No one would have thought that those three days spent in October would create such beautiful memories. Khudi Pakistan, in the continuity of its tradition of organizing wonderful opportunities for youth, held a ‘Festival of Ideas (FOI)’ this year. Gathered in the historical city of Lahore were more than 200 youth from all over the country with diverse backgrounds and interests. The objective was to debate, learn and share ideas of common concern to us all. The program included debate shows, panel discussions, workshops, cultural performances and a film screening – all in a space of 3 days – categorized under the themes of ‘struggle’, ‘expression’ and ‘vision’.
From the beginning of the Festival, the cheerful faces of delegates joining the FOI from Kashmir to Karachi were enough to predict something amazing for the upcoming few days. The event kicked off with an ‘icebreaking’ session led by Imran Khan. It provided an opportunity for delegates to interact with peers who had joined them from different regions of Pakistan. The refreshing openness and zeal expressed by everyone who participated set the tone for the rest of the event, ensuring that spirits would remain high for the upcoming three days.
With the initial introductions out of the way, delegates grabbed their seats for a debate show that was to take place in the open air. Khudi, in collaboration with Express News channel, has initiated a series of interactive and productive discussions on various topics in which panelists and students actively take part. This session was the very first in the series of shows to come. Renowned personalities including Ayaz Amir, Dr. Mehdi Hassan, Ibtaisam Ilahi Zaheer and Hafiz Salaman Butt joined as panelists to discuss the topic “Does our education system promote hatred and violence or peace and harmony?” Delegates were also given an opportunity to express their opinion regarding this topic by voting, comments and questions.
Ajmal Jami, a young emerging journalist, hosted the second day of the Festival. After the norm setting a panel discussion titled ‘How does democracy work for me?’ engaged the audience. Rab Nawaz from Khudi moderated a lively conversation by panelists Shamoon Hashmi and Asad Jamal. Shamoon Hashmi, who currently holds the designation of joint secretary in the National Assembly, touched many topics from sectarian killings to judicial activism while Asad Jamal, a legal practitioner, explored constitutional and ideological aspects of democracy. Their views led to an engaging Q/A session with the delegates.
The atmosphere of the entire conference became more captivating when Ayaz Amir, the famous columnist and politician, gave a keynote speech. With simple eloquence, he focused on linking today’s problems with historical realities going back to the partition of the Sub-Continent. He ended on a motivational note on the role of youth and the importance of knowledge as the cornerstone of today’s society.
Tanveer Jahan, a senior women’s rights activist and one of the founders of ‘Women Action Forum’ and currently the Director of Democratic Commission for Human Development, facilitated the session on women’s rights and gender related issues. She highlighted the discriminatory practices common in our society in the name of culture, peppering her talk with witty Punjabi anecdotes along the way.
Now it was time for the ‘un-conference’, where an open discussion allowed the audience to choose whatever topics they wished to speak about. The atmosphere created by the ‘un-conference’ was one of lively discussion, occasional bursts of laughter and joyous claps.
One of the basic objectives of the Festival was to train the participants in some basic concepts and skills necessary for playing a positive role in the society. To this end, a two hour session was dedicated to workshops, to be facilitated by leading individuals in their respective fields. The delegates were divided into four groups according to their individual interest in the subjects of the workshops. The topics and facilitators of the workshops were:
- ‘Creativity’ by Shahid Nadeem of Ajoka Theater
- ‘Entrepreneurship’ by Farhan Masood of Solo Tech Corp
- ‘Activism’ by Taimur Rehman of Laal Band
- ‘Education’ by Tariq Rahman, a renowned writer and academic
Workshops enabled the audience to gain an understanding of these fields and how they can pitch in to utilize their talents and make a difference. In the end, each group was given a small project to work on and was tasked with giving a presentation the following day.
The evening was reserved for cultural performances. Among loud applause, it kicked off with a mesmerizing Kathak performance. The first beat of the music transformed the serious environment into one of revelry and joy. Both the performers, Hammad and Iqbal, beautifully synchronized their footwork with the enchanting rhythm and lyrics of the famous Bollywood qawwali ‘Kun Fayakun’. They left the stage amid the enthralling slogans of “Once More, Once More”.
The surging emotions of the audience were put on a serious track once more with a very powerful and thought provoking theater performance titled ‘Dekh Tamasha Chalta Ban’. Originally an Ajoka Theater production, Khudi collaborated in Dekh Tamasha in terms of caste and production to make it a joint production.
Dekh Tamasha brings to light the overbearing influence of the religious establishment in our society. Using modern techniques in which actors emerge out of the audience, the play dramatizes a wild chase for persecuting minorities and opponents in the name of blasphemy. With fierce acting by powerful actors garbed in traditional costumes, and gripping, polemical dialogues, the performance left a lasting impact on the audience.
The cultural performances after the play, however, soon extenuated the seriousness. Now the time came for the delegates to appear individually and in groups to perform their respective cultural and traditional dances. Some of them mimed while others sang and danced with original themes and compositions.
The theme of the third and final day was ‘vision’ hosted by Ali Abbas Zaidi of Khudi. Four groups selected earlier during workshop session dominated the time in giving presentations and answering the questions on their respective theme.
Finally, the Khudi Team took the stage to brief the audience about the objectives and upcoming plans of Khudi. The passion of the delegates in working with Khudi and/or collaborating on their own ideas with Khudi was a testament to the incredible experience they had had at the Festival.
Delegates were also shown a documentary on the life and struggle of Malala and her family prior to being attacked by the Taliban this October. The immense suffering of Malala’s family and the people of Swat during the turbulent time of the Taliban occupation saddened every soul and brought many to tears. Taimur Rehman of Laal Band then engaged the audience with an upbeat musical performance that focused on the revolutionary words of Faiz and Jalib.
Finally, after closing remarks by Khudi, delegates were invited to stage an immediate protest in solidarity with Malala. Under the banner ‘Ideas are Bulletproof’, the delegates headed to Liberty roundabout. The youthful ebullience was worth watching as they chanted slogans for Malala and against Talibanization.
But apart from all this, the logistical management, delicious food, live social media updates on the projector by Umair Vahidy, volunteers in Khudi t-shirts, chats at lunches and dinners, and the dozens of pictures taken made the FOI a truly unforgettable event. Those who missed it must regret not being there. For me, it was certainly the event of the year!
—Written By Qurat-ul-Ain Zaidi
(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 6)