By Hasan Altaf
in The Millions:
From the beginning, there was a hint of the surreal to the recent Lahore Literary Festival, but it was difficult to put my finger on the root of that unsettling emotion, especially given the overall aura of triumph. A response to similar events elsewhere in the region – the most famous in Jaipur; the most rivalry-inducing, for the last four years, in Karachi – the festival seemed its own victory party, a massive and successful gambit in Lahore’s bid to reclaim its title as the “cultural capital” of Pakistan. The excitement had Lahore full of visitors, Mall Road festooned with banners, the Alhamra Arts Council packed with people, and in the middle of all that buzz it seemed almost churlish to have the suspicion that something odd was at work.
The urge to make every(positive)thing in Pakistan somehow momentous and meaningful is dangerous – every movie cannot offer a revitalization or renaissance of cinema, every political party cannot, at this point, be logically seen as a rebirth of hope – but there was some predictable truth to the truism that the festival played, in Lahore, a very different role than it would have in a country or a city where such events are more common and less fraught. In part of course this had to do with the unimaginable odds that Pakistan has been facing, not just the most dramatic and terrible (including for example two recent, devastating attacks on the Hazara community, in Quetta; including for example the murder of a prominent doctor and his twelve-year-old son, in broad daylight as they drove to the boy’s school — located on the same Mall Road where we were gathered — simply because they were Shia), but also the more subtle and insidious, which have been at work far longer than any terrorist.