Monday, January 28, 2008

Elitism - Litarally!

Living oceans away, I have never had the chance to savour the Galle Literary Festival (GLF) which has become a significant feature in the Sri Lankan event calendar. Like many other expats with a keen interest in literature, I relied on the Sri Lankan bloggers for updates on the features, issues discussed and debated that arose out of the proceedings in Galle. One common denominator of all the meaningful reviews of GLF was the fact that this year – perhaps thanks to Rajpal Abenayake – it has given rise to a discussion about “elitism”. I hope that continues and matures into a constructive and self critical discourse about Sri Lankan social dynamics.

It has apparently been sparked off by a comment that Rajpal made – I am sure from a philosophical view pint – that literature is for the elite. The type of ‘elitism’ that has come into focus more often in these discussions however, is one that is inherited rather than achieved. This has inaccurately been branded as ‘elitism’ when it is actually a primitive form of ‘tribalism’. It is tribalism that judges and predisposes people based on their surnames or their net worth. Elitism is or needs to be a term that is used more positively.

My point is that the opportunity and privilege of attending events such as the GLF should not be confined to the few who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. The joy of literature; reading and writing has too long been afforded only to a privileged few who had the fortune to be able to go to school, to afford books and the time to read. Blogs too are still primarily the playthings of an elite few in Sri Lanka who not only are lucky enough to be computer literate, but have the luxury of a computer and the added benefit of an internet connection – among a majority of the population who cannot afford but a 50g sachet of milk powder to feed their children. This is a ground reality that a significant number of the attendees and almost all the organisers seem to have been oblivious to.

Elitism as a concept has earned a bad reputation as a result of being confused with tribalism and also being unjustly associated with racism. It is the elite who has to attend events like the GLF, but they should not be chosen on the basis of their ability to afford a ticket priced at (perhaps also worth) Rs 10,000 or those who claim a right to it by a secret heritage. Instead, the GLF and society in general should strive to open up opportunities to the 'elite' who have earned that title with hard work and talent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

snippet (4)

(c) Harendra Alwis

...The bus serenely waited for the command of an old clock that was precariously tilted on the depot wall, to set off on the last leg of a tiresome day’s exertions. A dented front bumper, gashed grill, smoky lights and rusted wipers that drooped across the scratched windshields, sculpted a look of profound sadness on its face, which was accentuated by occasional wails and shrieks of invisible body parts. Passengers, who sat themselves on its rigid seats or prepared to endure the rocking journey with the aid of a steady metal pole fixed to its roof, rarely expected the ride to be comfortable or fast. Engineered unintentionally into the body of this lifeless machine, by design as much as incidence; was an eerie reflection of the sadness that some of its passengers also bore deep in themselves. The hollow metal chassis afforded them a space in which they were free to take off masks of stern looks and tight lips that they had worn through the day. It silently offered them comfort and empathy; perhaps because they found it is easier to embrace their sadness in the belly of this sad lifeless beast which they felt; could understand and empathize with them in their misery. Perhaps their unobserved thoughts knew that the burden of misery is amplified in the company of others who are happy, whose happiness would enforce itself on them and compel them to smile out of fear and guilt, that any hint of sadness on their faces might rob their elated friends of their fleeting moment of bliss. Even though the metal heart of the bus was too rigid to melt and dissolve with tears of a despondent soul, it was often sensitive enough to dry those tears with a murky breeze or hide them among stray raindrops that sometimes flew in through its open shutters...