Lahore Diary

By John Gapper
Financial Times, Feb. 28, 2014


Lahore … is the capital and cultural center of Punjab, where red sandstone buildings such as the Lahore Museum are dotted along wide avenues… Lahore is a friendly city and the security is more dutiful than urgent … Book festivals are springing up all over the subcontinent, from Jaipur to Dhaka (and Karachi), but Lahore’s has its own spirit.

The security at the Alhamra Arts Center [for the Lahore Literary Festival] symbolizes why this is more than a writing celebration. The festival, now in its second year, is an effort at creative resurgence in a city where many feel worn down by unstable government, Army machinations, economic uncertainties and fears over the future … This is a rare way to pull the international crowd to the city, rather than exporting talent.

At the opening ceremony, Ahmed Rashid, the commentator and FT contributor who is one of the organizers, talks of wanting to “restore Lahore as a showcase of the dream of what Pakistan was in 1947 [at partition from India] … Do not be afraid to be with us today because we are not afraid of what we are trying to do.”

Fakir S. Aijazuddin, a historian, compares it with the wartime concerts held at the National Gallery in London in the 1940s by its director Kenneth Clark, who was asked: “Why are you doing this when doomsday seems to be a few days away?” He replied: “Because I want to remind people that these are the values that we are defending.”

Inside the barricades, where rickshaws painted with peace signs rest on lawns, young people line up to hear new writers. Middle-aged city dwellers, born into a moderate, pluralistic society, worry about a generational shift towards Islamic puritanism but there is no sign of it here.

After I take part in one discussion panel, a bearded youth asks me to sign the book he is clutching. It is Thomas More’s Utopia.

See the full article here.

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