Plus - Letters to the editor

Lat before Lit, please: Galle Literary Festival

At around Rs. 10,000 for a season ticket (the price might have gone up), the annual five-day Galle Literary Festival has to be a five-star experience. There is a distinctly five-star aura about the well-organised show, which is attended largely by overseas visitors, many of them staying in five-star accommodation in the Galle neighbourhood, and a smart local set that motor down from Colombo to be a part of the action, which takes place over five days inside the historic Galle Fort.

It is therefore a shame that all these smart people are served – year after year – with a distinctly less than five-star toilet, the very basic facility found at the Hall de Galle, the venue that is the hub and heart of the festival.

During the festival, the scene at the Hall de Galle is of hundreds of guests milling around in the garden and the street outside, attending readings and lectures by distinguished writers and hanging around waiting for the next item on the crowded festival programme. The Hall de Galle toilet is the only available toilet in the immediate festival vicinity.

This toilet facility might do for a village school or a university chummery, but not for a five-star extravaganza, graced as it is by up-market visitors from around the world.

The gents’ and the ladies’ each contains a Western-style toilet seat and a Turkish (oriental) squat toilet. The typical Galle Literary Festival attendee does not strike one as the kind of person who is accustomed to squat toilets. That leaves one women’s toilet seat and one men’s toilet seat for the dozens, nay hundreds, who queue up throughout the day to use the Hall de Galle latrine. To make matters worse, the Hall de Galle toilet cisterns take ages to refill. So on top of standing in line, the men and the women must face unflushed toilets.

The Galle Literary Festival has been running for four years now, and while the event grows in stature and fame, the inadequate Hall de Galle toilet remains the same continuing embarrassment.
The hall is government property. Asking the authorities to install better toilets would be like talking to a brick wall, and waiting for the authorities to do something about it would be like waiting for Godot.
It is up to the well-heeled festival founders, organisers and sponsors to act.

It would be a nice gesture if they took it upon themselves to put up a decent toilet, at their expense. By doing so, they will have the satisfaction – as they bask in the glow of their festival achievement – of knowing they have left some tangible benefit at the Hall de Galle, for Galle residents and visitors.
The 2011 Galle Literary Festival website proudly announces that “award-winning writers, historians, poets and biographers from Nigeria, the Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, India, Pakistan, Canada, England, the United States, South Africa, Turkey and Sri Lanka [will be] converging upon the world heritage city of Galle.”

The coming 2011 event will be especially exciting, with the presence of a Nobel Prize winner and a Booker Prize winner, among a host of other distinguished writers.

The organisers have two-and-a-half months to get down to the job and put up a decent toilet. We festival-goers would be very disappointed if they failed to do so.

Festival fan, Colombo 3

‘Salaya’ becomes ‘thora’

An otherwise well-written news piece titled “Sharks control fish trade” (Sunday Times, November 7), highlighting the age-old problem of middlemen manipulating the fish trade, was marred by an error in identifying a fish.

The article referred to “the smallest variety, salaya, or Spanish Mackerel”, which is sold “at Rs. 30 per kilogram to these mudalalis, and later sold to consumers at something like Rs. 230 per kilogram all over the country.”

Spanish Mackerel is “thora” in Sinhala and “vanjaram” in Tamil. The scientific name for the genus is Scomberomorous, under which there are a number of species. Our common “thora” is Scomberomorous commercini. There are other kinds of “thora” – “Thith thora”, “Alu thora”, “Haramas thora”, “Thal” or “Heramaha”, and so on. Salaya, on the other hand, is sardine, or Sardinella.

I called the Department of Fisheries and asked whether journalists and others ever called to verify the names of fish. The person who answered the phone said that no one checks anything with the Department any more because those at the highest level have no knowledge.

To get back to the article, which is about the middlemen or “sharks” – the scourge of the fishing industry, for decades, Fisheries Ministers have declared war on these ruthless middlemen, or sharks, Mafia, thugs – whatever you wish to call them. We all know about the laws of supply and demand. Fish, like any commodity, comes down in price if there is a glut, and goes up if there is shortage. A few mudalias who own high-tech freezer trucks and cold storage manipulate the market. They are the root of the evil.

The state – in the form of the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation and the Ceylon Fishery Harbours Corporation – is the single biggest owner of facilities such as cold rooms, blast freezers, plate freezers, processing areas, chill rooms, flake and block ice plants around the island. A large number of freezer trucks and insulated trucks and ice plants came into the country through foreign aid, and these facilities are now being “managed” by the state.

The truth is that the private sector is a better manager. Fish is a highly perishable commodity, and knowledge, efficiency, effectiveness, hard work and honesty are key in successfully running the fish business.

It is not too late to fix the fish industry problem.

Aloy W. Fernando, Colombo 5

Banners, cutouts.. green light for some, red for others

Posters - cutouts - banners - writing on the walls and roads-- all have one common purpose-- to draw the attention of the public.

Most are for personal gain and very few for some worthy cause. If putting up a poster is an offence punishable under the law, it is rather unfair to think that cutouts and banners of those who are in power possess some kind of legal right to be up there in every nook and corner of the country. Why this double standard?

The law must be equally applied on the powerless as well as the powerful.

U.W. Wickremasinghe, Ambalangoda

Land in Jaffna: Going beyond yours and mine

When my husband Wimal Amarasekera was Jaffna Government Agent in the mid-70s there were about 20 to 25,000 Sinhalese living there. Many bakeries were run by Sinhalese from down South.

At that time they met the G.A. and said they wanted to buy land but were unable to do so because the Tamil people living in Jaffna did not want to sell their land. So he decided to give land to about 300 families.

They were brave enough to live there amidst all the hardships but then in the 80's they had to leave.
I personally think they should be given back the land that was given to them. All, must live together and accept this land as ‘our country’ not yours or mine. After all we are all Sri Lankans.

Ranji Amarasekera, Colombo

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