By Saket Suman
Thimphu–Saturday turned out to be the high-point of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival as it witnessed packed sessions by some of the most popular as well as critically-acclaimed authors from India. Sessions by some prominent Bhutanese authors such as Ashi Sonam Choden Dorji were well attended too but it was the likes of Ruskin Bond, Shashi Tharoor and Devdutt Pattanaik who ruled the roost.
The day began with a dance by students from the Royal Academy of Performing Arts who enthralled the visitors. No, there was no loud thumping and hip-hop; instead it was a traditional Bhutanese performance, soaked in silence, mediation and prayer.
This was followed by a jam-packed session titled “Inglorious Empire,” in which Congress MP and writer Shashi Tharoor continued his relentless attack on the legacy of the British Raj. The session was based on his latest book “An Era of Darkness,” in which Tharoor shows a mirror to the British and challenges all arguments in favour of the British Raj with his research and findings. He maintained that it is important for Indians to “forgive but not forget” the atrocities of the Raj. The session, which was attended by the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, and Indian Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar, saw Tharoor appealing to the British for an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
The second day also saw the release of a book on late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A collection of essays and reflections on Indira Gandhi, the book has been compiled by the Indian National Congress and was released by the Queen Mother. Wangchuck referred to Indira Gandhi as a “lady of great courage, character and determination” and said that she was honoured to release a book on the former Indian Prime Minister, who had inspired her during her early days.
Then there was Devdutt Pattanaik, who took the audience on a spiritual ride down memory lane as he attempted to draw parallels between Hinduism and Buddhism during his session “Seeking the Dharma”. Attended primarily by a young audience, Pattanaik, one of India’s leading writers on mythology, managed to steal 45-minutes of complete silence as he delivered a well-researched address, accompanied by a power-point presentation.
There was a brief indulgence for the audience as many stepped out of the auditorium to enjoy the beautiful evening in Thimphu but the hall was once again packed shortly before the last session of the day, which saw India’s most loved author Ruskin Bond sharing tales of mountain roads with the visitors.
Referring to his visit as “the most memorable trip” he has had so far, Bond shared that he enjoyed walking around Thimphu and was overwhelmed by its surreal beauty.
“I am a very subjective writer and I write on my personal experiences and the people I have known. I am not a very inventive writer. So I had written a lot of books which were autobiographical in nature but now I thought an autobiography was always in the making,” he said about his latest book, “Lone Fox Dancing”.
He also recited a poem and was greeted with a thunderous applause from the audience.
“If you look at the childhood of many writers, they had a very disturbed childhood. I had a similar one. A lot of my earlier stories were about my childhood but as I grew older, I could understand the pain of others too. And that is how so many books worked out,” the Sahitya Akademi winner added.
Throughout the day, visitors were greeted by two humble women, Namita Gokhale and Mita Kapur, who ensured they personally received every visitor who entered the auditorium. Kapur is the producer of Mountain Echoes while Gokhale is its co-director.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Eastern Himalayas, the Mountain Echoes Literary festival is an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation, in association with India’s leading literary consultancy, Siyahi. The festival concludes on Sunday evening. (IANS)