On November 5, there were hordes of people lining up outside the Royal Palm in Lahore to get a glimpse of Fawad Khan, who was delivering the keynote speech at Beaconhouse’s Festival of Ideas, themed “A World of Tomorrow: Seeking Inspiration and Equilibrium in a New Age”. Khan spoke of the role of the performing arts in shaping society to a packed session while hundreds others waited outside the hall, watching his speech on a screen outside the hall. When you think of a star, you usually focus merely on his/her looks, but Fawad Khan is not all about looks. He is an intelligent young man who charmed each and every person in the audience. This was just the beginning of the festival.
Throughout the two days of the festival, a series of panel discussions, debates, hackathons and interactive workshops were organised. There was even a foreign film festival and a science exhibition attended by thousands of people. More than 150 international and national speakers participated in the event. Out of these sessions, there were some that particularly struck a chord with the attendees.
Sheema Kermani and Tina Sani broke into a song and (classical) dance routine that enthralled the audience
At that time, many of us could not imagine a world where Donald Trump would actually go on to win the US Presidential elections but the panelists did not rule out the possibility of this happening and went on to discuss scenarios related to global politics if it actually happened.
A discussion on ‘Progressive Pakistan’, moderated by renowned journalist and activist Jugnu Mohsin, was one of the liveliest. Other panelists were the Minister of Planning, National Reforms and Development Ahsan Iqbal, journalist Imtiaz Alam and parliamentarian Uzair Khan. The camaraderie and the discussion that followed proved highly entertaining and equally well-informed. Journalist Fahd Husain moderated a session on the recently concluded US elections with Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Hassan Askari-Rizvi, Ahmed Rashid and Filipino politician Roilo Golez.
At a session on art and popular culture in a new age, moderated by satirist Shafaat Ali, two of the panelists, Sheema Kermani and Tina Sani, literally broke into a song and (classical) dance routine that enthralled the audience. It goes without saying that the performance went down with rave reviews.
Arguably, anyone who missed a presentation by world-famous photographer Jimmy Nelson on ‘The World’s Vanishing People’ missed something spectacular. A session on the Pakistan’s women’s football team with Hajra Khan, captain of the team, was an eye-opener. In a country that worships cricket as a sport, we seldom pay attention to our other national teams. Ms. Khan along with her other teammates discussed the hardships that they face every day and yet their commitment to the game is truly something awe-inspiring.
There were other discussions on who controls global media and global thinking; a session on Urdu poetry, language and identity; and another session to discuss our heritage – amongst many more.
Shafaat Ali, a talented satirist, writer, actor and director had the entire audience in fits of laughter during his stand-up comedy session. He mimicked politicians like Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Altaf Hussain. His videos became viral on the internet during the conference. He said that he has been on TV for several years now but the kind of fame he got from this conference has opened up new avenues for him.
In recent years, due to the rise of electronic media, issues of the transgender community have been highlighted more often than in the past. A session on the rights of the transgender community moderated by journalist Munizae Jahangir highlighted the problems faced by this marginalised community in Pakistan. Panelists Kami Sid, Bindiya Rana and Farzana Jan talked about the hurdles that they face in their day-to-day lives.
Other notable speakers at the conference were Mohsin Hamid, Mr. Kalyan Singh, Munnu Bhai, Kishwar Naheed, Aitzaz Ahsan, F. S. Aijazudin, Dr. Lawrence Burke, Hina Rabbani Khar, Marvi Sirmed, Iftikhar Ahmad, Fawad Chaudhry, Rabia Anum, Ali Azmat, Ghazi Salahuddin, Adnan Malik, Hamza Tarar, Amber Sami, Tapu Javeri, Deepak Perwani and many others. The festival ended on a high note with a stellar performance by Atif Aslam.
One is constrained to conclude that Lahore needs such literary and cultural conferences more than ever now, when we have a dearth of both free public discussion and entertainment.