Book Review Travel

Lahore Literary Festival 2018 and ….

Who says no one reads in Pakistan?!


Really don’t want to deprive you of some interesting things that I’ve been up to. Specially, because these could have some value in your life too, wherever you are, and whatever you do. Sometimes, some very unexpected things happen, and you let them happen, and you wonder how you hadn’t even considered them earlier!

Somehow, life takes you to what is really needed by you. Because, it was meant to happen, I was meant to be at the LLF.

It was Nigar Nazar my cartoonist friend who took me to Lahore with her.

She said, “You are the writer, publisher, and you aren’t going! You better go with me tomorrow, I’ll book the seats and take you along.” It was ten pm the previous night at a mehndi function. We could barely understand each other over the blast of the music.

When I got home around ten thirty that night, Mum said:

“So, if she asks you to jump into a well, will you do that too?” when she heard my plan. I said, ‘I’ll seriously consider it, as she usually invites me to really interesting stuff!’

So, that’s how I landed in Lahore with my friend Nigar.


Lahore Literary Festival:

LLF has become an annual event of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad since the last few years. It was one great  festival with simultaneous programs going on in each of the halls of Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore.. I loved every minute of it. The management was excellent, considering that hundreds of people had come to be part of it. It had free entry, with lots of security, – which was also good. As you entered, you were presented with the day’s program. Efficient young interns were taking care of almost everything, even the security. The sound system was good and the multimedia presentations too were great, especially in Hall 1, which is the largest one. Mohsin Hamid, and Rizwan in one room with Shahid as the interviewer, had a packed hall. In the end, the doors had to be closed, as there wasn’t a single seat left, and people were even seated on stairs. I was so grateful that Nigar had reserved a seat for me, in the third row, or I would have missed it.


Who says, no one reads in this country? The keenness the interest and the vibrant atmosphere had to be seen! There was energy in the air, there was so much interest, that you could touch it! People were hanging on to each word of the speakers. Personally, I’ve never liked rap music. But for the first time, I really ‘got it’ and enjoyed it the way in which Rizwan Ahmad delivered it. Somehow, it all made sense, and was very powerful. You can see Mohsin Hamid on your right and Shahid at the left. Earlier, when asked how it feels to visit Lahore after thirteen years? Rizwan said, ‘its something like meeting your ex!’ You say, ‘you are looking good!’ There are a lot of memories…..’

Everyone had a good laugh. The whole hall was enthralled, and so was I…

I just loved being a part of it all.

As you know, Mohsin Hamid is the writer of Moth Smoke and Reluctant Fundamentalist. A great writer who had written beautifully, about life in Pakistan, trying to catch that flavor of Lahore…

Earlier, there was Azra Raza’s talk on Ghalib. She is a fantastic speaker. I’ve never heard anyone quote verses of Ghalib and Iqbal the way she does. She is actually a doctor and owns an institute for Cancer Research in USA. This literary stuff is her hobby. She is an icon and a joy to be heard. As I’ve looked her up on Youtube, Ive found this:

She is an awesome speaker. Give her a topic and she will mesmerize you. I was lucky enough to hear her talk for an hour in the evening. However, I couldn’t find that speech here, just one speech she made in California, if you are interested:

This is her biography which you can find on Youtube.


So, later on I took these pics and it was great meeting her and then Tapu Javeri who is an amazing photographer. – Both, friends of Nigar.

Nigar Nazar and Azra Raza (in the middle.)


28276397_1857262950973655_6893042477843388603_n (1)
I had to have this pic with my mentor Allama Iqbal, with his book which I’ve published. I had made a promise to myself at his grave site a few years back. Alhamdolillah, its ready now.



Nigar with Tapu Javeri

In the afternoon session I chose to be at the session by Nayar Ali Dada the iconic architect of Pakistan. I’ve seen him visiting my college many years ago. A very handsome young man he was. Now, too he was fully immersed in his passion for architecture, and he took us through his love for old buildings of Lahore and different parts of Pakistan. Mostly buildings designed by him. Currently, he is busy with a mosque in Karachi’s Bahria Town, which will be the largest. He specially has grass in the courtyard so the barefooted persons find it cool to their feet. ( -Grass in Karachi? Where, there is a lot of water scarcety?) Well, he would have thought of that aspect too, I’m sure!  His choice of music to go with the video was of mostly Roshan Ara Begum, you can see has knowledge of all arts including music of this region. His sense of humor too was charming. Meeting him afterwards was a treat. (Why didn’t I take a pic with him?) Too busy talking to him. Standing in the complex of Alhamra Arts Council, which was designed by him. ‘How does it feel ?’ I asked him. ‘Happy and very sad too,’ he said, ‘they haven’t taken proper care of it!’ Yes, there is the problem of lack of maintenance in this country. Usually due to lack of funds and the lack of will to keep things going at their best.


Spending the night with my daughter Nadia, son-in-law Haaris and his mother Romana, was fun as usual. This time, I hadn’t told Romana that I’m coming, as she makes so many delicious dishes for me. I really didn’t want to trouble her. I had secretly told my daughter who baked a delicious cake for me. We all sat outside in the sun in their garden, after breakfast.

28166623_1857628684270415_5173277400496967703_nThen Nadia drove me to Alhamra Arts Council and agreed to be with me, that beautiful Sunday, the 25th of February.

Most of the youth were wearing these tee shirts.

As we drove through the charming Mall Road of Lahore, it looked narrower than it did during my childhood. Now the other roads are far broader, in those days this was one of the broadest. The trees seem to be still the same ones I saw when I was in school here in Azam Garrison.

So, we arrived, and managed to find a parking. (Cars were parked till far off points even till Egerton Road behind, and Governor House nearby. )

I knew that Matt Vaughn would be speaking about his book The Sacred Land, along with a couple of other writers, so we went straight to Hall six.

Matt is sitting on the right.

Matt is an Englishman, who has studied from Oxford, and has been living in Pakistan – mainly Islamabad- for several years.


The session had begun, and Matt caught my eye and smiled. Nadiya and I settled down to enjoy it all. I’ve been to the book launch in Serena, Islamabad of this book. I have a copy too. It has all the charming things about Pakistan, which the foreign press usually likes to ignore. Matt has chosen to write all the funny things that happen here, including the taxi rides. He includes the friendliness of the people, and the many amusing aspects of the culture. He mentions, that as a missionary his friends tell him, ‘you are all the time defending the Muslims at Church!’ I’m not surprised. That is what he is doing in his book too. He is a very sweet young man, I met his wife too. His four children were missing this time. They all love wearing the shalwar-kameez (local dress), and look great in it. Afterwards, Nadiya and I met him, and dashed out, as we had little time. Of course we took time out for the pictures with a sculpture of Allama Iqbal!

As we sat in her dashing red Honda City, I asked Nadia: ‘Have you been to the zoo?’ She shook her head. ‘Ok, let’s go!’ It is one of the best ones in Pakistan. So, we had to look for a U-turn. Then I saw the Quaid-e-Azam Library. It is really an awesome building. I remember as a child, it was the famous Gymkhana club, surrounded by a beautiful gardens. ‘Hey, let’s grab something, then we’ll have lunch in the gardens, then go to the zoo!

Fine. We couldn’t think of any place near by to get any food from!

Then came the Pearl Continental Hotel…. ‘oh, why not have lunch here?’ I suggested. Off we drove to it.

28059240_1857630254270258_3000291752429027887_nWe found a nice new place inside Dum Phukht to have lunch in. Nadia kept protesting, as it’s a bit steep. But how many times does one get the chance to treat one’s kid? So, anyhow, we had a delicious meal, in that awesome ambiance.

28468647_1857629457603671_1720461863667803434_nAs I looked at the time in my phone, I realized, the zoo and Jinnah gardens will have to wait for my next visit. We had to dash out to catch my Daewoo bus! Finally, she managed to get me in the bus. Yes, it had been so much fun.

This blog has been long enough! I guess the session with Abbas Husain next day at my Shireen’s Studio will have to wait for my next blog. So, till then,’ see you later, alligator!’

And, stay blessed lovely and handsome ones!









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  1. Shabnam Riaz says:

    Shireen , absolutely loved your piece ! Fantastic writing and it was all so interesting . You know exactly how to engage the reader I actually could feel every aspect of your trip ! I will be a regular follower now 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Shabnam Riaz. Your comment means the world to me, knowing you to be such a wonderful writer and poet. Your program on PTV World, called PTV Classics (aired every Sunday night 9.10 pm.) is great too. You have certainly made my day. Stay blessed.

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