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Showing posts from May, 2011

November Light in May

"9.8.2031/12:30 pm/66℉ read the signboard at Chunzom. Beep!!! The alarm on the gate rang as the bus passed by the laser lights." So begins the short story Yellow Behind the Numbers, which is quite possibly the first ever piece of Bhutanese science fiction by Sippy Das. The story appears in the book November Light, an anthology of creative writing "produced by the 2010 cohort of students on the course English 202 module ('Creative Writing: Fiction and Non-Fiction') at the Royal Thimph College , Bhutan."   What is remarkable about this collection is that "English 202" is the first, and so far the only, university-level creative writing course in Bhutan. And so to read November Light is to look into the psyche of young Bhutanese minds that are discovering “the joys of creative expression – reading, writing, being read – as a way of making meaning,” as put by their young professor, Dr. Nitasha Kaul , a Kashmiri woman who has done e

A Taste of Home

After lunch, three authors who have written extensively about food sat down together onstage to talk about food and their books on food. The moderator was Mita Kapur who launched her book The F-Word in Lit Out Loud , the first Manila International Literary Festival held last year. Her literary agency Siyahi is the principal organizer of Mountain Echoes . Kunzang Choden spoke of the food of Bumthang, Central Bhutan. In her book, Chili and Cheese: Food and Society in Bhutan, she combines the history and culture of Bhutan with traditional recipes and her own experience of growing up in Bumthang. She told of how, when she was a child, she would go into the blue pine forests with her family and friends where they would cut off the bark of the trees and eat the white, jelly-like sap just underneath the bark. She said it was sweet, like sugar. Nowadays the government has prohibited collecting the sap because stripping the bark kills the trees so this "taste of home" r

A Room in Your Heart

When we were in Paro I picked up a book in the hotel lobby to read in our room. In the introduction, Kunzang Choden wrote: "In the Bhutanese tradition, stories, fables, and legends are not told but are unraveled ( shigai in Bumthangka) and released ( tangshi in Dzongkha)... It means that storytelling is a continuous process (unraveling) and to be released stories must be alive and vibrant." The folktales of Bhutan, like folktales from anywhere in the world, are full of mischief, foolishness, wisdom, kindness, magic, spirits, animals, and village folk. I enjoyed reading the stories in Kunzang Choden's collection and was excited to see that she would be launching two children's books at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival . I fervently hoped that I would be able to meet her and bring back some of her books for Mt Cloud Bookshop . On the first day of the festival, we entered the venue which was almost packed and looked around for seats. A Bhutanese woman off

Tiger Tales

I have never heard someone speak about any living creature with as much passion as Valmik Thapar when he speaks about tigers. You can see for yourself below. Listening to him at the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival I got the feeling that he could be speaking about something as mundane as plastic forks and he still would have held his audience in rapt attention. The full show can be seen here . The host, Sunil Sethi , was also present at the literary festival. His literary tv show, Just Books, is a great success in India. He recently launched a book on the tv interviews he has had with well known authors. Valmik Thapar first saw a tiger in the wild in Ranthambore , "where tigers live in the ruins of ancient palaces." Since then he has dedicated his life to the conservation of the tiger in India. He stated earnestly (and angrily) that while Bhutan has Gross National Happiness India is experiencing the effects of Gross National Horrors, especially in terms of the decl

Myth and Memory

In the second panel of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival here in Thimphu, Devdutt Pattanaik and Tshering Tashi discussed how myth and belief continue to be an important part of our so-called modern (post-modern or postmodern, if you prefer) lives. Devdutt Pattanaik is the Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group. Yes, believe me, that's his title. He has written several books on Indian mythology, including an illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. spoke of the differences between believing you have only one life to live, and believing that this is just one of many lives you have lived and will live. "When you believe in rebirth, you don't have a sense of urgency. Things will happen... eventually." Tshering Tashi writes for the Bhutanese, government-owned, English newspaper, Kuensel and is the co-author of Bold Bhutan Beckons. He spoke of how myths and magic are not only part of Bhutan's history, but also of everyday life.

Treasures of the Thunder Dragon

Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck was the first speaker of the 2011 Mountain Echoes Literary Festival . Her session was held this morning, in conversation with the Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Pavan Varma, himself a writer . He began by asking her why she undertook a 17-day journey across Bhutan on foot, which she later wrote about in Treasures of the Thunder Dragon, her second book. She replied by explaining that her children had left to study abroad when she was in her early 40's(!) and so she had a lot of time on her hands. "I thought it was necessary -- very necessary -- to experience the everyday life of the communities." So she carried her own load of personal belongings and accompanied by a small party of companions, she set off on this journey. She decided that they would not bring any tents because they would seek shelter with the people wherever they found themselves. Once, she said, they sheltered under a tree. Each day she walk