GALLE LITERARY FESTIVAL
Back after a week in Sri Lanka. What a week it was. Between the spectacular Galle Literary Festival, we squeezed in day in Colombo, a day at Captain Elmo Jayawardena's River House in Moratuwa to visit AFLAC's 'Swim for Safety' project. And soaked in all things literary at the Galle Literary Festival. Making this one of those trips where you come back longing for more.
First things first. Since this trip happened largely due to the Galle Literary Festival let me get to that. It all seemed to come together with a chance meeting with the amazing Libby Southwell at the Ubud Writers Festival (strange how so many things invariably go back to Ubud!). I was lugging my cameras and my books after a long day of sessions when I bumped into Libby. One thing led to another. We spoke about many things - her book, her life and then the festival. When she mentioned in September that she was putting together a festival that was to take off in January - four months time - I had half a mind of choking on her drink. 'No way', I thought to myself, just as did a bunch of other writers and people in attendance.
Over the next couple of days, as Libby told us more about her life and started with her checklist of - accomodation (no problem), transport (no problem), writers (hmmm!) I knew the makings of a great literary festival were there.
So the critics (who are now hopefully chewing their own words) did their damaging bits in the run up to the festival. But after addressing all the issues at the opening press conference, the festival founder Geoffrey Dobbs and Libby ensured that it took on a pace of its own.
And it sure did. It was four action packed days of all things literary. It took us to 12 stunning locations. It brought 61 writers - both Sri Lankan and international names together.
For me it was yet another occasion to catch up with old friends like Janet de Neefe and Nury Vittachi. As Nury rightly said "we almost feel like family now." Yes, we truly do. We've collectively seen the trials, tribulations and of course the critics. Then there were writers we'd all met before - Romesh Gunesekera, Suketu Mehta, Christopher Kremmer, Madhur Jaffrey and Elmo.
As always, there was the process of learning about new names. Last year's Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai was a true revelation. If only every other author could remain as modest as her despite the laurels, meeting the writers could turn out to be quite another story. A full Q & A with her will be up soon.
Speaking of revelations, meeting Sri Lankan authors turned out to be quite another. I bought Ashok Ferrey's 'The Good Little Ceylonese Girl' after listening to the fantastic reading at Sun House http://www.thesunhouse.com/sunhouse.html and it hasn't disappointed. I got my induction into Dilmah's 'Lover's Leap' tea courtesy Manuka Wijesinghe who turned out to be a laugh a minute. Had the most entertaining van ride from Geoffrey Bawa's stunning estate Lunuganga http://www.lunuganga.net/lunuganga.html to our Galle abode 'The Lighthouse'. Our meetings may have been brief, but we knew this was a friendship meant to last. As a parting gift, I got a signed copy of Manuka's debut 'Monsoons and Potholes' - which happens to be next on my reading list.
I was also visibly impressed by Professor Emeritus Yasmine Gooneratne. She has penned 20 books, leads a busy life between Australia and Sri Lanka. Offers editorial services to budding authors and runs a residence for all creative people alike - The Pemberley House. She responded to each of my emails in great detail and I believe we had a truly fine session. I learnt so much from her, that her life and her writing merits another post.
All of this happened thanks also in part of the hospitality extended to us by 'The Lighthouse' - http://www.lighthousehotelandspa.com/. A special thanks is due to Gehan de Silva and Sanjiva who ensured we were truly at home.
If the setting is the story, Galle had just about everything to offer. Full marks to Geoffrey and Libby for ensuring that writers went out and explored every bit of the beauty in and around Galle. There were times when I wished I didn't have to drive out for an hour and risk getting lost. But when I take one look at the footage I've got I'm not complaining.
Putting it all together, in addition to the festival committee, were the volunteers who were their bright and cheerful selves from morning till late in the night. They ensured each festival day ended on a high note. Often it was their smiles that made my night.
In his closing speech, Geoffrey set all wagging tongues at rest by promising yet another spectacular festival next year. If you haven't already marked your calendar, you'd do well do it. The longlist is still in the works, but if the inaugural Galle Literary Festival was anything to go by, it's bound to be a week to remember.