A Little Writer Inspires

It is one thing to take the stage as a student at a School function, but to take it to entertain and inspire the audience at an International Literary Fest among writers of repute is something that deserves a standing ovation. Eleven year old Sixth grader Singye Namgyel, did just that on the last day of USHA presents Mountain Echoes 2014.

A reader, writer and Blogger Singye has been writing for quite a while (though never officially published.) He blogs on a range of topics from Television Shows, Books, Movie Reviews to his Random thoughts. Modest and honest he confesses that he forced his family to read his written works as a child, which to the delight of his parents turned out a zillion times better than their imaginations could comprehend, and thus the Eleven year old started blogging. Sadly some Internet Geeky Troll hacked the kid’s Blog and shut it down. But now he is back again, one of his latest Movie reviews reads thus ” Nowadays Frozen is the new Cinderella. Every kid cannot shut up about it -‘How awesome it is.’  But for me personally I couldn’t give two jacks about it!’. Frank and unafraid to speak his mind Singye rambles on in his blog about things – things we’ll be a little too cautious to speak up about as grown-ups, lest we are judged for them.


But the question remains “How did a 11 year old child make it to the Usha presents Mountain Echoes stage?” Apparently the Prime Minister of Bhutan asked a few students across grades and schools, to write an essay on Mountain Echoes. Most wrote about echoes one heard on mountain tops! Like his friends Singye was on the same ride, till he took the chance to ask the question “What if Mountain Echoes, is something different?” And soon with a little help from his parents he was on the right track. Churning out a piece of literature that was read by none other than the Prime Minister of Bhutan himself during the Opening Ceremony of USHA presents Mountain Echoes.

If this little story tells us something, it is that we must think beyond the expected and the mundane, towards impossible possibilities, no matter how much ever improbable they may sound at first. And once the improbable becomes a certainty, never be afraid to plunge into it. At first it may sound risky, but to win you need to give it all: ‘Risk Everything’, as one of the many recent FIFA World Cup ad taglines proved beyond doubt. So, no matter what: Take the ride, it is worth it. The last thoughts were also put to words by the famous Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson, best known for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Words which have recently gone viral on the internet in form of the following comic strip:

Hunter S Thompson

Sound of Silence

No, we are not here to philosophically muse about the Sound of Silence, nor wallow in nostalgia in the namesake Simon and Garfunkel song. But for a start, let the music be our master and draw us in with the lines: “And the vision that was planted in my brain / Still remains / Within the sound of silence.”

Gavin Francis in search of silence

Gavin Francis in search of silence

We are here to contemplate landscapes of silence with doctor, author, traveler Gavin Francis. The Edinburgh born Scotsman who finds the dark streets of his native land a little more quiet than that of India or Bhutan, if not for all our barking street mongrels. Francis spent about six months in India, time he admits not enough not only to see the country but to experience its silence.

He yearns to go over pathless seas like the ancient pilgrims did on leather boats, unsure where the shifting shores lie. To go on roads that are unaware of their beginnings and ends, for they know not the turns a traveler might take. His first foray into the world of silent spaces led him to the Laplands and to the lost islands that float between Scotland and Greenland. Silence called out to him from further North and seduced the doctor into a writer. Thus his first book True North came into being.

The universe conspired next and turned him into a traveler in search of a silence that is born of the land and drop from the sky. He walked under constellations and city lights across hemispheres North and South, searching for places where there are no markers of the passage of time. This pilgrim of silence found his alters in strange lands, each promised a certain degree of silence but never an everlasting one. Till silence whispered again subtly from the frozen South (on a lighter note the religious subtext is not at all intentional and no puns are intended).

Deep South, Antarctica called and Francis rushed into the very abyss of silence, which can only be comprehended, if lived, not read or visited. For Gavin Francis’ experience in Antarctica read the blog-post: A Love Letter to Antarctica. Remote and cold he recounts his experiences with penguins, ice, silence and months of nights, followed by months of daylight – he had finally lost all the markers that denote the passage of time. To watch him recount his experiments with silence watch the video below.

 

We met Gavin Francis at Usha presents Mountains Echoes 2014, the Bhutan Literary Festival. It was exciting and nice to listen to his adventures, almost like an old Victorian travel yarn; but it all sounded so cold. We only wished we had met him earlier, to gift him one of our Electric Kettles, at least he would have got his coffee warm and nice. After all, “How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup…”  (Virginia Woolf)

USHA ELECTRIC KETTLE 3217 for that Warm Cup

USHA ELECTRIC KETTLE 3217 for that Warm Cup

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The Spirit of Coffee

Our story begins in the mountain kingdom of Bhutan where people believe that, their is a Coffee Spirit! An occult being of element and air which can only be appeased by coffee! People take this custom seriously, religiously offering cups of coffee after coffee in various ritualistic forms to this airy being. Such beings that once walked the past, seems to have evolved with time – either just inside our heads or in themselves is debatable!

USHA Coffee Machines, to help you keep the magic alive

USHA Coffee Machines to help you keep the magic alive

Animism has been evolving over time as part of our culture and one cannot throw it away as utter mambo-jumbo because their very roots literally lie in nature itself. Arising from the trees, the elements and the world around us animism has a very conservative aspect to it. The slogan ‘Save the Trees’ could as well be an animist one. It puts forth a love and respect for nature in a ritualistic form rather than a scientific one – the belief that we can save ourselves by saving and appeasing the world around us, sounds like a very 21st century concern, yet it did exist when Shamans spoke to the stars and trees, and the trees spoke back.

LOTR Trees

The Living Trees from LOTR

Deep in our primal selves the sub-conscious still retains and respects the values of animism – the Box Office, talking walking trees from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy are a proof to that. Tolkien once wrote “…The first men to talk of ‘trees and stars’ saw things very differently. To them, the world was alive with mythological beings… To them the whole of creation was ‘myth-woven and elf-patterned’. And mark these words from yet another popular Television series The Game of Thrones “But there are some who still keep to the Old Way, worshiping the faceless gods of the Children of the Forest and the First Men.” The point being that animism has survived in various forms, hiding quietly beneath surfaces in our words and deeds. What is the plural for Magpies? A tidings of Magpies. Another point well made, shall we say?

As part of our culture, animism is so seamlessly and unconsciously weaved into our daily lives that it cannot be ignored, though often and always overlooked. Today’s Magic is tomorrow’s science, similarly yesterday’s superstition is today’s tradition, of which animism has become a part.

To learn more about the Coffee Spirit and other Himalayan animistic beliefs watch the session Wild Spirits: Animism in the Himalayas, where experts Sangay Wangchuk, Kunzang Choden in conversation with Manju Wakhley discuss the value systems, their merits and issues at Usha presents Mountain Echoes 2014

Living on the Edge

If you came here thinking of the screams and riffs of Aersomith’s most famous single and their Live Concert staple anthem – Livin’ on the Edge, you couldn’t be more wrong. But hold on because you are at the right place at ironic some level. Just as the legendary band put to melody issues ranging from racism to religion in the song, this too is about such social issues. It talks about communities in Bhutan who live off the map -without roads, electricity and other everyday things that we take for granted.

Tiger's Nest Monastery

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

A community neglected by media, their own suave urbanites, yet strangely not by the Bhutanese Royals, especially the Queen Mother (read/watch the session: The Travelling Eye). Remote and ‘so far from anywhere’ these communities live on the edge not just geographically (though that can be contested if one speaks of the Bhutanese terrain and settlements along or below the edges of mountains and cliffs like the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery); and economically living off a harsh land and dangerous forest; but also culturally preserving an amalgamation of wisdom that would sound strange to a city dweller.

Marie Venø Thesbjerg, Passang Passu Tshering, Dr. Francoise Pommaret in conversation with Siok Sian Dorji, discusses these issues beautifully in this namesake session at the Usha presents Mountain Echoes Literary Festival 2014 at Thimphu Bhutan.

As an added bonus it is a pleasure to listen to Marie Venø Thesbjerg’s talk about yet another kind of ‘Living on the Edge’ – that of Buddhist Nuns; not only did she live among them but also made a documentary on them.

 

Ancestral Whispers: Shivani

Before the advent of iPads and YouTube and even before Cable Television Soap Operas and personal Black and White Television sets; somewhere between the revival of Hindi literature during the Raj and the beginning of confounding Hinglish, at a time when the written word was more than anticipated and stories traveled through Newspapers, Magazines and Books there existed a legend called Gaura Pant. Better known as the legendary Hindi writer Shivani.

The late Padma Shri awardee left behind a trail of stories, a few of which are considered among the best works in Hindi literature. Faithfully translated to English by her daughter Ira Pande Shivani’s books and biography open up a new yet nostalgic world. A world with very Indian sensibilities, rooted in culture and yet dealing with relevant contemporary themes.

Ira Pande in conversation with Kunzang Choden speaks about her biography on Shivani, Pande’s translations of her mother’s works, and anecdotes from a distant childhood, at Usha presents Mountain Echoes 2014. To re-live a golden era of Hindi literature watch the video below.

Speaking of Hanuman – The Monkey God

Lord HanumanThe Scriptures say that among all the Gods in the Hindu pantheon only Lord Hanuman is still alive in flesh and blood in the whole wide world, walking its meandering paths in His various avatars. The Monkey God is also known for acknowledging the immense devotion shown by His followers, perhaps being a devotee Himself of Lord Ram, He understands the piety of disciples a little better than most Gods. We came across a few classic examples of such dedicated reverence, at Usha presents Mountain Echoes 2014 during the ‘Speaking of Hanuman’ session with Arshia Sattar and Dasho Karma Ura in conversation with Namita Gokhale.

Arshia Sattar who is a Muslim by birth was fascinated by the Monkey God as a child (and still is), a devotion that grew into worship and passion leading her to write a Thesis on Hanuman for her PHD at an US University. Her mother reasons that during her childhood Arshia was once bitten by a monkey and hence this obsession.

During the session Sattar relates various anecdotes about her Lord – how she found a Hanuman Chalisa out of nowhere in the middle of America or the time when a huge monkey walked right into her house and sat by her completed Thesis almost meaning to say  ‘Great work, now go and submit my story!’.

As the conversation progresses we get a glimpse of the many forms of the Monkey God, how through various avatars and names the Lord appears in myriads of mythologies, religious pantheons and legends across art, culture and religion. To sit through the entire discussion is like re-discovering Hanuman again in a new light. Go ahead and pay homage to the Lord by watching the video below.

The Poetic Imagination

In an eloquent session at the Usha presents Mountain Echoes 2014, Ashok Vajpeyi and Manju Wakhley in conversation with Neeta Gupta explore the world of poetry. A world that is beautiful beyond any measure.

A Poet according to Vajpeyi is one who imagines reality thereby bridging the gap between the fantastical and the real. After all every aspect of our lives has an element of imagination attached to it. He further adds that Poetry has a running battle with history, acknowledging the moments that history neglects to record in absence of facts and figures.

Thus the role of the poet is not only to give voice to the mute and marginalized but also to the inanimate – the mountains and streams , rivers and rock, and such objects that lack voices. During the session Vajpeyi recites a beautiful Hindi poem titled ‘The Prayer of the Bird’ where words in flights of fantasy exquisitely come together to reveal a truth that can only be found in poetry.

To continue exploring the different shades of poetry watch the video below:

The Dreamer and The Dream

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” – W.B Yeats, Among School Children

We all have at some point in time tried to find the meaning of our dreams. People right from the ancient Greeks to modern masters like Freud and Jung have all tried their hands and mind at interpreting our relationship with the dream world. However, these Interpretations are at times a little too complicated, either requiring you to be a Psychology Major or a Cultural Connoisseur.

The following session by Rashna Imhasly Gandhy titled ‘The Dreamer and the Dream’ was presented at the Bhutan Literary Festival 2014 – Usha presents Mountain Echoes. In it Gandhy a professional Dream Analyst teaches you how to interpret your dreams correctly with ease. Beginning with fairy tales and symbols she takes a road less traveled by to offer valuable insights into the infinite world of dreams and how they project and communicate various subjects from predictions to self-analysis.

She discusses the role of the sub-conscious, the divine within us and gives us tips on very many aspects of the dream process – like how to let our egos go in order to objectively view our dreams. The discussion is peppered with lively anecdotes to make us familiar with the art of analyzing our dreams. Descending into dreamscapes is often a strange experience where appearances can be deceptive, like an elder woman who dreamt about her daughter in distress. She was actually dreaming about her younger self and not her daughter, as she presumed – the dream was a call back to her childhood values.

The session becomes even more interesting when Dream Analyst Gandhy taking questions from the audience begins interpreting their dreams! Showing us how each dream differs from the other and how to read the right signs and thereby reach out to our sub-conscious.

A Love Letter To Antarctica

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Did you know that it is harder to evacuate someone from Antarctica than it is from the International Space Station!

As children some of us dreamed of travelling to lesser known parts of the world which held the promise of discovery. Gavin Francis who is a doctor by profession acting on one such childhood fantasy set off to Antarctica. As a doctor at the British Research Station he spent 14 months in a landscape dominated by ice, silence and Emperor Penguins.

He recounts his adventures in the book Empire Antarctica, which won him the Scottish Book Award. Obsessed by a traveller’s restless curiosity he explores the breathtaking sights of the icy continent from light phenomenons reminiscent of Odin’s Court to the life cycle of the majestic Emperor Penguins.

To explore the silent continent with the Scotsman watch the video below filmed at Usha presents Mountain Echoes 2014 – the Bhutan Literary Festival.

Aphrodisiacs: Desire & Food

ImageThe very word Aphrodisiac gently rolls between our tongues conjuring up seductive images from the classical pantheon of desire.Food perhaps was and is humanity’s first desire with Adam and Eve taking that forbidden bite. Who knew the apple could be such an aphrodisiac? Ever since then men and women have sought out other such tantalizing love potions. In this quest for love and passion Chefs and Alchemist have churned out a million recipes for lovemaking.

Throughout the history of civilizations aphrodisiacs have been sought out not only by Kings and Generals or Politicians and Shamans, but by everyday people who wanted to inject that little bit of excitement into their mundane lives.

The Aztecs considered the Avocado to be an aphrodisiac, while Oysters were known as the food of lust since antiquity. Indians still keep a glass of almond milk by the bridal bed and the 17th century British herbalist Nicholas Culpepper, wrote that asparagus “stirs up lust in man and woman.” In 19th century France, bridegrooms were served three asparagus courses during their prenuptial dinners. 

To learn the science behind Aphrodisiacs and why they have captured the popular imagination since the classical times watch the session on Food and Desire by Prabeen Singh at the Usha presents Mountain Echoes 2014. Her exciting discussion is followed by a cooking demonstration of a delicious Bhutanese aphrodisiac. “If aphrodisiacs be the food of love, play on” we say.