KLF 2011: The good, bad and ugly

Published: February 7, 2011

The turn-out showed how much events of this nature are appreciated.

I roped in some friends from my English Literature class to tag along with me to the Karachi Literature Festival at the Carlton Hotel this weekend, and we witnessed some enlightening talks and poor event management.  We managed to catch the last bits of a talk on literature and extremism and therein began the bad.

Noisy journos and social butterflies

The talk was less of a discussion and more a press/socialite event with people standing around chatting to each other and cameramen rudely pushing their way around. Can someone please explain to me why journalists who were meant to cover the event were the ones that couldn’t keep quiet despite Raza Rumi’s appeal to silence the crowd?

We were disgusted and left to attend Bina Shah’s book launch, Slum Child.

Bina Shah is actually nice!

To my pleasant surprise, Shah proved to be eloquent, witty, and charming. I was instantly charmed and rushed to buy her book which I was lucky enough to get signed later. At the session’s close, she read out an excerpt from Slum Child, which I managed to record on my phone, despite being wrapped up in the story. She intoned, as if she was relating a personal experience, rather than a character in her book:

“Swinging my braid over my shoulder…I liked to do this ten times an hour, its weight and thickness pleasing me greatly …I didn’t mean to step in the filthy water overflowing from the drain, stinking of urine and excrement and chemicals. The whole slum smelt like that anyway and I didn’t want it on my skin as well.”

Food disaster

The food setup was simply abysmal. It was crammed in the same area as the book stalls. We chose not to eat there and instead settled for the ridiculously overpriced café inside the hotel where despite sitting for about 45 minutes, we never managed to get our table cleared. Half an hour went by and we were brought one cookie, which apparently came with my coffee. Still as hungry as we’d been before, we headed to the ballroom to catch Mohsin Hamid and once again Bina Shah.

Chilling performances but no gore

We weren’t late because all the panels were running one hour later than the prescribed time. We caught the ending of the Ajoka panel, and the play on Bulleh Shah and Aurangzeb Alamgir. Luckily for me, there weren’t many people sitting around us or they would have been annoyed by my constant requests to translate the Punjabi. Aurangzeb’s play brought tears to my eyes as Shah Jehan wailed over the head of his eldest son while the fakir taunting Aurangzeb sent chills down my spine. The only thing missing was a real or even fake human head. They just had a covered tray but hey, I’m creepy that way.

Moth Smoke and feel-good conversation

Having heard a lot of negative things about Mohsin Hamid I was surprised the discussion titled “A Vision, A Country” was enjoyable. While I question the fact that Veena Malik is his new hero, which I bemoaned and the rest of the room hooted over, it was fun to listen to the author of one of my favorite books talk about writing and the dismal state of the country. He attempted to find positivity where possible, and good-humouredly answered questions, amused at hearing that one reader initially thought Moth Smoke was “a druggie book”.

Aggressive organisers

At the end of the session, I went to get my book signed by Bina Shah, and at this point, the ugliness of KLF reared its beastly head.

“Bina!” snapped a nasty looking organiser who wanted to move the table away. “Just a second!” Bina Shah shot back, giving me an exasperatedly amused look. As she attempted to write the last ‘h’ in Shah, the woman jolted the table, making the poor writer yelp in protest. “Oh, sorry,” said the cranky woman, not sounding apologetic at all.

Unfashionably late

I ended up missing Muhammad Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Ali Sethi’s  discussion on Work In Progress, which brings me to another criticism of KLF – punctuality. The day started off with things running half an hour late and that gradually became a one hour delay. Various reasons were given on Twitter, but it still shows a bit of ineptitude towards the basic organisation of the event.

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s session on Sunday started fifteen minutes late, but once it began, the audience was hooked. Mr Mueenuddin read out an excerpt from an unpublished story, talked about novels and short stories, and discussed his upcoming novel. I managed to get my copy of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders signed despite women jostling and threatening to trample me. He ended up misspelling my name. “I think its Ghausia,” said one kind lady, trying to help.

“Oh my God! Its Daniyal Mueenuddin, he can write or say my name however he wants!” I squeaked excitedly, still trying to register that I was standing in front of him, of all people, who graciously apologised, both verbally and in writing.

Tips for next year

It must be said that if it wasn’t for the star-studded guest-list, I doubt KLF would have been this successful. Firstly, people wearing Oxford University Press (OUP) tags were mostly standing around chatting.

The organisers might also want to consider a change in venues for next year, considering that there were more people at the event than the hotel could hold. Aside from delay in timings, too many great panels were arranged at the same time, making us miss a discussion on publishing in Pakistan in favour of Sheema Kermani’s talk on literature and the performing arts. Perhaps the organisers should consider extending the event to three days. Considering what a roaring success it was despite the shoddy arrangement, people would be ecstatic at the event lasting longer.

For the love of literature

Bad experiences with the management aside the KLF was a breath of fresh air. It’s heartening to see how many people flocked to listen to and meet writers and discuss literature. I was mildly star-struck by the crowd and the fact that I saw so many writers. I saw Fasi Zaka but was too shy to get my bookmark signed; a friend even texted me saying she met George Fulton. The writers were the saving grace of the event, constantly apologising for delays and good-naturedly dealing with the staff.

We need more events like these in the city because a hotel brimming over with people proved how starved the educated literature-loving population is for such festivals.


Ghausia Rashid

A BSS student majoring in journalism at Bahria University. She enjoys writing about anything that matters, is an avid reader, talks more than she should, and to her bemusement, is frequently asked if people find her annoying! She is interested in activism, politics and culture.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://wasioabbasi.wordpress.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    I missed out on this event and really feel bad for it. I have been here in Lahore for over a week and didn’t realized that I would be missing out on the festival. Being an aspiring writer it is important for me to learn wherever possible and since creative writing in our country is a self-taught art, there are very rare opportunities to come into contact with expert writers. I wish I was there :(Recommend

  • maheen usmani

    Finally a comprehensive, well written and interesting round up of the Karachi Literature Festival for those of us who were unlucky enough to miss out on it! Loved your description of the dragon organisers.. I’ve encountered so many of this breed. How refreshing to be in awe of the talented Daniyal Mueenuddin without calling him “terribly sexy” as some other breathless journalists have :) All said and done, KLF is a great initiative and hopefully things will get better and better with time. Recommend

  • http://www.noor-ul-ainhanif.blogspot.com Noor-ul-ain Hanif

    I visited it and it was nice and interesting an open invitation to come and learn!Recommend

  • http://www.pakspectator.com Sana Saleem

    I heard about it from a friend, she liked it !Recommend

  • http://www.ayeshahoda.wordpress.com Ayesha Hoda

    I think overall it was a pretty good event, given that it was only the second time it was being held and I’m glad that the organizers went ahead with it despite all the security concerns. Thumbs up to them! People did seem to really enjoy it even if they had to stand throughout a session. Issues like food and punctuality etc. can be addressed as they become more experienced with organizing such festivals.Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    @Wasio I missed the CW workshops but I heard they were great. Wrong time to be out of town dude!

    @Maheen I didn’t know what he looked like till then, but I must admit it wasn’t just hero-worship that left me breathless when he beamed at me and said hello. :D

    @Noor-ul-Ain That’s the best part, no outrageous fee!

    Also, I owe two editors cupcakes for managing to chop down my ramblingly fangirl-ish experience and making it a readable piece, respect and gratitude to you, and I promise next time, I’ll re-write at least ten times instead of torturing you guys. :DRecommend

  • parvez

    Karachi is starved of culture and any attempt in this direction must be welcomed.
    My grouse is that I get to know of these after the event when there’s a write up on it.
    The KLF I missed because — but you have drawn a wonderful picture, thanks. Recommend

  • http://thinking-lifeandyou.blogspot.com/???? Thinking

    I wish I could say something nice about the event….Recommend


    Oh come on give me a break. This young lady has taken out most of the negative aspects in the Karachi Literature Festival and forgot to mention most of the positive aspects. We must realize that this was the 2nd year this festival was organized, and it was much better than last year. It’s not easy to arrange such a large event with more than 100 authors. One of the organizers shared with me that foreigners coming in required to clear all formalities like police clearance etc.
    I am sure the organizers spend several days if not weeks getting this all done and then to tell the authors that their is no civil war in our streets after Salman Taseer,s assassination and convince them to come to come to Karachi was another challenge. Inside the main hall of the Hotel it was very encouraging to see youngsters giving their seats to elderly visitors who came late while they themselves chose to sit on the floor. Organizing such a mega event without security was out of the question so, logistics, security arrangements were elaborate with American, British and French Consulate one had to go through three security checks before he or she could enter the venue. No common citizen’s car was allowed in the hotel parking but very organized and active valet has been arranged to facilitate parking of visitors cars. Yes their was a huge crowd of media junkies and photographers, all their equipment was crammed all over the place but it was necessary to show the world apart from killing and raping and kidnapping we have some positive activities taking place in Pakistan.
    When one goes to a literature festival who thinks of food as much as coffee or tea, their were a number of media barons, senior journalists and junior journalists and wannabe journalists and intellectuals sitting in that overpriced cafe (as the writer has chose to call it) though normally it is not much of a eating place but they seemed to fill them stomach with tea, coffee, discussion and discourse.
    I myself chose to have Lunch at home and then return to the venue.
    I don’t blame the organizers for becoming cranky as they had been on their feet since eight in the morning on the previous day Saturday till late night and then returned to their duties again early Sunday morning, you have to give them credit for being relentless, though the tired ones should have been replaced by fresh organizers after a certain number of hours.
    Time management is important and the time limit should have been adhered too but intellectual debates and discussions sometimes carry over stipulated times and even a few minutes has a domino effect towards the end of the day. Next year the organizers can work on better time lines. It was a breath of fresh air for the literature lovers of Karachi and I do not agree that the Oxford University Press tag holders were standing and chatting. I myself saw them very active and taking care of the guests at the mushairah which was the last event on Saturday evening, despite being on their toes since the last ten hours. While I felt tired after standing at one or two sessions, so lets give them due credit.
    The venue was very nice but if next time a more spacious venue is chosen yes indeed it would help to make it more spacious considering the large turnout, but not a five star hotel in the city because of the extremely tough security regime visitors would find it very cumbersome to enter.

    We need more such festivals ever year in fact if possible every three to six months. Such a big turnout of people proved how starved the educated literature-loving population is for such festivals. Well done OUP and British Council keep it up.Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Heh. Thanks for this analysis. I feel less green now with those who attended KLFRecommend

  • http://www.nwfp.gov.pak Ashrafuddin CTL

    The next side of the coin has not been neglected. Being literary figure she must stick with the literature and limelight pros and cons of the even rather to tincture just negative aspects while keeping balance between the two extremes. But, such gloom and doom portraiture from youngster ushered in personal grudge with individual or organizer. Therefore, she castigated each and everything. At least, you must be culture vulture being a student of literature; fine arts and music are integral parts of every literary figure, your have to require tinge in her article these side which are universal. Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    @parvez dude how did you miss it, it was all over the news! Next year its on the 11th and 12th of Feb I think, follow their Twitter or FB page or something. :)

    @Azam Sorry you think this is a negative blog, I mentioned the good parts too, but I think you missed them while you were skimming through it instead of reading it properly. :) I went last year too, it was not as badly organized as it was this year. Even though it is only the second year, considering what a huge event this was, I’d assume that it would run fr more efficiently. I had a blast, I mean, I’m just a simple student, I don’t meet bigwigs in journalism or famous writers every single day, so my experience was “omg Muhammad Hanif just walked by me!” or “omg Fasi Zaka is standing right behind me!” but the poor management kinda put a damper on things. I get your point about debates carrying on for a longer time, but running an hour late, and running ten minutes late, huge difference between the two. And as for the food bit, well, I skipped breakfast and had been up for a long time, because I am a human being, this magical thing called sleep deprivation did a strange and wondrous thing to me, its quite marvelous really, it made my head spin and my stomach go “Grrr peeeeuuunnn grunt snort rumble” and it made my energy go down a bit and made me tired. We call this magical thing H-U-N-G-E-R. It means that you need to consume food which your body needs so that you can survive. Fascinating isn’t it? Which is why I had to listen to my body’s demands and do this swanky thing that they call ‘E-A-T-I-N-G. Thus, the food issue.

    Lastly, it wasn’t some small organization that managed the event, but rather, OUP, therefore I didn’t expect so many problems. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but I got the feeling that they weren’t prepared for such a large turnout. That being said, I stick by my statement that they will probably need a bigger venue next year, Carlton is waaaayy too small and it will only get much, much bigger next year.

    PS: I meant all this in good–natured sarcasm btw, not in a rude way, in case you percieve it that way. :)Recommend

  • IZ

    Thanks for this write-up. While there are certainly many ways in which the Festival can be improved, overall I thought it was great that it happened and hope it will continue to happen every year and not go the way of the much late-lamented KaraFilm Festival (May it Rest In Peace).Recommend

  • K

    Oh how much I wished I was in Karachi.Recommend