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Galle Literary Festival, a breather from politics

A key attraction this year is author Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin and his fictional detective John Rebus, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Feb 19, 2010 21:04 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The word exclusive could mean select, even restricted. But to describe the ongoing Galle Literary Festival (GLF) as exclusive would also mean it is intimate. The comparison is inevitable: if the increasingly big Jaipur Literature Festival was open, crowded and mainstream, the one at Galle is, well, exclusive, quieter and alternative; maybe the difference between literature and literary.

``This (the festival) is both exclusive and open. The sessions are interactive and informal and there is more engagement with the audience,'' graphic novelist from India Sarnath Banerjee said from Galle, about 116 km south of Colombo. On Saturday, he spoke about his work in a session called `Corridors and Capers'.

Banerjee along with authors Rana Dasgpta and Amit Varma are among the India-connections this year, GLF's fourth year of life.

On Friday, Banerjee moderated the well-attended session of Pakistani author, Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a novel based on the plane crash that killed General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, former president of Pakistan.

A key attraction this year is author Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin and his fictional detective John Rebus.

Other writers such as Gillian Slovo will talk of growing up in apartheid South Africa, Louise Doughty on Romany gypsies. Historian Anthony Beevor will talk on the rise of conspiracy theories in history. Then there are sessions of poetry over tea with Wendy Cope and Jackie Kay. Architects, photographers and painters are also taking part in the five-day fest. Writers Ameena Hussain and Ashok are among several Sri Lankan authors at the festival.

The festival has experimented with genres this year, introducing graphic novels and sensationalist pulp fiction for the first time, as well as 'tartan noir' - a genre of crime fiction particular to Scottish writers, the Lanka Business Online (LBO) reported.

"We're expecting 4000 people over the next four days, more than we have ever had before," Geoffrey Dobbs, festival founder LBO.

"But we don't want to get too big. We want to keep the intimate nature of the festival, which has always been popular among writers and participants," Dobbs told LBO.
The festival's venue is the magnificent Galle Fort, built by the Dutch in the 17th century. Walks have been organised inside the fort around cobbled streets and antique shops to give visitors a feel of its history.

Besides the reading session, the Chamber Music Society of Colombo would give a concert inside the 400-year old Dutch Reformed Church.

Menika van der Poorten of the GLF said: ``There are fringe events as well. In one such event, youth from all over Sri Lanka will take part in a programme titled `do we want to live like this?''