Wa-wa Lahore

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The Lahore literary festival 2016 was fantastic, (wa-wa being a Punjabi term of appreciation). A mix of local and international writers discussing and reading their work included many new collaborations; it was whirlwind of creative conversation packed into two days. The original line-up was 3 day event but a last minute withdrawal of government security clearance forced the organisers to shorten the festival and change venue from a large public arts space to a 5 star hotel which may have limited the diversity of attendees. However it certainly didn’t curb the enthusiasm of the crowds who attended in their thousands and many events were packed out. Voices that I discovered at the festival and want to know more about include: writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif, who gave informative insights into the political situation in Pakistan; writer Tania James and artist Anwar Jalal Shemza.

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Our event – Poetry in Translation – was the launch of a book of poems in English and Urdu ‘A change in the light’ published by Sang-e-meel, a publisher from Lahore. This was the culmination of the Highlight Arts project that I was involved in last year with: Kishwar Naheed, Afshan Sajjad, Dr. Khalid Javaid Jan, Ali Akbar Natiq, Jim Carruth, Gerry Cambridge and Kathrine Sowerby. The musicians Sara Kazmi and Sarah Hayes interspersed our poetry with their beautiful music and singing, and the performance went down well with the audience.

We also enjoyed the storytelling event with Ian Stephen, Mujahid Eshai expertly illustrated by Kate Leiper and Mehreen Fatima. Many thanks to the Lahore Literary Festival for the invitation. And a special thanks to the British Council for sponsoring the events and looking after us.

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The city is a fascinating and contradictory mix of traffic chaos and relaxing parks, poverty and wealth, old architecture and modern hotels. It was unsettling to see so many armed guards and police in public places. Despite only being in the city for 3 days we managed a trip to the Badshahi mosque at dusk and the Shalimar Gardens in bright sunshine. We were asked for selfies from friendly locals many times and most had heard of Glasgow due to the large Pakistani community in the city. It was a wonderful opportunity which may not arise again but if I could go back I’d jump at the chance.

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