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LLF 2019 dazzles New York: Discussions cover a lot of ground.

Byline: Moneeza Burney

LAHORE -- A day full of meaningful discussions and phenomenal performances defined the fourth edition of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) in New York that took place at the Asia Society on Saturday.

It was remarkable to see the LLF bring Pakistani literary festival to the vibrant city of New York. Organised as a one-day event, it held compelling discussions on topics as varied as arts, food, literature, and the environment to name a few. The festival featured renowned and upcoming writers, artists, analysts and academics including local, foreign and diaspora representation.

The festival kicked off with opening remarks by LLF Founder and CEO Razi Ahmed and Director of Global Performing Arts and Cultural Programs at the Asia Society, Rachel Cooper and Ambassador Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's representative to the United Nations, who greatly appreciated the efforts made by the LLF over the years in reviving the artistic, literary and cultural traditions of Pakistan and South Asia.

The first session of the day was 'Lahore, Art and Literary Icons' featuring artist Salima Hashmi, analyst Khaled Ahmed and academic Iftikhar Dadi, moderated by Raza Rumi. The panelists discussed the history of modern art in Pakistan and how it has evolved over the years with its interactions with literary works, while reflecting on the work of pioneering artists like Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Shakir Ali and Anwar Jalal Shemza.

On the topic of icons, Saleema Hashmi spoke about gifted artist Zahoorul Akhlaq, calling him the 'icon of our time', whose work has not yet been fully acknowledged.

The second session titled 'Writing Stories of Food' and moderated by Ahmed Ali Akbar, presented an interesting conversation between culinary writers Madhur Jaffrey, Sameen Rushdie and Sumayya Usmani, about South Asian cuisine, especially from India and Pakistan, and its presence in the West where it particularly needs to be revived and reinvented.

Another interesting point was about bringing together cuisines from all across Pakistan and India that are prepared by people of communities from diverse ethnicities, geographies and religion who are not just only uniquely talented but safekeeping exceptional recipes that have been passed down to them over generations.

On the topic of politics, US Ambassador Richard G. Olson, political analysts Shuja Nawaz and Madiha Afzal sat down with moderator Jennifer Griffin, to reflect on the ever changing relationship between the US and Pakistan from post-partition years to present day, during the session titled 'US-Pakistan: Continuing Challenges'.

The second half of the day began with a session titled 'New Fiction: Pakistan's Bold New Voices' on new literary works by diaspora writers Sarvat Hasin, Taymour Soomro and Zarrar Saidm moderated by Osama Siddique.

While the following session 'Imagery of the Afterlife in Islamic Gardens' featured a fascinating discussion between Iftikhar Dadi and academic Nerina Rustomji on the perception of heaven and hell in Islamic culture by discussing interpretations from the Quran and looking at garden spaces in Spain, Iran and Pakistan, cosmology and garden imagery in architecture.

The last two sessions were a great way to wrap up the day as they brought two crucial topics to light that are also most relevant today. The session 'Stretched Ecosystems: Impact of the Belt and Road Initiative on Pakistan's Environmental Ecology' included a compelling discussion between IUCN Asia Regional Director, Aban Marker Kabraji, academic Erum Sattar, Country Director UNDP in Pakistan (2013 to 2016), Marc-Andre Franche and journalist and moderator Issam Ahmed about the effects of economic projects in Pakistan on its environment and the government's inability of balancing the two.

It was also noted the need for not just the government but also the activists, NGOs and educational institutes to participate to play a part in saving the environment.

The final session, 'Free Speech in South Asia' was a conversation with two important academics, Ayesha Jalal and Wendy Doniger, moderated by Manan Ahmed, about experiences of violence and vandalism as reactions to their work, growing intolerance in society, and the failure of the governments of India and Pakistan to protect their people from the dangers of extremism. The session concluded with Ms Doniger's emphasis on the need for academics like herself to raise their voice against the current hostile climate however both Ms Jalal and Ms Doniger also underscored the need for caution.

Two sensational performances concluded the day in a remarkable fashion. Talented flutist Haider Rahman serenaded the audience with melodious tunes. This was followed by an evening of poetry and music from Pakistan's renowned orator and actor Zia Moyheddin, whose flawless recitations of poetry by Ghalib, Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmad Faiz stole the evening, and was the perfect way to bring the curtain down on a day of celebration of the art, intellect, and culture of Pakistan.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:May 6, 2019
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