The Galle Diaries Part II
19th January 2012
Day two kick starts with another panel discussion, this time on “Writing Political Realities into Fiction and Journalism”. Ellah Allfrey, the Deputy Editor of the Granta Magazine moderates this event. Starting with Susan Miont, she does a heartrending reading from her short story set in the Uganda and discusses how she struggled to find a different tone for this and not make it just another story set in Africa. Next award winning Sri Lankan author Romesh Gunasekara also did an extremely animated reading and discussed how we live in a shrinking world and as a result political realties are shrinking. Finally Pakistani political journalist, Irfan Husain takes the stage and talks about how now violence and political conflicts has rapidly become a common part of our lives and the sobering reality of this, as well as how it impacts how journalists report it.
The panel wraps up at 10am and I take a break from all this intellectual stimulation to sit at the what has been dubbed, ‘Lit Fest café’’ set up behind the Halle de Galle to sip some tea and flip through my newly purchased copy of Romesh Gunesekara’s ‘The Match’. The book is entrancing and I am shocked when I look at the time as it reads 10.45am. I hurry to the Maritime Museum in order to catch a good seat for what promises to be a fascinating session with the Indian Political darling Shashi Tharoor. Like all good politicians he is a little late, but once he settles down and with the amazing moderating done by Sajama Hattotowa, he gives us a never to be forgotten hour. Covering a wide range of topics, he relates a series of amusing anecdotes about how the cell phone is rapidly becoming the symbol of India’s development, he discusses what truth really is, and tell us that “democracy is a process, elections are an event”. Through his eyes, we see how and why India is slowly shedding its ancient robes and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century.
My stomach rumbling, I decide to take a break till the session I have been awaiting since the program was announced – Richard Dawkins. Grabbing a sandwich from the festival café, I settle down to read a little more of the match before joining some friends on the Ramparts for conversation and chilling. At 2pm I hurry to the Halle de Galle well ahead of time, having learned my lesson with the Stoppard event. Even so people have been lining up since 1.30 and I am lucky to find a seat. The hall is packed well beyond capacity and the a/c has no effect at all, until the moderator clears his throat and a hush falls. First Dawkins and his wife, actress Lalla Ward read from his latest book ‘The Magic of Reality’ and I learn that my 165 millionth great grandfather was a fish. The conversation was not as controversial as some would have hoped, by Dawkins is entrancing none the less, discussing how our planet would be viewed by other life forms. Here he jokingly says that if we were representing our planet by broadcasting the works of Bach to the universe that would simply be boasting. He tells us he believes child indoctrination is a great evil and that to say that humans need religion to distinguish between right and wrong is an extremely patronizing view of humanity. I slip out during the Q&A session to ensure a good place in the queue for book signing, which proves to be wise.
The festival café is buzzing with the excitement of the second day’s events, and it can hardly be denied that this is turning out to be one of the best festivals yet. I spot Shyam Selvaduria, once festival guest and now second time festival curator hopping into a trishaw as I make my way to the Ramparts to get some reading in.
After a happy few hours of chatting to people, scribbling in my little pink notebook and racing through John Boyne’s ‘Boy in the Stripped Pajamas’, I decide to check out the Forum Theater event at 7pm in the Halle de Galle before heading back to Unawatuna. Beyond Borders, a youth group is running this show and they perform an amusing piece that explores traditional attitudes to bohemian pursuits. I slipped out before the audience had warmed up to get involved but it seemed to be off to a good start.
Day 2 had been exhilarating and the bar was slowly inching up higher. Between the Atheist and the Politician, strong opinions had surfaced along with some very very though provoking discussions. I’m glad to see my bed, looking forward to the exciting John Boyne and the glamorous Joanna Trollope the next day.