Oh for a book and a shady nook
By Priyangwada Perera Ceylon Today Features
A book is a gift you can open again and again, said Garrison Keillor. The Literary Month September has been one full of such gifts. Taking it one step further, connecting it with the World Children’s Day, Sarasavi Bookshop together with the Gratiaen Trust organised the most delightful event at One Galle Face. It was such a perfect and beautiful setting. Sarasavi Bookshop had transformed into one buzz of activity.
Yet, the funny thing was that with all those youngsters and even parents around, there was perfect calm. It was a great opportunity for young readers to meet their favourite authors. They had two one and a half hour sessions during the day and what better way to get to know the story than to hear it from the writer himself?
Remember how we all dreamed of meeting our favourite writers one day? Children today are lucky. They get to have their dream come true. This was one such great opportunity. They held different sessions where authors of children’s books were brought to the premises to have an engaging session with the readers. They were both well known and new writers.
Prof. Neloufer de Mel, professor of English at the University of Colombo and also the Chairperson of the Gratiaen Trust was delighted at seeing their work being successful.
“This is why we wanted to organise an event for children. It is an important long term goal for us to have readers. So, we encourage them to enjoy literature, to come to bookshops and buy books, from a young age itself. That is why we wanted to have it in a bookshop. We have worked with Sarasavi before, being our sponsors.
So, we were keen on giving them an environment in which they are surrounded by books and where that environment is also fun. So, it is not as if you are studying and it is not boring. What we kept in mind was that if they are enthusiastic about being readers as children, they would continue it throughout their lives.”
Also being the Chairperson of Gratiaen Trust, she added further. “One of our goals is to promote and recognise Sri Lankan writing in English, written by Sri Lankan authors. But writers need readers.
We are doing it for the Children’s Day but it also dovetails with the Literary Month and the book fair and so on. It is really nice for the Gratiaen Trust to be involved with an activity which is a part of that larger group of activities for Sri Lankans to develop their interest in literature,” said Prof. de Mel. She further commented. “One of the most exciting things that have been happening in the past is, quite a lot of unknown writers have won the award. If you check the ones who have won, some are well-known writers.
But we also have a lot of unknown writers. They get the prize, they get the publicity and people start looking for their books and recognising them. That is very encouraging. This year, we are awarding the H.A.I Gunatilleke Award for Translation. That is where people translate Sinhala and Tamil to English. We really want more and more people to enter, participate, feel that the award is something that really launches them in a career or reinforces a reputation they may already have. Or encourage readers to engage with their work.”
Prof.De Mel mentioned the sponsors without whom this would not have been this successful. “The Trust is sponsored by the John Keells Foundation. With that sponsorship, we have been able to do so much more work. This year they held a workshop at the University of Jaffna with Shyam Selvadorai, a short play by Arun Welanawe Prematilke was featured. Then this event for children. We also had a Master Class with Fiona Shaw, the well-known actor who came and worked with the playwrights who won the Gratiaen Prize for their plays, we had an editing workshop. Unfortunately because of COVID 19, many things had to be changed. But we will continue next year.”
The setting of the Sarasavi Bookshop at One Galle Face was generously prepared and set up for the event. Hemasiri Haputhanthri, Chairman of Sarasavi Publishers was obviously delighted at being able to hold this kind of a programme. “Sarasavi Publishers has been a part of sponsoring the Gratien Award for the past five years. We thought this would be a great opportunity coinciding with Children’s Day. In other countries, especially in the West, these kinds of storytelling sessions are held often. It is not so common here in Sri Lanka.
Even if such a thing happens, that is mostly for English books. We wanted to give a hand and promote this,” Hemasiri Haputhanthri said. Being in the industry for 45 years, with 25 years of experience and wisdom as a publisher, he has not been reluctant to do the needful. We complain that less and less people read. But fortunately or unfortunately we have to tackle the reader in a way that attracts them. That was exactly what Haputhanthri had done.
If technology has invaded the space of the physical book, if interests have changed, we still have options. Undoubtedly, we still have book-lovers. They are a step away from readers.
Hence, recreating the joy of reading is something that should be admired. To say nothing about sustaining the book industry, which is also the bread and butter of many, this is more soothing for the reader. Instead of being glued to the usual electronic gadget, pick up a book for a change. For some, it will be a walk down the memory lane. For some, it will definitely be a new journey to continue and reminisce.
(Pix by Nuwan Amarawansa and Anuruddha Medawattegedara)