By G.L.W. Samarasinghe –
I am writing this as the founding director of the SAARC Cultural Centre (SCC) referring to a remark made by the Hon Prime Minister at the recently concluded Galle Literary Festival. The PM awarding the DSC prize for Literature in South Asia has questioned the role played by the SAARC Cultural Centre for the development of literature in the region and slammed the SAARC Cultural Centre for doing hardly anything for culture or literature.
Had the Hon PM obtained required information about the amount of work done for South Asian literature and for South Asian culture in general either from the SCC or from the officials at the Foreign Ministry, he would not have had to make the said remark at the GLF. More importantly, a great deal of injustice has been done to the image earned by the SAARC Cultural Centre through its manifold programes and the contributions towards the upliftment of regional literature.
More credible information about the SAARC Cultural Centre’s contribution towards South Asian literature can also be sourced from the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of Sri Lanka and other Ministries of External Affairs of SAARC Member States. In terms of South Asian literature, SAARC Cultural Centre has contribution significantly towards promoting the South Asian novel, short story, and poetry and has also helped popularize and share literary sources of the Member States through translation.
During my tenure as the Director of the SAARC Cultural Centre from 2010-2015 June, an annual anthology of contemporary South Asian short stories written in native languages were translated into English and published. Similarly an annual anthology of poetry was also published in English. The works included in all these anthologies are works of award-winning poets and writers from the region. Other than that, a literary festival on South Asian novel themed ‘Traversing the Cultural Contours through the South Asian Novel’ was held in Bhutan in 2013 with the participation of noted novelists and writers in the region. With a view to promote South Asian poetry, the SAARC Literary Festival in 2015 was held in Bangalore under the theme ‘SAARC Literary Festival on South Asian Poetry: Reflections of a Cultural Confluence’.
Apart from this, a program to translate literary classcs into major South Asian languages was intitated in 2013. Under this programme literary masterpieces from the principal languages of the Member States were first translated into English and thereafter to other regional languages. Kavi Silumina and Dambadeni Asna were selected for translation from Sri Lanka and Damabadeni Asna has been translated into English, Dzonga (National Language of Bhutan), Hindi, Nepali, and Urdu. The National Book Trust of India also expressed their interest in this programme in carrying out the translation work and publication of these texts. According to my knowledge literary classics from Bangladesh and Nepal have also been identified and the translation of the said texts is under way, though its progress is not known to me.
An annual research programme under a designated theme has been conducted by the SAARC Cultural Centre since 2011 and eight research proposals were selected every year from among SAARC Member States and research grants awarded to South Asian researchers and scholars to carry out a project. By the end of 2015 21 research projects and their reports have been completed and received by the SAARC Cultural Centre. Steps have been taken to publish these research reports and eight research reports are currently in print.
I was also able to spearhead in publishing a host of other publications on culture. Under this, an annual journal comprising of scholarly papers written by South Asian academia has been published for the last four years and we have been able to bring out five volumes of the journal. Amongst other publications are monographs, reports and books of abstracts which include full papers that were presented during the regional seminars and conferences organized by the SAARC Cultural Centre over the years.
The SAARC Cultural Centre has been organizing annual film festivals, artist camps, handicrafts exhibition, SAARC Photographic Exbhition, SAARC Cultural Festivals on folk dances and traditional drumming. SAARC Cultural Capital programme was initiated in 2014 for designating a city amongst the SAARC Member countries as the SAARC Cultural Capital for a year during which a series of year-long cultural events with a national but with an overall South Asian dimension were held in Bamyan, Afghanistan. The historic city of Bamyan was declared ‘SAARC Cultural Capital’ in 2014 and a series of cultural events were organized in Bamyan providing an opportunity for the city to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits and boosting the city’s image and raising its visibility and profile on a regional and international scale. Further information about these activities can be obtained from ministries of external affairs of SAARC Member States.
As such, the SAARC Cultural Centre hasn’t been an inactive organization as wrongly observed by the Hon. PM and I humbly say that the SAARC Cultural Centre has been a dynamic organization since its inception. As a result, SAARC Cultural Centre was identified and commended as ‘the Centre of Excellence’ by becoming the best regional centre amongst the eleven regional centres established under SAARC. Needless to mention that this itself is a reflection of the vigour and quality demonstrated by the SAARC Cultural Centre in executing the above programmes in a professional manner. I once again reiterate that had the Hon Prime Minister been briefed about the role played by the SAARC Cultural Centre, he wouldn’t have negatively remarked about the Centre.
It is also saddening to note that of late, many a successful programme intitaiated by the SAARC Cultural Centre have reached a status of jeopardy. According to many, the reason is the removal of the previous director and replacing him with an incompetent director who knows nothing about culture and administrative procedures of SAARC. If there had been any delay in the daily functions of the SAARC Cultural Centre in the recent past, its responsibility lies solely with the PM’s office by which the present appointment was made. It is also no surprise that the current director of the SAARC Cultural Centre hasn’t made the Hon PM aware of the activities of the SAARC Cultural Centre.
*G.L.W. Samarasinghe – Former & founding Director, SAARC Cultural Centre, Sri Lanka