Dangphu Dingphu : The art of traditional story telling at Mountain Echoes
“It’s hard to be moved when you’re running around,” said Pico Iyer, setting a contemplative tone for the second day of the seventh edition of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, held at Royal University of Bhutan in Thimphu yesterday. Remarking that he thrived on anti-social media interactions, Pico, who was in conversation with Namgay Zam in The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, said that you can gain perspective on your life only when you sit still and step back from it.
Training the mind is as important as training the body, he said, talking about solitude, writing and contemplation. In Bhutan after 28 years, Pico said, “All the blessings I associate with Bhutan (from my visit in 1988) are still here.” When asked whether the nation had changed from what he remembered, he said that wanting some places to stay unchanged was an act of ‘imagina- tive colonialism’.
With writers discussing the idea of identity over the various sessions on Day 1, Pico weighed in by saying that if he defined an identity, it immediately created another, which was something he didn’t want to do. Recalling His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa Jigme Pema Nyinjadh’s words, he said that the goal would be to free ourselves from dualism and enter a common space of identity.
Kuenga Wangmo, Neyphug Trulku, Dasho Sangay Khandu and Tshering Tashi were in conversation in Zhab-
drung Rinpoche. Beacon From Four Centuries. The session addressed the spiritual, political and historical sides of Zhabdrung Rinpoche, even as Neyphug Trulku warned that the session did not do justice to the legacy of the founder of the nationstate of Bhutan.
The panelists discussed the idea of national identity, which had been brought to Bhutan by Zhabdrung Rinpoche in 1616. Four centuries later, his ideals still resonate in the country, which is why he is often placed on an altar along with the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche. The sense of tradition remained strong, as was proved when Dasho Sangay Khandu showed a clip of Goen Zhey, a dance reportedly performed welcoming Zhabdrung Rinpoche to the Gasa region of presentday Bhutan, which is still performed today.
The question of national identity carried on in the next session, with Dasho Tshering Wangda, Rahul Ram and Kunga Tenzin Dorji proving that music knows no boundaries in On A Musical Note. The jam session had Dasho Tshering Wangda singing Bollywood hits like Chaudivin Ka Chand and the Bhutanese hit Jalam Gi Ashi, accompanied by Rahul and Kunga, despite never having performed together. Rahul spoke of the unescapable influence of Bollywood, even as Dasho Tshering Wangda talked of how he had developed a sort of musical diplomacy over the course of his years as a government official.
Discussing the intersection of international and local music, Dasho Tshering Wangda and Kunga spoke of how, before the 1990s, Bhutan, though a music-loving nation, did not produce contemporary music. Therefore, most people grew up on a diet of Hindi, English and Nepali music. In India, when he was growing up, English music was all the rage; now, he said, there was a resurgence of interest in music in Indian languages.
Rahul ended the session with the rousing Maa Rewa, composed as a result of his experiences with the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The Memory Project brought the question of identity into the home, with Renuka Narayanan and Lily Wangchuk giving the audiences a glimpse of their family lives while in conversation with Sonam Wangmo Jhalani. Illustrated with photographs, they looked at history through the lens of the family, which, Renuka said, is a rising new genre called memoir-informed narrative non-fiction. In attempting to learn about her father, Lily Wangchuk ended up learning about the journey of Bhutan over the years. Renuka echoed her, mapping social realities of Tamilian Brahmins for over a century in a quest to understand her own identity.
The A to Z of Detective Fiction was studied by Zac O’Yeah and Venita Coelho, as they discussed how crime fiction allowed the writer to explore places and examine humanity. Dismissing the notion that detective novels were merely pulpy titillation, he said, “If you read a novel which deals with the same anxieties you have, it’s like therapy.” As for his unusual pen name, he said that apart from wanting a name that sounded cool and was easy to spell, Zac O’Yeah sounded much better than Zac O’No.
Identity popped up again when Omair Ahmad, Witi Ihimaera, Kunzang Choden and Sadaf Saaz talked about Re- telling Our Stories and Histories. Kunzang spoke of how, when she was sent to a convent school in India as a child, she began to tell herself stories of home to preserve her identity and sanity. “All of us pivot between the past and the present,” said Witi, who began by delivering a spirited monologue in Maori.
Discussing how important it was to have a voice in the globalised world, Kunzang Chodens added, why should the world know all our mysteries? Omair, who showed photographs of Prime Minister Nehru’s 1958 visit to Bhutan, added that some experiences could not be translated into language.
Everyone grew nostalgic about listening to stories from their grandparents as children as Angey Nagley, Agey Dregang, Dorji Gyeltshen and Dorjee Tshering brought the art of traditional storytelling to Mountain Echoes in Dangphu Dingphu: Once Upon a Time. The session was in Dzongkha, with Dorjee Tshering translating into English. As Angey Nagley and Agey Dregang spun their stories, Dorji Gyeltshen mentioned that it was very important for the audience to respond, because it is believed that if listeners aren’t responding, then demons and devils will respond. This is why the sessions usually ended with patting each others’ backs and saying ‘victory of good over bad’.
Idyllic childhoods were left behind as Anish Sarkar, Çiler İlhan and Zac O’Yeah discussed The Incredible Darkness of Being: Celebrating Noir. When Zac asked Çiler and Anish why they wrote such macabre stories, both of them agreed that real life was often far more grim than anything one could imagine in a book. The writers admit- ted that it was difficult writing about such dark themes, and stressed the importance of stepping back and letting the characters speak.
Amitav Ghosh brought the second day of Mountain Echoes to a close with his thoughtful, beautiful prose. He was speaking to Namgay Zam on Circles of Reason, where they discussed his breadth and depth of his oeuvre.
When he first began to write fiction and drew inspiration from his peripatetic childhood, life on the move seemed unusual to most. “Now people realise that we are all in a pattern of endless movement,” he said. The sense of displacement is strongly apparent in his books, and he admits as much: “The memory of having roots elsewhere, in a foreign country, has always stayed with me.”
Deeply attached to his characters, he said that they never quite leave and are always speaking somewhere in his mind. In fact, the reason for his Ibis trilogy was because “I was sick of having these characters and having to let them go”.
History features heavily in his books and he adds a note of caution that you can’t use present difficulties to justify an unjust past, like the British Empire. But primarily, he adds, his responsibility is to his characters, not to history.
On writing, he said, “Talent isn’t the hard part; it’s getting it done.” Writing a book is an act of physical labour, a test of endurance and requires discipline, like any of the arts, he concluded.
The day began and ended with performances. Students from Royal Academy of Performing Arts dedicated Lama Zhabdrung Druk Lu Joen to Zhabdrung. The evening had a Rajasthani fla- vour as Jamna Devi, Mali Devi, Karna Ram and Bhanvar Lal performed folk music from the state before an enthusiastic audience.
Mountain Echoes opened its second day of workshops at the Tarayana Centre with fashion photographer, Maneesh Mandanna, in In Focus: The World of Fashion Photography, powered by Yeewong. “Fashion photography for me is the art and technique of understanding, interpreting and illustrating the designer or brand’s creations in context to its personality.”
Mandanna urged participants not to get discouraged if they don’t have the latest or best equipment. He told them to work with whatever they have access to, even if it’s just a phone. “Focus on the process.”
In Campaign Strategy: A Guide To Advertising and Brand Building, Piyush Pandey preferred to let his campaigns speak for him, showing a series of successful television ads that have run over the past two decades. Pandey says there are five things that an advertiser must do: Know where you want to go. Be very clear on your objective. Know who you’re talking to; know their lifestyle, desires, fears. You can’t be everything to everybody; pick one person and sell to them. Be consistent. Changing things for the sake of changing is the most disastrous thing you can do to a brand.
Be refreshing.Use emotion.
After a day of intellectually stimulating sessions and workshops, everyone headed to Clock Tower to unwind and listen to Yangchen And The Able, after which fusion band Indian Ocean and their signature earthy songs had everyone cheering.
Her Majesty The Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck , the Chief Royal Patron of Mountain Echoes inaugurated the festival last Thursday in the capital. The festival will end today.