The Galle Diaries Part I
18th January 2012
The festival has begun. Its air can be felt on every street corner in the Galle Fort, which seems to come alive. Suddenly the sleepy Fort is bustling with people whose cotton bags, boldly emblazoned with “Galle Literary Festival 2012” swing from their shoulders, programs in hand. I take a moment to breathe in the excitement and thrill in the air that this festival seems to bring and head down to the Halle de Galle, the festival hotspot for the first event of the day, the panel discussion on ‘Reconciliation through Literature’.
The hall is reasonably full of people as we settle into our seats. Dr. Stewart Motha, a Sri Lankan who is now a lecturer of law in Kent University, England begins by introducing his fellow panelists. They were Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu a well-known figure in Sri Lanka who is Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish who is renowned worldwide as the Gaza Doctor and the German novelist Ingo Schulze.
Dr Sara kicked things off with an extremely well articulated explanation of what he believes reconciliation is about. He noted we must “stretch our hands out both in forgiveness and to build a new relationship”. The Gaza Doctor was easily the most powerful speaker on the panel. Having lost his wife, niece and three daughters to the Palestinian war, he moved us all with his commitment to not hating and lack of vengeance. He reminded us we must release the burden of hate that we carry around with us and take responsibility.
Ingo Schulze was brief and simply told us that literature can play an important role in reconciliation as it documents what has happened and helps us understand and even live another person’s point of view. Dr Motha went into a more visual discussion of how art can express some inexpressible ideas. He also noted that forgiveness must happen in the widest sense and it is only successful when we can finally forgive the unforgivable.
Amidst some rather risqué questions which were well handled by the panelists, we stay inside the Halle de Galle for the next event, which is ‘In Conversation with Simon Sebag Montefiore’, a renowned historian who was talking about his most recently published book “Jerusalem: The Biography”. Simon simply oozed passion for his subject and entranced the hall. He explained why he had selected Jerusalem, and sorted out the “lies from the legends”. A complete delight to listen to for an hour, Simon was easily one of the high points of the entire festival.
Lunchtime was spent in the lovely ambiance of the Galle Fort Hotel, before we headed back to the Halle de Galle, which was packed quite literarily to the rafters. This was in response to Tom Stoppard, the Oscar winning writer of ‘Shakespeare in Love” and numerous plays. Rambling occasionally, Stoppard advices us to stop obsessively analyzing art and just enjoy what is available to us.
The crowd stayed on for the final event of the evening, which was “In Conversation with Nayantara Sahgal”. Generating much excitement, the niece of Jawaharlal Nehru and first cousin of Indira Gandhi, a wonderfully articulate and well-spoken woman, shared with us her experiences in growing up in a political family. She explained that growing up in colonized India means that the British influence is “all persuasive” and you begin to question your identity - “I felt as though I had my presence snatched away from me”
The crowd breaks into applause and I slip away to get back to my hotel in Unawatuna my mind a whirl. The festival has just begun and yet already there is so much I have gained. Day two waits with the likes of Richard Dawkins, and Shashi Tharoor and the bar has been set very high indeed.