Autographing my book at the Islamabad Book Fair
Autographing my book at the Islamabad Book Fair

A Memory of Pakistan

Last week I narrated how upon my arrival in Islamic Republic of Pakistan I was quizzed on my itinerary because I had travelled to Lagos, to London and then to Dubai before finally arriving in the capital Islamabad.

I had come to Pakistan to attend the annual International Writers Conference of the Writers Union of Africa, Asia and Latin America and also to attend the 2019 Islamabad Arts and Book Festival also holding in the Pakistani capital about the same time. Now let’s go through my experiences in the subsequent days.

As usual, our indefatigable Secretary, Randa Barakat, as well as our amiable and energetic President, Cherif El Shoubashy, had been on ground, days before the meeting to put things in order.

The agenda for the tricontinental meeting which would be the first one in an Asian country in more than three years consisted of: Plenary sessions, Poetry readings, a Round-table discussion on the conference theme, Launching of the new edition of Lotus magazine as well as the 2019 Islamabad Book fair. 

Also included in our itinerary was a visit to Gandhara Archaeology sites and Museum in the nearby town of Taxila, Dinners, a Cultural event and the Closing ceremony.

As listed on our agenda, the whole of the first day of the conference which took place at Aiwan E Sir Syed District of Islamabad was devoted mainly to plenary sessions which centred on the conference theme: The Role of Culture and Literature in Confronting Terrorism. 

Official journal

A major highlight of the three-day conference was the presentation of the new edition of LOTUS, the official journal of the union. 

The LOTUS, a trilingual quarterly journal which was first issued in 1968 in English, Arabic and French, apart from being a forum for literary interchange between postcolonial Third World intellectuals, also has a prize attached to it.  

‘The Lotus Prize,’ as the prize is called, has been awarded in the past to such writers as Chinua Achebe, Mahmoud Darwish, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Alex La Guma, Ghassan Kanafani, Agostinho Neto, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Kateb Yacine, many of whom had been involved in the Union’s activities or whose work had previously appeared in the journal.

Unfortunately, the journal went into oblivion for some years due to lack of funding. It was not until the winter of 2016 that it was revived while another issue was published in the winter of 2017. The Vol 3 and 2018 Winter edition was distributed to delegates at the Morocco conference. 

Some delegates used the opportunity of the meeting to submit contributions for the next edition of the journal.  I also had the honour of submitting a contribution from Prof. Wole Soyinka.  The Nobel Laureate who had been requested to contribute to the journal had asked me to submit an excerpt from his latest publication INTERVENTIONS for inclusion in the next edition of the journal.

Dinner and poetry

A dinner in honour of the delegates took place later in the evening in the house of one of the Pakistani writers, Wasif Arshad, and his wife at E-11 sector of Islamabad. After the delicious dinner, a poetry reading session took place in the same venue before we all retired for the night.

On the second day of the conference, we all headed to the Gandhara Archaeology Site and Museum at Taxila for sightseeing. Taxila “City of Cut Stone” is a significant archaeological site about 32 km (20 mi) north-west of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. 

It is situated at an altitude of 512m above sea level. In 1980, Taxila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2006 it was ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan by The Guardian newspaper, London. On hand to welcome us to the museum was the curator, Abdul Nasir.

The archaeological museum at Taxila is a real treasure-house. The ivy-covered, Gothic-style museum is in a picturesque garden. Exploring Taxila is a multi-dimensional experience. I was attracted by the richness and variety of the famed Gandhara sculpture, which are endless images of Buddha, in stone and stucco, and numerous panels depicting all the important stages of the great sage’s life. 

In addition, exquisitely sculpted friezes and statues of all sizes evoke the life and times of one of the world’s most impressive men of peace: Gautama Buddha. Each carved bit of sculpture, from the colossal to the miniature —- and there are literally thousands of them – is a collector’s item.

At Taxila, I came face to face with the great Buddha where he loomed over me, larger than life. With his serene eyes gazing at me, I was gripped by a feeling of awe. I also met other famous names, such as Alexander of Macedonia, Asoka the famous Buddhist king as well as the Emperor Kanishka. 

To be continued......

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