How to Train Your Dragon

Indian Express,23 May 2010


How to Train Your Dragon

The first lit festival in Bhutan introduced the Bhutanese to their own readership

Mountain Echoes, the first India-Bhutan literature festival, was unpretentious, informal and made sure that the Indian contingent got a summer vacation out of it in pleasant Thimphu. The “India” part of the three-day festival that began on May 17 was suspect: there were no writers from the South, poet-novelist Sampurna Chattarji and author Chetan Bhagat represented Mumbai, and there was a host of authors and publishers from Delhi. The “Bhutan” part was a sad revelation: there is no industry and no publishing houses and the Bhutanese authors and poets struggle to find printers and have their work reach the bookstores; and even then books are expensive with a monograph costing about Rs 400, a novel Rs 800-900.

In the face of all that, the festival helped Bhutanese authors such as Dasho Karma Ura, Kunzang Choden and Sonam Kinga reach out to their people, including schoolchildren who attended the festival. “We face the danger of losing our oral traditions if we cannot preserve them in books,” says Choden, who began writing her books rather late in life, and in the beginning it was only for her children growing up in America.

Kinga speaks rapidly and slows down only to recite verses in a Bhutanese dialect. “I studied English literature and wondered about the poetry of my own people. I began to trace the tradition of poetry in my village and it was difficult because nobody had ever written it down and only few could recall more than a few stanzas,” says Kinga who has now published a collection of those poems. He is also one of the few Bhutanese authors who have travelled to India for a literary festival, in 2007, when he released his book at the Neemrana Literary Festival. Khasi poet Kynphan Sing Nongkynrih discovered a shared passion for archery with Bhutanese archer and ethnomusicologist Jigme Drukpa, but such connections were few and far between at the festival.

Since books are difficult to find and purchase in Bhutan, even in the capital city of Thimphu, where the festival was held, not many Bhutanese were aware of the Indian contingent of authors. Bhagat went unnoticed till he read out a section from his last book 2 States: The Story of My Marriage . Graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee found himself explaining to many a pretty Bhutanese girl what a graphic novel was all about. But author, lyricist, filmmaker Gulzar was semi-mobbed wherever he went: the Bhutanese watch plenty of Bollywood to know that the grey-haired man was responsible for the wicked verses of Beedi, Kajra re and the recent Dhan ta nan.