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Archive for August, 2007

 

The Loss of Mental Metamorphosis (Satis Shroff)

 

Eight Indians on the run,

Fifty Neonazis behind them.

‘Deutschland den Deutschen,

Ausländer raus!

Hier regiert der nationale Widerstand!’

Roars from the throats of the Neos,

Beer in their blood,

Defiance in their sanguine eyes.

 

The puls races,

Adrenalin surges in the veins:

Fight or flight.

Naked angst.

Hyperventilation,

Tachycardy.

No one helps,

They just look on,

Like Bertold Brecht would say.

As the Jews were beated and transported,

To Auschwitz, Gürs or alsewhere.

The Indians run as fast

As their legs can carry them.

‘Jaldi bhago!

Zindagi bachau!

 

The bald headed, overfed, pink Neos

Overrun the scared Indians.

What follows is the bashing

Of the underdogs in the German society.

Of migrants who love Deutschland.

Their only crime,

The colour of their complexion.

The police of Saxony’s Mügeln come,

But are hesistant about the xenophobia

That has broken out.

The rightists agitate conspitatively,

Sais the Verfassungsschutz in 2006,

In Mügeln

Akin to Hoyerswerda and Mölln.

The ethnic Germans see and look away

At the brutality and intolerance

Unfurling before their eyes.

The teuro, the joblessness in the East

Has made them indifferent and complacent.

 

Give us more money to integrate the Neos,

In families, schools, communities,

Say some politicians.

Federalism and democracy is not inaction,

Where intolerance and racism rears its ugly head.

It happens from Mügeln to Mainz.

Antidiscrimination laws alone

Help neither the Wessies nor the Ossies.

A mental metamorphosis is in demand.

Have we Germans learned from history?

Haben wir, die Bürger, aus der Geschichte gelernt?

Alas, we’ve become complacent again.

 

Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Are striving for an European cultural identity,

Where foreign traditions

Are the essence of togetherness,

Of Miteinander.

The enclaves of intolerance should remain

A ghost of the past.

Liberalism, democracy, civilisation and society

Should be the order of the day.

Mental changes in our thinking processes,

Not mental molotovs,

Should be the cry of the day.

******

MENTAL MOLOTOVS (Satis Shroff)

 

When Hoyerswerda burns

They discuss about the asylum-seekers.

Peaceful, righteous Germans go

In the streets with candles.

 

When a house burns in Mölln

They discuss about bringing back

Soldiers from the dangers of Somalia.

 

At the Turkish funeral in Solingen

The Chancellor keeps away

And avoids thus

Rotten eggs and tomatoes

That might come his way.

 

When the trial comes

The former skinhead neonazi

Has a lot of hair.

He wears a two-piece suit,

Ties a tie around his neck

And looks oh-so-respectable.

He peers into the cameras

With clear blue eyes and says:

“I’m innocent and a victim

Of the modern industrial society.”

And withdraws his statement.

 

The judges are lenient,

And the neo gets off on bail,

Gestures with his middle finger

And quips: “Leck mich am Arsch!”

As he speeds away in a car

Only to reappear with a Molotov

Like the Sphinx again.

 

“Ausländer Raus!

Deutschland den Deutschen!”

These are the slogans

Still making the rounds in 2006.

 

The old black and white flag

From the Third Reich

Raises no eyebrows

At soccer stadiums, streets and pubs.

 

It’s fashionable again

To throw mental Molotovs

At blacks, browns, yellows,

And all non-Teutonics

At cocktails, chats

Stammtisch and in the streets

Against anything alien.

 

I don’t like foreigners

I’ll kill you,’ says a drunk

In broad daylight at the local Bahnhof.

Bharati Mukerjee a New Yorker writer

Once asked me in Freiburg:

 

‘How does it feel

To be a non-Teutonic

In Germany?’

—————————————————————————————-

 

THE AGONY OF WAR (Satis Shroff)

 

Once upon a time there was a seventeen year old boy

Who lived in the Polish city of Danzig.

He was ordered to join the Waffen-SS,

Hitler’s elite division.

Oh, what an honour for a seventeen year old,

Almost a privilege to join the Waffen-SS.

The boy said, “Wir wurden von früh bis spät

Geschliffen und sollten

Zur Sau gemacht werden.”

 

A Russian grenade shrapnel brought his role

In the war to an abrupt end.

That was on April 20, 1945.

In the same evening,

He was brought to Meissen,

Where he came to know about his Vaterland’s defeat.

The war was lost long ago.

He realised how an ordinary soldier

Became helpless after being used as a tool in the war,

Following orders that didn’t demand heroism

In the brutal reality of war.

 

It was a streak of luck,

And his inability to ride a bicycle,

That saved his skin

At the Russian-held village of Niederlausitz.

His comrades rode the bicycle,

And he was obliged to give them fire-support

With a maschine-gun.

His seven comrades and the officer

Were slain by the Russians.

The only survivor was a boy

Of seventeen.

He abandoned his light maschine-gun,

And left the house of the bicycle-seller,

Through the backyard garden

With its creaky gate.

 

What were the chances in the days of the Third Reich

For a 17 year old boy named Günter Grass

To understand the world?

The BBC was a feindliche radio,

And Goebbels’ propaganda maschinery

Was in full swing.

There was no time to reflect in those days.

Fürcht und Elend im Dritten Reich,

Wrote Bertold Brecht later.

Why did he wait till he was almost eighty?

Why did he torment his soul all these years?

Why didn’t he tell the bitter truth,

About his tragi-comical role in the war

With the Waffen-SS?

He was a Hitlerjunge,

A young Nazi.

Faithful till the end.

A boy who was seduced by the Waffen-SS.

His excuse:

Ich habe mich verführen lassen.“

 

The reality of the war brought

Endless death and suffering.

He felt the fear in his bones,

His eyes were opened at last.

 

Günter Grass is a figure,

You think you know well.

Yet he’s aloof

And you hardly know him,

This literary titan.

He breathes literature

And political engagement.

In his new book:

Beim Häuten der Zwiebeln

He confides he has lived from page to page,

And from book to book.

 

Is he a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Doctor Faustus and Mephistopheles,

In the same breast?

Grass belongs to us,

For he has spent the time with us.

It was his personal weakness

Not to tell earlier.

He’s a playwright, director and actor

Of his own creativeness,

And tells his own tale.

His characters Oskar and Mahlke weren’t holy Joes.

It was his way of indirectly showing

What went inside him.

Ach, his true confession took time.

It was like peeling an onion with tears,

One layer after the other.

Better late than never.

 

******

 

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Shakespeare Country and London’s East End (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)

 

Stratford-upon-Avon is a fascinating little town. We went to the spacious farmhouse which was the early home of William Shakespeare’s wife: Anne Hathaway. It was a house made of wattle, stone and brick, the earliest part dating back to the 15th century. I had done a lot of Shakespeare at school and even performed ‘As you like it’ on stage, but Shakespeare’s spouse was not a theme then. However, there are scholars who have depicted her as a woman who reproached the Bard, and that she nagged, railed and even drove him away from her life, like Old Abe’s nagging, dissatisfied wife, or for that matter Tolstoy’s spouse.

 

Anyway, in Anne Hathaway’s cottage garden, there were some local workmen busy repairing the stones, bricks between clipped box hedges and shrubs. You could only imagine that Shakespeare had once written about this very garden as: ‘a world of pleasure in’t. Here’s flowers for you. Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram.’

Who wouldn’t be moved and impressed by the Bard’s sonnets), especially the ultimate statement of the doctrine of marriage as a spiritual discipline as depicted in Sonnet 116:

 

Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy

lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass

come.

Love alters not with his brief hours

and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of

doom.

If this be error and upon me

proved,

I never lived, nor no man (one) ever

loved.

 

But alas, it being still winter we could only hope and ask what Shelley would have asked:..’can Spring be far behind ?’

 

Nevertheless, I found delight at the thought that this was where William had wooed, and won, his beloved Anne Hathaway. The thatch-roofed cottage had a bed with a canopy, because ‘if you slept with your mouth open, all sorts of insects, reptiles, mice and squirrels would drop in’, we were told.

 

Off we went, curious as we were, to the Bard’s house in the Henley Street, where he was born in 1564. How wonderful it was to be in Shakespeare’s house, I thought. The birth­place was inherited by him and remained in the family, until the death of his sister Joan Hart, 1646. It was purchased for the British Nation for 3,000 pounds in 1847.

 

Life in Stratford was dull and boring, and Shakespeare left for London in 1586. He wrote 37 plays and 50 sonnets, which are still presented throughout the globe. His first play to be published was “Love’s Labor’s Lost” written in 1594. I found Stratford-upon-Avon extremely touristic but doubtlessly picturesque in its own right. Avon is the Celtic word for ‘river’, so if you said the Avon River, it would be obviously redundant. We undertook a quick march to the vicinity of the Holy Trinity church, where Shakespeare was buried, and took some photographs of the serene Avon and the church, before making it to Stratford town, to view the home of the Bard’s favourite daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall. Hall’s Croft was a fine Tudor half-timbered house, with fine Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture.

 

Shakespeare retired to Stratford in 1610 and lived at New Place, the second largest house in Stratford, which he purchased in 1597. We were told that the ambassadors of all nations pay their floral tributes on the grave of immortal Shakespeare on his Birthday celebrations even today.

 

“Even in winter it’s full and there are long queues all over the place,” said the guide.

 

We had to head for the town of Warwick to the north to get the car-route, so we told our London guide that we wanted to get off at East End. Her eyes popped out, and her eyebrows left off like two Harrier jets, her mouth opened and she asked, “East End? What on earth do you want to do at East End?”

 

We gulped because she’d said it so loud. She gave the impression that decent people didn’t go to London’s East End. But we’d already made their our minds to go for dinner to ‘little Calcutta’, and she had to oblige.

 

We sped past a part of the 650 square miles of London area which had houses with chimneys, without smoke. Most of them managed to snooze along the way to London. You could see semi-detached houses and terraced houses, joined in rows.

 

We had a Bengali dinner in Jack the Ripper territory with pilau rice, peas, aloo, mutton, yoghurt, raw onions and masala everywhere, rounded up with sweet-meat: rasagollas, rasmalai just like in the Indian Subcontinent. The annual turnover of ‘Indian’, pardon me Bangladeshi, restaurants is more than 1.5 billion Sterling pounds, and they employ between 60,000 and 70,000 people.

 

After that I suddenly wanted to catch up on my Bollywood (Bombay as India’s Hollywood) film reading, which I’d had neglected since a long time, and bought: Asian Times, Indiamail, Cineblitz and some classical music. Claudia has developed a deep love for Indian and Nepali classical music because they possess an exhalted psychic and religious nature, and she can feel the music touching her deeply like a prayer, and she undergoes a lot of emotions whenever she hears classical music. I feel the same way.

 

After all, the music from the Hindustani subcontinent was over 4000 years old. It all began with the Sama Veda, which was recited with certain notes. Originally such recitations were performed with three notes, and later developed into a whole octave.

 

Music became a prayer. Humans tend to be in communion with God when we hear or play real music, and the musician identifies himself or herself with Godliness. And there are musicians who are able to awake and imbibe this godliness in their listeners. I loved to listen to the ragas and the talas. In a raga there are 72 scales, and every scale has 8, 10, 20, 30 ragas. Thousands of ragas are possible, and each of these ragas has its characteristics with ascending and descending scales. These ragas depend upon the time of day and season. And a classical musician improvised the instrumental raga compositions, with the result that the music is never the same. It’s always changing, metamorphosing into something new.

 

Claudia and I prefer listening to such music rather than the noisy, vulgar music-cocktails that are actually lifted from the western hit charts, for want of inspiration, and dubbed in Hindi, giving them a cacophonous Indian slant. But the masses love them. ‘Hare Krishna, you are the greatest musician of this vurld’ was blaring from a cassette-recorder in a corner of the stuffy Asian shop. You could even buy, chew and spit your pan without causing eye-brows to be raised at the East End, not that we did it. It was a pucca bazaar with all the wallahs.

 

Claudia expressed her disgust in German with ‘Igit-igit!’ as a Bengali spat on the wall of an East Londoner Brick Lane house. A scarlet blotch on a creamy reddish house-wall.

 

I quipped, ‘Well, as long as the bloke doesn’t spit at us, it’s all right.’

 

It was dark by the time we went for a walk over the bridge across the Thames at Westmin­ster, which was floodlit, and there was a laser show in progress on the other side of the bridge. Big Ben struck 10pm and we took in the scenery around us, for it was our last night in London, before heading for the underground to Paddington.

 

We bade goodbye to Westminster and the scenic coloured lights of the Thames water­front.

 

After getting up at 8am we had the usual continental breakfast, and started from Paddington to Charing-cross, and eventually to Trafalgar Square, where we strolled and took snapshots of the out-sized British lions. We proceeded further towards Picadilly Circus and photographed the statues of Florence Nightingale and lots of other British motifs with pigeons shitting on their heads nonchalantly as usual.

 

What a romantic setting, with all those monumental buildings and cosmopolitan atmo­sphere, I thought. A coloured Bobby chatting and walking with a white colleague was keeping an eye on Picadilly’s streets. I had to admit, I liked the idea and had to think of Freiburg in south west Germany, actually a provincial area, and rather conservative.

 

It would be impossible to have an Asian driving a Strassenbahn or an Asian working as a teacher with a civil-servant status, or even in the police department. But then, Germany didn’t have colonies in Asia, and only in south-west Africa (Namibia), and as such no German Commonwealth. What with the kids of the GIs, and guest workers growing up in Germany, the influx of refugees from the whole world, including the boat-people of Vietnam, Bosnia and Croatia, ethnic Russians from Russia, Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Slovaks from Slovenia, Romanians, Albanians from Albania and Kosovo coming in, Germany is under Angelika Merkel trying to terms with its foreigners and grant them their rights like the rest of the Germans. In the past the migrants were only tolerated, but now Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has brought out an integration program and she means business. The multicultural society is in their midst, even though most Germans fail to see it.

 

At Paddington I had to exchange another fifty euros at a bank counter. There was an Asian female behind the counter, and so I asked her where she originally came from. She felt uncomfortable, like when she was asked by an Indian scientist at the Goethe Institute in Freiburg, ‘Which-kuntry-are-you-from?’ The swarthy woman with fine features replied in a melodious voice, “Sri Lanka.”

 

“How’s the job?” I asked her.

 

“Oh, it’s all right”, she said without any enthusiasm.

 

We bought some sandwiches for the long wait at Gattwick airport and also because we thought about the not-so-good food in the air. The flight was at 16:35 and we’d already checked-out from our hotel. There were lots of young people waiting for the bus to Gattwick.

 

I left London with pleasant memories. I’d seen London by night and by day, by rain, mist and sunshine. The Londoners, be they commuters, conductors, policemen, beef-eaters, yeomen, bobbies and pedestrians had all been extremely polite and helpful.

 

As you went collecting the passengers for the flight to Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, you could see restaurants with names like: ‘The Magic Wok’, ‘Marco Polo’s Mongolian Barbecue,’ followed by ‘Flats to Let’.

 

The present generation of Britain travels a lot abroad and there are enough immigrants from all over the world, and predominantly from the old colonies who cater to the gastrono­mic delights of the British. The British export tikka masala chicken to India now.

 

“Run For Your Wife” was running at the Duchess Theatre, described as ‘dottily hilarious’ to ‘superbly demented.’

 

Claudia and I arrived in Kensington Gardens. Collecting the baggage was indeed a tedious affair.

 

There was an interesting newscast by the BBC on the role of the British forces in Iraque. According to the Christian concept, wars are not just, but some wars are justified. Jewish opinion is divided, it was stated. A war waged in self-defence is only justified according to it. Is it justified to increase one’s military field of influence, as in the case of the USA because of oil interests?

 

We were in Gattwick by then and ready for the check-in. I showed my passport to a young lady in uniform probably of Indian descent, who asked where my next stop would be.

 

“Frankfurt,”, I replied. And she wished me ‘a good journey’ and all that jazz (hope you’ll visit our country again).

 

It was 17:15pm when we went through customs and it was the same show as before. The detector gave a beep and I was obliged to open my handbag and dismantle my camera again.

 

The customs officer wanted to know what I had in the sealed round tin-box.

 

“It’s purified butter: ghee”, I told him.

 

“Gee, that must be good,” he replied with a grin and went to the next passenger. A customs officer with a jolly sense of humour indeed.

 

We boarded the scarlet jet and were off. At 11,000metres We were flying over wonderful fluffy clouds. Their short flight dinner was over and We were at a height of 29,000 feet. As high as Mount Everest.

 

You could see the sundown: a blazing orange above the clouds, which became the horizon and suddenly the sun was obscured and We passed through heavy grey clouds, and it gradually became dark outside. The ‘fasten-your-seat-belts’ sign appeared and I could feel a mounting pressure in her ears. The flight back to Frankfurt was nevertheless pleasant in comparison to the flight to Gattwick.

 

“10,000 feet and landing in 10 minutes”, said the captain. You could see only a few lights below. Was it a football field or was it a well-lit winter garden?

 

And suddenly the lights of Frankfurt appeared below.

 

“Cabin crew, take your seats for the landing, please”, said the captain again.

 

We went past the sky-blue uniformed stewardesses and entered the Frankfurt-am-Main terminal and went through the German customs. There was a long queue in the ‘non-EG’ section. A cultural troupe from Ethopia or Somalia dressed in white tunics stood up front, mostly children, led by a few elderly people and a blonde manager, who was similarly dressed. The kids had crude ethnological musical instruments in their hands.

One of the Bundesgrenzschutz guards responsible for security at the airport asked his German colleague jokingly in German,”Are those all your kids?”

 

The young teutonic guard didn’t like the joke, gave a laconic smile and changed the position of his Sturmgewehr, made in Oberndorf, a Swabian town near Rottweil, by Heckler & Koch (now a British firm).

 

I gave the khaki-clad customs officer her passport, who scrutinized it briefly and handed it back. She walked outside with her handbag to collect the main luggage which was somewhere in exit 415. Claudia and I were separated (different check-ins and exist) because I had an Asian passport and Claudia had a European one. It was a case of the Third World and the First World.

 

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NIRMALA: Between Terror and Ecstasy (Satis Shroff)

 

People were out in the streets of Bremen,

A town in Germany,

Candles in their hands,

Some murmuring prayers,

Some silent

To remember me,

A woman from the Himalayas.

 

I’d left Nepal to see the world

Outside Kathmandu Valley.

I’d ignored the words

Of my father and my brother.

I’d saved money for years

And taken a credit to buy my flight-ticket

To Germany.

As the plane left for Moscow

The endless Himalayan peaks appeared in the window,

Daubed in yellow, orange and scarlet.

I began to have doubts and fears.

I also had hope,

Which kept me going on.

 

Hope of a better life in a foreign land.

Desire of supporting my old and sick father,

And the craving to show my brother and relatives,

That I was capable of standing on my own feet.

I came to this land as a tourist,

And stayed on as an asylum-seeker.

Some German officials were rude,

But HMG officials back home weren’t any better.

Some migrants showed sympathy,

Others couldn’t care less.

I was allowed to stay in a house full of foreigners,

Like me.

The nice Germans even gave me money to buy things.

I was happy though dependent

On the alms and the goodwill of the Germans.

I wrote letters full of optimism to my family in Nepal.

 

Time was running out.

This new , exciting, uncertain life

In a strange, modern western land.

It was like a beautiful dream.

I imagined I was already in Swarga.

The friendly Germans were the celestial beings: Apsaras.

The officials were the Gods and Goddesses,

Who were to decide, God knew when,

To allow me to live in this heaven

Or to send me to Narga, to Hell.

 

I was a person of happy disposition

In the hills of Nepal.

We Nepalis sing songs and are a cheerful folk,

Even when we have no wealth and not much to eat.

Our ancestors have always reminded us:

This world of ours is an illusion, a Maya.

But I was young and wanted to see the world,

Taste the delicacies and feel everything with my senses.

For Nepal was earlier a forbidden land.

Foreigners were not allowed to enter the country.

And Nepalis had no right to leave the kingdom.

Only the rich and noble families had rights.

The poor had only duties.

 

Here I was, a woman.

All on my own.

I talked with people from Sri Lanka,

Bangladesh, Africa, Kosovo, Croatia, Albania,

India and Pakistan.

Then I met him: a Moslem named Mohamed from Afghanistan,

And married him.

 

At first he was nice, as they all are.

As time went by he started yelled at me.

I wasn’t allowed to sing and swing at home.

He didn’t like the colourful clothes I wore.

I loved dressing up like the German and other European women,

Had to comply to my husband’s wishes.

My husband, a man who seemed to have complexes

With the ways of the west,

Wanted to see me in a chador,

Closed to the outside world.

 

I was regressing, going back in time.

Yet I loved this egoistic, aggressive man.

He beat me, shouted and hissed at me in the day,

And made love to me like a ferocious animal at night.

I was trapped between terror and ecstasy.

 

Perhaps he beat me because he was jealous,

For I was good-looking, optimistic and friendly.

I’d had a happy childhood in the Himalayas.

My husband was a Moslem.

He didn’t drink.

But why was he so angry at me?

Was I the scapegoat for his shortcomings?

He’d lost his country to the Talibans.

He had no job, no recognition in society.

And the beatings went on.

 

Friends that I’d made in the home for foreigner

Said I should flee to a Frauenhaus.

A house for destitute women,

Women who had family problems.

I ran to the Frauenhaus at an unguarded moment.

The German women soothed me,

Gave me hope and consolation.

They warned me not to leave the Frauenhaus.

 

One day my husband, who’d lost his face,

Called me from the gate.

I was in the same dilemma as Sita

Of our holy book Ramayana,

Who was deceived and kidnapped

By Ravana, the Demon God.

Should I cross the Frauenhaus threshhold

Or not?

 

I looked at him, my heart flattered and flimmered.

I had fear in my eyes.

I also felt pity for him as he stared at me,

And beckoned me to come home.

I opened the iron gate and went out with him.

He grabbed my hand and dragged me to a bush.

And stabbed me with a curved knife:

In my womb and places I’m ashamed to mention.

He was a fury, a man gone mad.

My last words were, ‘Hey Ram! Oh, God!’

Malai bachau. Save me.

I screamed as loud as I could,

But nobody heard me.

His seventeen bloody stabs got the better of me.

 

As is the tradition in this Swarga,

My husband was treated in a psychiatric ward

And later acquitted of murder.

My hope of heaven on earth,

Was put out like a candle.

How was I to know that I’d loved a maniac?

 

I married him in 1990.

He blew out my light in 1991.

 

Glossary:

Apsaras: Celebrated nymphs of Indra’s Heaven, rich with all the gifts of grace, youth and beauty.

Maya: Illusion personified as a female form of celestial origin, deception, or a personification of the unreality of worldly things.

HMG officials: Bureaucrats of His Majesty’s Government in Nepal

Swarga: Heaven orParadise of the Hindus. It is also the heaven of Indra situated on Mount Meru.

Narga: Hell

Ravana: The demon king of Lanka (former Ceylon).

Frauenhaus: A secret refuge for mishandled mothers and children

 

———————————-

 

LONGING FOR A DAY (Satis Shroff)

 

She was only ten years old one wintry night,

When her father seized her,

Warmed and satisfied himself

With her growing, glowing, shivering body.

He said in his smelly, hoarse, drunken voice:

‘You are mine.

You belong to me.

I’m taking only what’s mine.’

She whimmered, shook and cried, to no avail.

She had no word for it, this nefarious deed.

She told her Mom with tears in her eyes, but she only said,

‘Hush, my daughter. This is taboo.

You shouldn’t talk about it.

Never tell it to anyone,

For everyone will shun and curse us,

And leave us to starve.’

 

Despite what my Mom said,

This was my tragic story and it clung to me.

I had to let it out.

 

Nine months later, I, who was still small, got a child.

The splitting image of my Dad.

Shortly thereafter my Mom died of grief and shame.

Now I was alone with my wretched father.

My son was my solace.

His winning smile help me ease my pain.

He knew not what evil existed in this world,

And that he was created illegally.

 

I had hope in my helplessness.

I could perhaps mould him to an avenger

Of his mother’s disgrace and shame.

 

I’m waiting for that day.

 

—————-

 

THE PROFESSOR’S WIFE (Satis Shroff)

 

My husband is mad

Er spinnt

Er ist verrückt!

Says Frau Fleckenstein, my landlady

As she staggers down the steps.

 

She arrests her swaying

With a hiccup

And says: ‘Entschuldigen Sie’

And throws up her misery,

Discontent, melancholy and agony.

The pent-up emotions

Of a forty year married life.

 

Her husband is a high-brow, an honourable man

A professor with a young mistress.

And she has her bottles:

Red wine, white wine

Burgunder, Tokay and Ruländer

Schnaps, Whiskey,

Kirschwasser and Feuerwasser

The harder the better.

 

She defends herself

She offends herself

With bitterness and eagerness.

Her looks are gone

Once her asset, now a liability.

A leathery skin, and bags under the eyes

Her hair unkempt, and a pot belly.

A bad liver and a surplus of spleen

A fairy turned a grumbler.

 

Tension charges the air

Pots and pans flying everywhere

Fury and frustration

Tumult and verbal terror

Rage and rancour

Of a marriage gone asunder.

And what remains is a facade

Of a professor and his spouse

Grown grey and ‘grausam’

Faces that say: Guten Tag

When it’s cloudy, stormy, hurricane.

 

To forgive and forget

That’s human folly.

I’ll bear my grudges, says milady.

And my landlord is indeed a lord

A lord over his wealth, wife and wretched life

A merciless, remorseless, pitiless existence

In the winter of their lives.

Too old to divorce

And too young to die.

What remains is only the lie.

___________________________________________________________________

 

A SIGHING BLONDE PRINCESS  (Satis Shroff)

 

She had short, golden hair

Tied neatly behind

And yet I saw her

Wearing a diadem

And a flowing satin gown

Like a princess.

 

A meek, submissive smile

A movement of her blonde hair

Akin to a Bolshoi ballerina

In moments of embarrassment and coyness.

Her blue Allemanic eyes, sweet and honest

They knew no cruelty

Neither treachery nor rebellion

“I was brought up to obey,” she whispered.

 

Pure bliss and love sublime

A book you could read

Plain and straight

And not in-between the lines.

 

An openness, and yet

She’s resolute and seeks

Perhaps stability

Or security?

 

A neglected childhood

With pain and punishment.

A legacy of the Black Forest

Nevertheless, she remained

Soft and tender, submissive and sincere.

Not demanding and aggressive

Ever alert and never omissive.

 

 

Murmurs and sighs filled the air

Love became stormy and frantic

Sweat and aphrodisiac mingled

To create a moment of magic

To recede in moans and whispers

And a thousand kisses.

 

Brought to reality

By the rays of the dying sun

And the sudden noise

Of birds coming home to roost.

A tranquillity after the tumult

Within our passionate souls.

 

—————–

 

WHEN TWO WORLDS MEET (Satis Shroff)

 

Thrust through the skies in a jet

From the Third World to the First

From the Himalayas to the Alps

When two worlds meet

In the Swiss village of Grindelwald

The delight of a young man from Nepal.

 

A land where the people are proud

Of their Helvetic heraldry

And sing praises of Wilhelm Tell

Who shot an apple from his son’s head.

 

A mountain world so familiar

With peaks, glaciers, tarns and scree.

The summits were not Sagarmatha,

Ama Dablam and Machapuchhare

They called them: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

 

The souvenir sellers spoke not Nepali

Neither Tibetan nor Newari

But English, French and Schwyzer Deutsch.

The money wasn’t paisa and rupees

They bartered in franks and rappen.

 

No yaks roamed the green pastures

Only paragliders, lammergeiers circling overhead

And contented, languid, fat Swiss cows.

Cow-bells, church-bells and the smell of dung

This was landluft, fresh alpine wind.

 

Free from the monoxides and dioxides

From endless fuming car exhausts

Oh, to inhale a whiff of alpine air

After a prolonged sojourn in Europa.

 

Kilometres stretched the ski-lifts and tunnels

Sky-chairs for the tourists

And when there’s no snow

The snow-cannons will help Petrus.

 

No erosions, no avalanches?

No rape of the Alps?

Hush,destruction was already there.

 

No fear of the yeti

Yet a host of alpine berggeister and demons

No lama monasteries

Other than the one in Rikon

No mane padme hum

But yodel-songs, alp-horns and cheese.

When the familiar scene

Suddenly becomes strange

The strange becomes familiar

A foreign tongue and foreign customs

Foreign to each other

A Nepalese meets a Swiss Fräulein

In the mountains of Grindelwald.

A foreigner in a familiar land

In a world of sloping snow

And yet a warmth glowed.

 

We thought the same thoughts

Without a common word.

The gesture and the mimic

said: we understand you.

 

Namaste. Auf wiedersehen.

Auf wiedersehen. Namaste.

We shall see again.

I greet

The godliness in you.

 

 

Glossary:

Sagarmatha, Ama Dablam, Machapuchhare: Himalayan peaks

Mani padme hum: Tibetan religious chant

Petrus: St. Peter who’s responsible for the weather

Namaste: Nepalese greeting

___________________________________________________________________

 

ONLY SAGARMATHA KNOWS (Satis Shroff)

 

The Sherpa trudges in the snow

Wheezes and struggles

And paves the way

With fix-ropes, ladders

Crampons, hooks and spikes

And says:”Follow me, Sir”.

 

Last season it was a Tiroler, a Tokyoter

And a gentleman from Vienna.

This time it’s a sahib from Bolognia.

Insured for heath and life

Armed with credits cards and pride

Storming the Himalayan summits

With the help of the Nepalis.

 

Hillary took Tenzing’s photo

Alas the times have changed.

For the sahib it’s pure vanity

For the sherpa it’s sheer existence.

 

By stormy weather and the trusty sherpa’s

Competence and toil the previous day,

The sahib takes a stealthy whiff of oxygen.

And thinks: “After all, the sherpa cannot communicate

He’s illiterate to the outside world”.

And so the sahib feigns sickness and descends

Only to make a solo ascent the next day.

 

And so the legend grows

Of the sahib on the summit

A photo goes around the world.

Sans sherpa, sans sauerstoff.

 

Was it by fair means?

Only Sagarmatha knows

Only Sagarmatha knows.

 

Glossary:

sauerstoff: German word for oxygen

Sagarmatha: Nepalese word for Mt.Everest

sahib: European, Herrnmensch

sherpa: a high-altitude porter and also a tribe-name

—————————————————————————————————————-

 

LAST TRAM TO LITTENWEILER (Satis Shroff)

 

Midnight at Bertold’s Brunen,

I boarded the last tram to Littenweiler.

Tired young people, school-kids

Disco, tavern, cinema and theatre visitors.

I sat opposite a blond German

And read Hanif Kureshi’s “London Kills Me”.

 

A short African, a Bantu in jeans

Came, stood and turned his back.

An elderly, thick-set German skin-head

Covered with a cap and walkman,

Walked in with a sardonic laughter

Boisterous, obnoxious and high on alcohol.

 

The world was his stage.

He glared with his stone-blue eyes

At the African in the corner and said:

“This Boy is in the wrong place here.

Finish him off with a Kalashnikov

Rat-tat-a-tat! You’ll see it soon

Wir werden es euch zeigen!”

 

The proud German in Bermudas

Laughed like a madman.

Our Teutonic Hero was not in the psychiatric ward

But in a crowded public strassenbahn.

A so-called civilized German

Grown angry, wild and inhuman.

What had he poor African done?

He’d asked perhaps for asylum

Or was perhaps a scholarship-holder

At the invitation of the German government.

 

The tram was full

But not a sound of protest was heard.

A silence that appeared like death.

Silence was consent.

Or was it angst?

 

The tram reached the Stadthalle

And the German became nastier.

Where was the civil courage of the Freiburger?

What was the use of buttons:

‘Jeder ist ein Ausländer?’

What were silent protest marches

Worth the next day?

Why light candles to mourn a dead alien?

Silent, passive witnesses to new tragedies.

Akin to the horrid infernos

Of Hoyerswerda, Mölln and Solingen.

Every time I hold a fork and knife

At breakfast, lunch and dinner

I’m reminded of the shame of Solingen.

 

The loud-mouthed skinhead identified himself

With a wrong pride, pomp and glory.

A glory that cost 40 million lives

A spirit of plunder and murder

On helpless, disabled, gypsies and Jews.

The Jews have left for safer shores

And now the new-Jews are the foreigners.

 

As the tram reached the Lassberg Terminal

The bald-headed German swayed

And uttered loud and clearly:

“I LOVE MY FATHERLAND!”

Not once, but thrice.

He went reeling to a waiting bus

With his Vaterland’s repertoire.

A country where the dead have fear

Where the alien’s agony and angst abides

Quo vadis, Deutschland?

___________________________________________________________________

 

THE HOLY COWS OF KATHMANDU (Satis Shroff)

 

Holy cow! The mayor of Kathmandu

Has done it.

Since ancient times a taboo

The free, nonchalant cows

Of Kathmandu were rounded up

In a rodeo by the Nepalese police.

Was it Nandi, Shiva’s bull?

Or holy cows?

“They’re cattle still”,said the mayor.

“Straying cattle are not wanted”.

 

Eighty-eight holy cows

Were auctioned

Not at Sotheby’s

But in Kathmandu.

The auction yielded 64,460 rupees

Said the mayor of Kathmandu.

 

Cows that were a nuisance

To pedestrians and tourists at Thamel.

Cows that provided dung

And four other products:

Milk, yoghurt, butter and urine

For many a hearth.

Cows that gave urine

That the Hindus collected.

Cows that were sacred

And worshipped as the cow-mother.

Cows that were donated

And set free by Brahmins and Chettris

To set themselves free from sins.

Cows that marked the Gaijatra,

An eight-day homage to the dead.

 

It was a king, according to legend,

Who ordered cows to be set free

By families in mourning

In the streets of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.

To share the bereaved pain of

The death of a beloved prince

And a sad mother and queen.

 

The children disguised themselves

As grotesque cows and motley figures

And danced to Nepalese music

To make the queen laugh,

And forget her tears.

 

Even today the bereaved

Families drive their cows

Through the streets of Kathmandu

On the day of Gaijatra:

The festival of the cows.

Despite the ecological control

On the cows of Kathmandu,

Lalitpur and Bhaktapur.

 

From ancient times

Kings, noblemen, pedestrians

Cyclists, pullcarts, cars,

Scooters and rickshaws,

The traffic snaked around the holy cows.

 

The umwelt-conscious mayor

Has made up his mind:

The cattle are obstructing the traffic

Long-haired Nepalese youth need a crew-cut

Horse-pulled carts and rickshaws must go.

They worsen sanitation

And environmental problems.

But the carpets and cars must stay.

 

Elephant-rides remain for the tourists

After all, we’ve developed

A yen for dollars, francs and marks.

Kathmandu is catching up

With the rest of the world.

 

Glossary:

Umwelt: German word for environment

Braahmins, Chettris: high castes in Hinduism

___________________________________________________________________

 

 

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SANTA FE (Satis Shroff)

 

A German professor wooed me

And said I could still do my creative writing work

If, and when, I married him.

I said ‘Ja’ and gave birth to five children,

And had no time to write.

I was forever changing napkins,

Applying creams on the baby’s bottom,

Cooking meals for seven family members,

Washing the piles of cups and plates, forks, spoons, knives

And clothes.

 

Dusting the many windows of a three-storied house,

Feeding and nursing the small ones,

Praising and caressing the bigger ones.

It was a full time job.

 

I had snatches of thoughts for my writing.

But since I didn’t have time to jot them down,

They evaporated into thin air.

Lost were my intellectual gems,

Between sunrise and sunset.

 

I became too tired of it all.

I was glad if I could get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep, Nature’s balm, soothed me to bear the hardships.

The family was too much with me.

 

One day I left for Santa Fe,

The one place where I felt free.

Free to think and sort out my thoughts,

And watch them grow in my laptop.

 

******

 

THE BROKEN POET (Satis Shroff)

 

I was the president of the Nepali Literary Society

And my realm was a small kingdom

Of readers and writers in the foothills of the Himalayas.

I came a long way,

Having started as an accountant of His Majesty’s government.

I was a Brahmin and married a Chettri woman,

Pretty as a Bollywood starlet.

It flattered my masculinity,

For she was a decade younger than I.

I took up writing late and managed to publish a few poems.

They said my verses were bad and received many reject slips.

By chance I ran into a gifted young man,

Who became my ghost writer.

 

When I was too busy doing business and juggling figures to suit my purpose,

He’d write wonderful verses and short-stories in my name.

My fame grew and in this small kingdom

I was highly decorated for my boundless creativity.

Books of verse appeared with my name.

My poems were recited at literary circles.

I became prolific and prominent.

Till my ghost-writer ran away with my young wife.

And there I was, an old, bruised, run-down old man.

Bedridden and waiting for Yamaraj to summon me,

To face the eternal destiny of life,

After a bout of liver cirrhosis.

The raksi, Gurkha rum and expensive Scotch

Got the better of me.

I kept a stiff upper-lip till the bitter end.

 

Glossary:

Bahun / Chettri: high caste Hindus in Nepal

Bollywood: India’s Hollywood, located in Bombay (Mumbai)

Yamaraj: God of Death in Hinduism

Raksi: high percentage alcohol sold in Nepal, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bhutan

Gurkha: Soldier from Nepal

 

***********

 

MY NEPAL, QUO VADIS? (Satis Shroff)

 

My Nepal, what has become of you?

Your features have changed with time.

The innocent face of the Kumari

Has changed to the blood-thirsty countenance of Kal Bhairab,

From development to destruction,

From bikas to binas.

A crown prince fell in love,

But couldn’t assert himself,

In a palace where ancient traditions still prevail.

Despite Eton college and a liberal education,

He chose guns instead of rhetoric,

And ended his young life,

As well as those of his parents and other royal members.

An aunt from London aptly remarked,

He was like the terminator.’

Another bloodshed in a Gorkha palace,

Recalling the Kot massacre under Jung Bahadur Rana.

 

You’re no longer the same

There’s insurrection and turmoil

Against the government and the police.

Your sons and daughters are at war,

With the Gurkhas again.

 

Maobadis with revolutionary flair,

With ideologies from across the Tibetan Plateau and Peru.

Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere,

Flourish in the Himalayas.

Demanding a revolutionary-tax from tourists and Nepalis

With brazen, bloody attacks

Fighting for their own rights

And the rights of the bewildered common man.

 

Well-trained government troops at the orders

Of politicians safe in Kathmandu.

Leaders, who despise talks and compromises,

Flex their tongues and muscles,

And let the imported automatic salves speak their deaths.

Ill-armed guerrillas against well-armed Royal Gurkhas

In the foothills of the Himalayas.

 

Nepali children have no chance, but to take sides

To take to arms not knowing the reason and against whom.

The child-soldier gets orders from grown-ups

And the hapless souls open fire.

Hukum is order, the child-soldier cannot reason why.

Shedding precious human blood,

For causes they both hold high.

Ach, this massacre in the shadow of the Himalayas.

Nepalis look out of their ornate windows,

In the west, east, north and south Nepal

And think:

How long will this krieg go on?

How much do we have to suffer?

How many money-lenders, businessmen, civil servants,

Policemen and gurkhas do the Maobadis want to kill

Or be killed?

How many men, women, boys and girls have to be mortally injured

Till Kal Bhairab is pacified by the Sleeping Vishnu?

How many towns and villages in the seventy five districts

Do the Maobadis want to free from capitalism?

When the missionaries close their schools,

Must the Hindus and Buddhists shut their temples and shrines?

Shall atheism be the order of the day?

Not in Nepal.

 

It breaks my heart, as I hear over the radio:

Nepal’s not safe for visitors.

Visitors who leave their money behind,

In the pockets of travel agencies, rug dealers, currency and drug dealers,

And hordes of ill-paid honest Sherpas and Tamang porters.

Sweat beads trickling from their sun-burnt faces,

In the dizzy heights of the Dolpo, Annapurna ranges

And the Khumbu glaciers.

Eking out a living and facing the treacherous

Icy crevasses, snow-outs, precipices

And a thousand deaths.

 

Beyond the beaten trekking paths

Live the poorer families of Nepal.

No roads, no schools,

Sans drinking water and sans hospitals,

Where aids and children’s work prevail.

 

Lichhavis, Thakuris and Mallas have made you eternal

Man Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu,

After great victories over neighbouring states.

Amshu Verma was a warrior and mastered the Lichavi Code.

He gave his daughter in marriage to Srong Beean Sgam Po,

The ruler of Tibet, who also married a Chinese princess.

Jayastathi Malla ruled long and introduced the system of the caste,

A system based on the family occupation,

That became rigid with the tide of time.

Yaksha Malla the ruler of Kathmandu Valley,

Divided it into Kathmandu, Patan and Bhadgaon for his three sons.

 

It was Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha,

Who brought you together,

As a melting pot of ethnic diversities.

With Gorkha conquests that cost the motherland

Thousands of ears, noses and Nepali blood

 

The Ranas usurped the royal throne

And put a prime minister after the other for 104 years.

104 years of a country in poverty and medieval existence.

It was King Tribhuvan’s proclamation and the blood of the Nepalis,

Who fought against the Gorkhas under the command of the Ranas,

That ended the Rana autocracy.

His son King Mahendra saw to it that he held the septre

When Nepal entered the UNO.

The multiparty system along with the Congress party was banned.

 

Then came thirty years of Panchayat promises of a Hindu rule

With a system based on the five village elders,

Like the proverbial five fingers in one’s hand,

That are not alike and yet functioned in harmony.

The Panchayat government was indeed an old system,

Packed and sold as a new and traditional one.

A system is just as good as the people who run it.

And Nepal didn’t run.

It revived the age-old chakary,

Feudalism with its countless spies and yes-men,

Middle-men who held out their hands

For bribes, perks and amenities.

Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts,

Discrimination, injustice, bad governance

Became the nature of the day.

 

A big chasm appeared between the haves-and-have-nots.

The social inequality, frustrated expectations of the poor

Led to a search for an alternative pole.

The farmers were ignored, the forests and land confiscated,

Corruption and inefficiency became the rule of the day.

Even His Majesty’s servants went so far as to say:

Raja ko kam, kahiley jahla gham.

 

The birthplace of Buddha

And the Land of Pashupati,

A land which King Birendra declared a Zone of Peace,

Through signatures of the world’s leaders

Is at war today.

 

Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars for development aid,

Another 14 million dollars for insurgency relevant spendings

5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA

5,500 maschine guns from Belgium.

Guns that are aimed at Nepali men, women and children,

In the mountains of Nepal.

Alas, under the shade of the Himalayas,

This corner of the world has become volatile again.

 

My academic friends have changes sides,

From Mandalay to Congress

From Congress to the Maobadis.

From Hinduism to Communism.

The students from Dolpo and Silgadi,

Made unforgettable by Peter Mathiessen in his quest for his inner self

And his friend George Schaller’s search for the snow leopard,

Wrote Marxist verses and acquired volumes

From the embassies in Kathmandu:

Kim Il Sung’s writings, Mao’s red booklet,

Marx’s Das Kapital and Lenin’s works,

And defended socialist ideas

At His Majesty’s Central Hostel in Tahachal.

I see their earnest faces, then with books in their arms

Now with guns and trigger-happy,

Boisterous and ready to fight to the end

For a cause they cherish in their frustrated and fiery hearts.

 

But aren’t these sons of Nepal misguided and blinded

By the seemingly victories of socialism?

Even Gorbachov pleaded for Peristroika,

And Putin admires Germany, its culture and commerce.

Look at the old Soviet Union, and other East Bloc nations.

They have all swapped sides and are EU and Nato members.

Globalisation has changed the world fast,

But in Nepal time stands still

The blind beggar at the New Road gate sings:

Lata ko desh ma, gaddha tantheri.

In a land where the tongue-tied live,

The deaf desire to rule.

Oh my Nepal, quo vadis?

 

The only way to peace and harmony is

By laying aside the arms.

Can Nepal afford to be the bastion of a movement and a government

That rides rough-shod over the lives and rights of fellow Nepalis?

Can’t we learn from the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq?

The Maobadis must be given a chance at the polls,

Like all other democratic parties.

For the Maobadis are bahuns and chettris,

Be they Prachanda or Baburam Bhattrai,

Leaders who’d prefer to retain monarchy in Nepal.

 

What better chance for a constitutional monarch,

A re-incarnated Vishnu,

Who holds the executive, judiciary, legislative,

Spiritual and temporal powers

In the shadow of the Himalayas.

 

—————

 

A GURKHA MOTHER (Satis Shroff)

(Death of a Precious Jewel)

 

The gurkha with a khukri

But no enemy

Works for the United Nations

And yet gets shot at

In missions he doesn’t comprehend.

Order is hukum, hukum is life

Johnny Gurkha still dies under foreign skies.

 

He never asks why

Politics isn’t his style

He’s fought against all and sundry:

Turks, Tibetans, Italians and Indians

Germans, Japanese, Chinese

Argentenians and Vietnamese.

Indonesians and Iraqis.

Loyalty to the utmost

Never fearing a loss.

 

The loss of a mother’s son

From the mountains of Nepal.

 

Her grandpa died in Burma

For the glory of the British.

Her husband in Mesopotemia

She knows not against whom

No one did tell her.

Her brother fell in France,

Against the Teutonic hordes.

She prays to Shiva of the Snows for peace

And her son’s safety.

Her joy and her hope

Farming on a terraced slope.

 

A son who helped wipe her tears

And ease the pain in her mother’s heart.

A frugal mother who lives by the seasons

And peers down to the valleys

Year in and year out

In expectation of her soldier son.

 

A smart Gurkha is underway

Heard from across the hill with a shout

‘It’s an officer from his battalion.

A letter with a seal and a poker-face

“Your son died on duty”, he says,

“Keeping peace for the country

And the United Nations”.

 

A world crumbles down

The Nepalese mother cannot utter a word

Gone is her son,

Her precious jewel.

Her only insurance and sunshine

In the craggy hills of Nepal.

And with him her dreams

A spartan life that kills.

 

Glossary:

gurkha: soldier from Nepal

khukri: curved knife used in hand-to-hand combat

hukum: Befehl/command/order

shiva: a god in Hinduism

—————————————————————————————————————–

 

Der Verlust des Sohnes einer Mutter (Satis Shroff)

 

Der Gurkha[1] mit einem gefährlichen Khukuri[2]

Aber kein Feind in Sicht,

Arbeitet für den UNO, und wird erschossen

für Einsätze, die er nicht begreift.

Befehl ist Hukum[3], Hukum ist sein Leben

Johnny Gurkha[4] stirbt noch unter fremdem Himmel.

 

Er fragt nie warum

Die Politik ist nicht seine Stärke.

Er hat gegen alle gekämpft:

Türken, Tibeter, Italiener, und Inder

Deutsche, Japaner, Chinesen,

Vietnamesen und Argentinier[5].

 

Loyal bis ans Ende,

Er trauert keinem Verlust nach.

Der Verlust des Sohnes einer Mutter,

Von den Bergen Nepals.

 

Ihr Großvater starb in Birmas Dschungel

Für die glorreichen Engländer.

Ihr Mann fiel in Mesopotamien,

Sie weiß nicht gegen wen,

Keiner hat es ihr gesagt.

Ihr Bruder ist in Frankreich gefallen,

Gegen die teutonische Reichsarmee.

 

Sie betet Shiva[6] von den Schneegipfeln an

Für Frieden auf Erden, und ihres Sohnes Wohlbefinden.

Ihr einzige Freude, ihre letzte Hoffnung,

Während sie den Terrassenacker auf einem schroffen Hang bestellt.

Ein Sohn, der ihr half,

Ihre Tränen zu wischen

Und den Schmerz in ihrem mütterlichen Herz zu lindern.

 

Eine arme Mutter, die mit den Jahreszeiten lebt,

Jahr ein und Jahr aus, hinunter in die Täler schaut

Mit Sehnsucht auf ihren Soldatensohn.

 

Ein Gurkha ist endlich unterwegs

Man hört es über den Bergen mit einem Geschrei.

Es ist ein Offizier von seiner Batallion.

Ein Brief mit Siegel und ein Pokergesicht

„Ihren Sohn starb im Dienst“, sagt er lakonisch

„Er kämpfte für den Frieden des Landes

Und für die Vereinigten Nationen“.

 

Eine Welt bricht zusammen

Und kommt zu einem Ende.

Ein Kloß im Hals der Nepali Mutter.

Nicht ein Wort kann sie herausbringen.

Weg ist ihr Sohn, ihr kostbares Juwel.

Ihr einzige Versicherung und ihr Sonnenschein.

In den unfruchtbaren, kargen Bergen,

Und mit ihm ihre Träume

Ein spartanisches Leben, das den Tod bringt.

___________________________________________________________________

 

MY NIGHTMARE (Satis Shroff)

 

When the night is not too cold

And when my bed isn’t cold

I dream of a land far away.

A land where a king rules his realm,

A land where there are still peasants without rights,

Who plough the fields that don’t belong to them.

A land where the children have to work,

And have no time for daydreams,

Where girls cut grass and sling heavy baskets on their backs.

Tiny feet treading up the steep path.

A land where the father cuts wood from sunrise till sunset,

And brings home a few rupees.

A land where the innocent children stretch their right hands,

And are rewarded with dollars.

A land where a woman gathers white, red, yellow and crimson

tablets and pills,

From the altruistic world tourists who come her way.

Most aren’t doctors or nurses,

But they distribute the pills,

With no second thoughts about the side-effects.

The Nepali woman possesses an arsenal,

Of potent pharmaceuticals.

She can’t read the finely printed instructions,

For they are in German, French, English, Czech,

Japanese, Chinese, Italian and Spanish.

What does she care, the hieroglyphs are always there.

Black alphabets appear like an Asiatic buffalo to her.

Kala akshar, bhaisi barabar,’ says the Nepali woman,

For she can neither read nor write.

The very thought of her giving the bright pills and tablets

To another ill Nepali child or mother,

Torments my soul.

How ghastly this thoughtless world

Of educated trekkers who give medical alms

And play the macabre role of physicians

In the amphitheatre of the Himalayas.

 

—————

 

BOMBAY BROTHEL (Satis Shroff)

 

You’re not going to get away this time.

And you’ll never ever bring a Nepali child

To a Bombay brothel,’ I said to myself.

I’d killed a man who’d betrayed me

And sold me to an old, cunning Indian woman,

Who ran a brothel in Bombay’s Upper Grant Road.

 

I still see the face of Lalita-bai,

Her greedy eyes gleaming at the sight of rich Indian customers.

I hear the eternal video-music of Bollywood.

 

The man I’d slain

Had promised to give me a job,

As a starlet in Bollywood.

I was young, naïve and full of dreams.

He took me to a shabby, cage-like room

And told me to wait.

Three thugs did the rest.

They robbed my virginity,

Which I’d wanted to save

For the man I’d marry one day.

They thrashed me, put me on drugs.

I had no control over my limbs,

My torso, my mind.

It was Hell on earth.

 

I was starring in a bad Bollywood film,

A lamb that had been sacrificed,

Not to the Hindu Gods,

But to Indian customers and pimps

From all walks of life.

 

What followed were five years of captivity,

Rape and molestation.

I pleaded with tears in my eyes

To the customers to help me out of my misery.

They just shook their heads and beat me,

Ravished me and threw dirty rupees at my face.

I never felt so ashamed, demeaned,

Maltreated in my young life.

 

One day a local doctor with a lab-report

Told Lalita-bai that I had aids.

From that day on I became an outcast.

I was beaten and bruised,

For a disease I hadn’t asked for.

 

I felt broken and wretched.

I returned to Nepal, my homeland.

I lived like a recluse,

Didn’t talk to anyone.

I worked in the fields,

Cut grass and gathered firewood.

I lost my weight.

I was slipping.

 

Till the day the man who’d ruined

My life came in search of new flesh

For Bombay’s brothels.

I asked the man to spend the night in my house.

He agreed readily.

I cooked for him, gave him a lot of raksi,

Till he sang and slept.

 

It was late at night.

I knew he’d go out to the toilet

After all that drinking.

I got up, took my naked khukri

And followed him stealthily.

The air was fresh outside.

A mountain breeze made the leaves

Emit a soft whispering sound.

I crouched behind a bush and waited.

 

He murmured drunkenly ‘Resam piri-ri.’

As he made his way back,

I was behind him.

I took a big step forwards with my right foot,

Swung the khukri blade

And hit him behind his neck.

I winced as I heard a crack,

Flesh and bone giving in.

A spurt of blood in the moonlight.

He fell with a thud in two parts.

His distorted head rolled to one side,

And his body to the other.

 

My heart was racing.

I couldn’t almost breathe.

I sat hunched like all women do,

Waited to catch my breath.

The minutes seemed like hours.

I got up, went to the dhara to wash my khukri.

I never felt so relieved in my life.

I buried him that night.

But I had nightmares for the rest of my life.

 

Glossary:

khukri: curved multipurpose knife often used in Nepali households and by Gurkha regiments as a deadly weapon.

Dhara: water-sprout in the hills.

Resam piri-ri: a popular Nepali folksong heard often along the trekking-trails of Annapurna, Langtang and Everest.

Bollywood: India’s Hollywood

——————————————————————————————————

 

When Mother Closes Her Eyes (Satis Shroff)

 

When mother closes her eyes,

She sees everything in its place

In the kingdom of Nepal.

She sees the highest building in Kathmandu,

The King’s Narayanhiti palace.

It looms higher than the dharara,

Swayambhu, Taleju and Pashupati,

For therein lives Vishnu,

Whom the Hindus call the unconquerable preserver.

 

The conqueror of Nepal?

No, that was his ancestor Prithvi Narayan Shah,

A king of Gorkha.

Vishnu is the preserver of the world,

With qualities of mercy and goodness.

Vishnu is all-pervading and self existent,

Visits the Nepal’s remote districts

In a helicopter with his consort and militia.

He inaugurates building

Factories and events.

Vishnu dissolves the parliament too,

For the sake of his kingdom.

His subjects and worshippers are, of late, divided.

Have Ravana and his demons besieged his land?

 

When mother opens her eyes,

She sees Vishnu still slumbering

On his bed of Sesha, the serpent

In the pools of Budanilkantha and Balaju.

 

Where is the Creator?

When will he wake up from his eternal sleep?

Only Bhairab’s destruction of the Himalayan world is to be seen.

Much blood has been shed between the decades and the centuries.

The mound of noses and ears of the vanquished at Kirtipur,

The shot and mutilated at the Kot massacre,

The revolution in front of the Narayanhiti Palace,

When Nepalis screamed and died for democracy.

And now the corpses of the Maobadis,

Civilians and Nepali security men.

 

Hush! Sleeping Gods should not be awakened.

 

*******

 

A DISRUPTED LIFE (Satis Shroff)

 

I bought some buns and bread at the local bakery

And met our elderly neighbour Frau Nelles

She looked well-dressed and walked with a careful gait,

Up the Pochgasse having done her errands.

She greeted in German with ‘Guten morgen.’

Sighed and said, ‘ Wissen Sie,

I feel a wave of sadness sweep over me.’

Why?’ I asked.

Today is our wedding anniversary.’

 

Is it that bad?’ I whispered.

 

Yes,’ she replied.

My husband just stares at me and says nothing,

And has that blank expression on his face.

This isn’t the optimistic, respected philology professor

I married thirty years ago.

 

He forgets everything.

Our birthdays, the anniversaries of our children, the seasons.

My husband has Alzheimer.

Es tut so weh!

Our double bed isn’t a bed of roses anymore,

It’s a bed of thorny roses.

I snatch a couple of hours of sleep,

When I can.

 

I don’t have a husband now,

I have a child,

That needs caring day and night.

I’ve become apprehensive.

I’m concerned when he coughs

Or when he stops to breathe.

He snores again,

And keeps me awake.

Has prostrate problems,

And is fragile.

Like Shakespeare aptly said:

Care keeps his watch in every old (wo)man’s eye,

And where care lodges, sleep will never lie.’

 

Neither can I live with myself,

Nor can I bring him to a home.

 

Glossary:

Guten morgen: good morning

Es tut so weh!: It pains such a lot

 

—————————–

 

KATHMANDU IS NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

 

There were two young men, brothers

Who left their homes

In the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.

The older one, for his father had barked at him,

Go to Nepal and never come home again.”

The younger, for he couldn’t bear the beatings

At the hands of his old man

.

The older brother sobbed and stifled his sorrow and anger

For Nepal was in fact Kathmandu,

With its colleges, universities, Education Ministry,

Temples, Rana-palaces and golden pagodas

And also its share of hippies, hashish, tourists,

Rising prices and expensive rooms to rent.

 

The younger brother went to Dharan,

And enlisted in the British Army depot

To become a Gurkha, a soldier in King Edwards Own Gurkha Rifles.

He came home the day became a recruit,

With a bald head, as though his father had died.

He looked forward to the parades and hardships

That went under the guise of physical exercises.

He thought of stern, merciless sergeants and corporals

Of soccer games and regimental drills

A young man’s thrill of war-films and scotch and Gurkha-rum evenings.

He’d heard it all from the Gurkhas who’s returned in the Dasain festivals.

There was Kunjo Lama his maternal cousin,

Who boasted of his judo-prowess and showed photos of his British gal,

A pale blonde from Chichester in an English living-room.

 

It was a glorious sunset,

The clouds blazing in scarlet and orange hues,

As the young man, riding on the back of a lorry,

Sacks full of rice and salt,

Stared at the Siwaliks and Mahabharat mountains

Dwindling behind him.

As the sun set in the Himalayas,

The shadows grew longer in the vales.

The young man saw the golden moon,

Shining from a cloudy sky.

The same moon he’d seen on a poster in his uncle’s kitchen

As he ate cross-legged his dal-bhat-shikar after the hand-washing ritual.

Was the moon a metaphor?

Was it his fate to travel to Kathmandu,

Leaving behind his childhood friends and relatives in the hills,

Who were struggling for their very existence,

In the foothills of the Kanchenjunga,

Where the peaks were not summits to be scaled, with or without oxygen,

But the abodes of the Gods and Goddesses.

A realm where bhuts and prets, boksas and boksis,

Demons and dakinis prevailed.

 

Glossary:

Ranas: a ruling class that usurped the throne and ruled for 104 years in Nepal

Gurkhas: Nepali soldiers serving in Nepalese, Indian and British armies

Dal-bhat: Linsen und Reis

Shikar: Fleischgericht

Bhuts and prets: Demonen und Geister

Boksas und Boksis: männliche und weibliche Hexen

 

————————-

 

MENTAL MOLOTOVS (Satis Shroff)

 

When Hoyerswerda burns

They discuss about the asylum-seekers.

Peaceful, righteous Germans go

In the streets with candles.

 

When a house burns in Mölln

They discuss about bringing back

Soldiers from the dangers of Somalia.

 

At the Turkish funeral in Solingen

The Chancellor keeps away

And avoids thus

Rotten eggs and tomatoes

That might come his way.

 

When the trial comes

The skin and neonazi has a lot of hair.

He wears a two-piece suit,

Ties a tie around his neck

And looks oh-so-respectable.

He peers into the cameras

With clear blue eyes and says:

“I’m innocent and a victim

Of the modern industrial society”.

And withdraws his statement.

 

The judges are lenient

And the neo gets off on bail

Gestures with his middle finger

And quips:”Leck mich am Arsch!”

As he speeds away in a car

Only to reappear with a Molotov

Like the Sphinx again.

 

“Ausländer Raus!

Deutschland den Deutschen!”

These are the slogans

making the rounds in the nineties.

 

The old black and white flag

From the Third Reich

Raises no eyebrows

At soccer stadiums, streets and pubs.

 

It’s fashionable again

To throw mental Molotovs

At blacks, browns, yellows

And all non-Teutonics

At cocktails, chats

Stammtisch and in the streets

Against anything alien.

“I don’t like foreigners

I’ll kill you”, says a drunk

In broad daylight at the Bahnhof.

Please don’t ask me

How it feels

To be a non-Teutonic

In Deutschland.

 

—————————-

 

A Walk Through the Graveyard (Satis Shroff)

 

On the way to the gym hall with my children,

We go through a cemetery.

Julian hides between the tombstones,

Only to show up in front of us with a grin.

Elena hums “Gottes Liebe ist so wunderbar.”

A song she picked up at her catholic Kindergarden.

She asks suddenly, ‘Papa, what happens when one dies?’

 

Glossary:

Gottes Liebe ist so wunderbar: God’s love is so wonderful

 

 

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Memoir:

Kathmandu Valley Legend (Satis Shroff)

 

“I have a strong interest in the legend of Manjushri,” said Fumio Yonechi, a geo-morphologist from Yamagata city, when I met him in Kathmandu a long time ago. We were talking about the origin of Kathmandu Valley, which is located in the lap of the Himalayas.

 

“I have heard similar popular legends in Kashmir, Tibet and in Khotang,” he said.

 

Basically it is always the same, that is, a holy person cuts a path across the grilling mountains and draws out the water, resulting in the appearance of a new and fertile land from the bed of the lake. And Kathmandu Valley is not only the heartland of Nepal but also the most developed area in the Himalayas, due primarily to its physical setting. The Kathmandu Valley is a basin, and has a mild climate and fertile land. It is an amphitheatre in shape about 24km across, around the headwaters of the Bagmati River. Most of the rivers of Nepal have their origin in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, and they cut deep gorges through the Midland Region. But the Bagmati is an exception, rising in the Midland itself and having higher valley flow.

 

“I’m studying similar basins in Japan and Nepal, that is, low lying areas surrounded by mountains,” said Fumio Yonechi. “My hometown Yamagata Valley is a basin much like your Kathmandu Valley. And I find that once upon a time, the north-eastern lakes of Japan were drained of their water and became small fertile plains. These lakes are known to have existed 50,000 to 10,000 years ago during the latter part of the Pleistocene often referred to as the Wulm Ice Age,” he said.

 

“In Japan we have the same kind of legend centred around a Buddhist who is known to have cut a mountain and drained out the water, leaving a rich land behind. Personally, I feel that our ancestors in Japan could have made that legend as they had not seen real lakes at all, because the Pleistocene lakes were too old, for in those days there were only marshes in Japan. So it is probable that our Japanese ancestors made legends out of these existing marshes “he said.

 

“When I first came to Nepal I heard about the legend behind the Chovar Gorge and I developed a great interest and wanted to find out the facts behind the legend.” According to the Nepalese legend, once the place where Kathmandu Valley now stands there was a vast lake called Nagahrad, which was then drained by Manjushri, a Buddhist missionary ,and then the bottom of the lake dried up. However, deposits of the former lake were identified as Pleistocene through paleontological evidence. To confirm the Pleistocene age of given to Kathmandu Valley’s fertile soil, Fumio Yonechi sampled peaty clay from lacustrine deposits at the road cutting near Khajal hamlet, located in the vicinity of Budanilkantha, which was found to be 33,200 years old. The age was determined by using radiocarbon measurement carried out by K. Kigoshi of Gakushin University, Tokyo. It is a well known fact that most sediments in the Kathmandu basin are lacustrine, and peat layers are exposed at many places.

 

“I surveyed Kathmandu Valley and found many peat layers,” said Mr.Yonechi.

 

“From the peat sample, we found many pollens of tall grasses that are normally specific to Steppe types of grassland. From that bit of information we deduced that Kathmandu Valley then was not a stable lake, but that it changed seasonally from lake to dry grassland. At that time, the climate of Kathmandu Valley was far more clearer than now: dry and rainy. Since all this took in the last Ice Age, the temperature must have been very low as compared to nowadays.”

 

In 1966 two Nepalese geologists discovered the jaw of a fossilised elephant: Stegodon ganesha. In order to qualify as a fossil, the remains of a dead animal or plant have to be at least 10,000 years old. Perhaps in the hoary past there were elephants in Kathmandu Valley itself, even though they are confined to the lowland (Terai) area of Chitwan today. Perhaps they roamed and fed in the grasslands of Kathmandu Valley during the dry season and went in the rainy season to other areas because the Valley would then have been flooded with water. Mr.Yonechi went on to say, “In Japan too, fossil records indicate that in the Ice Age there were elephants in existence, but now there are no elephants in our country. Archeologists have made several important excavations of prehistoric sites, and it is my dream that in future we may be able to get more information on the pre-history of Kathmandu Valley and Japan.”

 

The drainage pattern of the Kathmandu Valley is the most typical instance of centripetal system, according to the geologist Arthur Holmes. The Bagmati River has many tributaries from every direction: Vishnumati from the north, Manohara and Upper Bagmati from the south-east, small tributaries from the east, Godaravi from the north-east, small tributaries from the west and Nakhu from the south. Nakhu is the only river in the entire Kingdom that flows from south to north. And the Bagmati River leaves Kathmandu Valley through the 500 meter long Chovar Gorge.

 

The Chovar Hill is composed of limestone and there’s a cement factory also located there.

 

Mr.Yonechi said, “The Chovar Hill resisted the erosion by the river and dammed up the water of a big lake once upon a time on the northern side of the hill. And gradually over a span of time, the groundwater must have made a kind of karst tunnel under the Chovar Hill. A part of the water was drained through this tunnel. By and by, the roof of the cave fell and formed the gorge.

 

Nepal was not Nepal then. We only know about the pre-historical periode which was 200 BC, the Licchavi dynasty from 200 till 750 BC, the Thakuri dynasty from 750BC, the early Malla dynasty from 1200 till 1482, the later Mallas from 1482 till 1768 and the recent Shah dynasty since 1768 till 2007. The human history of modern Nepal began towards the end of the 18th century with the Gorkha conquests, even though the fertile, culturally rich Kathmandu Valley was the object of conquests at all times in its past and they had a tough time thwarting the marauding people from the craggy mountains. Even after the establishment of the monarchy and later democracy, the old saying that ‘Kathmandu is Nepal’ still holds, for the country is still centralised. Will the future governments bring more decentralisation to the people of this land-locked country? It would be only in the interest of the Nepalese people to do so.

 

Time will tell us.

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Let’s Live Together, Despite the Differences

 

(Satis Shroff, Freiburg)

 

I met Toni Hagen ages ago in Freiburg where he’d come to give a talk about Nepal, and I must say he made a jolly good impression. As a long-time Freiburger, I went with him to a local tavern near the Schwabentor for a swig of German beer. ‘I’ve travelled 14,000 km on foot in Nepal’ said Toni Hagen, a soft-spoken, silvery-haired Swiss-geologist who would be 89 years now, hadn’t Yamaraj beckoned him earlier. He had that typical Schwyzerdeutsch accent, and he liked to think of his days in Nepal in the early fifties as his ‘wandering years,’ for as is the custom in Switzerland and Germany, when you’re through with learning your trade you embark upon an adventurous trip seeking expertise in as many cities and countries as possible before you settle down some place. His poor wife had to remain in Lenzerheide with the children.

 

In the case of Toni Hagen, however, he seemed to be a wandering soul, even in the winter of his life, spending half of his time in the Swiss Alps and the other half in the Himalayas. He was one of the last living witnesses of a secretive Nepal of the Middle Ages. He entered the Kingdom at a time when it was a “forbidden land” in the early fifties. As the first foreigner who had the freedom of travelling in Nepal as he pleased, Hagen visited areas which are still forbidden to most people even today. Most Toni Hagen admirers can view his life and experiences in the film ‘The Ring of Buddha.’ It is a melange of original film material from the fifties, colour transparencies from his book on the geology of Nepal, and the viewer gets an idea of the Kingdom of Nepal and its peoples. When I saw the film, I had the uneasy feeling that he was saying goodbye to us all.

 

With the passage of time, Toni Hagen changed his profession from geology to development-work, and he was deeply concerned about the problems of development aid, its successes and failures not only in Nepal but also in many other countries. The people interested him more than the stratigraphic formations. In a book published by the Unesco, dealing with the ‘socio-economic problems of Nepal’ he mentioned the development projects in Nepal and said that the ‘ecological catastrophe prophesy’ that he made in the early fifties ‘has come true’ and talked about the pioneer work in the geological survey of Nepal from 1960 till 1970, and wrote about his new edition of ‘Nepal’ and proudly mentioned that it was a fourth edition ‘without any changes’, and called it a standard work on Nepal, which indeed it is.

 

He took delight in the fact that the World Bank stopped the Arun III project in Nepal thanks to his efforts and the united lobbying on the part of the ecological organisation Urgewalt, Dr. Hermann Warth, and the political fractions from the SPD, Bündnis 90, the Greens and the PDS in influencing the German government, in addition to the decision of the new World Bank president James Wolfensohn and the assertion of the then prime minister Adhikary. After the World Bank decision not to finance the dam project, it was taken for granted that the 235 million marks from the German side would be set aside for other smaller projects. The Arun III was observed in Germany as development-politics gone haywire.

 

What Nepal needs,’ he stressed, ‘is not road-building projects but genuine and effective help in the agricultural sector. What Nepal needs are not atomic plants but water-works.’ And he wasn’t tired of mentioning, with a sense of pride, that His Majesty King Birendra had read his old reports and had asked him for his opinion regarding Nepal’s optimal development.

 

Is it too late for my country?’ was the question asked by King Birendra, he said, and in the same breath he expressed his admiration for the Nepalese King. He was of the opinion that ‘constitutional monarchy and continuity are essential for Nepal’s survival,’ and praised the advantages of decentralisation, which according to him, is a central characteristic of democracy and is important for every case involving planning whether it’s hydroelectric plants or tourism. In those days, the only pressure that Nepal had as a sovereign state was from India in connection with the trade and transit disagreements. Times have changed and the threat is from within, in the form of maoists, and not from without.

 

Toni Hagen said, ‘Development must come from the grassroots.’ He was awarded the title of ‘Distinguished Person of Kathmandu City’ on 15th of June 1995 by the mayor of Kathmandu Mr. P.L. Singh, who also presented him a key to the city. On this occasion Toni Hagen went on record as saying ‘Despite the failure of some politicians and parties, freedom of speech, press-freedom, multiparty system and the role of the opposition in the parliament remain the most important trait of the new system in Nepale­se politics.

 

Nepal can be divided into seven zones: the Terai, the Siwalik Hills, the Mahabharat Mountains (Lekh), the Nepal Midlands, the Himalayas, the Inner Himalayas and the Tibetan marginal mountains. And according to Toni Hagen the river system existed before the Nepal Himalayas came into existence. The Himalayan rivers carved gigantic gorges. According to him it would be appropriate if the Midlands were not ignored today. Almost lamentably he said that the terai urwald, primeval forest, did not exist anymore and talked about the World Bank and the Nepalese government’s project of settling people from the hills to the terai.

 

From the terai to the hills you have in ascending order of crop cultivation: rice, wheat, maize, millet, potatoes and grassland. Wheat is a relatively new crop in Nepal. He found the soft green revolution in Kathmandu welcome, but at the same time he pointed to the fact that the population had risen in the last decade at an alarming tempo, and called it ‘schlimm’ and bad enough. Nepal, in comparison to other Asian countries, has five persons per hectre of land’, he said and ‘possesses the biggest concentration of population density’.

 

And then he started to talk about the soil erosion. From the terai at the gangetic-level upto a height of 1800m you have rice terraces and from there up to 3000m you have the Kampf­zone (battle-zone) for existence and above that you have, till an elevation of 3500m, forests with increasing erosion and then grasslands in the Himalaya regions. He pointed out that the steep terraces resulted in soil erosion caused by human beings. The yield per hectre had been decreasing and the land for cultivation had also been decreasing.

 

As far as the terai was concerned, his prognosis was that it would produce surplus food for a decade, and mentioned that most of the food went to India, because the traders in the plains offered better prices and the transport infrastructure was already there in form of good railways and roads.

 

In the terai the ground water can be reached at a depth of 2 metres. The terai, with its rich alluvial soil, could be developed into the corn-chamber of Nepal, much like the Punjab in India. And Nepal should not export its rice to India but keep it for domestic demands in the Kingdom. He shook his head and said, ‘It’s easy, but it doesn’t function. We may have a surplus at the moment but the question is whether we can keep up this production or not?’

 

The farmers must be helped was his argument. Toni Hagen admitted he didn’t have a patent recipe for the problems of Nepal. The farmers had been ignored in Nepal according to Toni Hagen (not so in Taiwan and Niger). He complained that the Foreign Aid until 1976 invested money mostly in road-construction projects which was a grave mistake, for it sucked up the last reserves of Nepal.

 

Nepal is like a very sick patient. Multilateral and bilateral aid agencies at the governmental and non-governmental level have injected foreign cash and material into Nepal, and the result is that the very economic structure has been weakened. A sum of US 552.8 million was transferred to Nepal without any visible changes in the economic structure of the country and has created an aid-industry in which the corrupt middlemen earn a good living. The country’s masses suffer stoically, as they have done throughout the centuries at the hands of other rulers. Chakari, nepotism and corruption are just as rampant in the post-democratic era as in the past.

 

It must be noted, he said, that above 90% of the Nepalese population lives on agriculture. The first priority was given to transport, then agriculture and lastly energy. The other way round would have been better on the long run.

 

He held a pedagogic finger and reminded one Nepal is a country with the biggest hydro-electric potential in the world. ‘Even back in the fifties I suggested to the government to develop energy. Some officials regarded him as ‘backward in his thinking,’ and according to him foreign ex­change was wasted on useless thermal energy projects.

 

Whereas the population of Nepal in 1950 was 8 million, in 1988 it was 17,5 million. Today it’s 27 million. And whereas the mean life expectancy in 1950 was 26 years, a Nepalese now can live to be 40 to 50 years old if not more. Malaria was rampant in 1950 with 3 million cases, and in the eighties malaria, which was thought to have been eradicated, has made a comeback because the ‘mosquitoes are immune’. Whereas there were 2,5 million domestic animals in 1962, there are over 3,2 million these days. And whereas there were 6,4 million hectares of forest in 1950, it was reduced to half, namely 3,2 hectares in 1982. And whereas the illiteracy in 1950 was 98%, by 1976 almost 77% of the boys (and 25% girls) had gone through compulsory primary school. And as for the medical aspects, 50% more Nepalese doctors are concentrated in Kathmandu Valley than anywhere else in the Kingdom. Due to the war between the Maoists and the government troops and police there has been a steady decline (38%) in the tourist since 1998. And more than 13 000 Nepalese have died in the struggle for power. This would have appeared like a nightmare to Toni Hagen, who had another picture of Nepal in his mind—corrupt, but peaceful and tolerant. Live and let live was the life philosophy. Today it’s live and let die.

 

The rate of people leaving the rural areas was 3% in 1951 in comparison to 12% in 1982. The crop production figures and prospects according to the Swiss expert look gloomy with a deficit in the year 2000, beginning already in the early with a downward trend.

 

To a question about the Swiss road in Jiri, which had been praised in German TV as an ecological and technical masterpiece, he said: ‘It’s well built, but wrongly laid (falsch Angelegt). Neither did he have words of praise for the Nepal-India road, nor for the Kathmandu-Lhasa highway, which were great engineering feats. The Tribhuvan Rajpath connecting Nepal with India (built in 1956) was very bad because of erosion along the sides of the road. He called it a ‘terrible construction’. In the meantime the road is open for traffic.

 

In development aid there’s always a wrong investment. The aid-donors wanted to do too much in Nepal. That was the problem’, says Toni Hagen.

 

On the 11th of April 1996 there was a two-day ‘Nepal Aid Group’ conference in Paris, the first of its kind since 1992. The participating 13 donor nations were: Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Holland, Norway, the Saudi Development Fond, Switzerland, U.K., USA, in addition to various international finance organisations. The summit granted for the period 1996-97 assistance worth US$ 993 million to Nepal.

 

The then Nepalese finance minister Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat said, ‘The meeting in Paris has proved that the donor-nations show a cooperative attitude towards Nepal. The main points that these countries complained about were: the constant posting of the government employees, their sinking morale and the delay in the posting and transfers of the civil servants engaged in the development works. The aid-donors suggested that the prices of the public service should be oriented to the actual costs and emphasised the necessity of controlling the rampant corruption’.

 

Another current trend in development aid from Europe is this ‘Help to Self-Help’ especi­ally from the Germans. In 1995 Nepal received 29.3 million German marks for the projects and programmes of the financial and technical cooperation (FZ & TZ). The financial cooperation involves family-planning, a road infrastructure and a biogas project.

 

Toni Hagen said, ‘The Nepalese, for instance, should plant trees and care for them for five years. Integral projects would be good for Nepal’ and went on to talk about big projects with the motto: ‘No money, no water’ in other countries. The big organisations of rich countries have lots of money for development projects but how the money was invested was another matter. In his book on development problems he analysed 230 development projects, and according to him in rural areas only small projects have a chance to survive.

 

He quoted the villager who said, ‘My village has survived so many development projects’. Does it do good to bring the villages in developing countries to modern levels?

 

Even Swiss villages have come into being through laborious processes of development over long periods of history. Nepal is trying to catch up with the developed world within a few decades. There’s also the question of loss of identity due to development aid. Toni Hagen’s world existed during the Hippie-happy and Flower-power days, for there were no signs of militant maoists in those days. I remember a visitor from England, who was travelling with his side-kick from south India, who said, ‘In Nepal even children can walk around the countryside without fear of being molested or abducted. The Nepalese are such a wonderful people.’ Today, the parents would think twice before they let their children roam about in Nepal.

 

During my Tri Chandra College days, the communist students came from Doti, Silgadi and Dharan and had stacks of literature penned by Kim Il Sung, Lenin, Marx and Mao’s red books, all made available by the respective cultural centres of these communist countries in Kathmandu. Nobody raised an eyebrow, for these books were available every, even at the Sajha shops of Kathmandu and elsewhere. Today the maoists have spread from Rukum and the Far West but also in Kathmandu. An educated working mother from Kathmandu, with a PhD from Germany, wrote recently to me, ‘Imagine how life in Kathmandu is, due to the corrupt politicians. Right now there are street blockades, actually economic blockades around Kathmandu imposed by the Maoists, The market-price of food commodities have gone pretty high. Sugar, kerosine and other fuels are not available. The businessmen are also responsible for the artificial scarcity. One has to be prepared to pay thrice the price for these commodities and you will get these. Life has become insecure for us Nepalese these days. Once you leave your house, you will never know what might happen. A bomb on the roadside might blow you up.’

 

Toni Hagen would have thought differently were he living these days, for Nepal has been undergoing a political and military turmoil and Nepal’s face has changed a lot. But let’s talk about our ageing Swiss friend. Toni Hagen’s eyes twinkled when he spoke about the humorous and sunny nature of the Nepalese soul. He called it ‘die Heiterkeit der Seele’ in German, which means the joyousness of the soul.

 

The Nepalese don’t take anything seriously, and themselves the least,’ he said with a smile. And then he switched over to an anecdote about one of the first DC-3 landings in Pokhara in 1950, which was quite a feat then. There was a big crowd of Gurung, Thakali and Tamang farmers gathered to watch the propeller-driven Dakota- aircraft. Out of the DC-3 came a jeep along the ramp and an astonished Nepali farmer said: “It’s like a birth. The small vehicle will learn to fly soon!” In his film he also mentioned his early porters who’d thrown his geological data, namely rocks from the Himalayas, because they’d though rocks are everywhere, so why carry them. It was a hilarious situation in the film, but such a thing wouldn’t have happened if he’d taken the trouble to talk with his porters in their lingo about the importance of the specimens they were carrying behind their backs.

 

Nepal hasn’t changed since the last 45 years in the hills,’ he said, with a twinge of nostalgia and talked about Pokhara with its backdrop of the gigantic Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains. He liked to call the Machapuchare the ‘Nepalese Matterhorn’ in his exquisite Swiss accent and said the Swiss Matterhorn looked so insignificant when compared with the Fish-Tail Mountain. And then he expressed his praise and admiration for the ‘precisely laid rice terraces in Nepal, a wonderful innovation of the Nepali people.’ The terrace farming is a several 100 year old tradition in Nepal. Speaking English as a Swiss geologist from Lenzerheide is one thing, but learning the Nepali language and speaking it is another. Most visitors to Nepal have the attitude that the Nepalese speak English, and they should learn German, Japanese which easier and more convenient for visitors than the other way around.

 

Rice is regarded noble and millet as of lesser quality,’ said Toni Hagen and spoke of the golden yellow millet fields below the Machapuchare. Below the 2000m Dhaulagiri you have the red ‘kodo’ millet-fields and kodo is protein-rich. He was also all-praise for the Nepali farmers with their diversification of products. There was no monoculture in Nepal (except in the tea-plantations of Ilam and Darjeeling). The farmers planted rice, wheat, potatoes and varied them.

 

The Rara lake at 3000m reminded him of the Swiss lakes in the Alps. And Langtang at 3,500m had lush meadows, with hundreds of edelweiss flowers like in the Alps. He said: ‘When I was in Langtang for the first time, I thought we could make cheese here with yak-milk and that’s how the Swiss-idea of setting up a dozen cheese factories in the Nepal Himalayas began. The cheese is transported on the backs of the Tamang and Sherpa porters from a height of 5,800m to Kathmandu. The Tibetans, Sherpas, Tamangs and other Nepalese ethnic groups knew only churpi, the Nepalese hard-cheese, which is pure casein.

 

I told him, ‘We, Nepalese, call it Nepali chewing-gum’ and he laughed. Toni Hagen appreciated the Swiss-aided Himalayan cheese and said they tasted just as good as the Swiss ones.

 

And some even have Swiss-holes in the cheese,’ he said with a laugh. This scribe remembers eating cheese and drinking yak-milk during his Amrit Science College days with his Nepalese Ascolite friends at the milk-shop in Thamel. It can happen that some have no enzyme called lactase in their intestine flora and cannot digest the milk-products and suffer from Kathmandu-quicksteps. The Swiss-idea was also a boon to the tourists, foreign residents and western-oriented Nepalese.

 

Recalling his surveys in the Khumbu area: Ama Damlam, Makalu and Mt. Everest he said, like a boarding-school boy who had gone out of bounds, “ In 1956 I managed to go to Tibet, to the north of Everest without permission. The Chinese were then in Tibet.” And talked about the dangerous and treacherous glaciers: “You’re never sure when water flows under the glacier.”

 

According to him there was an increasing population mobility in Nepal, but the racial schemes still exist. Then he was ecstatic about the incomparable harmonious religious tolerance in Nepal.

 

Take Swayambhunath for instance, which is for all Hindus and Buddhists. The Nepalese live near each other, mingle with each other: nebeneinander, durcheinander.’ he said. Today it`s more durcheinander due to the war in Nepal. But he certainly wasn’t thinking about Nepal’s political problems with the Maoists. What Nepal needs is a culture of tolerance between the warring political parties, for after battling with each other, the Maoists, democratic parties and the monarch should realise that what all in the end desire is peace. Peace and tolerance is a better path than violence. Aggressive behaviour and politics has only lead to destruction of all involved in Nepal’s struggle. Like old Hagen said, “Let us live together, despite the differences.”

 

Toni Hagen is dead, but my memories of him remain. His ashes were strewn over the Khumbu Himalayas at an altitude of 5500m by his daughter Katrin from a Karnali Air helicopter. I still see him with his blue glassy eyes, as he raised his beer glass, and said with a tinge of nostalgia, ‘Auf Nepal .’ I followed it up with ‘Auf die Schweiz!’ He’d invited me to Lenzerheide, but I never made it.

 

 

Satis Shroff describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. He lives in Germany according to the motto: once a journalist, always a journalist and has written over a period of three decades, what the Germans would call a “Landesumschau,” for his Nepalese readers with impressions from Freiburg, Venice, Rottweil, Prague, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Basel and Grindelwald. Satis Shroff has worked with The Rising Nepal (Gorkhapatra Corporation), where he wrote a weekly Science Spot and editorials and commentaries on Nepal’s development, health, wildlife, politics and culture. He also wrote weekly commentaries for Radio Nepal. He has studied Zoology and Geology in Kathmandu, Medicine and Social Science in Freiburg and Creative Writing under Associate Prof. Bruce Dobler, MFA, Iowa University and with Writers Bureau (Manchester). He was awarded the German Academic Prize.

 

Writing experience: Satis Shroff’s anthology ‘Between Two Worlds’ published by www.Lulu.com is about a writer caught between upheavals in two countries, Nepal and Germany, where maoists and skin-heads are respectively trying to undermine democratic values, religious and cultural life. Satis Shroff writes political poetry, in German and English, about the war in Nepal (My Nepal, Quo vadis?), the sad fate of the Nepalese people (My Nightmare, Only Sagarmatha Knows), the emergence of neo-fascism in Germany (Mental Molotovs, The Last Tram to Littenweiler) and love (An Dich, The Broken Poet, Without Words, About You), women’s woes (Nirmala, Bombay Brothel). His bicultural perspective makes his poems rich, full of awe and at the same time heartbreakingly sad. In writing ‘home,’ he not only returns to his country of origin time and again, he also carries the fate of his people to readers in the West, and his task of writing is a very important one in political and social terms. His true gift is to invent Nepalese metaphors and make them accessible to the West through his poetry. Read his poems, articles and essays on www.google & www.yahoo under search: satis shroff

 

 

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