By Frederica Jansz –
Everybody looked as if they were something out of Jurassic Park. It was probably the eerie blue lighting. As I perched myself on a chair I whispered softly to my companion on my right that she looked good. She actually did. Despite the awful lighting – perhaps because she had wisely chosen white for her attire and plenty of makeup as she herself hissed back. Unlike me – who looked like the French flag – waving under terrible blue lighting.
The Gratiaen Prize, which was instituted by Michael Ondaatje in 1992 with the money he received as joint-winner of the Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient, is awarded annually to the best work of literary writing in English by a resident Sri Lankan. The Prize, intended to encourage English writing by Sri Lankans, is named after Michael Ondaatje’s mother, Doris Gratiaen.
The judges selected each year by the Trust make their choice from an increasing number of entries.
Much as I admire Michael Ondaatje, the man must never be allowed before a TV camera. The show began with everybody forced to watch Michael expostulating on why and how he had won an award – I forget for what – (clearly for writing a book of course) a video which was repeated over and over as guests trooped in – which is why I even forget what award he had won or where – an overdose of television gimmickry always does that to me – my mind simply goes blank unless it is a showing of ‘Desperate Housewives.’ Putting Ondaatje in a loop..NOT a good idea!!
The only person at the head table who had a clear understanding that nobody must speak for longer than three minutes was Anirvan Gosh Dastidar the CEO in Sri Lanka of the Standard Chartered Bank. Everybody else who was allowed to grab the mike labored their point to the extent where I vacillated between yawns and inane giggling….the elderly man who announced the prize for translation even forgot the name of the prize winner!! This after stuttering through a rambling speech which was conspicuous for its lack of clarity. A male companion giggled right through the entire proceedings. Until Jill Westaway, head of the British Council in Colombo and Chairman of the panel of judges, got up and told us all how trying it had been to select the winner and that the decision was not unanimous. Oh please! Why she thought that would interest anybody is beyond me. She also forgot to limit her lament to three minutes. Awards should be presented with style highlighting the people who win rather than the process of choice, judging etc… so much was said that we did NOT NEED TO KNOW?????
As for all those at the Head Table apart from being full of themselves, looked dead bored throughout the proceedings. The winner – Madhubhashini was charming – I cannot however comment on her work given that it is unpublished and over 500 pages long. For sure, this is one book I will not ever be reading. Then there were the readings. All good – except for Dereck …. Somebody needs to tell that boy that you don’t yell into a microphone!
Oh and then there was somebody whose claim to fame is that he attended on the mafia thug Duminda Silva as his anesthetist – the guy turned up one hour later that he should have – missed his assigned schedule for a reading and as a result Neidra Williams had to step in and read poetry which she had hardly had more than a minute to scan before being called upon to do so. And then there were the cocktails. The wine flowed ….one woman even ended up on the floor!! – and finger food sparse with only the cutlets as a saving grace. The chicken wings were ghastly and I spotted someone actually wincing in disgust before tossing a half chewed wing on the floor behind the bar.
It might have been polite on the part of the organizers to leave the chairs as they were until the guests had left instead of clearing the floor and noisily piling up chairs ladder-style simultaneously as the wine was being gulped. The icing on the cake was the waiters soliciting a white man in my group – of course he absolutely loved the attention and lapped it all up.
As for me – I really needed a good tall strawberry marguerita after all this – which I swallowed with relief at a water hole nearby on cushioned comfort – and under normal white but subtle lighting – where I checked my face in the mirror to make sure I no longer resembled a lysine-deficient female from Michael Crichton’s 1990 science fiction novel – Jurassic Park.