Main story: The capital came alive last Thursday evening, on August 25, when the seventh edition of the Mountain Echoes literary festival kicked off.
The festival brought together writers, biographers, historians, environmentalists, scholars, photographers, poets, musicians, artists and filmmakers among many others to engage in a cultural dialogue, share stories, create memories and spend three blissful days in the mountains of Thimphu.
A total of about 71 speakers from Bhutan, India and other countries participated in the literary festival.
Inaugurating the festival, the Chief Royal Patron of Mountain Echoes, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, said Mountain Echoes was one event that always brought a smile to her face and lifted her heart.
“Mountain Echoes is an event that I personally look forward to meeting accomplished individuals from the literary world and also the cultural world. Every year, I get to know many authors, poets and artists who have inspired and shared part of your lives with us,” said Her Majesty the Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. “The festival has been a great catalyst for the appreciation of literature in Bhutan.”
Her Majesty the Queen Mother wished everyone a memorable experience.
Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, who is in the country for the first time, said it’s a real pleasure to listen to people who are going to be taking audiences away from what is already known.
“It’s wonderful to see Bhutanese literature being brought to the fore. As it is in Bhutan and also in India, we are known for our tradition of conserving and perpetuating ancient texts. All of us will enjoy the event immensely and this wonderful interlude is something we will go back with happy memories,” Vasundhara Raje said.
And thus the festival began. The first day of the festival started with Indian ambassador Jaideep Sarkar and the acclaimed Indian writer Amitav Ghosh discussing climate change and the environment along with Amitav Ghosh’s new book titled The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.
Amitav Ghosh painted a grim picture of the world facing catastrophic events related to climate change. He described climate change as a great weariness that usually doesn’t get included in novels today.
Amitav Ghosh stressed on the importance of being able to find a way to tell these difficult stories without a human protagonist. Not being able to write a story about climate change is a challenge faced by writers today, he said.
Literature can’t solve the problem of climate change, literature has always prided that it will look into such current issues, but instead we are moving further and further away from such engagements, Amitav Ghosh told the audience. “Climate change is happening now and not in the future.”
His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa Jigme Pema Nyinjadh and Dasho Karma Ura talked about ‘Inner Guru’ in the next session and reminded everyone that everybody is a ‘Guru’.
Gyalwa Dokhampa Rinpoche described the three wheels of Buddhism and how the quality of Guru differed in each wheel. “Yet the fundamental message is transforming and changing one’s mind, which is the most important quality of a Guru,” rinpoche said.
The first day saw many interesting conversations; Indian novelist Ira Trivedi talking about how young Indians are opening up to meet opposite sex through the help of technology today, Bhutanese writer Monu Tamang talking about dating culture and sexuality in Bhutan, how social media is changing the nature of journalism and on Mount Everest by Dhamey Tenzing Norgay, the youngest son of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, who with Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first to summit Mount Everest in 1953, and a Norwegian writer Odd Harald Hauge.
The afternoon was wrapped up by a talk on Rajasthan and its culture by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje and a performance by Mita Vasisht and Sangita Kathiwala on the poetry of Lal Ded.
The first day was filled with intellectually stimulating and thrilling conversations. The same energy flowed to the next days as well.
The second day saw some of the most interesting and entertaining sessions, especially when Rahul Ram, band member of Indian Ocean and Dasho Tshering Wangda belted out few tunes in Dzongkha and Hindi. They got the audience humming along with them. Other sessions included about writing detective fiction, folk music of Rajasthan and a talk on the art of stillness by the renowned author Pico Iyer.
On the last day of the festival, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck shared an intimate time with the audience and participants.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother talked about her personal favourite books and authors when she was a child and on how oral tradition was dying with the advent of modern technology and devices.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother also shared about how Thimphu has dramatically changed since when she first arrived in 1963 and her personal experiences of a journey to the remotest parts of the country, to which Her Majesty referred to it as the best years of her life.
The former Indian Ambassador, Pavan K Varma, talked about his first fiction book titled When Loss Is Gain, a book that was written when he was in the country.
An Indian actress Tabu shared her experiences in the Indian film industry and on how she chooses roles that resonate with her. Being the only one from the Indian film fraternity, she was bombarded with a lot of questions from the Bhutanese audience, most of whom who were familiar with her movies. Tabu informed the excited crowd that she would love to visit Bhutan again.
Neyphug Trulku gave a talk on the celebration of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s visit to the country. Neyphug Trulku referred to Zhabdrung as the Bhutanese prince – the man with all the qualities.
The last day of the Mountain Echoes was packed with interesting sessions ranging from a talk on current times to the trekking trails of Bhutan, the meaning of one’s identity in today’s world and a talk on how to deal with the adolescence.
A young student from Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School, Lekzin, who was participating in the festival for the second time, said she loves Mountain Echoes.
“It’s a memorable experience to see and listen to the writers from all over the world. It’s a great opportunity for someone like me who aspires to become a writer one day. The festival encouraged me to keep reading,” Lekzin said.
Lekzin and other young student like herself felt connected with the session on a teenager’s guide to the galaxy by an Indian author Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and a Bhutanese author Lobzang Nima, which was held on the last day, Lekzin added.
The session concentrated on how to navigate young mind in their adolescence.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan told the audience, which were mostly school students, that adolescence is like walking on a landmine and this particular subject is also sometimes neglected in literature as well.
Meenakshi Reddy further said that adolescence is a stage when you will feel invincible and also a stage when you can’t think what’s right or wrong.
“Teenager is an age of first crush or infatuation, which is usually not approved by the school regulations or family members. It’s an age where we are obsessed with a single idea and the rest of the world are less focused,” Meenakshi Reddy said. “Parents should come into play and not only the school teachers to deal with these complicated situations. Communication is important between children, parents and the school system.”
Lobzang Nima advised the students to talk out their feelings and issues to a trusted adult if not their parents or teachers.
The impact of divorce on a young child is not discussed openly in the society today; the social stigma is still there, Meenakshi Reddy said. “Divorce affects children in different aspects of their life, some of which last an impact on the growth and education of a child, and on a person they become later in their life.”
Mountain Echoes ended with a positive note with the anticipation of another similar scintillating festival next year.
The three-day festival was an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation in association with Siyahi. The festival was presented by Jaypee group and powered by Department of Tourism, Government of Rajasthan.