Adab Festival begins with speeches, book launches and award announcements

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The second edition of the Adab Festival Pakistan kicked off at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, on Friday evening with speeches that provided food for thought for the book lovers that had showed up for the three-day event.

There were three keynote addresses on the inaugural day, first of which was delivered by former chief justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa.

Before his address, he showed a nice gesture by remembering Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim who passed away on Jan 7.

“He was an icon in more ways than one. He served his country as an accomplished lawyer; judge of a high court, judge of the Supreme Court; attorney general; minister for law; governor; and chief of the Election Commission of Pakistan. In each of such sensitive positions, he served with independence, ability, grace and dignity, and earned nothing but respect and reverence. The vacuum created by his passing away shall be hard to fill, and he shall be remembered for a long time,” he said.

Mr Khosa then talked at length about the relationship between law and literature because of the word adab in the name of the festival. He spoke briefly in Urdu in which he told the audience that he studied English Literature and then law, using the word adab in different ways.

Read: Will Karachi’s brand-new Adab Festival change lit fest culture or serve more of the same?

He argued that it’s difficult to define literature but generally it’s understood to be a piece of writing having an artistic or intellectual value or merit.

“Literature is that communication which deploys words or language in a manner which pleases the ear, heart or mind or tickles the finer sensibilities in a person and assumes the status of art. It is sometimes for art’s sake but on other occasions it’s employed as a tool or technique while speaking or writing about a mundane or a professional subject.” (The latter aspect was the focus of his speech.)

Mr Khosa said judges in some parts of the world quoted literature to embellish or decorate their judgements; referred to literary masterpieces to emphasise a point or even created literature through the use of prose of artistic merit or expressions of high literary merit while composing their judgements.

In that regard, he gave many examples from judgements from different parts of the globe in which works of prose and poetry were used.

The last example that he gave was of the times when “literature comes in handy” when judges can’t say things themselves.

He said a few weeks before his retirement, some constitutional and legal questions were asked in a case about those who had never been questioned before.

As expected, such a situation invited the ire of many, and conspiracy theorists started working full time painting a doomsday scenario, he said, adding: “Judges don’t respond to such issues.”

But, he said, through his [Khosa’s] speech at his farewell reference literature provided him with an opportunity, and he read out a poem by Fahmida Riaz:

Kuch log tumhein samjhaengey

Woh tum ko khof dilaengey

Jo hai woh bhi kho sakta

Is raah mein rahzan hain itney

Kuch aur yahan ho sakta hai

Kuch aur to aksar hota

Per tum jis lamhey mein zinda ho

Yeh lamha tum se zinda hai

Ye waqt nahin phir aaey ga

Tum apni kerni ker guzro

Jo ho ga dekha jaey ga

Pakistan’s former permanent representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi was the next speaker. She chose the topic of diplomacy and global affairs for her address. She said her perspective was a practitioner’s perspective.

She first shed light on the overall international environment, which was crucial for the conduct of our diplomacy and should shape the way we conduct our foreign policy.

‘Soft power’

She argued the concept of power had undergone transformation. “It’s no longer about military and economic strength that were the only determinants of a country’s global weight. Increasingly, they have to be supplemented and augment by ‘soft power’.”

In that connection she underlined six features. One, we live in a multipolar world. Two, the preferred mode for alignment for countries is networks of coalitions of like-minded countries. Third, to navigate a much more competitive global environment when the world is in hyper-drive you have to move very fast, be quick on your feet.

Four, the opinion of foreign publics counts much more than ever before. Five, the dynamics that have been unleashed by digital age are important. Six, transformation of the global economy; it’s now more interconnected and interdependent, so ‘branding’ becomes critical.

Ms Lodhi stressed that our diplomacy should be about shaping public perceptions abroad in support of our strategic goals. Public perceptions were influenced by a number of institutions out there.

They could be think tanks, academia, civil society, the media, human rights organisations or corporate business entities. Successful diplomacy requires an imaginative outreach to all of them. “Diplomats that are not imaginative lose the game.”

Ms Lodhi after that focused on ‘soft power’. Quoting political scientist Joseph Nye, who coined the term, she reasoned soft power grew out of the appeal of a country’s culture, its politics, its policies and the way it governed itself.

“Your art, your music, your literature, your cultural heritage, what you’re doing here at the Adab Festival is your soft power. It’s always the blend of hard and soft power at the international level that counts,” she added.

The final keynote speaker of the day was British historian Dr Francis Robinson.

He first spoke about Karachi, saying that the city was close to the site of the old port city of Debal conquered by Mohammad bin Qasim, and after 1947 it became the capital city of Pakistan.

Then he highlighted four developments relating to Pakistan. One, the rise of Pakistani novels in English –– he mentioned the names of Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Danial Moinuddin and Kamila Shamsie; two, increase in translation of writings in South Asian languages into English; three, growth in women’s religious authority; and four, outstanding scholars in humanities and social sciences.

Infaq Award

Earlier, founder of the festival Ameena Saiyid welcomed the guests.

She said she and co-founder Asif Farrukhi began a movement of literature in 2010 which had now spread as multiple festivals across Pakistan.

Mr Farrukhi pointed out the importance of writers and books, especially in these times when books were whisked away from publishing houses and movies were being banned from screening.

He also announced the Infaq Award for the Urdu book of the year. It was given to poet Mir Ahmed Navaid’s kulliyaat (poetry collection).

Arts Council president Ahmed Shah and festival director Shayma Saiyid also spoke.

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