Despite the creation of some hype by organizers of the literary festival in Islamabad due to open on April 25, and a list of over 60 sessions, (many of them star-studded), consensus still rests with the case that the ILF cannot compete with its Lahore and Karachi installments. Despite the kind of money and sponsorships that will no doubt be spent on attracting supporters, the reason the ILF failed to draw impassioned crowds last year rests fundamentally on two things. First, that the city does not have the monopoly (or even the perceived monopoly) on writers and artists, that the other cities do. Because Islamabad, due to its relative newness, has not produced legions of cultured writers, and speakers (including any at the Parliament House, it may be said), it is not historically an important city for the art form. In this, it discourages readers from engaging directly with the venue, and from feeling that they are in a way, entirely immersed in the festivities celebrating art, history, and literature. Second, the misfortune of appearances. Islamabad is, after all, the federal capital. It is (on the face of it) an arrangement of neat colonies, sectors and political establishments with none of the chaos that Pakistanis deem so closely related to “real” cultural experiences (whether the primarily English speaking KLF or LLF presented real literary experience is open to debate).

Though the new wave of support for literary bodies, art, theatre, and writers that encapsulate the soul of the literary festivals across Pakistan is certainly commendable, it should be said that it is an almost exclusively elite venture. Even though admission is open to all, the speakers, the students, the audiences are primarily English speaking. It is ironic, for example, to be a part of a narrative on the Pakistani, or the Karachi novel, and have the debate take place in English alone. Perhaps the organizers of the literary festival should make the effort of engaging with every segment of Pakistan’s magnificent literary history, by encouraging not only more Urdu and Punjabi writers and speakers to attend, but to market the event to an Urdu speaking public. It goes without saying, the strata of society we successfully eliminate from the elite cultural “respite” of such festivals, usually needs it the most.