Thimphu: A series of power-packed sessions unfolded on Day Two of the Mountain Echoes literary festival, beginning with Drametse Ngachamm, a traditional performance by the students of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts.
The first session of the day, ‘All The World’s A Stage’, saw celebrated theatre personalities Sanjna Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah discuss the theatre culture of contemporary India, drawing from their experiences as actors and creators. Sanjna laid emphasis on preserving and promoting performances that weave together the diverse cultures, thoughts, histories and practices that make up India. She and Ratna reminisced about their early years in theatre and spoke about their other passion projects.
Documenting the elusive Yeti in his latest book, Daniel C. Taylor explored the snow “footprints” of the mysterious creature and its snowy Himalayan habitat. At the session, ‘Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery’, Festival Co-director Tshering Tashi spoke about the various expeditions undertaken to unravel the myth while Daniel detailed his trips to various valleys around Bhutan, Nepal and China in a quest to understand the true Yeti.
Celebrating 50 years of The Beatles visiting India, television commentator and columnist Ajoy Bose and singer Usha Uthup discussed the band’s music, still loved over half a decade later. ‘Across the Universe: Beatles Forever’ also had Dawa Drakpa talking about how his band, The Baby Boomers, was inspired by the Fab Four to take the leap and become “Bhutan’s first western-style band”.
‘The Himalayan Arc: East of Southeast’ had panelists Sanjoy Hazarika, Tshering Tashi and L Somi Roy engage in a conversation with Namita Gokhale about different aspects of this intriguing part of the world. They discussed the complex politics of the region, its fragile natural history and the possibilities of an interconnected future.
‘If Rivers Were to Speak’ explored poetry as a means of self-expression with acclaimed poet Esther Syiem, author of Memoir in Water: Speaks the Wah Umkhrah and other collections exploring Khasi identity. They also discussed Dragon Delights: A Rosary of Poems, Namgyal Tshering’s experimental work on experiential feeling. Chador Wangmo, author of ten illustrated books for children, including The Flea and The Louse and The Three Friends, engaged the panelists in a conversation.
The inimitable duo Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah enthralled audiences with their recitation of various poems from Vikram Seth’s ‘Beastly Tales from Here and There’ and James Thurber’s short stories. The couple brought to life ‘The Frog & The Nightingale’, and took turns performing the rest. Naseeruddin recited three short stories by James Thurber ‘The Owl Who Was God’, ‘The Little Girl and The Wolf’ and ‘The Tiger Who Would Be King’ while Ratna mesmerized everyone with her performance of ‘The Louse and the Mosquito’ and ‘The Tigress and Her Mate’.
In ‘Chronicles of Wanderlust’, Tony Robinson-Smith carried tales and mystique from distant lands and spoke of wanderlust, and how it added wonder to his life. He spoke of his travels through Bhutan, and his love for long-distance running.
Dr. Sonal Mansingh, in conversation with Sujata Prasad, reflected on the essence of the Natyashastra, considered the foundational text of performance arts in India in ‘The Inner Dance’. In a fascinating conversation about the dancer, the dance and a life in every mood and rasa, celebrated dancer and Padma Vibhushan recipient Dr Mansingh discussed her life and paid tribute to her art.
In 2008, Pema Euden was the youngest author in Bhutan, having published Coming Home and Lomba. Zuni Chopra penned her first novel The House that Spoke at the age of fifteen in 2017. Asserting their individual voices, the panelists discussed writing as a medium for the youth to channelize their anxieties and accomplishments in ‘We That Are Young’. Through the session, moderated by Charmi Chheda, they spoke of how talent was of no use without the will to put in the work and the discipline to balance work and play.
‘Roots of Healing’ documented the diverse health systems in Bhutan, chronicling the sources of Bhutanese medical sciences, incorporating Bhutanese traditional medicine and the new health programmes. Danish-born Bjorn Melgaard, in a session with one of Bhutan’s leading healers Drungtsho Dorji Gyeltshen, spoke of the clashes and collaborations between modern medical practice and traditional healing.
The day ended on a high with a performance by GOKAB, a youth initiative started in 2015. The organisation hopes, through dance, to give the youth of Bhutan a productive and fun outlet for their energy. It also runs a Dance for Books programme, where the members hold dance mobs and reading sessions for young audiences across the country. Dr Tenzin Dorji, one of the founders, introduced the group and their work in ‘Only a Dancer Would Know’ followed by an energetic performance of street and hip-hop dance to popular Bhutanese and English numbers.
In the second installment of her popular workshop for aspiring writers, Sonam Wangmo Jhalani emphasized the need to craft your work with love. When writing fiction, it is important to feel the character as if they are within you and to feel the audience as if they are your most intimate of friends. Sonam carefully unravelled the secrets of writing to her young audience of teenagers, answering every query and clarifying doubts in the highly interactive session. In addition to the emotive sides of narration, she also explained some of the formal aspects of storytelling in terms of plot construction, character evolution and writerly inspiration. The session ended with a writing exercise and the participants reading out their works.
The evolution of the linguistics systems of Asia as a historical process was discussed by Professor George van Driem in the session ‘One Amongst Twenty-Two: The Dzongkha Script’. He traced the development of Dzongkha as a national language and how the language of school instruction had changed from Hindi to Dzongkha and English in contemporary times. Using Dzongkha as the primary example to look at modernization, vernacularisation, the use of language in secular forms of education and policy, Dr. van Driem explained how scripts and their phonological characteristics can both be changed across history as well as change history. He ended the session with insights into his research on the linguistic traditions of Vietnam and Korea.
Dzongkha continued to be the subject of discussion with ‘Celebrations of Names: Modern Calligraphy (Dzongkha Tshugyig Script)’, a delightfully informal session which produced both messy paint blobs and creative attempts at penmanship by amateur calligraphers under the guidance of Karma Jurmi. He explained the tradition of the Dzongkha script with a curated collection of images before demonstrating brushstrokes and other techniques using a variety of writing instruments. What followed was two hours of pure joy among the children and adults alike as each put calligraphy pen to paper to write their names in Dzongkha, English, Hindi, and a variety of languages, bordered by the techniques for ornamentation that Karma had taught them. At the end of the session, he was bombarded with requests to have their name calligraphed, which he graciously obliged.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Eastern Himalayas, Mountain Echoes literary festival is an initiative of the India Bhutan Foundation, in association with India’s leading literary agency, Siyahi. Presented by the Jaypee Group and powered by the Department of Tourism, Government of Rajasthan, the three-day festival is on till August 25, with engaging and insightful discussions being held across the city.