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Celebrity and Culture

2012-01-19 12:47:00

Reconciliation, Jerusalem, India and prose at Galle Literary Festival

GALLE, January 19, 2012 (TCS) – Politicians rubbed shoulders with foreign writers, authors and poets at the Galle Literary Festival on Thursday, where crowds flocked to Sri Lanka's historic Dutch fort for an annual dose of celebrity and culture.

Strong sunshine and a roster of 62 authors and performers, including a clutch of Nobel prize nominees and, Booker prize winners, lured hundreds of book lovers to the grounds of the Galle Fort, where the event has been held since 2007.

Billed as "intimate" literary festival relies of corporate sponsorship, but prides itself on opening weaving an eclectic mix of speakers and informal atmosphere which spurns VIP enclosures.

Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her close friend and opposition politician Mangala Samaraweera were among those seated among the crowd, taking in Thursday morning's panel on “Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Responsibility in Literature” that discussed issues relevant to Sri Lanka and the world.

“The tragedy is for good,” said Nobel Peace Prize nominee and winner of the Mahathma Gandhi Peace Award of Canada 2010, Izzeldin Abuelaish, who shared his thoughts on his inspiring memoir “I shall not hate: A Gaza doctor’s journey.”

“The antidote of hatred and vengeance is success. Reconcile yourself first and forgive yourself first. Do not be a victim of the perpetrators who did wrong to you,” the Palestinian medical doctor said of his tragedy of losing three young daughters when Israelis fired shells directly into their bedroom in January 2009.

Stewart Motha, Sri Lankan born lawyer who has published widely on questions of post-colonial sovereignty, said forgiveness is one of the key ingredients to heal the scars as Sri Lanka reconciles from decades of ethnic bloodshed.

“Only the unforgivable is worthy of forgiveness,” Motha said.

However, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, mooted the idea that a state-led agency was needed to facilitated ethnic reconciliation.

“The government has to take the lead, that there needs to be a public agencies with legitimacy and authority to lead the way. It has to be facilitated at the public realm,” Saravanamuttu reckoned.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, winner of the LA Times Booker Prize for Biography in 2008, took the audience through some of the concepts behind his latest book, “Jerusalem: The Biography”, that hit the number one slot on the non-fiction bestseller chart.

“People expect white towers and clouds, but Jerusalem is the angriest, most chaotic city in the world,” Montefiore said.

In its sixth-year the Festival spotlights on neighbouring India, with sessions featuring authors like Nayanthara Saghal, Githa Harihan and Manju Kapur who are linked together under the title of Shashi Tharoor’s book – India: From Midnight to Millennium.

The festival taps not only Sri Lankan-origin authors but also to others from the subcontinent including this year’s writer-turned-UN diplomat-turned politician Sashi Tharoor, author of the critically acclaimed novel "Elephant, a cellphone and a Tiger".

The controversial writer, Richard Dawkin, who disputes the existence of God in his book “The God Delusion”, is tipped to be the festival’s biggest drawcard.

Joining him are best-selling British novelist Joanna Trollope, whose stories of fraught relationships have attracted a dedicated following and other writers from the US, UK, Palestine, India, Canada, Sierra Leone and Germany.

Festival founder and British-born businessman, Geoffrey Dobbs has also rolled out fringe events that include gourmet cooking, whale watching, and a piano recital on music influenced by religious by Eshantha Peiris.

Dobbs said the festival, is a perfect escape. “Escape the tyranny of the Blackberry, the iPad and for a few moments, savour old fashioned conversations, debates and laughter. We hope those few experiences may inspire and revitalise your mind, body and spirit.”

ETV is the media sponsor for the festival


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