The first Bhutan literary festival, Mountain Echoes, will run from 17-20 May in the capital city of Thimpu. It is an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation set up in 2003 by the royal government of Bhutan and the government of India with the objective of encouraging cultural exchange between the two countries. The Jaipur-based literary agency, Siyahi, has been asked to organize the event. Siyahi has been organizing the fast-growing Jaipur Literarature Festival over the last few years.
Events include talks by the award-winning historian and biographer Patrick French and Indian publishers such as Ravi Singh, editor-in-chief of Penguin, and Urvashi Butalia of the niche publishing house, Zubaan. Several panels bring together Bhutanese writers such as Kunga Terzin Dorji and Kunzang Choden with Indian writers and critics such as Namita Gokhale and Pavan Varma.
Mita Kapur, CEO, Siyahi, speaks to Lounge about the festival’s raison d’etre. Edited excerpts:
Why another literary festival? And why in Bhutan?
The festival has been basically initiated to be another mode of cultural exchange between the two countries. It aims to provide a platform for writers to talk about the Himalayas as a shared landscape. Yes, there are several other literary festivals in Asia but they’re all purely market driven. It’s the theme of Mountain Echoes—and the very fact that we have one—that makes this festival unique.
Bhutan provides a perfect setting for a culturally inclined festival of this kind because of its natural aesthetics. One has to admit that the very location of the Jaipur Literarature Festival has a lot to do with its success!
How long has this event been in the planning?
The India-Bhutan Foundation has been organizing cultural exchanges for the last seven years but this will be their largest initiative yet. They approached us in November 2009 and we got down to the programming and logistics immediately. It’s been a quick job but we have our experience with the Jaipur festival to draw from.
Tell us about the festival itself. Who all are expected to attend?
Bhutan’s Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, is the official patron. There are several Indian and Bhutanese writers who will attend along with the award-winning historian and biographer Patrick French. There are a few panels that go beyond literature per se and so, writer-lyricist Gulzar and director Rajkumar Hirani are part of the festival.
What is the budget for the event? What sort of turnout are you expecting?
The budget is around Rs35 lakh. The venue for the festival is an NGO campus called the Tarayana centre that is under the aegis of the Queen Mother. It can host about 200 people at once which is good for the first edition of a literary festival. Also, since this is the first year, we’re going to keep things small: There won’t be any parallel events.
What does the festival hope to achieve?
We’re programming fiction, non-fiction and poetry events along with talks with sociological leanings that discuss the disappearance of myths and legends from the literature of both countries. Vanishing oral traditions are another topic of discussion.
We wish to draw people in and create an awareness about the festival’s first edition this time around. There will be a market aspect—almost all leading Indian publishers will be sending in books for sale. And a couple of Indian publishers are already publishing Bhutanese writers. But we’d like to flesh that out next year. This year it’s about generating a dialogue.
Visit Siyahi for the complete schedule.