"Watching the Indian Ocean from Galle, it's easy to feel a 2,000 year-old silk route tying East to West underfoot. Now the Fairway Galle Literary Festival ties them again - and its silk is rich ideas.”
The Fairway Galle Literary Festival is above all a space for the open expression of ideas, convictions, passions, and pastimes. In an age in which conformity exerts such a powerful sway, we have invited writers and artists whose works celebrate the astonishing power of the human spirit to persevere and be true to itself – the resilience of individuals whose lives bear testimony to the distinctive creative potential of humanity.
In an interview in the run-up to the announcement of this year’s Man Booker Prize, Baroness Lola Young had this to say about the six shortlisted works.
"If there is an element in common across all the six shortlisted books, it is the questioning of our preconceptions – about love, death, time, identity, hope and expectations."
It is fair to say that similarly, if there is an element in common in the works that will be under scrutiny at this year's Fairway Galle Literary Festival, it is this same questioning of our preconceptions.
Questioning of preconceptions has always been a vital part of public discourse; at a time in which all over the world, political correctness has established such a stranglehold on freedom of thinking - let alone speech - this kind of questioning has become rarer and therefore, like all rare things, more valuable. At the Fairway Galle Literary Festival we will dare, like Carroll’s immortal Alice, to question and to debate but also to listen, so that we may mitigate the all too human urge to judge. After all, as George Saunders remarked on accepting this year’s Man Booker Prize, perhaps the best way to respond to the curiouser and curiouser times in which we live is to “take that ancient great leap of faith and do our best to respond with love . . . And with faith in the idea that what seems other is actually not other at all, but just us on a different day.”
Truth is often stranger than fiction and many of the writers we have invited have been drawn to write by events that seem at odds with the shape of human history – and even more often, by events or by people who may not have seemed particularly significant at the time in which they took place or lived – but whose significance has changed or become more pronounced with time. And of course as George Eliot memorably remarked in her masterpiece Middlemarch, ‘the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so bad for you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”.
The Fairway Galle Literary Festival offers us a chance to visit those tombs.
This is made possible by the works of historian Shrabani Basu, not only her Victoria and Abdul – now a major motion picture with Judi Dench in the eponymous role, in which she uncovers for us, a story lost for over one hundred years - but also her thoughtful exploration of the role of Indian troops in the two world wars, For Another Country.
Man Booker Prize Winner (2014) Richard Flanagan will share with us the experience of his father in a prisoner of war camp in The Narrow Road to The Deep Blue North, while Bachi Karkaria will speak about her account of the Nanavati murder case that was to signal the end of the jury system in India – the first non-fiction account of a case that has given rise to numerous fictional representations.
The Lord Puttnam, whose “Chariots of Fire” immortalized not only the determination of two young men to be true to their own ideas but also a style of Olympics now almost entirely a thing of the past , will - in a talk on his passion for climate control – enjoin us to try to arrest a similar eroding of the glories of the natural world.
On a lighter note, Alexander McCall Smith will share with us his stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, while Chhimi Tenduf-La will bring works of fiction which, with their masterful demonstration of the serious potential of comedy – indeed in his hands it is evident that comedy is really the only way one can be serious enough – will once more remind us of the contradictions at the heart of the human experience.