Usually, weeks and months go by without connection with other writers and poets. The weekend of 6th and 7th May was an exception, I attended two literary events. On Saturday, May 6th was the book launch of Untouched Octaves with poetry written by Amin Hashwani and photographs by Bobby Hager, a Jewish photographer from the US of A. Then on Sunday morning the 7th of May, I attended my first PANA meeting. It’s a once-a-month event that takes place in Serena. Khalida and Atle had invited me last year, but somehow, I couldn’t attend their events. The main protagonist in PANA Atle Hetland is a Norwegian whose articles are regularly published in daily Dawn.
Why is it that the higher your heels, the more distant your place of event? But it is no coincidence. This time I was sure I’d trick fate, but I was wrong. In my platform heels I had to walk through long corridors, of Marriot Hotel, walking down and up and then down again and again to the Kohinoor Hall where the Book Launch event was taking place. Another typical happening is for a beautifully decorated stage where you end up just seeing the stage itself, as the lighting is done behind the chairs on which the guests are to be seated. So you end up barely seeing their faces due to the glare of the lights. The photographs also come out awful. Thank God the sound system and multimedia was better (slightly!) So, overall the event was a great pleasure. Of course, the cream of Islamabad was there – after all it was the Hashwani family event – yes, one of the most affluent families of hotel business in Pakistan.
Samina conducted the event. I know her from her lectures on landscaping which she conducts in the Finishing School. She is an amazing landscapist and her work in Rawalpindi’s Papasallis is evidence enough. So, here she was managing the event in her charming way as a member of the Citizen’s Foundation. The proceeds from the book would be going to the Citizens’ Foundation which is a charity organization.
Pervaiz Hoodhboy a brilliant nuclear scientist conducted an interview of Amin Hashwani asking questions were and weren’t on our minds. The session was light and intensive too. The accompanying videos were awesome. Amin, is a person who has done a lot for social work in a big way in the country. Especially with the Citizens’ Foundation and its TCF schools. (TCF is an organization made by Pakistanis living in USA. They build schools in Pakistan.) Amin Hashwani had been writing snippets of poetry in his blackberry for years during his travels. Finally, he was convinced by his friends and mother into turning all those into a proper book.
It’s a very international experience of reading, and the visuals too are very expressive like the poetry itself. It is raw, vulnerable and influenced by the happenings of the world during these last few centuries. In between is the Eid poem, the APS school poem and the Pompeii one too. There is a yearning for love and for valuing the individual which gets left behind in the humdrum of life of today. The evening was interactive and one felt a part of something higher, more sublime and pertinent. I came home to read the forward written by Karen Armstrong who believes that all religions are about compassion. Then the words written by the photographer Bobby Sager which bowled me over. Amin had said during the interview with Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, that ‘Bobby is an American Jew who has empathy for Palastinians and he called me up after 9/11 and asked to come over here, then he wanted Amin to accompany him to Afghanistan. – which Amin had to decline – but Bobby went onwards to Afghanistan on his own. So, his writings too, show the kind of person Bobby is – a man of sentiments and action – having spent many years of his life in war torn zones of the world. He wrote in the book that when you look at these children who are in the war zones, do not pity them, admire their strength. So, it is heartening to find such people are still living in our world who care so much that they don’t care what others may say. They just go ahead and do what others just sit and ‘wish’…. Hats off to you, Bobby Sager. More hats off to Amin Hashwani for putting together the true greats of our times in your book along with your beautiful and touching poetry.
Samina helped in keeping the climate cool during the question-and-answer session later, when one Shahid in the audience tried to politicize and depress everyone with his comments. She steered the conversation back to poetry with her smiling charm. Everyone was relieved. Several interested members of the audience kept the level of communication effective with their input.
Still under the trance of the evening before, I got up next morning to join Atle for the PANA meeting in Serena.
PANA stands for Pakistan-Norway Association: an International Friendship Association in Pakistan. The president is Ali Nawaz, Ph.D. (UMB, Norway). You can see him here talking to Lisamaria.
Though, I had reached earlier, I found Atle Hetland there already, among a group of men. He introduced me to the others, some had come from Peshawar for this meeting. I could see it was a mix of foreigners and Pakish.
I met Matthew Vaughan who is a missionary living in Pakistan for several years. He later read out two articles out of the fifteen he has written on his experiences of life in Pakistan for his book called ‘The Sacred Land’. It is obvious he loves the country and wants to share his experiences. Like other Pakistanis, he too feels hurt at the heartless onslaught of negative propaganda being dished out to the country, by the rest of the world. His articles were charming, and full of anecdotes and humor.
I sat next to Khalida Laeeq Babri on one side, you can see her reading out a piece written by her son, who is a poet also.
As the meeting continued, I felt a deep quenching of my thirst for such a gathering here in Islamabad. Writers getting together to share their accomplishments with each other; No doubt the synergy is awesome when people of same interests get together. The group was quite eclectic, with members coming from UK, Norway, Finland and different areas of Pakistan. There was an actor, along with educationists, lawyers, artists and lecturers. So, it was wonderful to be among them. The table reserved in the center of the hall had taken over the entire hall it seemed.
Atle gave time to several members, which included me, so I was able to share my excitement of my first republication and illustration of my upcoming book which is Iqbals’ Tulip of Sinai. Happily I showed them the ‘dummy’ of my upcoming republication which has gone into print now.
I read out the dedication which is
For the youth of our times and all those who strive towards the best in themselves. The ones, who remain true to their higher selves in every situation.
Aisha, sat across from me, when we met earlier, she looked at me and said “You look like someone who gets things done!” I loved the compliment. Naturally. She looks amazing in her gray hair and sparkling eyes. Here she is, reading a piece by her favorite writer.
The food at Serena is not that much to get excited about, but the company sure was.
I was able to meet Sadia of SPARC who is working towards the education of street children and had invited Jimmy Engineer for a function at Serena a few months ago. She is devoted to this work and she had also hosted the meeting in Rawalpindi of ABPAW in March this year.
The girl from Finland, Lisamaria was lovely and another accomplished person. She was interested in Teacher training and also worked in the field of education. She said she had lived in ten countries of the world, but loved Pakistan best. This is why she has come to live here. We decided to meet up soon. She shared the information that she too has started a book about the positive aspects of life in Pakistan something like ‘A hundred reasons to love Pakistan.’
So, most of the guests were truly quite fascinating.
We all enjoyed Matthew’s reading of his upcoming book. However, he was saddened to note that the well-known publishers in UK and US weren’t interested in his book as it was about the positive side of Pakistan; the publishers felt that a positive image of Pakistan certainly doesn’t sell. They were more interested in the terrorism, and downtrodden women in the country; This evening, I’ve received an email from Matthew saying that Mr. Books have agreed to publish his book. I’m really very thrilled about it.
We all discussed the problem of self publishing and how one ends up paying for it all. Yes, ultimately it all falls down to the finances. I’ve been inspired by Dr. Wayne Dyer whose first few books were self financed and didn’t give him any financial gain, except for the satisfaction of following his dreams. We all have to share our struggles, and get strength from each other’s experiences.
We all know there are some things more important than money. Even in the case of my publication, I’m paying for it all, because I truly believe in the project. I feel the pain of Iqbal as he must have felt when he got it published in 1923, yet he believed in his work and its value for his readers. Now, I believe that the poetry which gave strength to the people of the sub-continent and dreamt up the reality of Pakistan, why can’t that poetry now give strength to the people of that same Pakistan? Why can’t his ideas unite its people and give them the courage to be who they really want to be? It is not just for Pakish people but for the people of the world. We all are feeling confused and adhering to our inner values is becoming more difficult. Here is a book of poems in English which will set your mind at rest. The confusions are suddenly cleared, and suddenly, a clarity of vision is gained.
Noshaba here is also deeply interested in Iqbal’s poetry and was sprouting out verses to me afterwards.
My dear Reader, protect your inner self from the onslaught of different ideas of others. Strengthen yourself and your spiritual self. Feed your soul today, as this is all that will remain ….
The pictures have been taken by myself (the bad ones) and rest of the good ones were taken courtesy from The Vision Media, who covered the occasion. Later, Atle Hetland shared these with the members.
Stay blessed my dear Reader, and quickly write that book which burns inside you today 🙂