Ninth edition of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival culminates: Celebrated the linguistic, artistic and cultural ethos of India and Bhutan

Thimphu: The ninth edition of Mountain Echoes literary festival, Bhutan’s distinctive literary, arts and cultural festival, culminated in the Bhutanese capital today. The festival, which is an initiative of the India Bhutan Foundation and Siyahi, India’s leading literary agency, brought audiences from Bhutan, India and across the world to celebrate the shared culture of both the nations.

The three-day festival focused on Untouched Beauty, Unexplored Ideas, and Unstoppable Voices from the heart of the Himalayas, through engaging, power-packed sessions on a range of topics such as Environment and Wildlife, Spirituality and Philosophy, Theatre and Poetry among others.

The audience was in for a treat as Day Three of the festival featured a stellar line-up of Bhutanese, Indian and international speakers. The day commenced with Song of Enduring Friendship, which paid tribute to the five-decade long friendship between India and Bhutan and was performed by the students of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts. The song was composed by Gyonpo Tshering, author of The Bhutanese Guide to Happiness: Words of Wisdom from The World’s Happiest Nation, and current chief librarian at the National Library of Bhutan.

The first session of the day, ‘The Songs of Milarepa’, had acclaimed author Andrew Quintman, and eminent Bhutanese playback singer Chimi Wangmo in conversation with Deki Choden, founder of the Thimphu-based Early Learning Centre Primary School and Educating for Lifelong Citizenship High School.

The trio spoke about the life of the 11th-century Buddhist poet and sage Milarepa, considered to be one of Tibet’s greatest mystics. The story of his dramatic and troubled life, his enlightenment, his songs and poems and how they continue to inspire generations of people. Chimi Wangmo sang a few verses from Milarepa’s songs, transporting the audience to the time of the saint. The melodious performance received a standing ovation from everyone present, including Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.

In ‘Environmental Justice: Questions for the Future’, author and environmentalist Daniel C. Taylor highlighted the need for community support to develop and preserve our natural resources. He emphasized the need for local government involvement to ensure environmental justice. He lauded Bhutan’s investment in education and environment, as part of the efforts to create a better tomorrow.

Two eminent journalists, Suhasini Haidar and Tenzing Lamsang were in conversation about the obstacles journalists across the world are facing today in ‘Challenges of Journalism’. They spoke about how journalists need to have compassion and integrity to tell someone else’s story, without compromising on the truth. Tenzing mentioned that the biggest challenge for journalism in Bhutan was the sustainability of private publications because of the dominance of the two state-owned media houses. They also spoke about the role of social media and the rampant spread of fake news being a major challenge today. Growing competition and the “need to get the story out first” is a real threat to journalism, Suhasini added, saying that “speed is the biggest danger to authenticity”.

‘Binodini: A Photographic Memoir’ focused on the life and times of novelist, essayist and playwright Binodini, who remains an important part of the literary heritage of Manipur. Author L. Somi Roy and Festival Co-Director and Managing Director of Eka Archiving Services Pvt. Ltd, Pramod Kumar KG discussed the chronicling of personal histories through family photos.

In ‘A Barrel of Laughs’, Gyem Tshering and Phurba Thinley, among Bhutan’s leading comedians and co-authors of the book Lozey, interlaced conversation with performance. Their quirky and humorous remarks on everyday subjects had the audience in splits.

The Golden Dakini’ saw author Charu Singh in conversation with Andrew Quintman about her fantasy novel of the same name.

In the next session, Snigdha Poonam, author of Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World and Sonam Chophel, founder of Bhutan’s first design & branding agency Druksell, were joined by Tsedon Lhamu Dorji, Managing Director of Bhutan’s Kuzoo FM, to discuss how the new generation attempts to fulfill its ambition while dealing with the limitations of the world.

Hip-hop dominated the next two sessions, ‘Bhutan Meets Hip-Hop’ and ‘Hip-Hop: The Rhythm of Rap’. GOKAB enthralled the audience with their smooth moves and their commitment to dance and literature. Rocker Kinley Phyntso and popular Bhutanese rappers Kezang Dorji and Maynia Dhubee OG discussed the growing popularity of rap in the country. Both rappers spoke of their introduction to hip-hop, their journey so far, and how they used rap as a medium to create social awareness. The panelists performed on popular demand, much to the delight of the audience.

In ‘Over The Moon With Moon Moon’, veteran actor Moon Moon Sen spoke of her journey in the film industry for the past three decades. It isn’t easy juggling life as an actor and politician with a personal life, she admitted, adding that of the many roles she played in her life, her favourite was being a mother. Before signing off, she advised the students: “Be there for your mothers and fathers and look out for your parents as they get old.”

The final session of the festival celebrated creativity with author Nilanjana S Roy, who spoke of the habits and motivations of writers and thinkers in ‘Eating Books: Reading, Writing and Creativity’.

At Tarayana Centre, author Tshering Chhoden delved deep into a child’s psyche to explain the importance of communication in the development of a youngster’s personality in the workshop ‘Do You Know Your Child?’. No matter how old or young the child is, they only want to be accepted, and it is the parents’ duty to make sure that children have a template for communicating with the rest of the world by encouraging communication within the family. Through activities involving both parents and their children, she demonstrated ways in which the gaps in communication can be bridged.

‘Storytelling Through Bhutanese Sign Language’ began with a short demonstration of Bhutanese Sign Language (BSL) by the students at the Wangsel Institute for the Hearing Impaired, using fables and anecdotes to introduce it to the audience. Tenzin Drahla, an instructor at Wangsel Institute, explained conventions of communication in deaf culture using BSL while Sushila Garg interpreted it in English. The session succeeded in establishing the tradition of storytelling sign language.

Eminent theatre personality Sanjna Kapoor’s theatre workshop for children focused on making acting fun for children and simplifying the process to make sure it emerges naturally. Activities aimed at encouraging improvisation, conjuring up stage faces, and using one’s whole body to emote, were a huge hit with the children. Participation was wholehearted, and laughter filled the hall. As in a theatrical piece, the climax of the session was a release of emotions and creativity, as Sanjna got the young audience to write their own short play and perform it.

Simultaneously, at Taj Tashi, the final day of the festival began with ‘Spoken Word 101’ in which the participants, guided by performance poet Sarah Kay, learnt how to be comfortable in the spotlight, deal with stage fright and shed their inhibitions about public performances. The workshop focused on writing poetry specifically for performance as Sarah spoke about the importance of writing using sensory detail. She later dealt with questions on ideal writing practices, experimenting with styles and overcoming the much-feared writer’s block.

The roundtable discussion ‘Moving Images: Crossover Narratives’ saw a panel of illustrious members of the Indian and Bhutanese film fraternity – Kunga Tenzin Dorji, Tandin Bidha, Chencho Dorji, Dechen Roder, Druksel Dorji, Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Vani Tripathi Tikoo and L. Somi Roy – discuss the successes, trials and tribulations of their respective industries. Film censorship in both countries was passionately discussed as the panelists compared and debated the functions certification boards play in various countries. The session also touched upon the need for finding authentic voices that tell genuine stories of the respective cultures instead of blindly aping superficialities of Hollywood cinema.

Formally closing the ninth edition of the Festival, Festival Co-Director Siok Sian Dorji thanked Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck for her personal and inspiring support. She hoped that the milestone tenth edition, next year, would have an even bigger line-up of speakers and many more engaging and thoughtful discussions.

The ninth edition of the Festival wrapped up at the iconic Mojo Park with an open mic night that celebrated fresh talent.