How a LitFest can be a revolution in waiting

I’m still thinking a lot about Pakistan after recently returning from there. I was fortunate enough to swing by the Lahore Literature Festival on its last day, which to me felt more like a political conference, or at least a political debate, than a celebration of reading and writing.

Not that I felt short changed. I gradually came to realise that in Pakistan, you couldn’t have a festival of words without considering politics. Back here in the UK, writers of fiction can pick and choose whether or not they will make some symbolic reference to Nigel Farage’s sweaty brow. In the land of my ancestors politics is ever-present. Whether in an assertion, argument or slogan, it runs through every sentence.

While the event was buzzing, with an eclectic mix of people wandering around the various halls and food marquees of the excellent Alhamra Arts Centre, we were flanked by heavily armed police. Interest may have been high, but so was security, keeping the carnival from the real people of the city, for whom it would have been hard to know what was happening.

If I grew accustomed to the checkpoints, their huts, cones and rifles must today be a sad ever present in the eye-line of those who tolerate them daily. It was one of many features that saddened me, and made my opinion of the country plummet. But at LLF2015 the state of the nation, and the narrative that went with it, was the topic of ferocious debate, with audiences hooked.

A population that is highly engaged in politics has always been one positive feature of Pakistan. But at LLF I saw an up and coming generation that cares so much it may not seek flight, but may not be willing to put up with this for much longer.

Who knows? This could be a revolution in waiting.