The Galle Diaries IV
21st January 2012
The Fort looks slightly desolate already at 8.30am when I arrive at Amangalla. The only festivalgoer’s left here, are the children departing in their program, as on the final day the sessions are held in the Lighthouse Hotel. I however have elected to skip the morning talks in favor of the tour of the Fort conducted by Mrs. Cader. She arrives all smiles and our tour group starts at the Old Dutch Church, which we are told was a gift by the Dutch Governor when his daughter was born. We then head up towards the ‘Black Fort’ built in 1625, which was the original fort built by the Portuguese. This part of the Fort is normally inaccessible to the public and it is only once a year on this tour that anyone comes by. We go through a tunnel and look at the torture chamber and admire the stunning view.
It’s hot, hot and hot and we almost melt in the heat as we continue on the tour, looking at the Fort from a totally different perspective. Mrs. Carder is full of interesting tidbits of interest, an history that the Fort is full of. She takes us to the town square and the District Court built by the British. In the meantime she tells us how under Dutch rule many of the Muslims in the Fort were chased away, however they came back when the British period began and thrived under this rule as traders and have remained there ever since. She also shared her views on the Festival and the Highway saying that the benefits have helped immensely.
We now make our way down to look at a traditional Dutch house, then the place where the Dutch manufactured their weapons – now buried. We admire the new lighthouse, new being a relative term as it was built in the 1930’s! From there we head to the site where the old lighthouse stood, and look down at rampart hotel. Here Mrs. Cader shares that it was this house where the famous murder of Mrs. Kularatne took place, via arsenic poisoning in the 60’s. This much-sensationalized case has even been made into a tele-drama. We then look at a few houses and stroll down the streets of the Fort to wind up a wonderfully informative tour.
The festival is drawing to a close, but there is one more event to attend before start the mourning process. I have the opportunity to listen to the wonderful Nayantara Saghal again, this time together with biographer Katherine Frank discuss Indira Gandhi. One of the most influential women in India’s history, her cousin and her biographer discuss her decision, her attitude as a leader and help us paint a more personal picture of this remarkable woman. They debate the question of whether she had leadership thrust upon her, or whether she saw it as inevitable.
As the discussion progresses, we come to see that Indira Gandhi was a deeply conflicted woman. The questions asked by the audience are invariably political, as many Sri Lankan’s have questionable feelings at best about her. I again however now well savvy into how to avoid long lines for book signings, slip out and purchase a copy of Nayantara’s book ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: Civilizing a Savage World” to get signed. The line is long and I’m glad that I skipped a few questions. Seeing Nayantra up close is exciting and she smiles sweetly as she signs my copy and I scuttle off.
Exiting the Lighthouse, I feel several spasms of excitement as I spot the various authors milling around as they head to the Finale lunch. Ashok Ferry is spotted; I see David Robson and many others while the volunteers rush around slightly harried. Another fantastic Galle Lit Fest has come to an end, and I for one can’t wait a whole year for anther one. So till then I am off to obsessively check the British Council for their events featuring authors and gaze at my signed copies of books with rapture.