The editor of the newspaper Mahanuwara had, in this week’s edition, drawn the public attention to an intriguing fact: that the Fairway Galle Literary Festival (GLF) was all set to commence its “comeback” with two parallel satellites in Kandy and Jaffna, but that the Kandy Event did not feature a single Sri Lankan – leave alone Kandy resident – creative artist writing in English. The editor had drawn special attention to the deselection by the forum organizers of Jean Arasanayagam, in spite of her being a winner (in the Drama category) at the State Literary Awards, 2015.
Interestingly, the Kandy Leg of the resurrected GLF has only one forum for Lankan writing: which, even more interestingly, is on Sinhala poetry, moderated by Liyanage Amarakeerthi. The panel is set to feature three young poets of a growing popularity these days, including Timran Keerthi and Isuru Chamara. No doubt — this is a good initiative to have on board these talented Sinhala poets.
But, where are any of the other writers / artists of Sri Lanka, leave aside Kandy? Isn’t it logical and important to pool in the writers and creative people of Kandy, specially since GLF is breaking ground here? Specially, as the GLF is otherwise interested in “outreach” of other sorts? The programme for Galle, to be fair, has a few “good names” — a few who have made the headlines in recent years, like Jeet Thayil for one — but, again, the Lankan Literary discourse is most unforgivably under-represented. Kandy, however, seems to have suffered badly in the organizers’ featuring of both “international” and “Lankan” writers, as the line up of events for the 2.25 days at Kandy is a waste of good time, for a group of mediocre overseas writers.
For Kandy, there are four overseas writers mapped out, of whom only Sebastian Faulks rings a bell. But that, too, is a bell tied to an anklet and not a dinner gong, as Faulks is an average writer casually known as a writer of historical stories. Faulks, according to the Event Map, will be featured in two items, which includes a lunch. Others featured in Kandy are Shani Mootoo and Ovida Yu: the former, a little known (in Kandy) Irish-Trinidadian writer, and Yu, a recently launched brand virtually unknown here. On the 10th of January, there’s a session featuring Hugh Thomson, titled “The Green Road into the Trees: a Walk Through England”, which I have a strong feeling, will be quite helpful.
Kandy, incidentally, is a rich pasture in literature, and is the home of over 20 writers – major and minor – who practice the craft with consistency: writers who make the shelves and headlines around the year, over the years. Kandy is also the home ground for a bulwark of post-independence creative work. “Big names” like Carl Muller, Jean Arasanayagam can, on any day, be more relevant and contextual than a sprinkling of C-grade overseas writers who knows not the ‘A’ from the ‘B’ of their audience here, and vice versa. The organizers could have also meaningfully used the Peradeniya University, which is hardly 6 KM from Kandy, to optimize their programme. Peradeniya houses what is arguably the best English Department in Sri Lanka and a faculty that can quite easily fit into one of those “lunch-time” events. The Sinhala poetry panel aside, Channa Daswatte is the only other Lankan (name) we find in the Kandy line up. Then, again, Daswatte is not a writer.
The Galle Event (the Main Event) is a fair(er) attempt, and Jaffna, too, has a panel or two worth checking out. Specially, the panels featuring Rohini Mohan and Samanth Subramaniam promises interesting following — depends, of course, on what will transpire. Their recent work on the Sri Lankan Civil War — Season of Trouble (Mohan) and This Divided Island (Subramaniam) –, specially that of Mohan’s, I felt, were powerful interventions in recent years.
On the morning of writing this entry, I accidentally met Thiagarajah Arasanayagam — Jean’s husband, a dramatist, writer and a painter — and he asked me whether I am going to the GLF. In spite of the fact that a yeoman figure such as Jean has been overlooked for an event that is held 20 minutes from their house, Thiaga Arasanayagam was in the best spirits and quite optimistic of events such as the GLF. His view was that “more and more” programmes of this mold should come up. Had I not met Mr. Arasanayagam today, it is likely that I may have not written this entry. During that brief interview, my resolve broke, and the need to share these few words — words on behalf of a line of writers unjustly overlooked when the Event is, already, struggling for good authorship — became imperative.