02 Oct WHAT THE MUSSOORIE WRITERS MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL IS All ABOUT
Stephen Alter ‘74 founding director of Mussoorie Writers and author of sixteen books of fiction and non-fiction tells all.
When the first Mussoorie Writers Festival was held in 2005, only three major literary festivals were happening in India – in Jaipur, Mumbai and Kolkata. Since then, dozens of similar events have sprung up all over the country, promoting new books and celebrating authors from India and abroad. Looking around at all of this literary festivity, we decided to redefine our event as something unique to Mussoorie and the Himalayas. Evolving into a Mountain Festival was the obvious choice, particularly since Mussoorie Writers works in close collaboration with the Hanifl Centre for Outdoor Education and Environmental Study.
People often ask: What is Mussoorie Writers? Which is a good question. It’s probably easier to say what it’s not, rather than what it is. Mussoorie Writers isn’t an institutionalized organization, association or society. There is no membership, no regular meetings, no secret handshakes. In fact, being a non-institution is a large part of the idea, resisting the inevitable atrophy and calcification that plagues most organizations. When necessary, we describe ourselves as “an outreach affiliate of Woodstock School” and benefit considerably from that association, as we draw upon the school for assistance in everything from accounting and travel arrangements to A.V. equipment and venues. We have two websites: mussooriewriters.com and mwmountainfestival.com, which provide information on both future and past festivals, as well as occasional posts on topics related to Mussoorie, the Himalayas, and literature. Anyone of the 200 or more participants from previous festivals can call herself or himself a Mussoorie Writer, along with anyone who has spent more than a day in this town and put words on a page. If this sounds too vague and inclusive, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be. Being a non-institution allows us to create our programs with freedom and flexibility, so that students and teachers can be exposed to an exciting array of writers, mountaineers, filmmakers, conservationists and artists.
Woodstock alumni have supported the Mussoorie Writers Mountain Festival from the beginning. Sustaining grants from Winterline Foundation, over the first six years, helped establish the festival as an annual event. And now, we are enormously grateful to the Paul and Suzanne Hanifl Foundation and Friends of Woodstock School Foundation for their generous sponsorship. Many alumni have attended past festivals and several classes have scheduled reunions to coincide with this event, all of which takes place on the Woodstock campus.
Our festival is smaller than most and our audience is primarily students from Woodstock and other schools, as well as a growing number of attendees from near and far, who appreciate the focus on mountain literature, exploration and culture. At least eight of our past speakers have been to the top of Everest and this year, giving the keynote talk in a session on “Women and Mountains,” is Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, an Austrian climber who is the first woman to climb all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. Manjari Mehta, (Woodstock class of 1974), an anthropologist, and Mukti Datta, a social and environmental activist, will be speaking about women’s lives and livelihood in the Himalayas. Bernadette McDonald, who has written a number of books on mountaineering and was co-founder of the Banff Mountain Festival, will introduce her new book on Slovenian climbers, Alpine Warriors. One of the climbers she writes about, Silvo Karo, will also be at the festival, speaking about his legendary ascent of Bhagirathi III, in Garhwal. Photographer Serena Chopra will share her images from a new book on Bhutan. India’s finest blues band, Soulmate, from Shillong, are going to perform on the first night of the festival, featuring Tipriti Kharbangar as their lead singer. And that’s only for starters… Authors Patrick French, Paro Anand, William Sax, Mirella Tenderini and Amrita Tripathi will be in attendance along with environmental and wildlife writers and filmmakers Kamal Bawa and Sandesh Kadur. The Banff Film Festivals “World Tour” of short films will be screened, along with Nomadak TX a Spanish film about Basque musicians taking mountain melodies around the world.
Nanda Devi, Uttarakhand’s iconic mountain, which is wreathed in lore, mythology and legend, stands at the center of our celebrations, and features in two exhibitions. London-based artist, Tobit Roche has been painting Nanda Devi for decades and his visions of the mountain will be on display in the Lyons Lounge gallery. Polish photographer, Martushka Fromeast and Raju Pushola from Uttarakhand and will exhibit images of the Nanda Devi Yatra, one of the most important pilgrimages in the region. And the final event of the festival will be a re-enactment of the Nanda Devi pilgrimage by a folk theatre troupe from Srinagar, Garhwal, led by Professor D.R. Purohit of H.N.B. Garhwal University.
Woodstock students and staff will have a chance to enjoy all of these varied perspectives on the Himalayas, along with a “mela” in the Quad, packed with foodstalls, Himalayan crafts and other activities. The Mussoorie Half Marathon and walks in the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve also happens in partnership with the festival, not to mention performances of mountain music by a Woodstock ensemble, Gaelic singer Anne Martin, beatbox performer Jason Singh and standup comedy by Radhika Vaz. Mandip Singh Soin, founder of Ibex Expeditions and John White, founder of Whitewave, in Skye Scotland will also speak on their careers in outdoor adventure. By the end of the show, we hope that everyone will see the Himalayas in a new light and with a renewed appreciation for their magnitude, their rich traditions, and their magnificent ecology.-Stephen Alter’74
The full programme of events is available at www.mussooriewriters.com and www.mwmountainfestival.com