Mountain echoes from Bhutan’s first literary festival
Bhutan’s first-ever literary festival, Mountain Echoes, was inaugurated by the country’s queen mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and a keynote presentation on Gross National Happiness by prime minister Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley. The festival’s first day took place at the India House auditorium connected to the Embassy of India in the capital Thimphu. It concluded with poetry reading sessions by five poets from Bhutan and India – Kynpham Sing, CP Surendran, Sarnath Banerjee, Kunzang Choden and Tashi Pem.
Traditional woodblock printing in Bhutan
For the following three days, 18 to 20 May, the festival moved to the Tarayana Centre in Thimphu, focusing on the unique stories from the mountains, with writers from different tracts of the trans-Himalayan belt, sharing their ideas and literary traditions. The festival was initiated under the aegis of the India-Bhutan Foundation, organised by Siyahi, a consultancy from Jaipur. The program adviser was Namita Gokhale, while the festival was spearheaded by Pavan Varma, the Indian ambassador to Bhutan.
Pavan Varma, a writer himself, explored the nature of poetry together with Oscar-winning lyricist Gulzar. Creative interpretations of the diverse richness found in the mountain stories were at the heart of the sessions such as By the Fireside: Folk-tales and shared stories, These Hills Called Home, In the High Mountains: Encountering the Himalayas, and Mapping the Himalayas. Speakers included Bulbul Sharma, Dorji Penjore, Omar Ahmad, Mitali Saran, Sanjoy Hazarika, Ravi Singh and Shekhar Pathak.
Dasho Karma Ura and Tsugla Lopen Rimpoche Samten Dorji along with Choki Tshomo talked about issues related to Bhutanese history, culture, and literature in a session called The Inner Self and Tales of the Land. In The Quest for Younghusband, Patrick French shared some of his experiences of travels through the Himalayas. In Winds of Change Blow, Dasho Kinley Dorji examined the rapid changes in Bhutanese society. Archery, the national sport of Bhutan, came alive as Kynpham Sing shared the various myths, legends and oral traditions woven around it. He was accompanied by Bhutan’s best known singer Jigme Drukpa, who performed his song Words as Arrows.
Chetan Bhagat in conversation with Jai Arjun Singh discussed the changes in writing and reading trends in India during a session called Young Writers, Young Readers. Leila Seth was interviewed by Namita Bhandare about her autobiography On Balance. In Of Women, By Women, Kunzang Choden and Urvashi Butalia explored the many issues connected to writing and publishing by women. The Mammal and the Dandelion was a session with Sampurna Chattarji’s reading of her prose and poetry. Sonam Kinga shared his vast knowledge on vernacular Katsoms: Alphabetic Poetry. Indian and Bhutanese filmmakers Shashank Ghosh, Tshering Penjore and Tshering Wangyel joined writers Sunil Sethi and Karma Tenzin Yongba to talk about Frames and Stories and Films and Reality.
In Ancient Epic, Modern Times, Namita Gokhale and Pavan Varma, along with Sadanand Dhume, discussed the relevance of The Mahabharata in modern times. The festival went online with bloggers Jai Arjun Singh, Namita Bhandare and Siok Sian Dorji sharing their experiences on blogging. The mountains of Bhutan also echoed the tunes of rock band Soulmate as they performed at the city’s Clock Tower during the festival.