the Blacklight Arrow

David Blacker’s Blog

Let’s Put a Stop to the Galle Literary Festival


(Fazal/Flickr)

I’ve been noticing a sort of trend of thought recently in regard to the GLF and the people that organize it. Namely that it’s an elitist piece of foreign trash that has been foisted on the unsuspecting citizens of Galle in particular, and Sri Lanka in general. It doesn’t represent True Sri Lankan Culture, and according to one Galle Blogger doesn’t do anything to help the culturally challenged victims of Galle. So what use is it? It’s just a bunch of foreigners and some Colombo English writers who pretend to be Sri Lankan, right? They even forgot to invite the Local Writers. And they didn’t let local journalists interview Gore Vidal. Why, you ask? Well, just because the local journos have never heard of Gore Vidal and never bothered to read his books before arriving in Galle, hot and thirsty, shouldn’t they be allowed to ask him silly questions about Sinhalese literature?

The Sunday Observer article I’ve linked to above is actually a sanitised version of the longer piece that appeared on page 32 of the February 3rd 2008 issue, written by Indeewara Thilakarathne and Ranga Chandrarathne (I can find no sign of the original version in the online edition). In it, the authors’ main grouse seems to be that since Sinhalese and Tamil are the state languages, anything written in English can’t really be termed Sri Lankan literature:

I want to emphasise here that those distinguished Sri Lankan writers in the festival brochures belong to a very representative elite class of writers or “scholars of the old type steeped in an exclusively English milieu,” hence, it is in a way, incorrect to consider them as Sri Lankan writers.  

And since local authors and poets (those who don’t write in English) weren’t invited, obviously the festival organizers have never heard of them, and therefore logically are culturally illiterate.

Now, I had a look at the GLF’s website and I can’t find anything that says this is a Sri Lankan literature festival. I reckon Thilakarathne & Chandrarathne would probably want the next Cricket World Cup held in Sri Lanka to be a Sri Lankan World Cup between Real Sri Lankan Cricketers and no bloody foreigners or English-speaking Van Dorts. I guess those two journos would expect a motor show held in Sri Lanka to have only Micros and Upali Fiats. Funnily though, the Sunday Observer’s masthead claims it’s Sri Lanka’s English Newspaper With The Largest Circulation. But is it Sri Lankan? Not according to Thilakarathne & Chandrarathne.

In fact, in the newspaper version of their article, T&C suggest that:

We are of the opinion that the organisers of the GLF could embrace a hybrid approach for 2009, where literature of both east and west are represented including a good sample of Tamil and Sinhala writings. If this is not a feasible, then the organisers could explore other options. One option is venturing into another island nation to continue the elite and exclusive literary festival focusing on English writing of a chosen group!   

So if you can’t include Sinhalese and Tamil, bugger off, GLF. Clear?

Next time, let’s all give the GLF a hefty kick in the balls by making it into something like the sorry excuse for a State Literary Award that the Ministry of Culture holds each year. Let’s hold it in Anuradhapura in a Maha Vidyalaya, not provide any infrastructure for the laureates, don’t have any attendees (‘cos no one’s heard of the State Lit), and have the authors sit around for hours, listening to ministers who can barely read a newspaper headline give long-winded speeches on how Guy de Maupassant wrote The Old Man and the Sea. That’s a good idea.

Now is the GLF obliged to include Sinhalese and Tamil works in an international literature festival that is being held in Sri Lanka? Of course not. It is, however, useful to include works of literature from the host country, and it has, in abundance. English ones, which seems to be the pinch. Now, I suppose the GLF could pay lip service to these nationalist anti-elitist Real Sri Lankan Cultural Champions by having a fringe event on Sinhalese and Tamil literature (sort of like the Foreign Language Film section at the Oscars). But should it?

Will the inclusion of Sinhalese literature in its original form at an international literature festival, do anything for Sinhalese writing? I only mention Sinhalese, because Tamil has tens of millions of readers worldwide and is in a different league from Sinhalese. Will there be academics, scholars, and lowly readers beating at our Cultural Gates, begging to be taught Sinhalese so that they can read our great works? I think not. If Sinhalese authors wish to reach a wider audience (which doesn’t speak Sinhalese) they must have their work translated. Into English, French, or Spanish, the world’s most widely spoken second languages. A good avenue to do this is the GLF, which is a sort of literary gateway between Sri Lanka and the world. So instead of demanding that the GLF castrate itself, how about demanding that Real Local Authors grow some balls and get there work translated into English so that the world can decide how good they really are.

Now on the subject that the GLF must be a source of aid to Sri Lanka’s poor, as Galle Blogger suggested in his response to one of my earlier posts, I must ask what the hell for. Perhaps I missed the fact that the Oscars were set up to aid poor Mexican immigrants in California, or that the Cannes Film Festival had the starrving of North Africa in mind when it settled itself on the French Rivera. I thought the GLF was set up to celebrate English literature. Silly elitist me.

Sri Lanka seems to be a land of jealousy, where if you can’t think of a solution to your problems you do your best to fuck up those who are solving their own problems. Since our journalistic pundits can’t find a way to promote Real Sri Lankan Culture (whatever that is), they want to stop English writers getting ahead.

So GLF, if you’re reading this, you better shape up and fly Mihin. That’s if you want the Guardians of Real Sri Lankan Culture that inhabit Lake House (and apparently a internet cafe in Galle) to give you a pat on the back. Keep up the elitist, high-falooting standards of international imperial racist Christian homosexual lilly white right wing AmericanEnglishEuropeandoublestandards andwe’lltossyououtonyourfaggot backsides.

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February 7, 2008 - Posted by | Literature | , , , , ,

31 Comments »

  1. Why not send it to the Observer and dare them to publish it? I’m sure the Times will, but it’s the morons who read that publication of obituaries and for rent ads who need to hear this.

    You might think of using the great piece of three-wheeler philosophy “Rusiyavata wadiya lokui irisiyava” somewhere in the text!

    Comment by Rohan Samarajiva | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. I am sending those two journos the link. Maybe they’ll sound off.

    Comment by David Blacker | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. Hilarious. I’ve never heard of events in Bali or Philippines telling guests to include more locals or leave.

    I think they just have trouble reading and understanding the title. Perhaps we should just restrict it to writers from Galle itself.

    Comment by indi | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. Solid piece, Blacker. Agree with Rohan Samarajiva. This reads like it should be in a newspaper.

    Comment by ravana | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. In fact I did pick up some english translations of sinhala lit at the GLF bookstore – authors who I would otherwise never get to hear of. You’re absolutely right about everything including the fact that festivals like the GLF can be a doorway to introducing local literature to a wider audience.

    Comment by d | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. The authorities must ban of the GLF forthwith.

    After all, English was abolished in 1956, why do we need this thing now? The blasted language has refused to go away completely and hardly anyone speaks it now but perhaps it will make a comeback through the insidious means of the GLF. Good heavens this smells like another plot by the international community.

    After all who are the organisers of the festival? All foreigners no? And NGO’s. And the people attending are also the hated foreign type.

    This is blatant neocolonialism and undermines the soverignity and territorial integrity of the country. Who gave these buggers permission to have a festival and who issued them visas? Next year no festival without Defence ministry permission.

    Comment by Jack Point | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  7. Well said, David.

    Comment by Theena | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  8. Agreed, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, it’s good to see someone finally has!

    Comment by RD | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  9. Brilliant, finally someone managed to put it all together.

    Comment by Musings of hers | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  10. I actually met these two blooming idiots after a session, smiling at everyone and making vapid, fatuous comments on the discussions.

    I am told that Tweedledum and Tweedledee are regularly sent by the Observer to cover events of this nature. Their own English was atrocious, which of course explains the Pringles factory on their shoulders and the fact that they wouldn’t have understood an iota of what was said and going on around them.

    As for getting this published in the Observer, good luck! It is after all the former squatting place of the execrable Rajpal, where he began his plagiarism. The standards of journalism there are so bad there is really no point in any constructive engagement.

    Comment by Sanjana Hattotuwa | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  11. Perhaps we should let Iresha Dilhani tell those two what she did at GLF and what Digital Butterflies doing to precious Kids all over the island, teaching and getting them to learn English.
    (Sorry David, left the same comment on a wrong post! my bad.)

    Comment by diordna | February 7, 2008 | Reply

  12. I agree with everything David has said here.

    At the same time, it’s sad how our language communities are so tightly compartmentalized. It was striking how far removed the GLF seemed to be from the common folk of Galle (although I must stress that this is no fault or failing of the festival itself). The picture that David has posted pretty much says it all.

    Sanjana, perhaps you didn’t mean it that way, but the tone of your comment suggests a certain contempt for those who don’t speak English of a high enough standard. This attitude seems to be pervasive among our English-chattering classes, to the extent that a person’s intelligence is often (mis)judged by his or her skills in English. Sinhala-speakers are routinely stereotyped as rustic, myopic, xenophobic frogs who must learn English or stay in their well.

    Well of course everyone should learn English (in addition to both our vernacular languages). But this is certainly not going to happen overnight. And in the meantime, we cannot continue to deprive most of our population the possibilities and opportunities of modernity just because they happen to speak in their native tongue.

    So surely then the critical need is to broaden the scope of knowledge and ideas available in Sinhala. (The need in Tamil is probably less because, as David mentions, it already has formidable resources). And our writers can play a part in this.

    I agree with David that Sinhala writers should get their works translated into major languages. But at the same time, how many Sri Lankan writers in English even consider getting their work translated into Sinhala? (Even though some go through the trouble of having them rendered in more glamorous French or German!)

    Of course there are many difficulties involved, as David himself can attest to. But whenever it is practicable, I think it is definitely worth doing. Broadbasing the use of English while expanding and modernizing the Sinhala knowledge base will create a much healthier social environment in Sri Lanka.

    And perhaps in time to come, the Galle Literary Festival might not seem like such an impenetrable fort to future correspondents from the esteemed Sunday Observer.

    Comment by rajivmw | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  13. Spot on.

    The chips on the shoulders on Tweedledum and Tweedledee are not because they didn’t speak English, but because they just don’t care to learn it, which is absurd given the simple fact that they work for an English newspaper!

    It is almost a marker of some idiotic badge of authenticity to most “patriotic” Sinhalese that one can only talk Sinhala – which I do and well. This is then sewn into all manner of equally banal conspiracy theories of how the English chatterati are taking over the country and driving away them natives who speak the mother tongue.

    As for English of a certain standard – I’m sorry, but if you are a journalist writing in English for an English daily, then you better be bloody good at expressing yourself in the language. Fact it, in both State and private media, those who can express themselves, and well, in English is dwindling.

    As for Tweedledum and Tweedledee, I guess one needs to see them in a larger context of a country in which language policies, by its own admission, are deplorable and the result of years of myopic legislation that really has made those who only can read and speak Sinhala “lin madiyo” or frogs in a well. Having interacted with the JVP personally, they epitomise this – most of them are, in their economic thinking and political outlook, still living in a world the rest of us were taught as history.

    To bash English because of this, or those who use it, speak it, read it and think more broadly because of it, is just plain silly.

    Sanjana

    Comment by Sanjana Hattotuwa | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  14. Exclude or Include?

    I think we must move beyond what was originally written. The real question is do we as a race of people, embrace all things western in a manner that excludes the majority of the People of Sri Lanka.

    BLA – Embracing English philosophies and culture, has it created the very division we have in our country. Increasingly, are just becoming slaves of the international community in Sri Lanka?

    I agree with BLA on one important fact; “Sri Lankans hate it when others succeed”!

    Wish we could move beyond this mindset of screwing each other up.

    Comment by B.W. London | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  15. Rather like Pygmalion. Perhaps someone can do a varient of the play?

    Comment by Jack Point | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  16. “The real question is do we as a race of people, embrace all things western in a manner that excludes the majority of the People of Sri Lanka”

    BW, I’m not sure who you mean by “a race of people”. Do you mean Sri Lankans, or Sinhalese? Either way, since you say “that excludes the majority of the People of Sri Lanka”, obviously not. As a race of people, Sri Lankans are excluded from English literature.

    “Embracing English philosophies and culture, has it created the very division we have in our country.”

    Again, what do you mean by “English”? Do you mean British? I don’t see how that has been divisive, even if it’s true.

    Comment by David Blacker | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  17. Bravo! I hope Rajpal reads this..

    Comment by The-Benevolent-Dictator | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  18. Nice one, David. One wonders at the brilliance of our politicians who haven’t yet sussed out that NOT providing sufficient English education in our schools is severely depriving many kids (with plenty of potential), the means to expand their horizons in all respects. Or maybe they have, and the policy is part of their ‘greater scheme’?

    The JVP, of course, is on the trip that the more deprived the masses are, the better for them (JVP). Less said about those creeps, the better!

    Comment by javajones | February 9, 2008 | Reply

  19. An NGO charlatan – – –a well known NGO fraudster — – -gets up to defend the country against the JVP.
    ….puts his hand up to condemn the JVP when all he has done all his life is to sell this country to foreign NGO funders and their satraps.
    Sanjna 7-thotuwa, those who know will know what a bumptious NGO bambino this 7-thotuwa is. With this excrescence that suppresses comments in his own blog we can use a different language altogether.
    Puant excréments
    Go wash your chair.

    Comment by Deight | February 10, 2008 | Reply

  20. Dear “Deight”

    Tell you what. I’ll wash my chair if you wash your mouth?

    While you are at it, get yourself a new keyboard, a dictionary and decide whether you want to insult me in French or English. If on the other hand you want to continue to use this nonsensical drivel that you want to promote here as your own language, suggest you provide the rest of us with a glossary of insults?

    “Puant excréments” indeed!

    Sanjana

    Comment by Sanjana Hattotuwa | February 10, 2008 | Reply

  21. People talk of NGO’s being funded by mysterious foriegn elements who are apparently out to destabilise the country.

    No one seems to worry about who funds political parties. Y=The PA seems to be funded by the underworld, Mervyn Silva, his drug barons and the rest. I wonder which is worse?

    Comment by Jack Point | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  22. That’s a very good point, Jack…

    Comment by rajivmw | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  23. Tell you what sunk-jana 7-totuwa. When I wash my mouth you can have a drink of it, at least that will give you some brains. Some particles might percolate upstairs.
    French indeed. Yeah right.
    More of the Sunk-jana person emerges. . The NGO manthram for freedom of speech —- Sunk-jana must be free to attack anyone with his bovine excreta, but others must not touch the poor pansy soufflé.
    So delicate no — annnnnaa flower petal.
    Its typical Sunk-jana ness. Man can’t repond to others on the substance but its always argument ad hominem. Man knows nothing about the substance — so attack the other guy personally. Make all the personal innuendo about others as he has done here (above.).
    But when he is touched with a feather whoa — poor Sunk-jana’ is in apoplexy.
    Sunk-jana’s NGO excreta is now hitting the rotor blades —- but then, the hypocrisy is writ so large and the hide so thick this boy will resort to saying he is the champion of free speech.
    Yeah right. The hypocrite doesn’t have the guts to print comments against him in his own blog site that that are legitimate responses to the piffle and the bile that emanates from his spout…
    Those who know will know. Sunk-jana is such hypocrite we hear even the NGOs are blushing.

    Comment by "Deight" | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  24. OK, Deight & Sanjana, leave it out. You two are now both off topic. I will be forced to delete any further personal attacks. If you have something to say about the GLF or people’s reaction to it, please get on with it.

    Comment by David Blacker | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  25. Where is Galle?

    Comment by Lost & Confused | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  26. David,

    “You two are now both off topic.” – ummm, so Deight’s first post was on topic?

    OK -will desist. Love riling these buggers though.

    Sanjana

    Comment by Sanjana Hattotuwa | February 11, 2008 | Reply

  27. Lost&Confused, Galle is a large town on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, which is just southeast of India, which is at the north end of the Indian Ocean.

    Comment by David Blacker | February 12, 2008 | Reply

  28. David,

    OK -will desist. Love riling these rilers though.

    Deight

    Comment by deight | February 13, 2008 | Reply

  29. […] Two blokes remarked that the whole affair was “colonial.” Yes, there was a distinct whiff of the colonial with the lucid British accents of Simon Winchester, Alexander McCall Smith, William Dalrymple and Simon Mitchell punctuating so many sessions. This was further underlined by the shining bald pates sported (unavoidably) by some of those named above; but, above all, by the trilby hat adorning the large figure of McCall-Smith as he loomed above most other people. […]

    Pingback by groundviews » THE GALLE LITERARY FESTIVAL: FROM THE LEFT FLANK | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  30. well said david. i agree with what you’ve said. I dont know who is worse, the two that sanjana refers to very aptly as ‘tweedledum and tweedledee’ or rajpal himself. these people are so damn narrow minded, it is unbelievable. As for rajpal, he is perfectly balanced by having not just a chip on one shoulder but two huge boulders on each shoulder. With journalists like these who needs anything else.

    Comment by neurotic poet | February 19, 2008 | Reply

  31. […] This GLF bashing seems to be a perrenial pastime for many journalists and attendees. And part of the reason is the language politics that still dominates Sri Lankan politics today. David Blacker, a Sri Lankan author, discusses this more eloquently here. […]

    Pingback by Rant: Stop Pissing on the Galle Literary Festival « chasing bawa | February 23, 2010 | Reply


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