’The EAT Festival was to inspire hope and community spirit’

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Akthar Chanal performs at the opening day of EAT festival in Lahore, the festival ends each night with musical performances, a format that stays consistent in each city. (AN photo)
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Ali Azmat performing on night two of the EAT festival in Lahore. (AN photo)
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Asrar performing on the final night of EAT in Lahore. (AN photo)
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Asim Azhar takes to the stage on night two of the EAT festival in Lahore. (AN photo)
Updated 19 March 2018
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’The EAT Festival was to inspire hope and community spirit’

LAHORE: This weekend in Lahore was one for the books as the last leg of the EAT Festival wrapped up. There were more than 80 stalls hosting a smorgasbord of delicious foods with cuisines from all over the world, and with fresh, new food hopefuls bringing their startups to the massive event.
EAT, which has been a much-anticipated event since it began five years ago in Karachi, included performances by Ali Azmat, Asim Azhar, Aura, Fuzion and Asrar and saw people of all ages and backgrounds in attendance.
“The EAT festivals were our way of giving back to our city by revitalising its public spaces. Food was an excuse to bring people together in the least controversial way,” said Omar Omari, one half of the duo behind CKO Events Architecture and the EAT Festival.
Along with partner Aslam Khan, he decided to invigorate what was a tense and bleak atmosphere not only at home in Karachi but all around Pakistan as well.
“At the time the EAT festivals were conceived the situation in Pakistan was at an all-time low. We wanted to inspire hope and inculcate community spirit between the people of Karachi. To let them feel that just for a few days our city and this place could be a getaway from all the negativity,” Omari said.
And the public, in Karachi, Lahore and the nation’s capital, responded in kind.
“The response has been phenomenal,” said Omari. “When you are at the festival and in that space you can feel the positivity and love, and that is something money can’t buy. It is the very same reason that people keep coming back and the platform has grown over the years.
“The festival has taken on the identity of a cause more then just a food festival. It was never meant to be a commercial venture. It has been a launching ground for young foodpreneurs who have chosen the EAT festivals as their launching pad. Many successful restaurants and eateries have been established from here and have gone on to open chains.”
The EAT Festival boasts tremendous numbers in the 300,000-plus range across all three cities — a feat that has not been reached by any other festival across Pakistan throughout the year.
A notable accomplishment for the festival is its inclusive atmosphere. EAT is not for only one class or one kind of customer. It has managed to bust through socioeconomic lines to include everyone. This has been a deliberate move by the creators of EAT.
“The EAT festival was very consciously designed to appeal to a high-end customer base in terms of the branding positioning,” said Omari. “However it was also consciously designed to be very inclusive in the choice of venue — an iconic public space that sat on both sides of the bridge, so to speak — the entry fee, the food prices and the egalitarian look and feel of all the stalls eliminated the pomp and show of higher-bracket restaurants.”
Additionally, the event has both been lauded and come under fire for its strict attendee rules. They made the entry for families only to encourage families, and particularly women, to come.
“The event is entirely families only,” Omari said. “Which is a better way of saying ‘no stags.’ We have faced a lot of criticism over the years for enforcing this, but we have found it a very successful way of making the space friendly and safe.”
The success of the festivals has kept the duo inspired for more to come.
“Plans are underway to take the brand international in order to spread the love,” Omari said. “In time the EAT festivals will be just a small drop in the ocean compared with the grander scheme.”
For more photos from the event, click here.


Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

Updated 26 April 2018
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Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

KOLKATA: Mohammad Maqbool Ansari puffs and sweats as he pulls his rickshaw through Kolkata’s teeming streets, a veteran of a gruelling trade long outlawed in most parts of the world and slowly fading from India too.
Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws still feature in daily life, but Ansari is among a dying breed still eking a living from this back-breaking labor.
The 62-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for nearly four decades, hauling cargo and passengers by hand in drenching monsoon rains and stifling heat that envelops India’s heaving eastern metropolis.
Their numbers are declining as pulled rickshaws are relegated to history, usurped by tuk tuks, Kolkata’s signature yellow taxis and modern conveniences like Uber.
Ansari cannot imagine life for Kolkata’s thousands of rickshaw-wallahs if the job ceased to exist.
“If we don’t do it, how will we survive? We can’t read or write. We can’t do any other work. Once you start, that’s it. This is our life,” he tells AFP.
Sweating profusely on a searing hot day, his singlet soaked and face dripping, Ansari skilfully weaves his rickshaw through crowded markets and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Wearing simple shoes and a chequered sarong, the only real giveaway of his age is his long beard, snow white and frizzy, and a face weathered from a lifetime plying this disappearing trade.
Twenty minutes later, he stops, wiping his face on a rag. The passenger offers him a glass of water — a rare blessing — and hands a note over.
“When it’s hot, for a trip that costs 50 rupees ($0.75) I’ll ask for an extra 10 rupees. Some will give, some don’t,” he said.
“But I’m happy with being a rickshaw puller. I’m able to feed myself and my family.”