Tradition and Individual Talents

by Vihanga

At SLAM 010 there were 15 readers reading across 2 days – Ameena Hussein, Ayadore Santhan, Ashok Ferrey, Shehan Karunatilaka, Malinda Seneviratne, Sumathy Sivamohan, Shehani Gomes, Carl Muller, Liyanage Amarakeerthi, Mark Wilde, Isuru Prasanga, Mahinda Prasad Masimbula, Marlon Ariyasinghe, Namali Premawardena, Dhanuka Bandara, Ashan Weerasinghe and Self. Shehan, who is in Singapore, was represented by Prasad Pereira, while the illusive Mark Wilde (juliet Coombe’s million dollar secret) was foiled by an agent of Sri Serendipity Publishers.

SLAM turned out to be much richer than what we expected. Much richer, I say, for there at the centre of the forum was what many literary forums I have been to in recent years were lacking: the element of debate and opinion. Perhaps, SLAM not being an academic floor (though taking place at the Athenian seat of Peradeniya) prompted provoked exchange; but, this, in my view, is what our literary sphere needs, if it is to evolve as a more progressive discourse.

The flyer promoting SLAM proclaimed that this was a forum that brought together “different positions” in Lankan English creativity. As organizers we wanted to draw on to one floor the main people who were publishing today, representing different views and entry points. A pre-event criticism was whether SLAM was gonna be an “economy class GLF” — our belief was that it was not; and the intensity of the debates and discussions had much to offer us; at least it has left a lot for the readers without borders. There is little reason why it should be otherwise, too, for the critical reader who dropped by us.

Sri Lankan English writing is largely “Colombo-centric”. This is a fact we have to admit; nor should there be a problem in that. It is equally a largely “upper-than-middle-class” literature. The publishing, the marketing and the promoting of literature often takes place concentric to the above definitions. Then, at strategic locations away from this centre – but, in turn, interacting with it and moving around it all the same – there are the “rest of us”.   SLAM was the forum where readers from either end, and many who are un/consciously located in between this varied spectrum met. The arguments were insistent and provocative, perhaps, because of this very reason. The boiling point was consistently on the cards, because their positions were represented and defended with passion. For once, the scrub brush and the back scratch was kept out and open debate issued.

The literary-conscious media was represented at SLAM by several active journalists / critics. Rajpal Abenayake, Ranga Chandraratne, Indeewara Thilakaratne and Vishwa Daniel were among them. The forum was also livened by the voice of many earnest undergraduates and students. Being a graduate from Peradeniya I was thrilled to see a literary enthusiasm among the students which I didn’t know (to the same degree) when I was an undergrad, not too long ago.

There were no less than 6 hard-hitting spill overs. Sivamohan Sumathy, Malinda Seneviratne, Rajpal Abenayake, Sam Perera, Juliet Coombe, Danesh Karunanayake, Carl Muller were all engaged in intense opinion-exchange. Sam Perera went on to state that my university degree was crap, cos I — according to him — wrote sub-standard English with grammar errors and spelling mistakes. As evidence (maybe he chose not the best testimony to the fact) he presented the house the following line from my Unplugged Quarter:

“The staircase gives several burps as it received her weight on her climb to the upper landing” (UQ, 4).

He pointed out the irreverence caused by the word “burps”. Unplugged Quarter, on the whole, has 5 typographical errors: genuine errors of a fallible eye. The grammar I work with is the grammar which my works resonate. It is not the grammar I use to write my academic assignments — which is an obvious point, I believe, which requires no footnote or annotation. Sam said that he deduced that my academic work was written in the same “grammar”. Hence, his culpa. His hamartia.

Sri Serendipity's new book, The Suicide Club.

Grammar was at the heart of another boil-over that saw Juliet Coombe and her 2 crew of Sri Serendipity leave the room in protest. Here, Juliet was voicing her concerns over poet Ashan Weerasinghe — writing in Sinhala — not discriminating the dhanthaja and murdhaja consonants. Juliet pointed out how she, herself a “learner” of Sinhala, has often been put to discomfort by writers not sticking to the “proper grammar”.

For both Sam Perera and Juliet Coombe — this argument on “proper grammar” is old — very old. And as writers we have come a long way from being knuckle-dustered by these creativity-crippling conventions. Expression renews itself every moment and in every thought that is thought. Do you have enough space for your “proper grammar” to come in? Sam Perera said that grammar has to be “proper” as the publisher has a “responsibility” to the reader. These are high flown phrases and imagined consumer ethics that, in turn, hinder and block out the creative impulse. The reader who wants to read me will read me. The reader who wants to understand my writing will understand my writing. Readers who will to understand and read James Joyce have done so. Readers have not held down the publisher as being “irresponsible” when reading Laurence Stern, TS Eliot, Jean Paul Sartre, Andy Warhol, Orhan Pamuk — the list goes on; here, I am quoting merely a random few. If this is all what the top end publishing houses in Sri Lanka knows of creativity — in Lakdas Wikkramasinha’s words, “save me from the clap!”.

Ashan Weerasinghe --- extends the "no-nana lala" debate

Coming back to Juliet Coombe’s midfield collision of opinion — a member from the audience intervened and questioned Juliet’s legitimacy in questioning Ashan Weerasinghe’s grammar. Incidentally, at that point, there were only 2 “Sinhala writers” in the room; and both, coincidentally, were proponents of the “non-murdhaja” format. Ashan and Liyanage Amarakeerthi were the two — both prolific and “radical” (at least to me). Juliet’s problem, as I see it, is that she entered an already flogged debate (maybe she didn’t know this — that the puritan Sinhala grammarians were moving sky and earth to preserve the reactionary murdhaja complexity; while the likes of Ajit Thilakasena, and later, Amarakeerthi were taking a liberating stance with regard to the same) but with little understanding of the discourse. Juliet was interrupted by a member of the floor, Dr. Karunanayake, who asked what authority Juliet had — coming from “outside” — to impose grammar rules on the young Sinhala poet, who was pushing the boundaries of creativity at the expense of the puritan grammarian. Because, Juliet reiterated the fact that she was herself a “learner of Sinhala” and that she was often baffled by “deviant use of grammar” etc.

As I understood it, Karunanayake’s point was that Juliet is a “learner”; but, a “learner” who was entering the discourse Ashan Weerasinghe and co were re-fashioning, but to interpolate it; for her sake. I have noticed Juliet Coombe often underline the fact that she is “Sri Lankan” — for her policy and her work ethic, for the past 6 years, has been “Sri Lankan”. It may pass off in a less critical circle, perhaps. However, the cultural baggage we carry doesn’t pack or unpack just like that — through one’s insistent claim that s/he is of a particular nation. Michael Ondatjee became a “Sri Lankan writer” only as late as 1992: when he won the Booker Prize.

Crystal and Thilina in Dhanuka Bandara's "The Commode"

I also have to applaud the reception received by the emerging Sinhala poets Isuru Prasanga and Mahinda Prasad Masimbula. I think that their solo readings easily destabilized the performances by some of the more “established” writers. I am sure that the house will back me on this. In addition, we had Marlon Ariyasinghe — a friend for many years and who will shortly be published — Namali Premawardena and Dhanuka Bandara reading. I felt that their readings gave me much hope for the future of our literature. It is my earnest desire to see these people in print. Sri Lankan English literature needs to be decentralized and alternative narratives have to come in. This is what I wrote in the very first newspaper article I ever wrote; and it is the singular proposition I promote to this day. To see Marlon, Dhanuka, Ashan and Namali gives me much power and hope to carry on.

Marlon is easily the most radical and the most expressive poet I have come across. Not cos he uses swear words and stuff. But, the very critical level at which he makes his interventions and the intensity with which he delivers has always made me hold his writing at awe; and has even made me feel quite small at times. But, the tricky part is that Marlon is being published by a “international-targeting” publishing house. They have enough charm, rhetoric and sophistry to invert this “poetic giant” into a whoring dwarf. My earnest wish is that nothing goes wrong.

What the fish!! Bigger the better...

If you, dear writer, has to choose between pay cheques and principle, opt for the latter. Do not yield your creative impulse and your experimental strain for cheap thrillers and market mileage. Your principles and your experimentation will save the day; when that day, at some point, does come. Let the big publishing magnets fish around. They have enough bait. The pond will always have enough fish.


37 thoughts on “Tradition and Individual Talents

      • Sri lankan literature is undoubtedly ‘colombo-centric’as you have stated. only those who move within the elite circles in town opt for a book written by a sri lankan author while most of those who are perfectly capable of reading english hover around the interntional novels. What i feel is that Sri lanka surely lacks variety when it comes to fiction. I mean, haven’t our authors exploited themes like war, tsunami and child abuse to the breaking point? Why not something more orignal?Most of these authors aim for prizes, not the common reader. It’s about time the whole outlook of english literature take on anew turn.

      • Not really, spelling has to do with the composition of a word, and grammar more to do with the composition of sentences or lines, or whatever, with those words.

        In the case of Ashan, his poetry was just total rubbish, utter rubbish. Also, why is it that you haven’t included the racial bashing that went on in that room. Are you scared?

  1. Well, the “grammar” vs “spelling” issue — I don’t need to answer that further cos it is already answered to all people who — in that sense — have been in the “discourse of spelling and grammar”.

    “Racial bashing” is such a naive word. A product of the “safe house” from within which u can pass out disengaged, dispassionate statements.

    If you contextualize what happened throughout the day, you may realize that people’s opinions / interventions were freely questioned and unpacked throughout the day. What Juliet Coombe did was similar to what you do right now regarding “grammar”: entering a discourse at point tabula rasa and dictate its trajectory.

    What do you call Juliet Coombe saying “U know ashan, im a learner of sinhala and i get confused without the nana-lala. So please use it”? 😀 😀 If “race” is ur card, I say that that, too, has racial implications — de facto racial superiority.

    Since you are known are widely read and also widely acknowledged as an authority on modern sinhala poetry maybe i have to agree with u on the quality (or the lack of it) in ashan weerasinghe’s poetry.

    What we’re missing is uncle tom.

  2. Grammar is important. Nana Lala too. These people (the linguists who decry that your writing is not up to their standard) don’t like your style, the metaphor, the ‘language’, the stories you tell. They are trying to make you a ‘jothipala’ so that they can be ‘the Amaradeva’. I don’t know about the English writing class in Sri Lanka. But I know that the reading class (the readers who borrow books from the libraries and friends) is not always Colombo-centric. Who cares about the class of the writer? Just give us some non hypocritical good books to read. Details of anybody’s pedigree or credentials won’t help us readers. We only need the story/book to be good (to help to shape our thinking, give information, take us to places with words and paint pictures playing with our imagination) in its own way and sometimes a dictionary.

    • Problem, Himali, is that you’re looking at this entire thing from “outside”… so the implications and the stakes differ.

      Even the whole grammar / nana-lala issue has a long dated ideological struggle — and many have engaged in this for the past 60 years or so. From people like Siri Gunasinghe, Ajit Thilakasena, today the discourse has been carried forward by writers such as Amarakeerthi and Ashan. I don’t expect to go into details cos this is not the place.

      “Give us some unhypocritical writing” you say — the problem is that the hypocrisy / the politics of a novel in themselves arise from elements such as class / regionalism / socio-economic affinity / cultural exposure etc etc. There is no a-political reality; therefore, no a-political literature.

  3. What i felt being there the other day is that this whole “grammar or Spelling” issue is such an obsolete topic. Why are we even talking about it? When Joyce did it in Ulysses nearly a hundred years ago…

    I agree with what Chatty has said

    purpleboxers I don’t think its fair you calling Ashan’s poetry rubbish without having read his collection…

    • yes — i think purpleboxers is just kissing a bum. I just checked his blog. In it s/he has this 10 commandments kind of thing: the 10 things s/he has gained out of SLAM.

      Numbers 4,7 and 10, respectively, refer to malinda seneviratne, sumathy and juliet coombe.

      Im quoting:

      “Sivamohan Sumathy is an arrogant bitch with an acute inferiority complex”

      “Malinda Seneviratne needs to get over the colonials for stealing his loot and making his great great grandfather cut sugar cane”.

      “Juliet Coombe kicks arse!”

      Now if this purpleboxers is so race/ethnic conscious just cross check how s/he refers to sumathy!! The “sugar cane” metaphor actually gives away who this pseudonymed ninja is… and “sugar cane” estates in colonial SL?

      Coombe is assertive alright, but I don’t think she kicked any ass than her own there at SLAM with the “Ashan grammar issue” .

      The only thing Malinda and Sumathy have in common is that they both attacked Coombe (malinda more aggresively, perhaps).

      So, purpleboxers is here with a mission. To champion Coombe fullstop. But in the process the boxers show.

    • Well Marlon, I’m just going by what he read on the day.

      VK – Most in the blogosphere already know who I am and no, I’m not championing anyone here. Now that you know who I am, you know my reaction to Prof.Karunanayake’s behavior the other day.

      All I’m saying is that I find it odd that a senior lecturer at one of the country’s biggest academic institutions gets away with being racist, even admitting – “yes I’m a racist, so what?!”.

      Even in the case of Sumathy, her whole inferiority argument was just hokum, considering the ‘brown people’ clearly outnumbered the ‘white person’.

      Anyway, leave aside all that, my question is, how come you haven’t mentioned the ‘racial’ comments that went about in your review? 😛

      • Dear Mr. Purple, being known in the blogsphere means, wait for it, fuck all.

        This whole na na/la la thing is so passe man, one does not need to talk about Siri Gunasinghe or Ajit Thilakasena, gyus like PM Jayarathne who wrote Hanthane Geethayak and Mal Mawatha didnt really give a crap about this.

        Also i don’t think reading experimental poetry/prose should be the starting point of learning a language. For example if you are trying to learn English do you start with EE Cummings? or Trainspotting?

        And dude if i guess right you are lasantha, yes? Instead of writing blogs you should meet Mark Wilde and learn how to pick up chicks, you need serious help in that department. Both work for the same boss, yes?

      • Look, one of the ideas of SLAM was to enable people to talk. To get their views across. Coombe-Karunanayake was not the only “overheated argument” of the day. There were at least 5 others. And all these arguments got sensitive and were oriented at enforcing / displacing the other’s word.

        If “racist” is the word you prefer to use, then let’s use it. But, who brought in that word into the discussion for Dr. K to say “yes– i am a racist”: it was juliet and you who tried to trivialize what was happening there with the use of that word.

        In essence, the word “racist” is contextual. And in context, Juliet (self-claimed learner of sinhala) was telling an experimental sinhala poet that he should use “proper grammar” (this phase of the story is already set out). Now, I would be surprised if an academic — i dont know whether Dr K was there as a reader / academic or both — coming from the loins of Sri Lanka could shut up and wait in the face of this form of “cultural imposition”.

        Why hide behind the safe houses of diplomatic definition? All the others who were entangled in debate that day stood up and defended themselves. Some of the arguments were “classist”; some were based on respective positions taken on “ethnicity” and “history”…. these are as vital of one’s repertoire as what you deem as “race”. But, they argue and leave the room in the right spirit. That is how it works in a “great institution” (NB — the university has nothing to do with the programme — we rented its premises; thats all).

  4. Won’t it be better if all these literary geniuses argue on story lines,plots, themes (no more gloom and doom) and characters instead of grammer and spelling. of course they are important. but after all the best writing style is the one that makes the reader grow unaware of;the one that makes the story speak for it self and the characters stand on their own, isn’t it? i am greatly offended by those who think that if a book is widely accepted regardless of social class, easy to read and easy to understand it is therefore valueless.

  5. Agent Tom Petty – quite brave aren’t you, behind your pseudonym. And I don’t need MW to tell me how to pick up chicks, I’m well off on my own.

    Coming to the language part, it’s obvious you don’t learn from reading cummings, welsh or joyce, but that doesn’t mean that even if you are learning, you can’t try to read and appreciate great literature (if you want to call it that, definition of it differs person to person).

    • and Purpleboxers is not?…wow, when did you change your name to that? very brave of you though, to change Lasantha, which is already a very lame name in to purpleboxers, the epitome of lameness

      yeah, i bet you are doing great with the ladies, did you take someones advice and start paying for them, coz thats the only way you can score, yeah?

      so na na/la la is such a great obstacle for someone to appreciate literature? seriously, dude, get over yourself you 20 year old twat

      • – Agent Tom Petty – Looks like you’ve taken the time to find out things about me, oh well RK (yes, those are your real initials yea) I don’t go into personal attacks on blog comments, so I’m not going to bother replying to your cheap remarks any further.

        -Danush – I don’t get your white privilege argument. What if a Sri Lankan born abroad, now back in Sri Lanka and learning Sinhala, had posed the same question?

      • Dear Lasantha,
        Thank you for giving me publicity ‘albeit the negative kind’!! Any publicity is good publicity and now a very few additional people will know my existence. Also, I am glad SLAM is getting more visibility.
        As for your query… “Sri Lanakn living abroad…” meaning ‘you I guess…’
        1. You didn’t pose the question so maybe you didn’t feel ‘privileged’ – ‘privilege’ is a feeling rather than a thought…. anyway you don’t have ‘White’ privilege.
        2. Privilege does comes in many forms gender, class, English fluency, accent, living abroad etc… and you have many of those. But, that day, in that context, I was reacting to Juliet’s ‘White privilege’
        3. If you have asked that question I may have felt annoyed and thought of your question as ‘silly’ but I may not have had the same ’emotional’ reaction because you were not ‘repeatedly’ asking ‘irrelevant’ questions, without ‘listening’ to any answers given, hogging the discussion ‘space’ and then ‘dictating’ what ‘should’ be and ‘shouldn’t’ be done. Or your ‘collective privileges’ may have gotten the better of me. who knows….
        4. ‘Privilege’ is a discussion that needs a forum of its own so maybe SLAM 2011 could be that….
        5. If you want to read more about white privilege then read ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. By Peggy McIntosh.’ Google ‘white privilege’ and you can download the pdf file.
        Thanks for the engagement…

  6. Agent Tom … freaking hilarious man/woman or whoever you are …
    “being known in the blogsphere means, wait for it, fuck all”

    This whole race issue was a little bit exaggerated. Everyone there in the audience felt that. It was an emotional outburst, i don’t see anything wrong with being a little emotional. We wanted SLAM to be an “out of box” experience for everyone. This was definitely not for the fainthearted. Emotions were running high. Muller called Rajbal a bloody liar, Malinda wanted Sumathy to go out of the conference. As organizers we cant duck tape everyone. The government is already doing that. People have a right to express themselves.

    I know PBoxers that Race issues are very delicate and very sensitive. People should always be “politically correct” especially when it comes to race. But that means that we are all putting up an act. We are all racists to some extent, only thing is that we don’t dare show it to the world.

    I’ve known Dr Danesh for a long time and i know that he is not what you are making him out to be.
    I told this to Juliet as well. Trying to make her understand that the comment was not directed at her but what she implied. But i guess people have failed to understand what really went on there.

  7. “Whiteness’
    We see color. I am a Brown man and Juliette is a White woman. Whoever that says that they don’t see color are either blind or pretending. As Marlon says I am ‘guilty’ of being emotional but I think being emotional is more authentic than being polite and ‘politically correct’. Having said that…
    What happened from my ‘perspective’ was that Juliette is either ignorant of her ‘privileged position’ of being ‘White’ in colonial minded ‘White’ worshiping Sri Lanka (what ever the Chinthanaya or Media says) or ‘choose’ to ‘ignore’ it. The inordinate amount of ‘space’ she occupied in discussions at the conference is partly due to her ‘White privilege’ accorded to her by the Browns. When she told Ashan that he should write ‘proper’ sinhala so that she could learn ‘sinhala’ properly she is using her ‘privilege’ (consciously or unconsciously). As Vihnaga says, that is ‘racial superiority’. What I did was just point that out!!! Her outcry to that and calling me a ‘racist’ is to me a ‘tantrum’ for not according her the ‘privilege’ that she so readily receives and probably has come to ‘expect’ from the Sri Lankans in general and also ‘maybe’ her ‘anger’ at the ‘Brown man’ for not according that privilege and in addition has the ‘gall’ to stand up to her. So now I can call her the ‘racist!!!!’
    I respect people for who they are and I do not allow any individual ‘any’ unearned ‘privilege’ That goes for race, gender, ethnic group, class, English proficiency, English accents etc.
    In the end Juliette cannot out run her ‘White privilege’ and calling me a ‘racist’ and then putting together ‘resources’ to making me a ‘racist’ just goes to reinforces’ my argument of her ‘White privilege’ in still ‘colonial’ Sri Lanka’

  8. I wrote in a private email to Vihanga and Marlon why did we spend so much time on publishing? I enjoyed the two-day session much more than standard academic conferences, but was frustrated that we did not get more political and talk about literary production, the politics of aesthetics, hard hitting stuff. Actually I did not mind the discussion on Mark Wilde’s novel, though the little i heard of it did not endear me to it, (but it could be the miserably affected rendition of the extracts too). But letting that kind of discussion overwhelm us all, with the authoritative voice of publishing be the frame of reference is reducing the discussion to some cliquism. I was in some ways rather alienated by the discussion on publishing. As I wrote in my email, ‘crazy and vicious as the discussion in Tamil literary circles is, there is much more meaning in it. At least in a negative sense. (Something of that nature) Anyway to come back to the point of the discussion here.

    SLAM of course cannot pick and choose its participants. But better chairing could have kept us more focussed on the issues. For instance, though there was a separate panel on publishin I was exhausted by the endlesss discussion on it, running through the two days.

    Also, one should not mistake pseduo democracy for social democracy. What I mean is,democracy is not having people hog the floor, insistent on talking about issues that have class and race/ethnic overtones, but carrying on nevertheless in total blindness to those overtones. This is liberal democracy that holds all those people who speak are equal, while we well know that it is quite different in reality.
    I am fully with Danesh Karunaratne here. I am not here to defend him or anything. Anyone one who has read Frantz Fanon and emotionally grasped him would not have been blind to the dynamics of race operating in that room. But it is not about reading Fanon only. It is about knowing about the way the world works and giving thought to it. But for me people like Juliet Coombe and purple boxers whoever s/he/they is/are, are too insignificant to take on here. They are neither intellectually nor emotionally stimulating. And I am a bit disappointed that instead of getting into the nitty gritties of the event, the more hard hitting issues, everybody is rallying round or against this supposed racial attack on Juliet Coombe. It would be nice to get into a discussion on race in terms of what it means within sri lanka and outside, but it has to be with people who can engage in dialogue too. Though there was a panel on the ethnic conflcit, it did not get much discussion, and I really wonder why.

    I am reminded of an incident that took place when I was a student in the US. The people of colour forum, an ad hoc committee called a meeting of students and staff of colour at the university to thrash out inter-ethnic issues, fears, hostilities, marginalizations that took place within the colour-groups. It was goign to be an important event and many of us who had been working on race in the university looked forward to it. And then at the meeting itself, two white guys turned up and spoke about their marginalization at the basket ball court!!! The entire crowd of ‘colored’ guys and gals gathered there turned around and began to respond to these two rather silly guys and the very important issue that we had got together to talk about in the first place was not discussed. It was frustrating for everybody at the end. Just two white guys could sway the discussion in the direction they want to?
    My question is why are the regulars on this blog apportioning so much space to this discussion on race at this superficial or perhaps personal level?

    In my email to Vihanga and Marlon, I did not mention Juliet Coombe or the incident, not deliberately, but because I had already forgotten her.

    and this is what I would like to ask the bloggers here. I am not a regular here and do not mean to be one in the future either. I was directed by another participant to read this. But my question is: What is your politics? Is it shaped by what you write or who reads you? Or whom you write about? Your preoccupations? There is a world out there, much more vibrant and interesting (to me at least) than the Coombes and purple boxers of this world. Why aren’t we engaging with that. I am not saying you should. But honestly, the english speaking world of this blog sounds so incestuous (But then what is wrong with incest eh? wrong word), so full of its own importance, it is rather sad, because some of them do not really belong to it properly. As I said in my performance, I do not belong,my dear, will not for another 99 years, not even if the lease is resurrected, bought back’
    Remember the Tempest and the lease of Toronto and Washington D. C.? ….But that is not the issue. Whether I belong or not, but whether you belong or not. And if you do . . . ?
    If SLAM is to continue,and it verily should, it would be nice to broad base it, have more diversity in terms of people and issues and perhaps have a different focus that would make it more stimulating. Make it more meaningful in terms of the people of this country.

    PS: Is there something in the very nature of blogging that makes it rather insular and self indulgent?

      • who the hell is RK? Someone with that initials would be as lame assed as you are i bet…

        if a sri lankan raised the same question s/he would be dealt with in the same way…also i dont think you should think too highly of those who went and offered a crying shoulder to you/juliet after the session. there is no boogie man

        btw i think i told you what it means to be known in the blogsphere?…dude, you have no clue about what grownups are talking about. and also i dont wate my time searching ugly men, i actually know a lot of chicks that u tried to hit on though, and failed miserably

    • Lets alter the trajectory of the discussion a little

      “SLAM of course cannot pick and choose its participants. But better chairing could have kept us more focused on the issues”

      ma’am SLAM was really a two man effort (with a few others like Anuradha, Leoma and Dhanuka helping out)

      We would’ve love to have better or more experienced academics to chair, rather than myself and Vihanga. But truth of the matter is no one wanted to get involved in SLAM except for Dr. Danesh, who really helped out (maybe because he saw that we were so determined to make this happen or maybe because he is a “saint” 🙂 )

      The Department of English refused take any responsibility, even to sign the paperwork and the English Literary Association too refused to take part. Even the students were reluctant to help out since they were under the impression that their DONs did not approve of SLAM.

      Dr. Sumathy what are your views on this?

  9. A good part of my SLAM weekend was highjacked by Ms. Coombs and her publisher’s concern to obtain a manuscript with normative spelling. I’m thoroughly annoyed and frustrated that post-conference dialogue is also dominated by this non-issue. I have very strong opinions about what happened, but would rather swallow my tongue/hack my fingers off than give another five seconds of life to Ms. Coombs’ ill-advised intervention – after the period at the end of this sentence.

    Now, how’s the weather in Kandy?

    • Well, my focus was the “nana-lala” issue; which, I felt was absurd. But, then it degenerated to this “was juliet wronged?” / “is DK a racist?” issue…. and i seriously dont know what so called Tom Petty is saying about “purpleboxers” / Lasantha. I don’t even see the relevance.

      But, we are all crazy. This post has had 133 hits during the last 24 hours. The only personal triumph for me is that this outclasses that “vivimarie article” and the “dragon chucks” as the most visited.

  10. Nicola nice to see your name!!! It has stopped raining but its still gloomy as hell!!! I am with you (although I did contribute to the non issue!!! Sorry. I am glad SLAM is getting some mileage even with the non-issue. Shall we try to concentrate on Sumathy’s

    “If SLAM is to continue,and it verily should, it would be nice to broad base it, have more diversity in terms of people and issues and perhaps have a different focus that would make it more stimulating. Make it more meaningful in terms of the people of this country.”


    or just give this a rest and move on to the next blog?????????????? or just move on…….

  11. I don’t know, D. I’m torn between the obvious, urgent importance of taking a stand and the sheer futility of doing so!

    • the weather is picking up a bit…

      i understand that its a waste of time to discuss about this Juliet/lasantha issue and talking about them gives them more prominence than they deserve

      the only people that i have heard talking highly is Vihanga and a pal of mine called rathindra, doesn’t say too much about both from hat i see

  12. Marlon,

    On the department of English issue, I feel I am being asked to respond and feel I should. Give me time as I am travelling.



  13. About the issue of whether if there was better chairing the sessions would have had more focus:

    I know I raised the above point, but am not too sure whether that has actually any bearing on the way things turned out, and they did turn out very well really Chairing is not always easy, particularly when there are people who are insistent and who take the conversation their way.
    On the other hand, chairing is also about knowing what you want to achieve in a session. Is it goign to be so open ended that only a few dominant voices get heard all the time? Or are you going to direct the conversation in any particular way, so that some of the crucial issues that come up in the panels and in the presentation are taken up for discussion? Sometimes, when things get heated and they should rightly get so, it is difficult to be too directive. You have to let go. So, there is no hard and fast rule. What I felt was, something like, ‘we have a separate panel for publishing and we can take this up in greater detail’ MIGHT have helped. JUST MIGHT have. I am not sure though. It is easy for me to talk because I was not chairing.

    On the department’s issue on not being part of it: I really do not know. I, as you know, am not a part of it at the moment, and I don’t know why teh department decided not to support it. I wish it had, but not knowing the reasons for their decision, I am unable to comment.
    On the other hand, I really don’t know why the students were scared. Of what?

    When I decided to perform at Peradeniya at SLAM, a few friends of mine in Colombo said, why are you doing this there, do it here. And let us develop it with lights and projections. But i made a conscious decision to perform it there. When I first performed ‘In the Shadow of the Gun,’ at La Mama, in Melbourne, I was unconsciously making a statement on Tamil politics and the politics of dissent. It turned out to be a historic moment for me personally, because where I/someone perform[s] is also a political act. I am immensely grateful to the small crowd at La Mama for that performance for a variety of reasons I cannot go into now. For me, performing ‘love in the time of the city’ at Peradeniya was an act of love. The effort I took, the support I had from friends in Colombo, particularly Nicola, but also importantly many others and friends and students at Peradeniya was important. I was also coming back to performance after giving it up for my own self for many years. And that, Marlon, after all, is where I come in body/mind and as department of english. And that is all that I can say for now.

    BTW: do you have or does anybody have photographs of the performance?

    • I didn’t want you to answer as a representative of the Department. I just wanted to draw your attention to it and to know your own views as an individual who came to SLAM.

      and i totally agree with you. The publishing issue was given too much of prominence the first day. We were basically discussing the issue a day earlier and that prevented us taking up other, much more salient issues. But it was the publishers and some members of the audience that brought it up and made a meal out of it.

      The performance was very special Dr. Sumathy, it was actually the highlight of the day, and i’m glad you decided to do it in Pera and not in Colombo. You had quite an audience, the seminar room was full for the first time in years for a literary conference (thanks to the J’pura students).

      The “sacred” “unmovable” seminar room furniture were moved about. If the Vice-chancellor was there he would’ve had a stroke seeing you standing on the table 🙂

      I think post-slam era looks better and more brighter. I had a student of English coming up to me today and giving me a poem to read. He had started to write after SLAM. There is another who started reading books. SO I’m happy that SLAM managed to put some life into some of those walking corpses that we call students (students of English in particular).

      • The theme was Readers without Borders….But, as usual, Colombo gentlemen have issues with pera, pera English, vihanga’s writings…..Danesh’s “racism”….I think, it was successful.

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