Feel Good Factor

Express India,21 May 2010


Feel Good Factor

Everybody in Bhutan talks about Gross National Happiness (GNH). The Prime Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigmi Yoezer Thinley introduced the Indian contingent to GNH at the inaugural ceremony of Mountain Echoes, Bhutan ‘s first literary festival. The three-day festival at Thimphu, that began on Monday, has been conceived and designed by Siyahi, the literary consultancy, in association with the India-Bhutan Foundation. While Delhi burns, it is spring in Bhutan. The weather is wet and windy and many a pen will be inspired by how beautiful the capital city is.

The festival features a host of Indian and Bhutanese authors, such as Omair Ahmad, Sarnath Banerjee, India’s ambassador to Bhutan , Pavan Varma, Patrick French and Chetan Bhagat with local poets and “storytellers” Sonam Kinga, Dorji Penjore, Dasho Kinley Dorji. “It is technically not my first time to Bhutan , I came here as an infant and it’s good to be back,” chuckled Banerjee on arrival. Two days later, the authors and organisers had an impromptu celebration of his 38 th birthday.

Bollywood actor Tisca Chopra (of Taare Zameen Par fame) turned many a head at the festival. “I’m thinking of writing a book about acting, not of the Stanislavsky kind but a hand-book for actors,” said Chopra, who also participated in sessions with Shashanka Ghosh, director of Quick Gun Murugun.

Mountain Echoes is being held at Tarayana Centre, close to downtown Thimphu. The Art Cafe near the Swiss Bakery nearby doubles up as a second location for “sessions”. “The nice part about the festival is that it is so informal; we’re interacting here a lot more,” said Bulbul Sharma, who had a delightful session with Urvashi Butalia and Kunzang Choden, who has been writing on Bhutanese oral traditions, folklore and especially women. “There is no history of publishing in Bhutan, especially because of the low rate of female literacy. With time women felt a deep yearning to express their thoughts through religion. Education and religion had overlapping domains. That is why there are elaborate textiles and handicrafts in which they depicted their stories,” she said.

Among the most popular sessions were the ones on Day 2: journalist-author Sanjoy Hazarika set the mood with a moving account of the open wound that is North-East India, with readings from his books, Strangers of the Mist and Rites of Passage. Katsom verses (a kind of acrostic poetry) were elocuted by poet-translator Kinga who spoke about why he began to translate the rural verses of his village into English. “I had the opportunity to go to colleges abroad and for the first time, people were interested in me and where I came from. I studied English literature and I wondered about the poetry of my own people,” he said.