In the introduction to his collection of fables, Beastly Tales from Here and There, poet-novelist Vikram Seth had famously said: “The first two come from India, the next two from China, the next two from Greece, the next two from Ukraine. The final two came directly to me from the Land of Gup”. Almost three decades later, his words will come alive in the Eastern Himalayas, at the ninth edition of the Mountain Echoes literary festival, which opens today in Thimphu.
Actors Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah will perform a series of acts rooted from Seth’s work on Friday. In another session, theatreperson Sanjna Kapoor will offer a glimpse of the evolution of Indian theatre. An initiative of the India Bhutan Foundation and Jaipur-based literary agency, Siyahi, the festival — to be held from August 23 to 25 — will also celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and India.
“The idea was initiated by our royal patron, Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the then Ambassador of India to Bhutan Pavan Varma and festival director Namita Gokhale in 2010. We started small with just about 25 authors and a single venue. Now we have five venues, besides workshops, exhibitions, panel discussions, concerts, stand-ups and performances. It has grown into an international festival of art, literature and culture with global representation,” says Mita Kapur, festival producer and founder of Siyahi, adding that this edition’s focus is on bees, environmental justice, theatre, cinema, spoken word poetry and music.
The inaugural session will see Bhutan’s Ambassador to India, General V Namgyel, and India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Jaideep Sarkar, in conversation with Dasho Chewang Rinzin, Deputy Chamberlain to the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who will discuss 50 years of friendship between the two countries. Among those who will headline the festival are spoken word poet Sarah Kay, singer Usha Uthup, dancer Sonal Mansingh and Chef Ritu Dalmia. A number of women authors will also participate in the festival — Nilanjana Roy, Kunzang Choden (Bhutan’s first woman writer of an English novel) and Bhutanese children’s writer Chador Wangmo.
The environmentalists attending the festival include Daniel C Taylor, Dave Goulson and Valmik Thapar, who will discuss issues like the Yeti and bumble bees. Author-journalist Ajoy Bose and Uthup will be in conversation with Dawa Drakpa on 50 years of the English rock band, Beatles. A highlight of the festival is the session with Kezang Dorji, one of Bhutan’s most loved rappers. Along with workshops on writing fiction, modern calligraphy, parenting and theatre for children, there is also a roundtable discussion on the Bhutanese cinema, with Shah and Pathak Shah in attendance.