Olomopolo media celebrated the Banned Books Week by organising a reading last Sunday The week was first celebrated in 1982 to challenge the bans on books and highlight the importance of freedom. The week brings together everyone who loves books from booksellers, authors, publishers, librarians, academics and of course, readers. The event was curated by Raza Naeem, an author based in Lahore and was attended by students, academics, artists and even children. Naeem opened the event by reading parts of the preface of a book called Os Ki Boond by Rahi Masoom Raza. Rahi’s work included a lot of abuses and “cuss words”, particularly when he used dialogues to elucidate how common people converse in informal settings. Rahi defends the usage of these words and promises to continue using them. He is responding to the request of quitting such language for the sake of landing awards from the Sahitya Akademy. But Rahi, truthful to his craft, refuses to kowtow to such pressures. Fadil Asil, a young student, read the fifth chapter of Alice in Wonderland written by Lewis Caroll where Alice is conversing with the caterpillar. The caterpillar (now iconic in western literature) is named Absolem and smokes a hookah. Absolem is rude, reluctant to talk to or help Alice and confuses her further about the way out of the wonderland. The book Alice in Wonderland, a children’s’ classic, has been banned in China for depicting animals with human characteristics. Fatima Shiekh read a poem by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. Hikmet enjoys a great respect in Turkey despite living in jail or in exile for much of his life. He became controversial for highlighting the Armenian genocide, a taboo topic in Turkey that has caused trouble for generations of Turkish artists and authors. The poem was called “The Sad State of Freedom” and applies to the current state of affairs in Pakistan. Faiza Dar read parts of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The Color Purple is an epistolary novel published in 1982. It deals with the life of three African American women living in America’s south: Celia, Nettie, and Sophia. The novel was famously converted into a film by Steven Spielberg which starred Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. The book was banned for its explicit language, the portrayal of white racism against blacks and the patriarchy in black culture. Fatima Shiekh read a poem by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. Hikmet enjoys a great respect in Turkey despite living in jail or in exile for much of his life. He became controversial for highlighting the Armenian genocide, a taboo topic in Turkey, that has caused trouble for generations of Turkish artists and authors Dar read multiple passages from the book, including the first page of the book which now includes one of the most applauded first lines of a novel ever. “DEAR GOD, I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.” Vicky Zhuang Yi-Yin works for the Olomopolo. She read the last few passages of Roal Dahl’s novel, The Witches. Dahl’s work came under the ire for appearing to be misogynistic. The novel was published in 1983 and has since been adapted as a film. The main protagonist is a child who goes to live with his grandmother after the death of his parents but confronts witches there. He kills the grand High Witch but in this passage, his grandma informs him that not all the witches have been wiped out. The boy gradually comes to terms with the fact that his challenges will continue. Asil Baqa also contributes to Olomopolo and read a passage from Tarif Khalidi’s translation of the Quran. The translation done by Khalidi, a distinguished Palestinian scholar of Islam, stands out because it is in English, carries no Arabic and attempts to interpret some principles and concepts of Islam in a new light. God is also referred to as a gender-free entity. The modern and progressive translation is banned in China and North Korea. The most heart-warming reading of the evening was done by Kanwal Khoosat. Khoosat is a member of the Olomopolo team and she picked up a children’s book called And Tango Makes Three. The book is written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and narrates the story of two male penguins who fall in love. However, they soon realise that unlike other couples, they cannot have children. They adopt an egg, nurture it and welcome their very own baby girl penguin – Tango. The adorable book was banned for appearing to normalise homosexuality in America. The event was concluded by Raza Naeem with a short story called “Yaar” by Ismat Chughtai. The story revolves around a couple, Akbar and Farida, and a friend named Riaz. Akbar is a negligent husband and Riaz fills the gap by doing the household chores and fulfilling some of the parental duties. The children and Farida become comfortable with him but this eventually seems scandalous to outsiders and Akbar. The double-meaning of the word “yaar” becomes obvious at the end. The Banned Books Week attempts to celebrate literature and books but it also reveals to us the absurdity of bans and censorship. Books that are banned in the past, different regions or ages of human existence now have nearly universal acceptance. And most of them are now easily accessible through the internet. Therefore, there is an even greater need to accept this difference of opinion and perspective. Particularly now, when more books and texts are being censored than ever before. This was the fifth such event held at Olomopolo and the reading was followed by the cutting of a large (and delicious) chocolate cake. The organizers said that the event can be very exciting because reading a book that one is not allowed to read legally can give the participants an adrenaline rush. The week is being celebrated until the 29th of September. You can organize your own event, an informal reading somewhere or mark the calendar for next year. The writer is based in Lahore and tweets as @ammarawrites. Her work is available on www.ammaraahmad.com Published in Daily Times, September 26th 2018.