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India, Bhutan to refresh friendship over fine print

New Delhi, April 25 - A three-day confluence of narratives, ideas, literary expositions and cultural showcases from India and Bhutan will strengthen the growing South Asian cultural solidarity in the Himalayan kingdom next month.

The third edition of the Mountain Echoes festival, a literary collaboration between the India-Bhutan Foundation and Siyahi, a non-profit organisation, will open at the Tarayana Centre in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan May 21-24.

'We are fortunate to have South Asia in Bhutan this year with writers from India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is a continuum of cultural and linguistic identities across political borders,' Namita Gokhale, director of the festival, told IANS.

She said 'linguistic and cultural borders are completely different from the political borders'.

'For example, Bangladesh and West Bengal share a common heritage and a common language though they are separate political entities,' she said.

The festival in Bhutan will be an arc across cultures and languages like Urdu, English and Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, to build common ground, Gokhale said.

Gokhale, an acclaimed writer from the Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand, said the festival was also an ode to the passion for mountains and mountain-writing. 'I have a long association with Bhutan. I have been going to Bhutan for the last 15 years. It is a privilege to do a festival in Bhutan,' the writer said.

The festival in Bhutan, together with similar initiatives in Nepal and India, were part of a new Asian culture chain, she said.

The festival to be inaugurated by Gokhale will host writer-envoy Pavan Varma and Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk at the opening session.

The subsequent sessions will feature acclaimed Indian photographer Dayanita Singh, emerging Sri Lankan writer Ashok Ferrey, Bangladeshi writer Shazia Omar, Pakistani writer Ali Sethi and British writers Patrick French and William Dalrymple.

The star attraction of the festival is poet-novelist Vikram Seth, actor-writer Stephen Alter, who has written extensively on the mountains, and poet Gulzar.

Throwing light on the trends in Bhutanese writing, Gokhale said Bhutanese literature had a lot of 'classical and Buddhist religious traditions drawing from ancient cultures and roles'.

'But at the same time, contemporary literature is carving its niche with urban writers and a tribe of young bloggers like any other country in Asia. The emergence of good Bhutanese writing has imbued new confidence in the Bhutanese writers. The exchange of ideas is helping them,' Gokhale said.

Some Bhutanese writers and artists to watch out for at the festival include actor Kelly Dorje, noted Buddhist scholar Karma Phuntsho, Kuenga Tenzin and story-teller Siok Sian Dorji, who form the contingent of a dozen talented voices in Bhutanese culture.

Mita Kapur of Siyahi, an organisation that promotes literature in India, says the festival has been designed as a social and holistic cultural exchange between the two countries with rich heritage and political legacies.

'We have tried to offer a bit of everything...literature, culture, food, textiles, Himalayas and cinema with representatives from fledgling Bhutanese movie industry and Bollywood. But have kept the participation small and intimate this year,' Kapur said.

She described two conversations and a live demonstration woven around food and a brainstorming roundtable on 'media and democracy' as the new highlights of the festival.


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