Qurat-ul-ain Haider Zaidi
It started with a bang and a cheerful children’s anthem Humain Kitab Chahiye and ended with the joyful prize and award distribution among the different schools and students who participated in a two day event. Children Literature Festival (CLF) in Lahore proved to be a whim of fresh air which stayed here and lasted a full two days and may well be the most important and ambitious event regarding children on the city’s cultural map in recent years.
Once again, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Oxford University Press (OUP) and Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI) Pakistan, were headed to Lahore for the celebration of Children’s Literature Festival at Children Library Complex on 30th and 31st October 2013.
The Lahore CLF is the seventh literature festival for the children of Pakistan; the first was held in November 2011 in Lahore followed by Quetta, Peshawar, Bahawalpur, Karachi and Islamabad in 2012/2013. Attended by thousands of participants, CLF aims to promote reading, creativity and critical thinking among children. CLF is an equalizer open to all children and all school systems, unlocking the power of reading through multi-sensory experiences.
An exciting and fun-filled program was planned for the CLF Lahore featuring: talks and readings by famous children’s writers; opportunities for children to listen to their favorite books being read, sung aloud and discussed; sessions on creative writing, bookmaking, information technology; book reviews, book launches; plenary sessions popularizing mother tongue; theatre, cartoons, puppet shows, films; art/craft and pottery sessions; and many more children’s activities related to reading. It also hosted an amazing Book Fair.
Children and educators from all over the country attended the CLF as participants. On the guest list are well-known Ambassadors of CLF: Ameena Syed, Dr Arfa Syeda Zehra, Rumana Hussain, Zubaida Jalal, Adeel Hashmi, Mira Hashmi, Nadia Jamil, Sania Saeed, Zubeida Mustafa, Fahd Hussain, Samar Minallah, Fauzia Minallah, Khaled Anam, Akram Dost, Basarat Kazim, Alif Laila Book Bus Library and many more.
CLF was aimed to enhance the book friendly attitude among children. Therefore in order to provide more options for children to read and grow their imagination, it also launched its bi-monthly magazine Uran Tashtree. It is a new addition to the ever growing family of CLF.
On entering the complex for attending this festival, one had to make a choice between different sessions; there were approximately 18 activities at the same time in different rooms. Every session had its own essence and atmosphere where renowned educational personalities from whole of Pakistan were busy in interacting with the children, university students, teachers and other participants.
From the outset, the Festival promised a transforming experience; one finds him/herself in some fictional world where there are artificial big flowers, rooms named as air castle room, hobby room, story reading room, toy section and many more. The hanging pictures drawn into a glass sheet by students worked as icing on the cake. The whole transformation became thicker when one enters into the rooms. The animation slides and well decorated interior gave a feel of perfectionism.
The entire set of activities was designed keeping in view the interest of young students. The various names for them are substantial evidence; Tana Bana by Amra Alam, Pappu Ka Paneer – a play by Thespianz Theatre, presentation on Biloonghra series by Asad Mian, Sher Ki Batain by Arfa Sayeda Zehra and Suno Gupshup by Adeel and Mira Hashmi were some of the first choices of every student to attend.
With the collaboration of Dawn News and City FM 89, there were series of live cartoon presentations and Muppet show moderated by Nigar Nazar. As these animated sessions took off, there was a pin drop silence among the once naughty, talkative children.
There were continuous outdoor activities as well where university students moderated different sessions. Many of us have seen putli-tamasha on TV, thanks to CLF for arranging it live. The bright and colorful puppets in the apparel of humans and animals enacted rich folk stories of the region.
It would be wrong to not to mention the interactive sessions of Zambeel Dramatic Readings conducted by a group of six TV and theatre actors. They in their various sessions narrated a story while each character just sat on a chair enacting his/her role. The absence of entire stage did not create hindrance in moving every one into the story. The purpose was to enhance imagination and to make the minds comprehend and respond actively.
‘A conversation on the role of media in popularizing and unlocking the power of reading’ was up to the mark session which was attended by university students, activists and writers. Musharraf Zaidi while moderating the session highlighted the role of media in affecting trends in our country.
Despite the multiple activities, the stall of Alif Ailaan, an education campaign, attracted massive audience. This stall was providing each visitor the statistical data on the state of education in his/her respective district. They had their plenty of campaign material, shirts, pledge cards, signature books and team of volunteers which gathered everyone’s interest.
Most importantly the festival was designed to leave far reaching impact on young minds. In every room there was an opportunity to learn and preserve it as a wonderful memory. There were various sessions which entirely focused on guiding students on how to write a story, how to setup a blog, how to develop self-expression expression etc. Some sessions on the history of Pakistan, against our regular class room history teaching, were actually so much fun.
It is hoped that in the years to come, CLF will set a precedent for highlighting children and inculcating in them the love for learning. Moreover next year there should be more participation and involvement of children from less privileged backgrounds.
The writer is a student of law at Punjab University and founder of Amal, an organization to protect and promote democratic values.