Mountain Echoes: Stirring literary revolution in Bhutan (Litfest Review)
Posted on May 25 2014 | IANS
By Shilpa Raina, Thimphu, May 25 : Bhutanese scholars, students and writers acknowledged how the literary and cultural gala "Mountain Echoes" is encouraging the younger generation in the landlocked Himalayan country to read, and exposing them to literature from outside, especially India, as curtains came down on the three-day festival.
In its fifth year, the festival, which ended Saturday, has been able to develop a platform for Bhutanese writers, academicians and scholars to share the stage with authors and experts from around the world to discuss an array of subjects in an intimate but stimulating environment.
"Literature is a crucial element in understanding human complexities and broadening your horizon. This festival should inspire youth of this country to take to pen and write," said Bhutan's Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.
It was also for the first time that the Bhutanese representation at the festival was highest. Hence there were sessions in Dzongkha - the Bhutanese official language - which were later translated in English for visiting delegates and the international audience.
There was a visible presence of students as well including those who had come all the way from a college in eastern Bhutan to attend the festival to be "exposed" to the literary and creative world.
"We are not exposed to such events. There isn't just literature, this festival has sessions on art, Indian literature and some interesting film screenings," Sonam Yangchen, a student, told IANS.
Yangchen had attended a workshop by Indian curator and historian Alka Pande.
What most Bhutanese scholars and writers felt was that the festival is encouraging the youth, but it is just the beginning.
"This festival is really helping," Karma Phuntsho, an academician and scholar, told IANS.
"It is encouraging Bhutanese people to develop their own literature," he added.
Manju Wakhley, who has attended the festival for two years, felt the festival has been able to ignite fire among youngsters to take up literature seriously.
"There is a sort of change among youngsters who are getting exposed to Indian writings and a few foreign authors," Wakhley, a social entrepreneur, told IANS.
"But we need more such literary endorsements or funds to nurture this ambition," she added.
The festival is a joint initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation and is managed by Indian non-profit literature promotion group Siyahi with the support of Bhutan's queen mother who is the chief royal patron of the festival.
While Dasho Paljor J. Dorji, a special advisor with the National Environment Commission, appreciated this initiative and was happy to see young Bhutanese attending sessions, he suggested that the organisers should include more "creative workshops" in coming years for directly engaging with people and students.
"As the festival is now founded on a strong background they should not restrict it merely to books. There should be workshops like on creative writing where students can engage directly with experts. This will be a way forward for the festival," Dorji told IANS.
This edition saw participation of over 50 speakers from Bhutan and around the world who deliberated on topics ranging from democracy, visual art, food, dreams and interpretations, myths, mythologies, legends and travel writings.
And, if to go by queen mother, then the sixth edition of the festival in 2015 will be the biggest ever and will prove to be a "benchmark" for the coming years.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at email@example.com)