Bhutanese Literature Festival: Mountain Echoes 2011

Published by the DSC South Asian Literature Festival

While the Land of the Thunder Dragon is famous for its scenic beauty, tranquility and natural wealth, Bhutanese writing is lesser known to the rest of the world.

Mountain Echoes 2011, a four-day festival from May 20 – 24 was out to rectify this and aimed to showcase the talent in Bhutanese writing. The India-Bhutan Foundation, in association with Siyahi, united some of Bhutan and India’s top literary talent in a packed series of workshops, discussions and theatrics in various locations across Thimpu, the country’s capital, for Bhutan’s second annual literature festival.

The presence of distinguished guests and established writers gave the festival a buzz. Lam Kesang Chhoephel, a freelance translator and consultant conversed with Dasho Sheruk Gyetshen, secretary of the Dzongkha Development Commission on the underlying tenet that humanity is the yearning for happiness and the rejection of suffering. Bhutan’s Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, author of Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan provided insights into Bhutanese culture and society and revealed her inspiration for writing the book.

Among the fresh Bhutanese voices speaking on culture, society, politics and history were writers Dasho Kinley Dorji, author of Within the Realm of Happiness and Chang Dorji, author of The Clear Mirror of Archery in Bhutan and Clear Exposition of Bhutanese Architecture. Namgay Zam, a Bhutanese television producer and Dr Chencho Dorji, a nominee for this year’s Geneva Prize for Human Rights in Psychiatry, took to the stage to discuss the transition of Bhutanese culture and the influences of the media, along with scholars including political anthropologist Dr Sonam Kinga and renowned translator Lily Wangchuck.

From India, there were a whole host of literary personalities, including publishing giant and author of The House of Blue Mangoes David Davidar, author and columnist Shobhaa De and bestselling fantasy novelist Samit Basu who engaged with the audience and each other on the literary platform. Memoirs and biographies were also discussed, as Pulitzer award winner Kai Bird and journalist Namita Bhandare joined with Tehelka Magazine’s Gaurav Jain to share their experiences. Davidar returned later with writer Namita Gokhale, and His Excellency Pavan Varma, India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, delighted the audience with much-anticipated excerpts from their new books and Dr Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri writer, released an anthology of poems written in collaboration with students at the University of Bhutan.

Bollywood fans were treated to a workshop on script writing from director and writer Imtiaz Ali. Poet Gulzar, who needs no introduction, and film lyricist Javed Akhtar were also in attendance to chat to the audience and engage with the guest speakers. There were thought-provoking talks from Jaideep Sahni and Imtiaz Ali, who shared their experiences of working in the film industry on the third day of the festival. Imtiaz advised Bhutanese authors to avoid drawing inspiration from any of the ‘Woods’ (whether Bolly, Holly or Tolly) and instead focus on telling Bhutan’s own story through film.

Food, textiles and children’s writing was also on the agenda. Singye Dorji, director of the Textile Museum of Thimpu presented a historical picture of Bhutanese textiles and Laila Tyabji, founder member and chairperson of DASTKAR, a society for crafts and craftspeople spoke about the contemporary identity of textiles and what textiles tell us about a country’s culture.

Award-winning writer Kunzang Choden and reviewer, critic and freelance writer Anita Roy led a lively and interactive session on writing for children and brought to life the traditional folk tales of Bhutan, delighting adults and children alike in the audience. The fun-filled occasion was also the launch of Kunzang’s Aunty Mouse and Room in your Heart, two children’s books. Anita also drew on her 23 years of writing experience and led a workshop on the craft of writing: developing your personal voice, character building, maintaining a plot, the importance of emotional investment in your story and the needs of creative writing – talent, skill and stamina.

There was food for thought as Pushpesh Pant, author of the bestselling Taste of Home, joined Mita Kapur, CEO and Founder of Siyahi, and Kunzang Choden to discuss food and reminisce about the taste of home. Buddhism’s relationship to ecology and the environment was considered by Namgay Zam, television anchor and producer for the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, in conversation with Margherita Stancati, news editor from the Wall Street Journal, and Rinchen Khandu a scholar and renowned translator.

The importance of heritage was considered, with Aman Nath, hotelier and historian forming a panel with author Chang Dorji and journalist Nandini Mehta. The relevance of social media in Bhutan was debated by Tshering Tobgay, member of Bhutan’s parliament and leader of the opposition party, Gopilal Acharya along with author David Davidar and Dorji Wangchuck, media secretary to His Majesty of Bhutan, who revealed that the presence of Facebook and other networking sites is small and only reflects the views of some people in the country. Tshering Tobgay emphasised the importance of blogging in Dzongkha and suggested people upload videos if language was an obstacle.

The festival was considered “another success story” by organisers and certainly proved that Bhutanese literature is being taken seriously.


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