GLF: Day 1

Jan 30 2024.

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ANDREW LOWNIE: THE MOUNTBATTENS IN SRI LANKA
  
Prize winning historian and biographer Andrew Lownie is known as for his bestsellers on the British monarchy – his most recent book “Traitor King” on the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s turbulent lives after Edward abdicated the throne received high praise with many critics commending Lownie’s ability to make a strong case for the unforgiving title. 

It was his previous biography however, which was the focus of his session at the Festival, that received the most significant of attention by the press and the world. Lownie’s “The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves” featured a nuanced and highly controversial portrayal of two very unusual people and their complex marriage – Lord Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten and Lady Edwina Mountbatten. 

In his session on the Mountbattens in Sri Lanka, Lownie took the audience through a narrative journey of Dickie Mountbatten’s career which included being stationed in Sri Lanka near Peradeniya for part of the Second World War when the British made a strategical move to relocate their South East Asian Command (SEAC) Headquarters to Ceylon. Lord Mountbatten served as the Commander of SEAC and commanded the war to victory while stationed in Sri Lanka and later, became the last Viceroy of India. 

Quite interestingly, and perhaps scandalously, Lownie revealed that it was while Dickie was based in Ceylon that he met Janey Lindsay, a former girlfriend of JFK and Donald Niven and arguably, the love of Dickie’s life. In the letters uncovered by Lownie and read at the session, it was clear that the affair continued until the end of the war and the two were very much in love. 

While Lownie’s event had all the markers to be a reverting session, logistical arrangements of the venue where the session was held could hardly accommodate the crowds that have gathered to hear the details of the ties between the Mountbattens and Sri Lanka and Lownie, without any mics to his aid could only garner the attention of those who were lucky enough to be seated in the first few rows. 

We spoke to some of the festival goers at the session to see what they had to say: 

“It was fascinating to hear about the Mountbattens and about their ties to Sri Lanka and all the scandal and love that happened here” – Dehan 

“I was really looking forward to this session, but it was terribly oversubscribed.” – Debrah

“I was so interested in this session and I wanted to focus on it but they should have given [him] a mic and it could have been better organized” – Pam 

 

TOM PARKER BOWLES, LAHIRU PERERA & CYNTHIA SHANMUGALINGAM: THE RISE OF SRI LANKAN CUISINE 

Wrapping up Day 1 of the Galle Literary Festival, three culinary personalities merged together in an engaging conversation about Sri Lankan food and its place on the culinary map. 

Award-winning food writer, restaurant critic and author of eight cookbooks, Tom Parker Bowles joined Co-Founder of Smoke & Bitter Lahiru Perera and British-Sri Lankan Tamil chef – proprietor of the restaurant Rambutan and author of the cookbook by the same name, Cynthia Shanmugalingam. 

Sri Lankan food has been on international foodies’ radar for quite some time, praised for its diverse flavours, spices and the rich cultural heritage that accompanies it. In fact, in September 2023, CNN Travel hailed Sri Lanka as a ‘little island with big flavours’ noting with interest that Sri Lankan food is finally getting its due. 

So, what has given Sri Lankan cuisine a distinctive edge? asks moderator Eliane Sterchi – is it our position in the Silk Route? Rambutan author and proprietor Shanmugalingam confirmed that our spices are at the forefront of Sri Lankan cooking, “the historical spice routes heavily influenced how we cook and approach food.” 

“Sri Lankan food at its core, fundamentally connects all cultures” adds Smoke & Bitter founder Perera, “and it’s interesting to note how our food is versatile enough to seamlessly adapt to any food trend. In Hiriketiya, for example, where we have a big surfing community and a vegan community, our natural use of coconut milk, vinegar, spices and lentils all cater to these communities and they do it with unbelievable flavours at the helm.” 

“I think we certain cuisines have a tendency to bore you, Sri Lankan cuisine has the capacity to wake you up,” confirms critic Parker Bowles, “it’s food that sings. And it’s interesting to note that, my experience with Sri Lankan food in the last 20 years was that if I wanted to have it, I would have to go to particular areas in London that have a strong Sri Lankan community to find a hopper shop or rotti shop but now – and I think this is a testament to how the cuisine is on the rise – that finding a Sri Lankan restaurant is much like finding an Indian restaurant - is not so difficult anymore.” 

As the panel discussed more on their culinary roots and what makes our food unique, on being questioned whether the spotlight on Sri Lankan food would continue to grow, Perera certainly believed so, citing that with many Sri Lankans migrating, ‘they will want to continue to reconnect with Sri Lanka and the culture wherever they are’ while Shanmugalingam predicts that Sri Lankan food might go back to its traditional roots where rustic cooking is at the core of what we do. 

“I thought the session was an interesting discussion about Sri Lankan food – and Tom Park Bowles input as an outsider on what he thought of the cuisine was interesting to listen to” – Shavini 

“Good session. Cynthia and Lahiru have done a great job in getting our name out to the world. I’m a big fan of Smoke & Bitters” – Adam 

“I definitely think Sri Lankan food has so much capacity to become a big name in the culinary world out there – I think it already is,  so it was a very engaging discussion to hear about it all” – Kasthuri  

 

WILL HARRIS & NAYOMI APSARA: TEA AND POETRY 

Two poets, London-based writer Will Harris and Sri Lankan filmmaker and poet Nayomi Apsara performed several of their works at a poetry and tea event hosted at the Doonberg. 

Will Harris, who has been shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, is the author of poetry books RENDANG and most recently, Brother Poem. He started off the evening with a poem from his book Rendang which came out in 2020, amidst the pandemic. “I was able to travel a lot because of this book,” he introduces, “unfortunately, it was through a Zoom screen! So I’m excited to actually travel to another country to talk about this book.”  Harris follows up with a poem from Brother Poem, a book with a collection of poems he has written, as an only child, to an imaginary brother and wraps up with a teaser to one of his most recent, unpublished works – a commissioned poem titled ‘Speaky Stonehenge’. 

Nayomi Apsara, having worked in the corporate sector for over 15 years decided to quit the 9-5 life and venture into the creative field. She made her entry into the literary world with her debut poetry collection ‘Throw Me Mountains’ – a collection of poems she has written for years, hidden away in a private blog until she was encouraged by friends and family to publish them.  Her reading presented a variety of poems that drew from a personal note, touching on topics of love, loss and self-actualization. “My poems come to me when I want to get something off my chest” she shares, adding that she rarely shares the personal stories behind her work, preferring instead to hear what the reader makes of it.

Set in the stunning backdrop of the lush gardens of Doonberg, a Dutch colonial bungalow built in 1712, festival-goers were treated to a tranquil evening of gently read poetry and engaging conversation on verse and prose while sipping on Ceylon tea and decadent cakes. Here’s what a few had to say: 
  
“The event was fascinating, the location tied up beautifully with Will and Nayomi’s readings. It was the first time I had ever read Will’s work and I was very engaged with it. This was the best event for us today” – Rushi 

“The set-up was beautiful, it set the mood. Will’s work is amazing, I just got his book and I really liked his work.” – Devi 

“I thought the session was great! The poetry in this setting was just serene. I’m on holiday in Sri Lanka and just happened to be in Galle so I’m glad I caught this!” – Claire 

“I love the setting here; it really complimented the poems because poetry is a creative poetry and this environment lends itself to poetry. Both poets were very interesting. Will’s use of words and his attention to detail in his work is very interesting” – Nirma

 

 

 

 

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..

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