of the Galle Literary Festival
has been and will be written about this year’s Galle
Literary Festival (GLF) on account of a malicious
campaign by some ill-willed groups who cannot get
over the fact that denouement of the conflict in Sri
Lanka was not to their taste.
It hasn’t impacted the GLF in that only one
individual deciding to boycott the event.
Interestingly, this little white boy is reported to
have already arrived in the island, holidayed a bit,
discovered something called a conscience and hot
footed back to his ‘native’ South Africa.
I am not sure if he reimbursed his airfare and
whatnot, but it is a bit galling when a white boy
starts giving moral lessons to us, especially one
from the land of Both and De Klerk who as a friend
pointed out will die peacefully in their sleep.
Damon Galgut’s not alone in his ignorance about
Doing the rounds at the GLF, which to me is less
about attending events than chatting to people over
a cup of tea, I heard some hilarious stories about
the consciousness, integrity and general
intelligence of some who frequent the event. I will
Pico Iyer, having enjoyed the hospitality of
Geoffrey Dobbs at his hotel, Taporobane Island and
feeling compelled (or being persuaded) to do a
write-up for a travel magazine, described in
eloguent language how that little piece of land rose
from the Pacific Ocean!
Then there was a British tourist who had inquired
from a local author if he had met Vikram Seth.
Our boy had replied in the negative and this had
appalled the lady, who had exclaimed, ‘How could you
not, he’s such a genius!’ Local Boy had asked her
which of his books she had read. She replied ‘Well,
I haven’t ready any yet, but I bought one today!’
Local Boy says, ‘So you conclude that he’s a genius
without having read anything he has written?
F***-off!’ British Lady is shocked: ‘You are so
rude!’ I personally think Local Boy was being
pretty mild, all things considered.
On another occasion, someone had claimed that
Richard Boyle’s Sindbad in Serendib was reminiscent
of Horace Walpole. He was asked who Walpole was.
Pat came the reply, ‘I really don’t know, I think he
was an essayist.’ Need I comment?
This is all part and parcel of the GLF.
Half the Sri Lankans who attend the event are
unlikely to have read a single Sinhala or Tamil
novel or even a short story.
I am certain that most of those who salivate at
the prospect of getting some foreign author to
autograph his/her book would never have attended a
book launch of any local author outside of those
literary pretenders who write in English (and they
Bucks are being made in the millions by hotel
owners, most of whom are not Sri Lankan nationals
and have set their businesses through the BOI and
enjoy tax holidays of the kind they’ll never find in
This event of ‘high culture’ (according to Shyam
Selvadurai) is about money, and precious little
percolate to the waiters and trinket-seller in and
around the Galle Fort.
One should not go overboard with the little tiff
that GLF had with RSF (Reporters Without Borders,
integrity, intelligence and a lot else besides) for
they are ideologically on the same page when it
comes to Sri Lanka, going by the political positions
they privilege in terms of personalities showcased
(LTTE-loving Sunila Abeysekera who would conflate it
with ‘Tamil’ but not associate it with terrorism),
media outfits celebrated (the notoriously pro-LTTE
BBC which has precious little to say about Iraq and
Afghanistan compared to the rubbish they dish out
about Sri Lanka) and so on.
A sharp comment I received a couple of days ago
says it all: ‘[The GLF is about]
housetrained literature as short eat, table d’hote
and parfait. Dissent here is the commissioned
despair of beasts on short-term consultancies,
croaking on cue for fanged cubs who got doused in a
bloody monsoon. The Gallic meets the galling, as
RSF, like its country cousin, the MSF, are
umbilically irrigated by sections of the French
state and the EU. I imagine the cushy Kouchner of
the Kosovo makeover would rather us fete French or
German fictions, of Villon and Vichy, Goethe and
Goebbels. As if literature can only be feasted
within the dictat of NATO, in torrid Toronto or arid
These things are known. They are not talked
about by panelists invited for the GLF. They are
raised by Rajpal Abeynayake at the GLF and in his
columns and for this reason he has become not only a
fixture of the GLF but an irritant that pushes it to
be better. And ‘better’ it certainly has become from
year to year.
We get to listen to and engage with top notch
We are given an opportunity to take issue with
people we disagree with, openly and in a space where
they have to respond, even with silence
(ie without kata-uththara, as Sunila did to
It is a pleasant enough atmosphere overall and
moreover, at the GLF, one is bound to encounter at
least a dozen people who stimulate with
conversation, humour, insight and just by being,
invitees as well as guests.
The GLF is not perfect and in its imperfection
there are lots of positives too. It is not to be
boycotted or dismissed, but to be engaged and
emulated. Even if you don’t have the bucks to
attend the expensive events, you can skip them all,
just sit outside and talk to people, even if you
disagree with them on a lot of things. Nice break
I spoke with Romesh Dias Bandaranayake about the
virtues of Bridge, with Liyanage Amarakeerthi about
translations and a lot of other things, Ranjini
Obeysekera about the institution of marriage, Nesha
Harishchandra about her doctoral work, Malinga
Gunaratne about ethics in politics, Kendall Hopman
about the days of the Sun and Weekend, had lunch
with a lovely lady called Drupathi who taught me a
lot about orphaned children and many other things,
listened to Chamali Kariyawasam’s poetry and a
lengthy chat with Anura Saparamadu about his poster
collection and the GLF itself. And yes, the BBC
asked me some question.
I wonder if they’ll edit it out of whatever they
dish out as being the definitive coverage of the
In any event, all this happened within a few hours
inside the Galle Fort.
One needs to object to the objectionable. Got to
take the good too. That’s my take on the GLF.
Malinda Seneviratne is a
freelance writer who can be reached at