Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 30 January 2011





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Government Gazette

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 issues.”

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 Translated

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!


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