Captain Elmo Jayawardena’s dream of taking literature to a wider audience with “Annasi and Kadala Gotu” will pen off on April 25, writes Namini Wijedasa What Sri Lankan does not know the tart, succulent sweetness of pineapple; or the buttery nut flavour of steaming chick peas, bought fresh off the pavement, tossed in mysterious seasonings [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Await a local-flavoured literary feast


Captain Elmo Jayawardena’s dream of taking
literature to a wider audience with “Annasi
and Kadala Gotu” will pen off on April 25,
writes Namini Wijedasa

What Sri Lankan does not know the tart, succulent sweetness of pineapple; or the buttery nut flavour of steaming chick peas, bought fresh off the pavement, tossed in mysterious seasonings that you cannot seem to replicate at home?

Vendors appear, as if out of thin air, at every street corner where Sri Lankans gather in any respectable number. Indeed, “annasi” and “kadala gotu” are as familiar to us as blaring horns, resplendent sunsets or salty sea breezes. So what better name for a literary festival that aims to showcase homegrown writing than…“Annasi and Kadala Gotu”?

Capt. Elmo Jayewardena at the news conference announcing A.K. Lit. Fest

On April 25, the Western Province Aesthetic Resort in Colombo 7 will throw open its gates to anybody who wishes to spend a day delving into the mysteries and familiarities of Sri Lankan literature. It is not for nothing that tickets for the “A&K Lit Fest” are priced at an affordable Rs. 100. The target audience is “all comers”, according to Captain Elmo Jayawardena, a veteran airline pilot and trainer who spends his time doing so much more than driving aircraft.

“Annasi and Kadala Gotu” means “it is from the pavement”. “I coined this name some time ago, hoping, one day, there would be a literary festival by that name for the proletariat,” Capt. Jayawardena muses, in a newspaper column penned last year. “Not to be opulent and unaffordable, but where infant literate could come and eat a slice of pineapple or munch a fistful of gram and talk books, literature and authors”.

What began as a concept will reach fruition on Saturday with the assistance of “equal shareholders” Keith Wijesuriya, Madara Ranmuthugala, Imaad Majeed, Dhananath Fernando, Tharanga Guneratne, Ruwan Weerawardhena, Thiwanka Madawa, Nishika Hassim, Devaki Gomez, Harshana Rambukwella and Mithila Karunaratne.

The website describes their dream thus: “A small group of believers came together one evening to begin the AK Lit Fest journey. Our wish was simple. We wished to give pride of place to local authors and local publishers, to promote the Sri Lankan identity. With the aim of attracting the everyday reader, the festival would be a low-cost alternative to the more popular, but more costly international festivals, and will essentially bring together literary enthusiasts of all walks of life”.

And you can be sure there will be pineapple and chick peas shared aplenty amongst the rich melee of local talent and enthusiastic proletariat. Literature should not be a “Cinnamon Grand and chocolate cake”, Capt. Jayawardena says. “The inspiration was to get Sri Lankan literature together and in all three languages. There is a wide following of literature in Sri Lanka—a lot of retired people, schoolchildren and all ages. We need to have a place to meet.”

The panel discussions were designed to cater to a wide variety of interests. There is even a forum for retired people—beautifully titled “Silver Shaded Literature”—just to encourage the older age group to tap into their deep wells of talent. Despite the festival lasting only a day, the programme is bursting at the seams. There are sessions on creative writing, blogging (technological literature), short films, the power of expression and a Gratiaen forum that talks poetry, prose and drama with some of the prizewinners.

There are also sessions on writing for beginners and “Undoing the Stigma of ‘Broken English’” on Sri Lankan English linguistics. And there are sessions on youth literature and women in Sri Lankan literature, a book launch and an outdoor performance of poetry. The programme is packed with recognizable names; those who have beaten the odds to lead the local literary scene.

One of the most important features of the festival is that it will be conducted in all three languages. And Tamil literature and writers receive a prominent place in a session called “The Tamil Footprint in Sri Lankan Literature”.

Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, a panelist and Executive Director of the Women’s Education and Research Centre, welcomed the festival as an important means of exchange between the Tamil and Sinhala literary worlds. “There is a big separation among literati of these two groups,” she reflected. “This is partly because of a lack of knowledge and a lack of political will to study each other’s problems and contributions.”

“It is a good idea to have this kind of get-togethers, where there is dissemination of what is happening in the Tamil literary world and the Sinhala literary world,” she continued. “It can be explored whether there can be any meeting point and whether they can continue to exchange views, get into translation.”

The objective of the organizers is to start small and to spread countrywide. “I never dream,” Capt. Jayawardena says. “I ring the bells that I can ring. That is the theme. The first one is difficult. But if you do that properly, then it can continue annually or once in two years.”

(Annasi & Kadalagotu Literary Festival organised in partnership with the Rotary Club of Colombo Regency, will be held on April 25, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Western Province Aesthetic Resort, 275/74, Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha,

Colombo 7)

This is for all of you who love to write– Elmo

Literature is loved in Sri Lanka. Doubt me? Just try and go to the September Book Fair at BMICH and you will know what I mean. We have three languages in this small island and each has contributed immensely to keep us ticking as a ‘reading nation.’ Post-colonial era gave birth to local authors and poets and even though the publishing possibilities were limited, literature still remained a tri-lingual contributor catering to those who loved to read.

Hundreds of prospective amateur writers pen or type their lines and pour their thoughts to paper with humble expectations of getting published. That is the ‘day-dream’ of anyone who loves to write. The reality is so very different. Most times it is a trudge from pillar to post with a dust-laden manuscript seeking that ‘elusive door’ which seldom opens. Often the success rate is so low that the ‘would be literati’ then admits defeat and becomes one more “also wrote” to add to the ‘Dead Poets Society.”

It is not the publishers fault. They run a business, it is not anybody’s fault. It is just the way things are. People love to write and they write and fail to publish and then they fade away discouraging the rest who are struggling to write.

So we need literary events. Places where pedestrian participation is given precedence. The stage must be for people who write. Not only from the top shelf, but from any rung in the ladder as long as they are writers and poets. That is the thought behind “Annasi and Kadalagotu”.
At the beginning there were those who thought this was a ‘castles in the air’ fantasy. Thankfully there were the others who believed in the concept and marched to this different drum-beat to elevate a thought to a vision and then make it a reality. My heartfelt gratitude goes to those who voted for Annasi and Kadalagotu. You who read me, too, are in that team. Thank you.

This is Sri Lanka and the event is tri- lingual and Annasi and Kadalagotu will have them all on stage, a one-nation representation of literature from the pavement.

That to me is a step in the right direction and the ultimate achievement.
Capt Elmo Jayawardena

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