Lahore welcomed spring this year with the latest edition of the Lahore Literary Festival. With panels ranging the full spectrum of the arts, from music to photography, the forum boasted speakers from all over the world. With such a diverse line-up there was something or other to pique the intellection of all those present.
The weekend kicked off with the demure yet coquettish presence of one Sharmila Tagore. The audience was treated to a cinematic journey through the on-screen life of the veteran actress. Events from her personal life cascaded in and out of the conversation as she recounted her earlier days in Calcutta in the Tagore household as well as tales of her courtship and marriage to Tiger Pataudi.
The contrast between the stolid seriousness of Bengali cinema with the fanfare and extravagance of Bollywood acted as two poles that challenged her as an actress, as she continued to act in both. She also pointed out that she only fully discovered India by way of her profession. The opportunity to travel due to being an actress made her realise that mores and morals change every hundred miles in that vast country. This helped her navigate the balancing act between managing free expression and societal norms in her later years when she played a domineering role on the censor board in India.
A star-struck Lahori audience was brimming with excitement to be in close proximity to one of South Asia’s biggest celebrities. They made a show of their appreciation of her work with a standing ovation, and thronged toward her person to memorialise her presence in Lahore, often with a quick selfie.
Apart from the apparent glam and celebrity surrounding the event, the evenhanded treatment of Urdu and English at the LLF too was noteworthy: a healthy development, in part fuelled by events such as this forum as well as an increase in readership.
The discussions ranged from remembrances of Meer and Intizar Husain to the future of Urdu literature. There was a quiet but nascent positivity with regards recent literary endeavours in the Urdu language. Conspicuous by its absence however was Punjabi.
English readers too were treated to many an engaging discussion over the course of the weekend. From excursions into the poetics of love, to musings on celebrated authors such as George Orwell there was plenty of fodder for bookworms.
A panel comprising Mohsin Hamid, Tania James, and Ned Beauman (a Pakistani, an Indian-American and an Englishman, respectively) discussed their varying conceptions of the American Dream and their treatment of that particular concept in their published works. While Mohsin Hamid discussed the export of the American Dream to Asian cities, where to be moneyed is increasingly an end in itself, Ned Bauman gave the concept a more banal inflection. The caricature that he drew of the American Dream placed as its highest aspiration tennis in all whites at country clubs followed by drinks after a round of golf. Perhaps it is the spread of such aspirations across the world that make the topic of the American Dream so poignant an abstraction to think about in our day and age.
The fact that many an audience member probably skipped a round of golf to attend the panel is also telling.