Report: The Mountain Echoes Literature Festival in Bhutan
The Beatles and the Yeti, among others, livened up things at the ninth edition of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Bhutan
There are two groups of fliers on the Drukair flight from New Delhi to Paro in Bhutan: those who have covered earlier editions of the Mountain Echoes Literature Festival in Thimphu, and first-timers who will, in the course of the next three days, constantly approach the first group for information on everything from the weather, the local fruit market, smoking permits, the nation’s demography and history to why the Bhutanese don’t put down dogs.
On landing, you notice that Bhutan is a remarkable nation. The air is fresh, the roads are clean, and there are no high-rises or traffic jams. The visiting Indian will invariably begin daydreaming about settling down in Thimpu or pristine Paro. But you are here to cover the ninth edition of the literature festival and determinedly push such unpatriotic thoughts away! Instead, you focus on sessions featuring actors Ratna Pathak Shah and Naseeruddin Shah and theatre personality Sanjana Kapoor. Discussing his autobiography, And Then One Day, Naseeruddin Shah reflected on his childhood, his difficult relationship with his father, and his admiration for Shammi Kapoor and Dara Singh. He spoke of being raised by a father whom he never touched, the many conversations they had over the latter’s grave, and how, he, inadvertently, ended up making some of the same mistakes with his own children. Thankfully, he lightened up while presenting Vikram Seth’s Beastly Tales From Here and There with wife Ratna. Indeed, the couple’s seamless switching of characters enthralled the audience. And then there were the anecdotes from Sanjana Kapoor and Ratna about their own early insecurities about going into theatre, partly because, as children, they had abhorred their own parents’ acts on stage.
More than half a century after the Beatles took the world by storm, their catchy songs were echoing through the festival venue. Singer Usha Uthup, Ajoy Bose, author of Across The Universe: The Beatles in India, Dawa Drukpa, founder of Bhutanese band, The Baby Boomers, and Naseeruddin Shah broke out into Can’t Buy Me Love and With a Little Help From My Friends. The audience sang along, waving glowing cellphones in appreciation.
American poet Sarah Kay was a revelation and the 30-year-old’s spoken word poetry, part performance, part speech, had the audience hooked. And then there was Bhutanese rapper Kezang Dorji, who pronounced that he wanted to prove rappers didn’t always have to perform songs of protest. Apparently, they are doing pretty fine in one of the happiest nations on earth.
Thankfully, happy rap didn’t scare away the legendary Himalayan Yeti, which was the subject of conservationist Daniel C. Taylor’s session. In the popular culture of the Himalayan region, the solitary grey/white ape-man is often pictured roaming around the snowy mountains. Taylor, who is the author of Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery, shared experiences from trips to valleys around Bhutan, Nepal and China and spoke about his quest to understand the Yeti.
As always, the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival was quietly enjoyable and vastly different from the many raucous literary festivals of the subcontinent.