum in the city, to bring what they rate as the intellectual cream together. Their organisational politics certainly requires hard work but can also beget similar politics as it happened this year. The 2016 festival got truncated due to security. But everyone including Charley’s Aunt knew that security was just an excuse to shake up the event. There were other issues happening behind the curtains, which was certainly unfortunate, and not correct. The right to dissent is one of the beauties of a healthy democratic system. If a political system does not allow it then there is something wrong.

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