A Land of Bollywood Fans and Royalty: Bhutan Lit Fest is All Heart
(The Mountain Echoes literary festival is an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation, in association with Siyahi. A festival celebrating literature, art and culture in Bhutan, its 7th edition will take place between August 25 and 28. Mita Kapur, the CEO of Siyahi, tells us of her journey in the beautiful neighbouring country.)
Our story probably began a decade ago. At the time, despite being fully embroiled in the literary scene in India, I had never travelled towards any region north east of our country. I dreamt of doing so at some point – cliched as that may sound.
Strange are the ways of Fate! There came a phone call from Namita Gokhale which went: “Pavan (the then Ambassador to Bhutan) and I have spoken to Her Majesty; we think you should do the literary festival in Bhutan. HM is coming to Jaipur, so meet her and go ahead.”
I did. And before I knew it, I was stepping off the Druk Air plane at Paro, exactly 7 years ago.
Being clueless helps sometimes. I know I was – and I stumbled and picked myself up through sage words that seemed to come in from every quarter: the writers and artists, the bureaucrats and ministers, the people I met in restaurants, the crowd at the vegetable market....
The festival is now seven years old.
Of the Possibilities of Orhan Pamuk and the Thrill of Kalki Koechlin
We began with dreaming of a cosy, warm, interactive boutique festival where a reader feels a kinship with the writer/artist fraternity. We dreamt of a space where we would hear our own voices, exchange stories, share oral traditions, myths, folklore, tales of travel and science – ghost stories, even. That dream grows in scope, bit by bit, every year in the beautiful land of Bhutan.
Orhan Pamuk wrote in one year, saying he wishes to come and speak at the festival. Michael Ondtaaje said the same thing. They’ve let us know that they’re juggling their schedules to work it out.
The first year saw 35 speakers, divided between Bhutan and India. It was a simple programme that had the audience soaking in themes like poetry, films, popular fiction and food.
(Hindi cinema has a mind-boggling fan following in Bhutan!)
Over the years we’ve driven the festival with a subtle balance: serious focus on young democracies – offset with stand up comedy; Buddhist chanting every morning – offset by bands like Raghu Dixit Project or Soulmate; Bhutanese iconography – with Indian mythological figures, graphic art from the world over – with youthful pop art from Bhutan.
Last year, Marcus du Sutoy and Lucy Hawking unravelled fascinating tales of maths and science. Kalki Koechlin led the gender-based dialogue – and Tandin Wangmo reflected her concerns from Bhutan.
Paro Anand played pied piper, while Chador Wangmo and Pema Gyaltshen engaged with school children. Rocky and Mayur talked food and led a spirited team-leadership session. Entrepreneurship, creative writing, publishing workshops made us joust with new ideas.
We’ve only just begun and our minds are buzzing with what all we want to do for the festival.
The Promise of a New ‘Mountain Echoes’
This is the time to anticipate...
I dream of how the Clock Tower in Thimphu will vibrate with the sounds of music every evening. How Mojo Park will become the after party venue along with Viva City. How The Zone, Cloud Nine, Zasa, Folk Heritage Museum restaurant (for lunch) will continue to be our hubs at night after long days of work. How I will continue to plant myself at the bar in Druk Hotel for meetings with all the authors.
Mountain Echoes 2016 is beckoning – August 25 to 28. A festival that promises a heady mix of serenity, thickly wooded mountain peaks, clouds halfway down, nectar- sweet pears and apples, no traffic lights, archery songs, soccer matches, live music, and masked dances – along with author-speak.
(Mita Kapur is the CEO of Siyahi, author of ‘The F-Word’, and editor of ‘Chillies and Porridge: Writing Food’.)