A culture of mindful reading
Author of Paro, Shakuntala, The Play of Memory, Namita Gokhale is on a roll. She is the co-director of the prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival and has also conceived the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival. She speaks about her work in keeping both the festivals distinct and separate.
How do you keep the two literary properties separate?
The various literary initiatives I am involved with are, to my mind, seamless and deeply interrelated. The objective is to support a culture of mindful reading, and of conversations across cultural and linguistic borders. So my efforts in curating these two festivals interlap and indeed support each other, even though they are separate and distinct, with the Jaipur Lit Fest produced by Sanjoy Roy and Teamworks, and Mountain Echoes by Mita Kapur of Siyahi.
One festival is set in the mountains, another in a desert. Do the characteristics of the region rub off on the festivals?
The two festivals are deeply rooted and local, celebrating the literature, poetry, music and cuisine of their regions. But we have presented the culture of Rajasthan in Bhutan, and very many prominent Bhutanese writers have over the years attended the Jaipur festival.
Where do you feel at home — the mountains or the desert?
Well, I have grown up in the mountains and love the Himalayas. But my work with the Jaipur Lit Fest has led to a deep sense of belonging with Rajasthan. The living heritage of the state, the literature and music, the people, are a part of my identity and being. It’s my karmabhoomi, even if it’s not my janambhoomi.
There are only a handful of literary celebs in the country, and several literary festivals to make rounds of. So how do you ensure a fresh line-up and a distinct experience for the guests/speakers?
I believe in a culture of good writing. Literary celebrities and aspects of popular culture all have a part to play, but equally so voices from the Indian languages, from spaces that cannot access audiences and publishers and media attention. And my programming tries to always balance all these elements.
Do you immediately start planning for the next edition of the festival, as soon as the previous edition draws to a close? Or do you have some breathing space?
I live, breathe, eat, drink and think books through the year. The ideas feed off each other, and my co-directors, friends and book lovers nourish this constant stream of ideas. It’s always a joint and collaborative effort.
Can you give us a peek into the planning of the festival? Is there a method to the madness?
Over the years, systems and methods have emerged in the madness. My co-director at the Jaipur festival, William Dalrymple, and I share a common literary sensibility and yet the range and focus of our interests is very different. This brings a huge range of ideas to our festival. Mountain Echoes too has the same sense of shared ideas and intuitions, with all of us, Pramod Kumar KG, Tshering Tashi, and Siok Sian Dorji all contributing to the final map.
In the midst of all this, when and how do you write for yourself or for your readers?
I don’t know how and where I find the time to write, but I determinedly do, and this is what sustains me. In the early years of the festivals, I had sort of put my own writing on the back burner but I have been happily productive the last few years. And my readers are important to me — I do make an effort to reach out to them.
An exchange of creative ideas
Head of Siyahi, a literary agency based in New Delhi, Mita Kapur talks about the various sessions and the Who’s Who of Bhutanese literary world ahead of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival.
Can you tell us about the Bhutanese writers who will be a part of the Mountain Echoes Festival?
We have accomplished and acclaimed Bhutanese speakers from their fields, ranging from Buddhist scholars to experts from the Central Monastic Body, forest and naturalists, business leaders, social service people, poets and conservationists. Our chief royal patron, Her Majesty The Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck is also an author of Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan. The book provides unique intimate insights into Bhutanese culture and society. She has also authored Of Rainbows and Clouds: The Life of Yab Ugyen Dorji as told to his Daughter and Dochula: A Spiritual Abode in Bhutan.
Ashi Kesang Choden T is the executive director and an art restorer at the Thangka Conservation Centre. She is also a writer and editor for the books The Lotus Light Palace of Guru Rinpoche: Visions of the Buddhist Paradise in the Sacred Kingdom of Bhutan, Kyichu Lhakhang: The Sacred Jewel of Bhutan and The Heart of a Sacred Kingdom: Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck, A Lifetime’s Service to the People and Kingdom of Bhutan. Other accomplished names include Ashi Sonam Choden Dorji, who has penned History in a Pebble. Dr Chencho Dorji, who is the first Bhutanese to become a qualified psychiatrist, has published articles on mental health and epilepsy.
Lily Wangchuk is the first woman president of a registered political party in Bhutan, Druk Chirwang Tshogpa. She is the author of the award-winning book, Facts About Bhutan.
Can you share with us your thoughts on Bhutanese literature? Who are the rising names?
There is a vast array of literature in Dzongkha that needs translations so that it can reach the world. There are many writers on the Bhutanese firmament such as Chador Wangmo, Kunga Tenzin Dorji, Kunzang Choden, Monu Tamang, Phuntsho Namgyel, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche and Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi.
Bhutan being a ‘young and happy’ nation, what sort of sessions are planned for the local attendees?
There is one session on ‘Spirituality and Buddhism’ which includes The Legacy of Zhabdrung: The Spiritual and the Temporal; Set Free; Way of Mindfulness: Buddhist Practice in Daily Life. In the business capsule, created specially for entrepreneurs and students, the panelists will talk about leadership and entrepreneurship — taking right calls, maintaining a cool head in a crisis, playing to your strengths and the occasional risks. As a part of this segment, we are also conducting three workshops: 13 Steps to Luck, Wealth and Success — a workshop with Ashwin Sanghi; Business Sutra — a workshop with Devdutt Pattanaik; the Fashion Segment will open with a discussion between the designers, Chandrika Tamang and Chimmi Choden from Bhutan and designer duo Abraham & Thakore (David Abraham & Rakesh Thakore) from India, and Prasad Bidapa, followed by a presentation of their collections in the nature of a modern fashion show.
There is also a talk by Malika Kashyap (founder of Border&Fall), where she will talk about the process that allowed for the creation of the unique digital cultural document — The Sari Series: An Anthology of Drape.
For kids, we have a two-part workshop being conducted by Jerry Pinto. How well do you know your mum? A workshop with Jerry Pinto (Part I) for ages 12-16 years. Let’s tell your mum’s story. A workshop with Jerry Pinto (Part II) for ages 12 - 16 years.
We also have an evening of musical performances by Bhutanese bands at the Clock Tower.
Which Indian writers are big names in Bhutan?
Ashwin Sanghi, Devdutt Pattanaik, Jerry Pinto, Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor.