Galle Literary Festival 2011 - Who benefits from this grand show?
With the Turkish author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, along with
the Indian American author Kiran Desai pulling out from the GLF 2011 ,
this “grand literary show” is making headlines in international media.
BBC has quoted the two authors, reporting a visa issue, as “Orhan Pamuk
(in email to GLF organisers) “I am very sorry for and frustrated about
this decision… I looked forward to seeing the beauties of Sri Lanka very
much,” is said to have written. Ms Desai apparently had said: “Nobody
could be sadder than me. I love Sri Lanka and had a super time the last
time I was in Galle.”
So ,it is evident that some of these top writers had had a “super
time” in Galle, thanks to the sponsors!
In the same report, BBC has cited the GLF Founder, Geoffrey Dobbs as
saying that the GLF is an important platform for free speech in Sri
Lanka. Geoffrey had said: “The Festival is one of the few forums in the
country which actively promote lively and spirited discussions.” He
adds: “We want this to continue... and we will always welcome any
writers and journalists to use the festival as a platform to air these
Whether the GLF is a platform for free speech or “one of the few
forums in the country which actively promote lively and spirited
discussions” is polemical. It has certainly shut the doors for
mainstream non-English media literature in the country. Though the
international literary festival organisers may not be able to conduct
sessions either in Sinhalese or Tamil on Sinhalese and Tamil literary
work, why did they fail to allocate a few sessions on Sinhalese and
Tamil literary works already in translations.
Amarakeerthi and Ranjini Obeysekara on The Translator and the
As the previous year GLF, the Festival is interspersed with Literary
Lunches, Picnics, Private Affairs, Wine tasting, workshops and a host of
fringe events. Notable among the free events under the heading Series, a
‘Panel Discussion, Liyanage Amarakeerthi and Ranjini Obeysekara on The
Translator and the Translated on Saturday (29). The moderator of the
session is Tissa Jayatilake. The event description says: “In this
illuminating discussion, two panellists talk about the challenges and
joys of translation from Sinhala to English and vice versa, and how it
feels reading your work in another language. They also talk about
bridge-building role of translations in current Sri Lanka”.
The selection of US trained Liyanage Amarakeerthi purportedly as a
virtual mouthpiece for Sinhalese literature is highly polemical as his
“award winning” novel Atawaka Putthu is crawling with a lot of
linguistic and grammatical errors. In my view, it hardly can be
classified as a good piece of literary work, let alone representing rich
Sinhalese literary canon or contemporary Sinhalese novel.
Among the notable dropouts from the GLF 2011 are Dr. Gunadasa
Amerasekara who is a literary giant compared to a Lilliputian like
Liyanage Amarakeerth. Poet Rathna Sri Wijesinghe who lives in Galle Fort
and young Thisuri Wanniarachchi who won the State Literary Award for the
best novel in English for her novel, Colombo Street have been left out.
Methyl’s Secret over Colombo Streets
There is an apparent bias even in the selection of participants among
Sri Lankan award winners. For reasons best known to the organisers, the
GLF 2011 has selected Prashani Rambukwella, children’s writer who won
the Gratiaen Award for her book Mythil’s Secret, a book with a
questionable reputation for its literary value.
The bias in the selection of local writers is apparent. A case in
point in this regard is the selection of Prashani Rambukwella who won
the Gratiaen prize for her children’s novel Methyl’s Secret over Thisuri
Wanniarachchi who won the State Literary Award for the best English
novel ‘Colombo Streets’. Apart from the literary merits and demerits of
the two novels, the fact should have been considered that ‘Colombo
Street’ was selected by a panel of academics whereas Methyl's Secret was
selected by three-member panel with only one academic.
Is local and international sponsorship open and transparent?
The array of sponsors of the Galle Literary Festival include Sri
Lanka Airlines, the official carrier of Sri Lanka, Embassy of
Netherlands in Sri Lanka, The Royal Norwegian Embassy, Sri Lanka Tourism
Promotion Bureau, British Council of Sri Lanka, American Center, The
Goethe Institute Sri Lanka, High Commission of Canada in Sri Lanka,
UNESCO and Indian Cultural Centre.
Compared with the previous year, the Galle Literary Festival has
attracted more and more sponsors. Even the UNESCO and Indian Cultural
Centre have joined the growing number of sponsors.
Would the organisers issue a public statement indicating how much
funds have been received and how they would disburse what was received
and whom they are finally accountable? However, the fact remains that
the benefits that the country would gain are negligible from a Literary
Festival which is substantially not promoting either Sri Lankan culture
in general or Sinhalese or Tamil literature in particular.
It is incomprehensible how a couple of sight seeing around the Galle
Fort would justify UNESCO or the Embassy of Netherlands to write a
cheque for the organisers of the GLF.
What are the benefits the GLF would offer in terms of conservation of
the Galle Fort which warranted the Embassy of Netherlands and UNESCO to
sponsor the Festival? Why have the Ministries of Cultural Affairs and
National Heritage been dropped from the Festival?
We urge the Government to enquire into funding of the Festival,
particularly those from the international cultural institutions to
clarify whether some of these sponsorship monies are really meant for
Sri Lanka’s cultural programs. If the international invitees are
attending the GLF on tourist visas, then a question would arise about
their capacity to receive any money even as honoraria or per diems!
Unless the Festival organisers come out openly, we believe that their
sponsorship funding proposals are suspicious, as in the final analysis,
this whole affair will not promote either Sinhalese or Tamil literature
in particular. We hope the BBC will join us by issing a statement at
least on the issue of transparency funding of the GLF 2011. After all
the British Government wants us to be accountable and transparent!