With 2016 being a special year for Bhutan, the seventh edition of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival started out on a special note. For the first time, the Bhutanese authors outnumber the Indian panelists, as festival director Tshering Tashi noted.
Following the traditional lighting of the lamp, Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar thanked Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, noting that her guidance was behind most of the cultural events in Bhutan. He added that Mountain Echoes offered a chance to observe Bhutan and its writers converse with the rest of the world.
Her Majesty who is the Royal Patron of the festival, said that Mountain Echoes was the one constant event that brings a smile to her face and lifts her heart. She gave a glowing introduction of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, and said that her presence would raise the profile of the festival.
Last year, 2015, had been declared a reading year in Bhutan. Her Majesty was glad to note that apart from improved reading habits, the nation had also seen a great leap in the number of publications, in particular those commemorating the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan.
As an example of the influence of Mountain Echoes, Her Majesty mentioned Pema Yoden, a young Bhutanese author who wrote her first book at 12 and her second at 19 years of age.
Her Majesty said that she looked forward to hearing from Amitav Ghosh, Pico Iyer, Patrick French and many more writers. She mentioned Pavan K Varma, former Ambassador and author, who was instrumental to the success of the festival. She welcomed Tshering Tashi to the board of directors of Mountain Echoes, and thanked Shri Jayprakash Gaur of Jaypee Group, the presenting sponsor of the festival. She also thanked Ambassador Sarkar for hosting the inaugural function.
Almost everyone in the audience whipped out their cellphones to capture the students of Thimphu Primary School as they performed a traditional Bhutanese performance.
The Chief Minister, an avid reader, was enthusiastic about finally being here for Mountain Echoes. She confessed that she was a nervous air traveller and it had taken her two years to get here. She ended her speech by remarking that she would do it again, now that she had experienced the wonderful atmosphere at the festival and in Bhutan. While Rajasthan and Bhutan appear very different geographically, the Chief Minister noted that they shared a respect for nature, a simple lifestyle and a commitment to the happiness of the people.
Vasundhara Raje ji shared her excitement at the prospect of meeting and listening to authors like Chador Wangmo and Pico Iyer, and noted that it was a relief to disappear into different worlds through books, escaping from the humdrum, on-the-treadmill life.
Festival director Tshering Tashi spoke of the early ties forged between India and Bhutan during a visit by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi. Just as Nehru said that he had left a part of his heart in Paro, Tshering hoped that all the visiting artistes would leave behind a piece of their hearts and a piece of their minds in Bhutan.
Festival Director Namita Gokhale welcomed the writers who had come from Bhutan, India, and the rest of the world, including Australia, France, Turkey, Norway and Sweden.