Saturday, February 9, 2013

A comment on Rajpal Abeynayake’s requiem of the Galle Literary Festival

I refer to the scathing remarks by the above in a Daily News article on why there appears to have been an abrupt cancellation, forewarning of the demise of the GLF.

It was blamed on the lack of “free speech” and the very light footed Colombians of pretense who just come to be seen, get noted, have their pics in the papers, and go home to comment on which famous author was at their Rs5000 per head gourmet meal, which was anything but.

I think Rajpal was being a little disingenuous and catty in his remarks, though I do believe essentially that it really did not draw an audience to match the writers. Whilst I endorse the valiant efforts of Geoffrey Dobbs in founding it, putting it on the world map, giving some international prestige to an event, and having the name GALLE known internationally making the Fort now one of the priciest pieces of real estate around, I do believe he had lost what it means to hold a literary festival.

As an owner of high class accommodation in Galle his interests would not be purely altruistic, and that is fine, but to be able to carry an idea as a permanent fixture the team that can carry it through requires a lot of commitment and courage, especially in Sri Lanka, where personalities figure more than objective of a lasting product such as the GLF.

It is this team that has to be transparent, with new faces coming in annually and older ones dropping out to ensure continuity and renewed vigor in equal parts. It is difficult to find a dedicated bunch of people who can work on the project and put the project first and foremost over their primadonna egos. That is why Geoffrey Dobbs had to carry the can for so long with no one to emulate, deputize and continue if ever he was unable to put his effort behind it.

The scale of the GLF has to be rethought, the participants enlightened and a Sinhala and Tamil one to follow the English GLF in succession to appease the allegation of elitism of the main event. I would also add that for anyone but the chattering classes with little else to do, it is an event of prohibitive cost, so it only really matters to a few within Sri Lanka, but it is the image of Sri Lanka, as a literary incubator, a destination, and a place where good writing is admired and openly discussed that is required with a firm commitment to the literary and less to the monetary side that would make it a permanent fixture. The State has been absent not understanding what “literary” means and that too is a failure.

I trust a new team can take it over and improve upon the product. Learn from past errors and make it a more inclusive event, possibly even discriminating against the snobs referred to in the article.

Areas to consider: 

1 Provision of a minimum of 500 bursaries to attend the event for those who have a literary skill (submitted through essays and selected from them) meant to infuse some intellectual caliber to the audience, one that is not currently present.

2 Discourage the Gourmet dinner type after party events, but make them more literary evenings also open to selected bursary winners.

3 Reduce the hotel rates for pre bookings pre paid, allowing a less affluent clientele to attend and hotels to realize that the event per se should not be for profit for them, but publicity that will draw clientele in the future during the year.

4 Setting up literary societies in all provinces in SL and giving them ticket allocations and bursaries to send delegates to give a nationwide sense of inclusion.

5 Have year long programs across the country with the main event being the GLF and not he ONLY event in town.

6 Create a sub venue such as Koggala for the snobby classes who wish to engage in their frivolous activities and park their Rollers to see and be seen with an appropriate international personality suitable to their taste, so they do not spoil the festival with their pretense and ignorance.

In Conclusion

I am sure in this way there will be something for everyone and people can all leave with a sense of satisfaction and value for money which is the most important result of such an event in addition to its international exposure in world wide publicity.


Jack Point said...

Speaking as one whose horizons have been expanded greatly as a result of attending the festival over the past few years I think the quibbles people have are relatively minor.

The most important thing would be to try and keep the ticket prices as low as possible (I think they try anyway but the lack of sponsorship prevents further reduction).

Gourmet dinners - not a big issue as far as I'm concerned. I've never attended any but if other people want to I don't see why anyone should object. They don't bother me and don't take away from the rest of the festival.

Hotel rate - again the GLF has no control over these and the hoteliers have taken the opportunity to jack rates up during the festival.

It is an issue but nothing that the festival can do about that and only a natural outcome.

The only solution is to try the cheap places in Unawatuna or Hikkaduwa.

Bursaries and year long events - they have started doing more of this.

Anonymous said...

nice thoughts