I wonder how it is going – the Literary Festival, that is. Java and I couldn’t make it – some of us have to work for a living right?

After being at the receiving end of some stick from various quarters about questionable use of tsunami funds, the ulterior motives of the chief organizer and a good deal of controversial discourse and exchange of views on Nazreen’s blog, things are bound to get interesting – if nothing else. The list of guest authors is reasonably impressive but the reason for some of the topics for discussion, as discussed below, is a bit mystifying with regard to their connection to literature. The idea itself is commendable and hopefully the organization of the event will be glitch-free so that the participants and the audience will not be inconvenienced, making for the next annual event (so we are told) to be looked forward to.

Naz’s blog on the Festival sure generated interesting observations and quite a bit of flak that slowly descended to levels bordering on the banal, with the racial or ethnic and nationalistic elements overshadowing all else. Wisely, Naz closed comments before the missives degenerated any further.

The ‘interesting observations’ category contained views on some of the ‘writers’. As ‘an observer’ pointed out, many of the names of participants on the site promoting the event could not be construed as writers of literature. The comment ended with “…if you were having a book festival… invite all these people…don’t call it literature…”. Naz very smartly countered this by agreeing to separate the ‘writers’ from the ‘participants’, by which I guess she meant that the ‘moderators’ and some ‘panelists’ would be distinctly apart from the ‘writers’.

Looking at the programme on the Festival site, I was struck by the three of the ‘items’ on the schedule for the 11th. One was conducted by David Robson and Channa Daswatte and was billed as anecdotes on the Bawa brothers – Bevis and Geoffrey, another was four architects discussing Geoffrey Bawa’s influence on their work and the third was a walking garden tour, conducted by Channa Daswatte, of the Lunuganga gardens that is meant to be an ‘insight’ into the vision of Geoffrey Bawa. The 12th had another ‘walking discussion’ about the Galle Fort conducted by Rajpal de Silva, billed as an expert on Dutch history. The 13th had a panel discussion on whether tourism could help the environment. Just what exactly these ‘items’ had to do with ‘literature’ is something I couldn’t figure out, so I’m waiting for the Festival to end to ask Naz and others connected with it if and how these were connected to the crux of the event and also if they went off well, considering that this is a Literary Festival and has nothing to do with either architecture or Geoffrey Bawa. I do know some of the panelists and moderators, as well as some of the organizers, so a reasonable cross-section of views could be expected. And then there are those who actually attended some or all of the events, so I’m sure we will have enough material with which to analyse.

There’s also the possibility of fallout from the differences of opinions resulting from Nazreen’s blog and other blogs as well. For instance, ‘Vaharai’ told David Blacker (in a separate skirmish resulting from Indi’s blog on bombings) that he will be “watching” him at the Festival. This then gets into the realm of intrigue, or does it? Almost like a movie plot – the unknown sympathiser of a cause stalking the outspoken ex-army author – with intent to what? To observe and report? To observe and critique? To observe for any other purpose? And will ‘Vaharai’ be in the back of David Blacker’s mind while he is there? All manner of possibilities enter the sphere of the imagination.

It stands to reason that some who attend will look to find reasons purely to put the event down and knock the effort, whilst supporters will probably be gushing about how great it was. And of course the ‘objective’ ones, who will, in all sincerity, attend so that they could gain from the experience – in which ever way their value system assesses it. Different strokes for different folks!

In the end, however, it would be excellent if this Festival is a super-success so that everyone concerned – established writers, budding writers, literature freaks, groupies, the tourist industry in general, the country and last, but by no means least, the organizers – will benefit from it and the resulting views would justify this being an annual event that more and more folk would look forward to. What do you think?

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