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August 03, 2017

Mountain Echoes Literary Festival: Exploring Ideas in the Hills

Text by Wyanet Vaz

Festival producer Mita Kapur reveals the Himalaya’s best-kept secret

Last year, in her column for Verve, Madhu Jain (editor of IQ, The Indian Quarterly) wrote, “I have been to a fair number of literary festivals — from the mammoth Jaipur Literature Festival to smaller, more intimate ones. But the seventh edition of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Bhutan is indescribably special, and rewarding.”

Produced by the Siyahi team and helmed by Mita Kapur, in association with the India Bhutan Foundation and the Rajasthan government’s Department of Tourist, this under-the-radar festival in Thimphu, Bhutan consistently tries to create conversations around ancient cultures and contemporary issues. In its eighth edition this year, it explores the theme: Untouched Beauty, Unexplored Ideas, and Unstoppable Voices.

In an immersive conversation with us, Mita Kapur talks about addressing a diverse range of topics, and sets the pace for a cultural dialogue like no other.

Can you tell us the purpose of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival?

Bhutan and India have a shared history of dynamic cultural connects through the Himalayan belt. The purpose is first to proliferate the exchange and bond between the two nations and also to promote the love of reading and storytelling across genres and mediums.

Can you explain the theme — Untouched Beauty, Unexplored Ideas, and Unstoppable Voices? Why did you decide to dwell on these issues?

With each edition of the festival, we try to give momentum to topics which affect populations across the globe, through a line-up which is reflective of global audiences. The eighth edition of the festival is no different – the 2017 festival will focus on natural history, tangible culture via the need to preserve architectural heritage. We will speak about traditional textiles and contemporary tales of fashion, digital archiving, poetic traditions and dance forms. We also took into account the changing perspectives focusing on South Asia and many more such nuances.

A part of the festival includes conversations on the global evolution of textiles and design traditions. Can you take us through this?

The fashion segment at the Mountain Echoes literary festival discusses the portrayal of fashion in publications, books, journals mainstream and social media. The segment will open with a discussion between the designers Chandrika Tamang and Chimmi Choden from Bhutan, designer duo David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore from India, and Prasad Bidapa. It will be followed by a presentation of their collections through a modern fashion show that provides a great visual experience and also carries forward the narrative.

An extension of the above will be a talk by Malika Kashyap where she will speak about the process that allowed for the creation of the unique digital cultural document – The Sari Series: An Anthology of Drape. She will also elaborate on the project’s unique journey from concept to completion through crowdfunding, social media and the use of digital media as a new age enabler.

What would be the biggest takeaway for the audience who will be attending?

The calm, serene, verdant surroundings enable you to revel in and soak in the panels and discussions, the performances in a rather cozy, intimate manner. For example, what could be better than listening to mystical wanderings of a Buddhist nun surrounded by clouds rolling in halfway through the mountains, amidst myriad shades of green? I think anyone who attends the festival comes back enriched and evolved – I am not joking, it happens!

What is the idea behind curating literature festivals? Can you tell us about the highs and lows (if any)?

A festival is a hub for creative people – you meet, you talk, new ideas take birth, you evolve and creativity feeds on all this. Books, stories, oral narratives, new media and many other mediums through which we share stories are what lit fests are made of. We take a long, hard look at the world around us, current socio-cultural situations and we grow together. The highs are when you have an engaged audience who boo you down when you try and close a session which may have crossed the time limit! The lows – always the same story – we need sponsors to support us so that we can continue steadfastly doing our work.

What brings you back to producing this festival each year? 

The people of Bhutan, the culture, the ideals they follow…

What was the best part of your journey this season with Mountain Echoes?

Mountain Echoes has been a journey on its own for me – there are too many memories for me to pick one. Let’s just say that if I don’t go back to Bhutan every couple of months I get withdrawal symptoms. If we have been able to make sure that the number of books published have gone up five times in these seven and a half years, if book clubs have opened in almost every school, if bookstores hold monthly poetry and book reading events, then somewhere we know we’ve impacted lives of people – that is enough for me.

Mountain Echoes Literary Festival will take place from 25 to 27 August 2017in Thimphu, Bhutan 

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