Literature and longing in Lahore

Despite the rain last Friday, thousands of people made their way to the Alhamra Cultural Complex in downtown Lahore to see Mohsin Hamid, Tariq Ali, Mohammed Hanif, Bapsi Sidhwa, Daniyal Mueenuddin and many others as they spoke in hour-long sessions on everything from the literature of conflict to the role of courtesans in the written word. It was like the Lahori Oscars. I arrived at the festival drenched and cold at 11 am, and was immediately handed a large umbrella, a free coffee and a well-thought-out schedule. The energy the moment you entered was palpably and overwhelmingly positive people were laughing, shouting, arguing, debating. Still, it was funny to see upmarket begums and the expat community prancing around in Burberry trench coats and Wellingtons on the Mall in front of po-faced commuters in a traffic jam.

The first event I attended was a conversation with the writer Nadeem Aslam about his new book The Blind Garden a talk that was smart, witty and fun. Most sessions turned out to be as good. Personally, I really wanted to see the satire session. The panelists included Hanif and Moni Mohsin, and the talk was moderated by the affable William Dalrymple, lord of the festivals.

One of the panelists had written a book about a Shia girl being married off into a Sunni family, and the funny (read: sad) drama that ensued. At one point, a woman in her 70s in the next seat leaned in, unsolicited, and whispered: "She's had a very tough marriage. Bechaari..." I regarded my neighbour for a moment and went back to the panelists, but she wasn't done. She went on for a good three minutes about how bad the marriage was and how she knows all this because she's a friend of her mom's. All of this was being said about an author who had written a book about being judged according to silly, desi moral standards while we were in a session on satire. Lady Loveless, I wanted to say to my new friend, you are the reason satire is redundant here.

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