Karachi is a city of well over 20 million people, and that means it has more people than many countries. In fact, it would rank 60th out approximately 200 countries. For a city that size, it suffers from a massive image problem and some would say not without good reason. For a long time, it had suffered from endemic political violence and killings and many parts of the city remained virtual ‘no-go’ areas for its residents, with the state exercising little or no authority over them.
However, things have turned around to a considerable extent—targeted killing, a term used by local police and the media relating to politically or ethnically motivated killings have come tumbling down since a large operation run by the paramilitary Rangers force has been in operation.
As a result, literary and cultural activity has increased considerably in recent months. The city just hosted a massive event designed to showcase the culinary feats of its chefs, cooks and eateries—it was called Karachi Eat and attracted thousands of food buffs.
More recently, it had its Karachi Literature Festival in the first week of February. Now in its seventh year, it the Karachi Lit Fest—or KLF as it is has come to be known—has grown from strength to strength in terms of the number of visitors, sessions held, books launched and speakers/writers who attend.
This year’s event, held in the first week of February, attracted well over a hundred thousand people and had over a hundred sessions and over 200 writers, speakers and panelists.
Over the years, KLF has come as a sort of event in Karachi where many people go to rub shoulders with those who are big in the country’s and region’s literary world, and where many a celebrity (especially from neighboring India) is often seen. Every installment of the KLF has seen top Indian writers, columnists and at times some of its film stars been invited. This year actors Anupam Kher and Nandita Das were among 18 Indian’s invited (however, Kher was refused a visa and Das was unable to attend because of illness). Others included former foreign minister Salman Khurshid and one of India’s top TV journalist Barkha Dutt.
There were some complaints regarding composition of certain panels or the quality of moderation (one moderator asked a speaker in front of the audience who he was and when told said that “She was asking because she had no idea”) but by and large the festival has matured over time and has become a staple in Karachi’s annual literary scene.
It—and other events like it the recent Karachi Eat festival (also attended by several thousand visitors over a weekend)—is also a growing sign that Karachi is finally getting back on its feet and that its over 20 million denizens can hope to lead lives relatively free of insecurity and fear.
The writer is Editor, Online and Web, ARY News and tweets @omar_quraishi