Thursday, February 12, 2009

Galle Festival - How Relevant?

Of course, there's no immediate way that fiction or poetry can be of constructive use in a bloody conflict whose human cost remains concealed. But the fact that most of us can't read the Sinhalese novelists does point to one very relevant literary exercise. A key failing of the otherwise world-class Sri Lankan education system is that while many islanders read at least some English, very few Sinhalese can read Tamil, and vice versa. This will be a major obstacle to any peaceful integration of the island for all sorts of reasons, and allowing Sinhalese and Tamil literature to promote understanding across the ethnic divide is perhaps the least important of them. But putting effort into translation projects would be a small but tangible step in the right direction ...
Lindesay Irvine on The Guardian blog writes about authors celebrating freedom of expression at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, and notes the great need for translation of locally written fiction to transcend ethnic boundaries.

Ajith P. Perera [found via The Literary Saloon] refers to the event as :
Colombo elite’s annual intellectual masturbation
and rather cynically asks what objectives the festival actually serves :
A section of Colombo elite might take a long holiday, eat continental breakfasts, drink lots of expensive wines, exchange yarns about their kids, buy few ornamentals, gain few pounds, may even boost the condom sales of nearby pharmacies and disperse. So much for the literature.

The tragedy is large section of creative writers never benefit from either of these festivals. They become untouchables at state festival because they do not appease Talibans. State shows the rebels the door. ... They have no place even at Galle because they do not write in English.
He says he sees the best creative writing - particularly poetry - on the blogs. But bloggers were not a group represented at the festival.

Maura O'Connor of The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka [also found via!] says that:.
.. despite all the fun to be had at the festival, there was a strong sense that the event had yet to seriously deal with the reputation and criticism it garnered in previous years for rather unabashed elitism.

While the programme touted intimate gourmet dinners in Galle Fort mansions and the opportunity to rub shoulders with literary hotshots, there was little in the way of events that allowed for the discussion of topics such as the current ethnic conflict, politics, education, media responsibility, or development. This is strange because one of the festival’s espoused objectives is to “encourage debate on topical issues.”
These are the challenges that the organisers of any literary festival in this part of the world (or indeed in any part of the developing world) have to face up to. The Ubud Festival I think is managing to keep on right side of the line.


Greenbottle said...

a great and topical post as usual madam.and i'm afraid i'm going to say someting that will displease people again.

so my apology in advance.

what's all this about appeasing (or not appeasing) the talibans.
why are these people so myopic that they treat the talibans as almost non humans.pariahs.

i'm very offended because i for one LOVE the talibans. let them have their own lifestyle and world views. why are they trying to shove other cultures down the talibans throats? leave them alone.

the problem with the world, including the literary world is that despite their 'liberal' outlook and love of freedom of expression, they are nothing more thn extremists on the other side of the divide.

what is wrong with the taliban?. you may find their world view restrictive, but is's their choice and in my book it is a far far better world view than the damned wog kind of world view which is neither here nor there.

and here's another thing. based on my experience of reading english literarture/fictions written by non english writers (brown, yellow or black, or mixed color of inderterminate hues) i have come to the conclusion that most of these writers are wogs. it's unfortunate.


by the way, one really good book i read about literary meetings is "the meeting at telgte" by my favorite writer gunther grass...

a nice review here

EJames said...

I would respond to the comment above, but I do have a feeling madam will delete it. It is, after all, flamebait, with little or no justification or analysis for extremely flamboyant statements.

I do, however, think that an assertion about how the literary world are extremists on the other side of the divide is stretching the fabric of reality a bit far. I will not clash with you on your love for the Taliban (which I think is your right), and I will not question you on wogs. But writers are not extremists. They do not, after all, blow things up.

Greenbottle said...

Dear EJames;

writers don't blow things up it's true but can do a lot more harm than blowing up a few people.

writers as we all know sometimes inspire but quite often can poison people's minds.

having said that i'm all for freedom of expression and my only wish is for writers to try to understand a bit more of the 'other side'.

Dienasty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ejames said...

Perhaps it would be a good idea to have writers on the 'other side' as well? Writing is telepathy; a window into the innermost thoughts of individuals. Rather than call the writing community out for their views (which, like you say, is freedom of expression - even if they appear to be 'extremists on the other side'), why not enact a balance? There is nothing to prevent the 'other side' to write, as opposed to blowing things up, no?

Greenbottle said...

the other side DO write, but unfortunately as far as i know mostly in religious/ non-fiction genres. and as such most of the writings are unknown to the fiction writers especially , for want of a better word er...'wog' variety who perhaps look down on these writings as beneath them. a pity because from these writings they can learn a thing or two which i'm sure will make them think twice before writing stupid things about 'the other side'.

Damyanti said...

Wow! A Talib in Malaysia.

Go, greenbottle! Btw, are you also the Anonymouse? Just asking.

Taliban is all about forcing women to not study beyond the age of five, of marrying them before the age of sixteen, of not allowing them out without a male relative in tow even to visit a dying parent, of keeping them in burqa, of beating them up and even murdering them if they flouted such laws (after all, their honour must be preserved at all costs)...a great and liberated philosophy, in short.

Two questions:

I assume you are a man? Yet to hear of a woman Talib. Women under Taliban are too busy being mutilated and beaten up to be religious, I suppose.

Why are you in Malaysia within the corrupting influences of modernity and (God help them) women without burqas? Aren't the remote interiors of Afghanistan a better place for you? Again, just asking.

And apologies in advance if I have offended your fragile sentiments. Believe me, that was not the intention at all. This is just as simple, harmless, and totally "non-flamebait" comment as your own first comment here.

Greenbottle said...

dear damyanti...

thank you for a good comment.

firstly i sure as fuck am not anonymouse. when i'm anonymous i put a little name to it and i consistently use just the same name.

based on your comment you must have been watching quite a lot of CNN or BBC or fox news etc.

being a taliban is not just snipping off women clitoris you know. you sound like a very young woman.. go study and learn. it's not the place here to explain details about the talibans.

but i tell you this. what i request is for people not simply to pass judgement on cultures and world views which are alien to them based on their OWN perceptions and prejudice. RESPECT. and this is one of my reasons why i detest...yes, DETEST wogs. because they simply can not think for themselves. they just "cut and paste".

and there's no need to apologise. just say the right things and learn. my sentiments isn't fragile in fact i think it's quite robust, i'm quite thick skinned ha ha thanks.

bibliobibuli said...

haha when i saw all the comments this post (which i wasn't sure anyone would respond to, though the topic interests me a great deal ... how do you get the balance right for literary festivals), i just knew greenbottle had to be there somewhere. flamebait indeed. (what a great term!) thanks for provoking discussion.

btw this was not MY humble opinion re taliban, but the blogger i lifted the comment from. please do go talk to him.

don't see much to like about the taliban though, and agree with damayanti

damayanti - no this guy is never anon though he has another pseudonym for when he wants to argue with himself! :-D it's all fun and games on this blog

Greenbottle said...

ah ha ha...i haven't argued in this blog with myself yet mandam..though i quite tempted to sometimes...just to back and support myself up when the flame gets a bit hot know, ha ha...

and oh... everybody has the right to like or dislike a community but lets respect them , leave them be...i don't quite like the cannibals in papua new guinea myself though i must say their penis sheath is quite charming....

good day...

Damyanti said...

Well, well, well :)

I never did think I would have to apologize for my age.

Going by your views AND your language, greenbottle, I can see that your sentiments are fragile indeed. Look at you sputter and burn!

And no, I'm not talking from CNN and BBC.I had a very close friend who was working in Herat and Kabul with Afghan women in surrounding regions, setting up education programs for them from 2005 to 2007. She worked with an organization called CRS and gave me frequent updates when we exchanged emails.

This should teach you, despite your "AGE", to never, ever make assumptions, and if you do, add a polite question mark at the end (like I did).

I will repeat your words back to you: say the right things and learn. Also note that I did not have to resort to bad language to make my point.

Sharon, I know what you are talking about.
But having seen for myself through pictures my friend sent me exactly what Taliban is capable of, I could not keep silent. I suffered with my friend every day through the two years she was there seeing little girls mutilated and abused. I believe we should speak up against unjust statements wherever we see them.

Greenbottle said...

so 'your friend' is the arbiter of what's right and wrong eh?

well, i too have friends who have gone to pakistan iran and afghanistan and at least one probably fight there too during the russian occupation (though he didn't say so). and have friends who send their sons to study in those madrasahs in pakistan...

i have a very rude word to say to people like 'your friend' but i'll refrain. i feel like being civil sometimes...

Damyanti said...

Oh no, Greenbottle, the honor of being the arbiter of right and wrong goes to you. Notice that you are still the one scrambling for rude words.

I see also that you were not able to answer the questions I asked you earlier.

Congratulations, you just made the comment which would make any Talib welcome you with open arms. Afghanistan beckons!

Civil? Sure, you are civil!!

EJames said...

I think Greenbottle sir is mixing up the right to opinion and culture with the protection of basic human rights. In the international community's POV, it is far more important to protect the basic human rights (i.e: stop the Taliban from committing further detestable acts of torture) than it is to protect the Taliban's right to female abuse.

Of course, this is slightly hypocritical, seeing as the US itself has its own history of human rights abuses (smearing, as the Talibs would have it, its reputation as a protector of world peace and justice). But even if justice is slow in coming to America, we certainly cannot sit on our hands as human rights abuses are being carried out in Afghanistan, or claim that they have a 'right to practice their beliefs'.

Incidentally, the idea that CNN/BBC/Fox is a slanted view of world affairs is a time-honoured fallback, and while I quite agree with Greenbottles implied assertion, I also have to note here that perception of reality and relative truth is a very postmodernist one, and that the original idea that America's mainstream media is slanting things was first expressed by the right (fundamentalist Christian) talk radio. I think Mr Greenbottle sir would be interested in essay explaining, in great detail, the sad and disparate world of American media.

Anonymous said...

Greenbottle's vehement comments about letting the taliban be have reminded me that, as much as i support freedom of expression and the right for different communities to practice their own cultures, i support more what I (yes I, the arbitrary despot that i am) believe are basic human rights, including the right not to be harmed by anyone and not to allow others to be harmed if i can help it.

So, if you tell me to respect another's culture, although that culture includes abusing people (physically, emotionally, mentally whatever) on the basis of their right to practice their culture and freedom of expression, my respect for culture and freedom of expression is definitely going to take a back seat to stopping abuse.

What has been said over and over again in the conscience of ppl who regret not stopping what turns out to be sickening abuse in many parts of the world can be simplified by that saying about evil winning not because it's stronger than good but because good didn't do anything about it.

Of course, what's good or evil etc is open to debate depending on the information, knowledge and value system of individuals/countries; but values being theoretically subjective doesn't mean i should deny my individual view of what good or evil is or suppress speaking out about it in the same way as (for example) Damyanti has.

Besides, my culture (and thankfully the culture of a number of people worldwide- and by culture, i'm not necessarily speaking of race) doesn't permit me to let abuse slide anywhere else in the world, so by the argument that I have the right to practice my culture and freely express it, the world is my oyster in terms of stopping abuse.

And if all of the above makes me an arbiter of what's right and wrong, more power to me. At the rate things are going, I'd rather I was that arbiter than anyone else anyway:)


Greenbottle said...

dear Ejames and whitearrow;

you seem to take it for granted and as truth that the talibans are evil and as you (Ejames) put it 'commiting detestable acts of torture'.(as though others are free from this same act).

this view about 'human right abuse and all sorts of subjugation of women in taliban society is unfortunately the stereotype view that we get everyday from the media , and yes, including the bbc cnn etc...

this is sad because a moverment that is gaining ground as we speak now in large swath of pakistan and hopefully afghanistan too can not be all that evil if they can garner such popular support of the common people.

talibans have been vilified to such an extent that their central aims and 'raison d'etre' has virtually been completely forgotten and ignored.

for those who are ignorant about talibans, their goal is nothing but to create a society, a country where the community obey and live within the islamic percepts as laid down by the Qur'an and the examples of the prophet Muhaammad. and as such, if you are a muslim it is hard for you to argue with this. (unless of course if you are a damned wog.)

if you are a non muslim, well, just stay out of it. that's all we request.


it's true that there are many ways of living a muslim life, from the lax and liberal malaysian/indonesian style to the v. restrictive saudi style... but whatever the 'style' they choose, who are you to pronouce which is the best for each culture and community?

EJames said...

Your logic goes as such, and I paraphrase:

America is free and fair and democratic. Many people support America. Therefore America cannot possible have committed any human rights abuses.

There is no logical connection between the two, Greenbottle. In the same way, just because people are rallying behind the Talibs and the extremists shows not that they approve of human rights abuses, or that they're not aware of it, but only proves that they're incited and enraged against the 'Zionists', or whatever it is they call America/Israel today. I need not remind you the Talibans were welcomed with open arms the day they took over Kabul.

A couple of years later, however, after deploying moral police and whipping women and stoning adulterers and implementing laws that the top could circumvent at any time they wished, most ordinary Afghans were no longer in love with the Taliban. Ask the immigrants. Ask the popular Afghan novelists.

I am growing weary of your intellectually slothful arguments. The two you have offered up: 1) "y'all watch BBC CNN and are therefore stupid people who believe everything they watch and who do not possess the intelligence to read up on counter-views, which are so readily available on the Internet" and also "ya'all non-Muslims stay out of Muslim business."

Which is really cute and all, but let's see what happens if I deploy these same arguments with a different twist - "ya'll stupid people who read and watch and get your news only from terrorist websites, with their amazing network of journalists and writers and suicide bombers."

Also: "ya'll non-Christians stay out of America's affairs. It sure is damn right for America to do Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib coz it's a Christian thing. So shuddap and let them be, who are you to pronounce what's best for America, eh?"

The Taliban's aims may be ideal, but their execution is far from it. It is easier and more logical to make your case for Iran - which is fairly prosperous and I believe a fair (though far from perfect) example of what an Islamic government can be, even with precepts laid down by the Quran. But for the Taliban? How, I ask you, do you defend their people's pain and suffering?

Greenbottle said...


"...I am growing weary of your intellectually slothful arguments"..

thanks. and i can say exactly the same to you too.

you showed your ignorance about islam and muslim laws and yet you want to impose your views on the muslims!

At no time did i use the people support as a basis to justify that taliban's way of seeing things as 'right'. i'm just stating the fact that just like any other system, talibans too have their supporters.

i agree with you when you say "The Taliban's aims may be ideal, but their execution is far from it. "...

and that's the whole point. no society is perfect. and at no point did i say talibans is perfect or otherwise. to many including you , theirs is primitive and leave much to be desired and i too hope that they will improve in a lot of things but at the end of the day what i'm saying is this.

the taliban has certain ways of interpreting things as you and the west and all those immigrants and a few novelists that ran away have a certain way of interpreting things.

but at the same time you must not impose your own narrow view to judge others and other cultures.

as a non muslim westerner(i assume) you probably are not very well versed in islamic syariahs and so i undertand your views about -as you put it- " deploying moral police and whipping women and stoning adulterers and implementing laws..." .

the hipocricy and double standards is obvious when we see that nobody including the US (that champion of world democracy) criticize the saudis for example that implement exactly the same things the talibans try to implement. even here in good ole malaysia we do have moral police (if you are not aware, now you do) and if the muslims have their way they would implement the rest of those laws...

it is not the place here to debate details and the pros and cons about all these... you can read it elsewhere if you want...but i tell you this, as much as muslims don't meddle into the seemingly strange and illogical practices and tenets of other religions we ask the same from the non muslims not to meddle in ours... .

bibliobibuli said...

am rather sad that we got so far off topic. it would have been nice to have had some comments about how lit festivals can engage local writers and re-energise the local community. ah well, greenbottle needs to expound, though i'd rather he use his own space to do so. *yawn*

Greenbottle said...

SO SORRY but i guess i can not shut up when people comment on my comment that i feel need to be commented further ad nauseum...but i try not to give further comments...again, my apology...good bye.

Anonymous said...

Sharon -- I don't want to take things further off track because I think the post about the (shortcomings of the) Galle festival was an interesting one that deserves comment, but I just wanted to say that discussions like the one above are slowly turning me off many of the blogs I used to read. I'm sick and tired of the oft-expressed viewpoint that "if you are not Malay/Muslim/Indian/Chinese/Martian," your opinions on this are not valid so please shut up. I'm sick and tired of religion and race getting a free pass -- being exempt from any questioning whatsoever -- because they are supposedly "sensitive" subjects, and frankly, after running into that attitude over and over again (not just here), I've decided that I'd rather surround myself with logical people who do question things than with some of the readers of this blog (who shall remain unnamed). Makes my life a whole lot easier. If you are wondering why nobody else has jumped in here to talk about lit. festivals, it's possible that others feel the way I do, and that it's just taken me a bit longer to arrive at the same conclusions as they did. Dunno what you can do about it and it's definitely not your fault, but there it is.

I haven't been to Galle but I do know that the Sri Lanka conflict is one that is surprisingly polarising even among people who are normally even-minded. The same people who loudly speak up for the Palestinians will often turn around and say, "Oh, but there's no discrimination in Sri Lanka." There is a reluctance to admit that it is a complex issue -- so maybe that's why the festival degenerates into a hob-nobbing session with no real political conversation? It's simpler and safer?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Preeta, I completely agree with you. For the longest time, i just lost the urge to comment at all/get into any discussions on so many blogs, Sharon's included, because after a while, it felt like I was repeating things a thousand times to the same ppl (who shall also remain unnamed), ppl who didn't enjoy paring away layers of argument at all but seemed to think that every issue should rest on one's religion/race/nationality/shoe size/etc.

After coming out of hibernation last yr, felt the urge to comment and pick fights re-emerge, and so began to get a bit active again. But the sheer negativity of many discussions just brings me down... sadly, I am very affected by vibes of stupidity and ignorance, as I expect quite a few of this blog's readers are. so, although I visit Bibliobuli all the time, enjoy the posts and most of the discussions immensely, and recommend it to most of my friends, I'm back to commenting very sparingly, usually when i'm worn out from work and can't think straight enough to stop myself commenting. Exception being Greenbottle's wonderfully verbose comments, which were so repetitively annoying (and disturbing) that I couldn't resist replying, though I was certain that he would merely repeat his old arguments in reply to mine and Damyanti's and EJames's, which of course he did.

Anyway, back into hibernation I go for now, so's I can happily enjoy this blog without getting too caught up in the never-ending, back and forth, ping-pong-ness of those comment makers who are obsessed with race, religion etc etc etc. Long live the Martians and Venusians.


Greenbottle said...

ok...i feel truly sorry if i've really offended you guys. to white arrow , preeta, bibliobibuli, ejames demyanti et al. i apologize. my mistake.

i've been around here so long that i almost feel like family, probably longer than some...and in family you know when you have catfights like this it's all just fun and games( although i mean all what i 'expound' as madam bibliobibuli puts it).

you see, i've always thought writers wannabe and real writers have rather more tolerance and open to discussion on issues but i guess i'm wrong. i guess i'm rather stupid and don't know how to read people. i certainly never ever meant to be a troll. i guess i'm very stupid to think that people feels the same way like i do.

next time i'll refrain from saying things from my heart. may be i just refrain from posting comments at all, i certainly don't consider myself a troll. i meant well....may be i'll just tell some jokes . here's one... have you heard about the lady and this amazing frog?

one day this lady...oh never mind....