Snatches of the Fairway Galle Literary Festival 2018


As has always been the case, the four days of the Fairway Galle Literary Festival (FGLF) appealed to, and satisfied the love of literature; aesthetics with short immersion in drama and film; savouring the ambience of the crowded space around the Hall de Galle and Fairway Pavilion; meeting and greeting friends and acquaintances and living within the Fort for a couple of days and moving around. There were the alternate sessions, but not too many frustration-inducing ones and thus, this time choices easy to make. The many workshops and ‘private affair’ lunches were not participated in or partaken of. However, the entire day from 9.00 am was filled, with breaks in between affording a rest and just chilling in the café area.

Comments on writers,

artists and issues

The Festival proper started on Thursday Feb. 25 with Guyanan diplomat, David Dabydeen –‘seminal figure in post-colonial literary studies" with Turner Overturned wherein he stated his vision. "The 18th century was the age of the dictionary and slavery and poverty was nourished in dungeons" – slavery and the slave trade. British painter Turner in 1840 painted the stark picture of slaves throwing their dead overboard. He was however a plantation owner. Slavery and this picture were the subjects treated by Dabydeen’s celebrated long poem.

Naomi Munaweera and Shankari Chandran in their session Sisters under the skin dealt with rape ‘the oldest weapon’ in war being enacted upon women’s bodies. The UN declared rape a crime of war. Unfortunately due to culture constraints there results shame for the victim of rape not for the perpetrator. Male rape is an even worse trauma. Time heals but victims continue to suffer. Reconciliation calls for safety of speech and the dire need for telling their story by victims. Trauma affects the entire life of a victim and it is now found that trauma lodges itself in DNA. The holocaust and partition in India were recalled while reference was made to recent conflicts, the war in Sri Lanka included. Munaweera said in Sri Lanka family is so important while Chandran said background and traditions are also important to which Munaweera replied "traditional inheritance is very much according to where you are. I felt fine in Nigeria, not so much in the US where she lives now. Chandran tells her child "You can choose to give old traditions a new look." Chandran is of Sri Lankan origin living in London and has published two novels set in Sri Lanka. Her third is also set here.

Michael Kumpfmuller from Berlin narrated the story of how his celebrated book on Kafka – The glory of life - came to be written after many readings of the author from almost childhood. He read everything written by Kafka, wrote his own novel, then discarded it for 20 years. He came back to it since it almost lived with him and wanted to understand his feeling. He kept no notes. His family lived in poverty during the time of hyper-inflation and fear of Hitler but survived. His finally wrote his novel based on Kafka’s life and it became an instant bestseller, subsequently translated to 25 languages. He said: "You write for yourself." (Very true). "Writing about death brought clearer thoughts of life to me."

In the evening I attended a session by Sri Lankan Shivani Pinto, born in London, grew up in Montreal Canada and returned to London in 1990s to read for her MA. She spoke on her forthcoming book on Minette de Silva, famed architect, the only one in Asia in her time (1918-1990). She bases the novel on a love affair between Minette and Le Corbusier. The two architects did meet and there were rumours of a love relationship. Pinto makes much of it in her novel. Architect Anjalendran who was at the session said Minnette did not die of a fall from her bathtub as told to Pinto by a caretaker of the badly damaged home of her father, George E de Silva, the famous politician and Kandy personality, along Halloluwa Road in Kandy which now bears his name. She died of TB, Anjalendran said. I was interested to know whether Pinto had got ‘permission’ from Minette’s family, and asked the question. Pinto replied she did not originally use real names but in her final draft she did use them.

One of the very best sessions in the Festival was that of Rev Dr Malcom Guite, Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge who spoke on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner. My word, it was an enthralling session. We had learnt passages of the poem in middle school and knew the poet was much into narcotics and his marriage proposal to William Wordsworth’s sister was rejected.

Later I gave the poem a Buddhistic slant – the doomed sailor feeling oneness with, and sympathy for, the wriggling and swimming creatures in the sea below

as metta which releases his remorse at having shot the albatross and suffering the consequences. Rev Guite gave so much more meaning, significance and depth to the poem and made the audience realize the poem is truly prophetic and its validity in today’s context of man’s destruction of eco-systems and the environment as a whole, and having to pay for it. He said: "The poem has gone from land to land and wherefore does this poem affect us?" "Imagination holds space into which we grow." "Spiritual symbolism in a consumer society." "Natural life was disrupted, and love." Guite himself wrote a long poem which he focused on screen for us to read as the story of the bystander who is accosted by the ancient mariner and forced to listen to his tale. The deep study of Coleridge’s poem had led Guite to greater spiritualism and belief in God Almighty.

The near debate between David Dabydeen and Nirupama Rao, both ambassadors to China representing Guyana and India, which to Rao meant enplaning at Katunayake and landing in Beijing, was absorbingly interesting, because they assumed the two poles in attitude to China. The present Chinese government is doing much to improve Guyana. You know India’s attitude to the Eastern Giant or Dragon, should I say. Dabydeen said that with the US China develops the Caribbean and thus his country. "China is the future for the world. Within the last twenty years the greatest of its achievements is that it gave 400 million in every Chinese village, deliverance from poverty and hope and jobs. China comes not to foreign countries with the Bible and the map but with money and help"

Rao, a former High Commissioner in Colombo and Foreign Secretary, said that India shared a very long border with China and engaged in war in 1962 and sporadic skirmishes thereafter. Long ago an ambassador had said "India was China without firing one shot." Referring to democracy and human rights, she said "What you see in India is what it is." She reminded the audience that India gave a home and space to the Dalai Lama and to thousands of Tibetan refugees fleeing China’s advance on the country for 59 years now. Much more was said by both in perfect amity.

There’s a lot more to retell. A couple of hiccups too need to be mentioned. Two speakers and only two received standing ovations from full houses at the large Hall de Galle and one was a Sri Lankan woman. Didn’t we applaud with joy and pride! So more next Sunday on FGLF.


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