A large Lahore crowd eagerly awaited the commencement of the festival that brings together an abundance of talent from all across the country. Co-founder Amina Omer welcomed the audience, explaining how Lahore served as the perfect venue for this event, as it has traditionally been home to dreamers and thinkers such as Jalib, Manto and Faiz, and is currently in the midst of a cultural revival. “The journey of Khayaal was begun by them, and is continuing in their city". Omer added that Khayaal is all about allying people from different walks of life and making them feel included, which was why the festival was bilingual and open to all.
The festival jumped to a rousing start with Taimur Rehman's keynote address. Academic, musician and activist, he began with a set of harrowing statistics by the UN depicting how Pakistan, at the hands of terrorism, has lost an amount equal to what is needed to alleviate world poverty. Stunning the audience to silence, he discussed how the country is plagued by violence, not due to a poverty of resources, but rather “the poverty of thought, the absence of imagination, the impoverishment of culture, and the poverty of our philosophy”, which in turn contributes to terrorism. He reiterated that such festivals are needed to counter this issue. Rehman ended his invigorating address by singing a few verses by Habib Jalib, and hoping for the dawn of a new world of artists, musicians and free thinkers.
Next, lawyer and political activist Jibran Nasir was welcomed on stage. Addressing the audience in Urdu, Nasir ignited a sense of recognition and pride in them. Many were brought to tears when he discussed the contributions of visionaries such as Sabeen Mahmud, who lost their lives in the quest to push boundaries, and those such as Mukhtaran Mai who refused to back down in the face of adversity. His impelling speech left a lasting impact on the crowd.
The stage was then taken over by an array of awe-inspiring women. Samina Baig, when told that women cannot be all that men are, scaled the highest peak in the world to prove them wrong. Being the first female to plant Pakistan's flag on Mt. Everest, as well as on seven of the highest peaks in seven continents, Baig continues to inspire. Zar Aslam, founder of the 'Pink Rickshaw Scheme' which seeks to facilitate female rickshaw drivers, was also present. With little external support for her brilliant initiative, Aslam bravely funded the project herself. Empowering women to break social and cultural barriers, Aslam trains impoverished yet resilient women to become entrepreneurs. Lastly, the stage was graced by Horeya Asmat, the first female dhol player in the country. Her riveting performance garnered a well-deserved standing ovation and brought an uplifting end to a truly inspirational session.
These speakers were an embodiment of the dreamers who dare to push boundaries and think differently. A kaleidoscope of art, music, literature, film, dance, and current affairs, the Khayaal Festival epitomizes the ongoing cultural revival in the city of Lahore. One of the first traveling festivals in the country, it moves forward with the aim of bringing people from different socioeconomic backgrounds under one roof. This concept of unity in diversity is essential for the nourishment of our society. In the words of Amina Omer, “Aiyay, mil kar khwab dekhtay hain” (Come, let’s dream together).
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