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,
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
The godliness in you.
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.
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
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.
Umwelt: German word for environment
Braahmins, Chettris: high castes in Hinduism