Regarded as the Forbidden Land, Bhutan or Druk Yuk was virtually closed to the outside world until the 1960s. Even today, very little is known about this remote Himalayan Buddhist kingdom nestled between two giant neighbours, India and China. The recent annual Mountain Echoes Literature and Art Festival, though smaller in scale than most other festivals, managed to accomplish a giant task: bringing the relatively young literature of Bhutan closer to the rest of the world.
Bhutanese literature is still in a fledgling state, as is the country's publishing industry. While there is no dearth of talented Bhutanese authors in English and Dzongkha, the volume of work produced is still low. With a small readership and an even smaller market, authors struggle to find printers and books are expensive. However, young Bhutanese authors are slowly but steadily finding their own voice, one that connects to their people. The festival's Chief Royal Patron, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, Queen Mother of Bhutan, is an accomplished writer herself and her second book, Treasures of the Thunder Dragon, blends personal memoir, history, folklore and travelogue to paint an intimate portrait of her country.
Originally published in 2006, Penguin India has now released a revised edition updated to cover recent events, such as Bhutan's introduction of parliamentary democracy and the coronation and wedding of the new king. This edition also includes specially commissioned illustrations by young Bhutanese artists and photographs from the author's family album. Her Majesty's first book Rainbows and Clouds, the biography of her father Yab Ugyen Dorji, also provides a fascinating and vivid insight into life in Bhutan with glimpses into the country's traditions, history, society and culture.
Opening this year's edition of Mountain Echoes, Her Majesty said, “This festival is an effort to inculcate the love of reading and writing in Bhutan's people, as well as a platform for writers and readers from both India and Bhutan to connect.”
Apart from well known authors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, the festival saw a number of Bhutanese authors like Kuenga Tenzin, whose book Ensnared was a bestseller in Bhutan, and Kunzang Choden, who writes on Bhutanese oral traditions, folklore and women. “Through books, we also want to preserve our oral traditions and stories. We want the younger generation to take pride in the folktales of their country,” said Kuenga Tenzin, whose next book, Kuenden: The Valiant Son, is based on a popular Bhutanese folktale.
Bottomline: Bhutanese authors are slowly but steadily finding their own voice, one that connects to their people.
Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan; Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, Penguin Books India, Rs 499
Keywords: Bhutanese literature