The Galle Fraud; or, Where have all the Writing Gone?

by Vihanga

The 5th edition of the Galle Literary “Festival” will be held in January, 2011. With time, this piece, too, will join its predecessors from 2008-2010 as the “forgotten rant” of a prejudiced motherfucker. Not that the GLF has improved. Over the years, it has become more and more self-assured of its pernicious enterprise that they no longer use pretexts or pretenses. Today, it is a mammoth tourist attraction, a money-maker and site for a week’s aesthetic relaxation for a VVIP membership.

I have throughout been a staunch critic of the GLF – for it is a cheating of our national consciousness. I see it as a misleading enterprise, and a selfish enterprise at that, where hi soc elitisms are reinstated in a country where expression is a site of struggle trying hard to break itself free. We have among us writers – experimental artists, poets with political vision and of a radical creative consciousness, people who are progressive in their conceptualization as practicing artists -, critics, thinkers who have a tremendous potential on offer. Then, we have the slim clique that breaks some shallow bread at the GLF; who, for the remainder of the year, doesn’t give a penny’s worth to the literature coming out of the Sri Lankan creative discourses, but, come January, are ready to be the leading whips at this so-called “festival”; busy at “putting Sri Lanka” and themselves “on the map”.

Galle - The site of Literary off shooting

The Galle Literary Festival is a fraud. It is the Trojan Horse of literary consumerism – the type of literature which, for the more pronounced meanings to come out, requires a glass of wine or high tea to accompany it. Clearly not the kind of literary consumption the “ordinary” are used to. But, we’re talking about the number 1 show here. Mea culpa. With the conclusion of 2009 the horse was making ugly noises and the festival committee resorts to a “curator” to try and remedy matters. The “curator” thus referred to was / is Shyam Selvadurai. For a while this resort gave me some kind of hope – for Selvadurai was a man who, for a change, was an “artist”; and, I felt, that one could bank some faith on this expatriate of our literature. Last year’s GLF – I wrote back then – was a disaster from the stand point of “literature proper”. When you set apart the choreographers, the drummers and the conservationists there was very little “literature proper” on offer at the programme. Even here, the representation of “Sri Lankan English writing” was ever more discouraging. Out of a charted 48 acts, there were only about 8 writers from Sri Lanka in the programme line up with a solid bibliography to do the inclusion some justice.

Now 5 years old

But, what can God do when the substance is cancerous to begin with? And Shyam Selvadurai is no god of small things. This year, according to the GLF website, there are 62 acts lined up. Out of these 62, “Sri Lankan” artists occupy a paltry 15 seats. Out of these 15, five are clearly “extra-literary” elements: from fields such as dancing, human rights, conservationism, architecture and the like. Channa Daswatte, Sudesh Manthilake, Sunila Abeysekera, Yvani Deraniyagala and Sinnaiah Maunaguru constitute this sample. Yvani Deraniyagala is a descendent of Justine Deraniyagala – that is the justification the GLF website makes of her inclusion. Then, we have another group of writers who are “Sri Lankan”, but clearly of an expatriate / migrant stamp. Manuka Wijesingha, Karen Roberts, Randy Boyagoda – “born to Sri Lankan parents” but from Canada –, Roshi Fernando make this line up. Karen Roberts’ The Lament of the Dhobi Woman was published this year by Perera-Hussein. Ranjini Obeysekera, too, is in the line up – but, her fame is more in the fields of translation and trans-creation: which, in that sense, is a “special field”. When the math of subtraction and the Venn diagrams are done, out of the original line up of 62, we have the following ooze to represent what can be considered the “practicing resident writer of Sri Lanka”: Ayathurai Santhan, Liyanage Amarakeerthi, Prashani Rambukwella, Chamalie Jirasinghe and Vivimarie VanderPoorten.

SL Literature is, in fact, outside this door

This paltry representation of the resident Lankan authorship – restricted to 5 – informs us much about the ground reality of the “festivities” planned out by the people who run this fiasco. It is a vocal testimony as to how “empathetic” they are and as to how “sensitive” and “committed” they stand where Lankakn creativity is concerned. What does the wider Sri Lankan literary discourse stand to gather from this elaborate and pompous show of ungoverned vanity? I earnestly request all Sri Lankan writers to stand out of the GLF. This is a test of commitment – a test of commitment as to the independent spirit of the artist who, in her consciousness, bears an iota of value for “Sri Lankan creative expression”. Take the GLF for what it is – see it in the eye for the unadulterated business venture and VVIP retreat it has blossomed to be.

Prashani, Vivimarie, Amarakeerthi, Chamali and Santhan – we have our differences as well as our affinities. There are places we don’t see eye to eye; but, at some level, we do have some reverence for each other’s work. I personally don’t know Prashani Rambukwella and Chamalie Jirasinghe. But, I have read the work of both. You are both gifted writers, at your own merit. Some of you I may have critiqued when the pen is passed into my hand. But, that is solely my view – doesn’t mean that it has to be borne with weight. Amarakeerthi – you’re a writer with much progressive experimentation on your side. As I have told you before, Atavaka Puttu is a landmark novel in my progress as a reader. But, for these VVIP retreaters and the children of a greasy capitalism you are a mere exhibit on display. Vivimarie – no doubt this is a forum where your work will be celebrated. But, then, the wider picture and the wider implications of this “festival” holds nothing for the celebration of Lankan creativity at large. On document, things look trilingual and representative of the multi-cultural ethic. So, you get in Amarakeerthi and Maunaguru – and technically you are trilingual. But, is there a multi-representational commitment, as such?

Are "all white" bars still entertained like in previous years?

The least you can do is to boycott the GLF. After all, the suspense dies: cos curator Shyam Selvadurai has laid a dry, placid wicket. And Sri Lankan creativity will suffer when this game is played the way it is proposed to be played. The plastic mask cannot cover the bankruptcy and the crassness of this venture – in the strict literary sense. Beef up this forum with more and more B grade “overseas writers”, buttress in conservationists, birdwatchers, coffee table scribblers etc – GLF will look more and more “chic”; but, it holds nothing positive for the immediate enhancement of our national literature. Over the past five years, many politically sensitive writers and critics – not necessarily extremists, but mainly those with open minds and negotiable moderate views – have lost hope in the GLF. I find this extremely pleasing and positive. It is best that we know the enemy and can demarcate the “class” for an entity of its own. Not that I am against “festivities” and “orgies” of sorts. But, that we’re fighting for a national literature and the representation of such a literary sensibility – a programme against “gall”.

10 thoughts on “The Galle Fraud; or, Where have all the Writing Gone?

  1. I totally agree with this evaluation. I was in Sri Lanka last year doing research into English Writing in Sri Lanka and one of the things I learnt from speaking to writers was that they thought the GLF was a joke. I didn’t attend. It didn’t make sense to me to go.

  2. Never been to it and probably never will either.
    But.. If someone organises it, invites international writers to it, and another willingly pays money to attend it what business is it of yours? They are not harming or hurting anyone so why spoil their fun? Can you not live and let live? What is your motive? Envy? or just a perverse need to degrade the work of others?

    If you think there is work worthy of being showcased that is not being showcased in the GLF why not organise a rival LF? No one is stopping you. I think you need to realise that your views on what is good and what is rubbish are also subjective and maybe you are wrong and aint as smart as you think.

    From what I have heard this is an international LF and many of the stars are internationally renown authors. The Sri Lankan bit is just a side show. Most of the people who attend I expect are comming to hear these international stars. Perhaps you think Amarakeerthi is the bees knees in litterature. So to test your theory why not organise a talk and a book signing by the author charging 50cents for entrance to make it more democratic and see how many will attend.

    A typical rant by a sour pus kill joy who needs to knock anything thats not going his way..

    • Since you say ur views are based solely on “what you’ve heard” and claim that “you’ve never been there” nor “ever will” —- it amuses me that, in spite of the defence you take, you are still intrigued in leaving this long response here.

      If it doesn’t matter to you just mind your time. There are people for whom the GLF doesnt make sense in its present status. Obviously, their / my logic is different to yours; so there’s no point in fucking around. For those who possess that logic this makes some sense.

      Don’t hide behind ambiguous names when you bring a discussion down to a personal level.

  3. Littaray festivals are not my cup of tea hence why I dont attend the GLF. However I do know those who enjoy going to it and have hours of fun and I think even the local economy benefits from it to some extent. So why knock it?

    It is not in any way different from my attitude to religion or homosexuality. Again, not my cup of tea but I dont feel the urge to knock those who like it, indulging in it.

    • Happy?? 😛 How so?

      But, you shouldn’t be too unhappy, E.Bird, as GLF is only taking a “lay off”. It will be back.

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