Galle and the Literary Festival | Sunday Observer

Galle and the Literary Festival

Yes, this cat spent all of four days in Galle -11th to Saturday 14th - and enjoyed every moment of it. Hence, the malice in her eye is gone, the acid on her tongue replaced by sweet appreciation. It’s good to be benign and appreciative once in a while.

She’s been to Galle for all eight literary festivals, originally called the Galle Literary Festival, but now, with an added name to it: Fairway GLF with Fairway Holdings sponsoring much of the festival. On the initiative of the General Manager, Hemaka de Alwis, annual awards are given to those novels selected in the three languages. Thus, at least twelve short listed authors win prizes of rupees one lakh each, just getting selected, while the three winners each get half a million. So, in the face of such magnanimous encouragement to writers, how can this cat be vicious this Sunday?

Comparison is inevitable. To this cat’s surveying eye the crowds happily milling around seemed less than last year, when it was resurrected after a hibernation of three years. You will naturally ask why the hibernation. Well, the man who started the GLF and ran it successfully with help from others, such as, Shyam Selvadorai as Curator of the entire event, pointed out, the flag of a CHOGUM country was hung upside down that year of the great meeting during Mahinda R’s presidency. No notice was taken to his pointing out the mistake. So, he hung the Sri Lankan national flag with the proud lion’s head down, kicking his heels!! (Or so the story went). This cat applauded the act. Not so the woman governor of the Southern Province. Geoffrey Dobbs went on holiday overseas and when he returned he found he was persona non grata at the airport immigration. The situ was soon corrected though. Crowds are around 60 percent brown and us, and forty white mixed with Indian and Pakistani brown. The Indians particularly, had come in large numbers to hear their Indian authors, many of whom were given sessions.

Oh dearee me! A problem always rears its ugly head every year; the head being raised higher and higher with no solution given. Yes, toilets: far too few to be managed by the large queues forming at the entrance. One year, conceding to protests, temporary ones were wheeled in. This year, the problem was further aggravated by the reduction to two; just two, and one a squatting plate. Alternate arrangements were in place, but how to go elsewhere when the time between sessions was limited. The Hall de Galle is the main venue, and it is the property of the Pradeshiya Sabha, so no new constructions. But, this cat is sure they will receive as a donation some newly built toilets. This talk may seem worthless and even infra dig, but it is a necessity and it is a blemish on a literary fair that deserves kudos all the way. Proves that a minute acne can spoil a totally lovely face.

There was such a variety of happenings from around 8.30 in the morning to well past midnight, when the program billed Mayhem Past Midnight where the age of 18 was strictly enforced. It had to be, since the largest slab of participants of the Festival, including many helpers clad in dark blue T-Shirts with the festival cock on them, would certainly be the late teenagers and very young adults.

There was a pervasive air of easy, relaxed camaraderie and consideration. The ushers at the various venues were all polite and naturally so. The writers were exceptional in that once you bought an author’s book and stood in queue to get it signed, the author said a couple of words to each, actually had mini conversations. The meeting place of the Festival was the open space beside Hall de Galle, with large umbrellas unfurled and cushions thrown around. Also, groups producing music. Food sales outlets sold mostly finger food but hoppers were selling hot hot. This year around, Lipton served free tea replacing Dilmah of previous years.

One highlight was the Fairway Literary Awards ceremony on Friday 13th January evening. The chief guest was Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who came accompanied by Prof Maithree. They were gracious and this cat took pride in the formal informality of the PM. They had three functions to attend before coming in to the festival grounds and to a huge marquee of Fairway Holdings. As each shortlisted winner went up to receive his/her award, the PM exchanged a few words, with a broad smile. One winner found it difficult to climb the four steps to the stage since a handrail was lacking. The Media Minister who sat in the front row immediately understood her plight and helped her up. Can you imagine the magnanimity and instant offer of help to an older person by a Minister of State? Of course, it depended on who the Minister was. Gayantha Karunatilleke showed consideration, kindness and good breeding. Proves that many of our MPs, particularly, of the green group have gentlemanly traits. Good breeding and decent upbringing are exhibited by such acts and not through educational qualifications and wealth.

And so the festival ended, with a soft slowing down and quiet deceleration. Sunday’s half day sessions were at Jetwing Lighthouse; the venues in the Fort abandoned till January 2018 when hopefully, the tenth FGLF will shoot off.

- Menika 

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