ISLAMABAD: A change of venue did little to help the cause of the lit fest as the second day of the Islamabad Literature Festival continued to be marred by last-minute cancellations and stop-gap arrangements.
The oppressive April sun did not help matters, and participants, speakers and audience members could be seen fanning themselves or looking for a spot in the shade.
At the reception desk, volunteers were handing out fresh schedules as the ones issued ahead of the festival had become outdated almost the moment they were published. When asked for a schedule for the next day (Sunday), a volunteer said that they did not have one because it would be finalised on Sunday. This was because the organisers were not sure which panellists would turn up on the weekend, the volunteer said.
Raheela Baqai, the marketing director for Oxford University Press – the organisers of the event – told Dawn that several Indian speakers had dropped out, forcing them to reshuffle sessions. She said that Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer had not even applied for a visa, and that journalist Barkha Dutt could not attend due to a family emergency. In addition, she said certain local speakers had also refused to turn up.
The organisers were also criticised for mishandling a session on Swat.
Titled ‘Swat: Transition from Tribal System to State to Pakistan’, the session was supposed to be a book launch for Dr Sultan-i-Rome’s book, Land and Forest Governance in Swat. But the author said OUP had only given him the book an hour before the session.
“They gave the moderator the book two days ago and she had time to read it, but the other panellists had no time. This is strange, why would you call a panel to discuss my book when you will not even give it to them to read,” he said.
The author said he had been asking to get a copy of his book for several days. “It made me feel like I was begging for my book,” he said.
Another member of the panel, renowned poet and researcher Ahmed Fouad said that the panel had been told that the topic of discussion at the session had changed to women in swat, because of which members of the panel had had no time to prepare.
“I am familiar with Sultan-i-Rome’s other book and wanted to translate it as well, so I was well-prepared for talking on that topic, but they told us the new topic on stage”, he said.
As a result, the whole discussion was confusing and did not seem to have a coherent pattern.
At the end of the session, Sultan-i-Rome said: “My book does contain material about women, but it is unfair to say that I have not written about Swati women because my book is about land distribution and women were not allowed to own land, which I also discuss.”
When asked why the topic of discussion was changed at the last minute, OUP marketing director Raheela Baqai acknowledged that the session was supposed to discuss the distribution of land in Swat and that the book was to be referred to.
She then added that when everyone on the panel agrees to attend the session, they are given each other’s emails and introduced to the moderator so they could plan the session together. “If they did not communicate with one another, it is not our fault,” she said.
Talking to Dawn, moderator Amineh Hoti – author of Sorrow and Joy Among Muslim Women: The Pakhtuns of Northern Pakistan, said the panellists should have taken the change “positively”.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016
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