A conversation between cultures

Kuensel,19 May 2010



A conversation between cultures

Spectator Shot: A section of the audience at the Mountain Echoes literary festival in the Tarayana hall
Mountain Echoes 19 May, 2010 – Perhaps reflecting Bhutanese society’s transitionary stage to a literary culture, the country’s first literary festival, titled Mountain Echoes, drew only a modest Bhutanese audience, despite popular Indian author, Chetan Bhagat, and famous poet and director, Gulzar, speaking yesterday. 

But those that did attend, despite each session being limited to only 15 minutes, were in for a rich literary treat.

The festival began with a conversation on culture and identity between Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Pavan Varma, and novelist Namita Gokhale.

The Indian ambassador was asked by a member of the audience where cultural identity “began” and where cultural nationalism “ended”. The ambassador replied that societies should be careful about becoming “victims” to xenophobia, and that only the “insecure” fall prey to cultural fundamentalism. 

The next session included a session between Bhutanese folk performer and ethnomusicologist, Jigme Drukpa and poet and short fiction writer, Kynpham Sing, who belongs to the Khasi tribe in north eastern India. They talked about the game of archery; its origins, social significance, and relation to poetry in the two communities.

Responding to a question on whether women were allowed to participate in archery. ,Kynpham Sing said archery is not an exclusive event and that anyone, who is capable of playing the game, can take part. “Anyone with the skills,” he said.

In Bhutan, Jigme Drukpa pointed out that women, although not able to participate, did only as dancers to support their team and distract the opponents. The next session included a talk between local author, Kunzang Choden and Indian writer and publisher, Urvashi Butalia on literature of and by women.

Kunzang Choden explained that the Bhutanese woman’s ability to express herself through literature had faced obstacles until as recent as the 1950s. She said that, although the situation is not very good for female writers currently, there was a need for local female writers to not forget the “silences” of their mothers, grandmothers, and so on.

Dasho Karma Ura conversed next with US and UK based journalist Omair Ahmad. The two spoke on Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava and the impact he had on Bhutan and the region. This session was followed by popular Indian author, Chetan Bhegat talking about his experience as a young writer. “Books are not as relevant as I would like them to be today,” he said, “there’s a lack of relevance especially for fiction.” He added that to make it today, writers have to be innovative, their work should be innovative. Bhagat is the author of such books as Five Point Someone and One Night @ the Call Center.

The last session of the day belonged to famous Indian poet, Gulzar, who read out his poetry in Hindi, which was then translated by ambassador Pavan into English. Gulzar’s poetry on the destruction of nature in the Himalayan region had Indian audience members and those Bhutanese, who understood Hindi, to applaud almost every other verse. A few were even moved to tears.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo, education minister Lyonpo Thakur S Powdyel, and opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay, also attended the event which ends tomorrow.

By Gyalsten K Dorji