Mountain Echoes

Republica The Week,21 May 2010


Mountain echoes

When two people who have grown up in the mountains meet, they often start discussing the nuances about life in the mountains that can shock people who haven’t lived in the mountains. The challenge of mountain life makes one to be aware and adaptable, be it the weather, be it the limited resources, and be it the way everyday life moves on.

Mountain Echoes perhaps is another event that provides an opportunity for creative minds to explore in and about the mountains. The first event of its kind, held in Thimpu, Bhutan, under the full patronage of the royal family and the government, did not only bring in some established names in the field, but also introduce a cross-section of Bhutanese writers. Having the Queen Mother, a writer herself, being the patron of the event gave the literary festival a different stature. The festival perhaps provided Bhutan an opportunity to showcase its diverse culture along with explaining the different track the country is following in terms of the models of economic development and their policy on cultural preservation.

Namita Gokhale, co-founder and co-director of Jaipur Festival was yet again behind another initiative in the region. A mountain person herself, she has been helping to put together festivals that link the voices of the mountains. A month ago, in Dehradun, a variety of writers from the Western Himalayas discussed different genres of writing, and now in the Eastern Himalayas, it was yet another opportunity to understand variety of issues from oral tradition of storytelling to linkages between poetry and archery, to the despair in everyday life of people in the Northeast.

If Chetan Bhagat, the poster boy of the Indian writing world, filled the gap of a celebrity writer, it was the celebrity poet Gulzar who left us mesmerized with his poetry on nature. The fact that poetry and mountains have a serious relationship was something that everyone in the hall could feel and visualize as the words flowed like conversations between waterfalls. Pawan Verma’s translations of Gulzar’s poetry sounded at times like original pieces taking the discussions on translations to a different plane. For many, the understanding of the issues in Northeast India always equated with trouble and insurgencies has always been on the surface. The festival was lucky to have Sanjoy Hazarika, a thinker and writer from the Northeast, to leave us with visual memories of the quagmire. Of course Shekhar Pathak, a crusader from Western Himalayas continues to give his perspective on the human-nature relationship of the Himalaya.

Amongst the Bhutanese speakers, it was wonderful to listen to Tshering Tobgay, the leader of the opposition using blogs as a medium to keep connected in a country where media is still strictly controlled. Sonam Kinga’s elaboration and explanation of the vernacular oral renditions and its connection with Bhutan’s rural life makes one get a feel of how diverse the country is despite being seen as a small country. Noted writer Patrick French’s discussion on The Quest for Younghusband was taken with keen interest as it was the first king that actually took advantage of the Younghusband mission to secure the insular position of today’s Bhutan.

However, it was very surprising to see the lingua franca of the Eastern Himalayas, Nepali, left out. Perhaps, Nepali connects more people in the Eastern Himalayas, be it in Nepal, Sikkim, the hills of Darjeeling and good portions of the Northeast and in Bhutan. Though it hasn’t been officially taught for the past twenty years in Bhutan, it’s still well spoken and understood. It could’ve been a desire to play safe by not bringing in the controversial issue about Nepalis and Nepal in this purely Bhutan-India event; but for the next year, definitely this is something for the organizers to ponder upon. Just to get the discussions about Nepali and mountain voices going, it has now become imperative to organize the Kathmandu festival in June next year.