Sad to be missing this event in Bhutan today. I was honored to be invited, though:
Mountain Echoes: Bhutan’s Literary Festival
By Margherita Stancati/WSJ
It’s not often that royals attend festivals, but Bhutan’s Mountain Echoes literary festival, which kicks off Friday in Thimphu, is a notable exception.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck will be taking part – and not just for the inevitable inaugural address.
She’ll be participating not only in her role as one of her country’s top dignitaries, but also as an author. Her book – “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan” – will be the starting point for one of the festival’s highlights: a conversation between Her Majesty and India’s ambassador to Bhutan, Pavan Varma. After their session, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck may also make an appearance.
The festival, which takes place against a Himalayan backdrop in the country’s capital, will last until May 23. Now in its second edition, the aim of Mountain Echoes is to showcase Bhutanese literature and poetry and to provide a forum for Himalayan culture more broadly, says Mr. Varma, who conceptualized the festival.
Strengthening cultural ties between India and the small Himalayan kingdom was part of it, too. “While politically and economically India and Bhutan are already exceptionally close, I wanted to create a space for people-to-people interaction. This is something governments often take for granted,” he told India Real Time on Thursday.
Bhutan may not be an obvious place for a festival. The Buddhist parliamentary monarchy, famous for its Gross National Happiness index and for its dress codes, which require all nationals to wear traditional Bhutanese robes, has a population of around 700,000.
But Mr. Varma, an author himself, said he was so impressed by the wealth of literary talent in the country that he felt that building ties between Indian and Bhutanese authors could be a mutually enriching experience. Of the festival’s roughly 50 authors, the majority are Indian.
Namita Gokhale, co-founder of the Jaipur Literature Festival, has even more lofty ambitions for the festival: She hopes Mountain Echoes, which she helped organize, will promote a pan-Himalayan culture. “Mountain cultures have a unique resonance, and the Himalayan regions, irrespective of nationhood, share a geographical, ecological and cultural continuity which spills over into development and environmental issues.”
Mita Kapur, a Jaipur-based literary agent who also organized the festival, said the founding theme – mountains – has inspired literature in the Himalayan region across genres. “Mountains lend themselves from many genres – from folk tales to science fiction,” she said.
This year’s edition includes several sessions that focus on Bhutanese literature, including one dedicated to writings in Dzongkha, the national language.
Other panels – such as the one on “Myth and Memory” – will look at another aspect of Bhutan’s culture: its symbols and legends.
Contemporary issues will also be addressed. For instance, Tshering Tobgay – prolific blogger and leader of the opposition’s Peoples Democratic Party – will be discussing Bhutan’s thriving social media scene with speakers including former publisher and author David Davidar.
The session on women will see Shobhaa De, who penned the likes of “Socialite Evenings,” in discussion with Lily Wangchhuk, a Bhutanese author and entrepreneur.
There will also be sessions on preserving cultural heritage, on the Bhutanese food industry, on Buddhism and the environment, and one on textiles called “Crafting Identity.”
At the festival there will be workshops too: Indian filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, famous for his recent Bollywood hit “Jab We Met,” will be hosting Saturday’s one on scriptwriting.