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Archive for March, 2008

Wolfgang Graf: A Freiburger Feingeist (Satis Shroff)

Wolfgang Graf was born in Freiburg-Zähringen and did his schooling at the Kepler Gymnasium. Later he studied Biology and Chemistry at the Freiburger University because he thought then that it would be good to be a teacher in a school. But he didn’t teach and worked instead in the quality control department of a factory lab, which produced cigarettes in Freiburg.

 

He said that science and technology always interested him, a child he looked at what his big sister, who had her own photo-lab and experimented with photo development and used her microscope. Later at school he wrote a paper about the human nervous system as his Abitur dessertation. But that wasn’t all.

 

There was something boiling within me that had to come out. It had to be the arts. During his school days he painted a lot, wrote poems, and even a theatre manuscript, which was printed in the school-mag, but which was never staged,” said Wolfgang.

 

Wolfgang describes himself as a late post-World War II child and he lived with his parents and two sisters in one room at Grandma’s flat in Zähringen, in which there were three rooms for eight persons. Grandpa was semi-paralysed since thirty years.

 

My father was 16 when he had to join the Wehrmacht as a soldier but he wasn’t involved in the real fighting. He shot his thumb through an accident. As children we took it as something serious and Dad enjoyed it as a heroic deed to be wounded during the war. He put on a laconical smile and said, “It was more a case of collerateral damage. Dad died last December. Mom lives in Freiburg and is 87 years old.”

 

How’s she doing?” I asked him.

 

He replied, ‘She’s still going strong. She loves watching TV and reading women’s and TV mags and is fond of the Bild Zeitung because of the big headlines.’

 

I recall an old Freiburger medical professor who was also an avid Bild reader, Germany’s leading Yellow Press Zeitung. During one of our conversations in the crowded S-Ban on our way to Freiburg’s main railway station we’d started talking about the ‘Entartete Kunst’ during the Nazi regime. So I asked him a question about it.

 

Wolfgang replied, “Germans have a big history but just before the World War II, the Nazis introduced their own version of what art and culture should be. Faschism brought not only war and misery to Europe but also destroyed modern art and culture. In Italy and France the people sing a lot but in Germany there’s no singing culture anymore.”

 

What’s the reason?’ I asked him.

He said, “The Nazis sang too much, al the time and we Germans have now have a disturbed relationship to old German songs.”

 

In this context I’d like to mention that Alois F. who’s a prominent member of the Zähringia, a local old men’s singing choir, asked me to join them. But Thomas my neighbour from Cologne told me that the old boys’ choir didn’t want new English songs. They didn’t want any innovative ideas. Just their old songs, and this didn’t appeal to the younger generation of Germans who prefer:hip-hop, Eminem, 50 Cents, Tokyo Hotel and gospel songs. When you go to the local church you see only old people and mothers with toddlers. The youth are conspicuous through their absence.

 

What about the olde German Liedergut, the treasury of songs?” I asked Wolfgang.

 

German culture is rich in songs and they used to sing it a lot before the World war II.” He went on to say, “Even Hitler wanted to be an artist but he was refused admission in Austria. The Art Academy in Vienna refused Hitler the unknown artist twice. If they’d taken him, there would have been no World War II.”

 

The work in the lab didn’t interest him either and he switched to a dancing career in 1978.

 

Wolfgang said with a laugh, “I had a girl-friend at that time who was a dancer. Actually he wanted to be an actor and play in the German theatre. She told me: ’Come along, it’ll do you good.’ I complied and then began my life-long love affair with dancing. In those days there was an Alternative Movement, wherein you cold do anything if you wanted to.”

 

Contemporary dancing (Zeitgenössischer Tanz) was an unknown form in those days, but there was a growing scene for those who were interested. In 1980 he founded a school for New Dance, Theatre and Bodywork with some friends, which exists even till today, and had made Freiburg, besides Berlin, one of the important centres for new dance forms. There was a breakaway from the traditional dance movements and the gender roles were questioned and changed, everyday-movements were brought on the stage and the barriers to the theatre were eliminated. The motto of the school became: “Every movement can be danced” and it produced new professional dancers till today.

 

We were freelance dancers and we opened our own school and performed in festivals in Freiburg (1979-80). The Hippie-Flower Power Culture was long over and a lot of people wanted to try out something new things, new ideas and there was a Häuserkampfbewegung, in which empty houses were boarded by young people, the police came, there was a struggle ensued, the young people were carried away, only to reappear the next day.’

 

During his students days he lived with six friends in a provincial nest, an old farm with a gardening complex. It was a time when they thought everything was possible. If someone had an idea they got together and made it work. There were alternative schools, bakeries, car-garages and a lot of other things. They forced their projects without state-subventions, that is with all the advantages and disadvantages. But today, according to him, the people try to find an existing niche, instead of doing something themselves.

 

To give impulses, produce and work with others together, that’s what made Wolfgang decide to work in the end as a Kulturbeauftragter (culture-manager) in Basle (Switzerland). Wolfgang was a dancer before he became an organisator of cultural events, and travelled as a dancer, choreograph through Europe and worked as a dance-teacher. He remembers working in “The Detective from China” Dance Butter Tokyo, where he spent two months, an Internatonal Ensemble mit 17 dancers from Japan Switzerland, Finnland und Germany and the director was Anzu Furukawa. In Tokyo, Nagano he danced the “Last Toast in Japan”a solo-performance, then came Dornbirn, in Dresden, Cologne “The Diamond as big as the Ritz” Dance Butter Tokyo, a two month stay in Japana, he starred in the International Ensemble comprising 12 dancers and Anzu Furukawa was again the director. Then he danced in “Tonight in The Moon” a duo-dance with Anzu Furukawa, Idar-Oberstein/ Freiburg “Duo” Neuer Tanz und Neue Musik – Improvisations with the Saxophonist Christina Fuchs, Cologne “Alternating Currents” International Improvisations Ensemble, Potsdam, Freiburg, Stuttgart (Sprache des Körpers, the language of the body.

 

Even though he was a lot of times in foreign countries, he always came to roost in Freiburg. Today he lives with his wife and son in Freiburg Zähringen, where he spent his childhood. Only once did he think of going to Paris and work there but he’d have been another dancer, and not someone who organises and runs events, and on the other hand he really didn’t feel at home in the world of performing arts.

 

Perhaps I’m less of a Feingeist and a bit rustical to be a part of it,” he said with a grin.

 

That’s why he had to balance his life between strenuous dance-performances and organising events, especially when he turned forty. He decided to say farewell to the stage and devoted his time to culture-management. At first he organised different theatre projects in Freiburg, then as the chief of the Theater/Tanz workshop Kaserne in Basel and ultimately as a culture-manager of Riehen. In the meantime Wolfgang rides his bicycle, swims and does a bit of jogging. As one of the founders of Tanzfestival, he made a small come-back during the 25th Birthday of the dance festival. “I had to summon up a bit of courage, but then I was astonished,” he said with a smile. I hadn’t forgotten anything. I could really dance.”

As a parting question I asked him, “You’ve worked in Germany and in Switzerland. How do you find the Swiss?”

Wolfgang’s answer came like a bullet from a Bretta, “In Switzerland everything’s organised perfectly and one has to avoid making mistakes. We have more time and things go a bit slowly than in Germany. I think it’s the Calvinism behind it. This strict, evangelical form of Christianity in Switzerland makes everything function like a clockwork. The administration is strict but you don’t see this strictness outwards. Things are done in cooperation with others. The Swiss want superlatives and are not satisfied with moderate results.”

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 Commentary on Tibet:

 

Gold Medals versus Human Rights (Satis Shroff)

 

The Dalai Lama has threatened to resign as the political leader of the Tibetans in Tibet and the diaspora (USA, India, Nepal and Switzerland), but the protests within Tibet has been rising although Tibet has been hermetically sealed for foreign journalists, and the nabbed demonstrators have been put to show as terrorists, their own outmoded arms on display (Royal Enfield rifles from World War II), knives and a few cartridges. A young monk was shown on TV welcoming and thanking the Chinese Army soldiers as ‘saviours’ by putting the traditional khada scarves on their heads.

 

Never before was a farce staged so badly. It was sickening to watch it, propaganda at its worst. The foreign journalists were obliged to leave Lhasa so that the Chinese propaganda could function without democratic impediments. And the views that have emerged through Xinhuan and Chinese TV are conspicuous through their slanted reporting to the benefit of the rulers in Beijing.

 

The world knew already in 2001 that Peking put not only the Tibetans under pressure but consequently cracked down on intellectuals and other Tibetan people, and even so far as to hang them en masse as political criminals. It is ironical that the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Beijing. One hopes that this will be a lesson to the Olympic Committee if they are ever in a dilemma of staging the Games in similar countries, where the rights of the individuals are suppressed, and human rights are trampled upon. This goes against the Olympic spirit. But the question of morality and ethics doesn’t seem to arise when political lobbyists are at work, and economic and commercial gains are also a part of the game, in this case, Games. The privileged party elite of Peking and the organisers of many western countries seem to have a common opinion as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, and they all come up with: how could be punish our own sportsmen and women by not letting them take part in the competitions? Think of the gold medal possibilities.

 

A sportsman with ethos and integrity would be ashamed to take part in the competitions. Most of the organising and participating nations are against boycotting the Games “because it would damage the sport and the contestants (sic).” On the one side, we have competitors wanting to take part in the Games no matter what it costs. On the other side, there are the one-party organisers in Beijing who see the Tibetans as disturbing elements led by the Dalai Lama clique, although they know very well that this is a cheap lie, fabricated to suits their purpose. Thanks to the Olympic Games 2008, the Chinese elite are in the international limelight, and have been ignoring the critical views of the rest of the world’s leaders and world organisations, and using them for their own purposes. The march of the Chinese troops in Lhasa has shown the real face of China.

 

What are gold medals worth in terms of humanity? A dark shadow has been cast upon the Olympics 2008 and August is nearing, but Peking is adamant. It’s still playing the olde, hackneyed melody, instead of listening to the Tibetans and the conscience of the world that are demanding equal human rights and justice, tolerance and respect for China’s minorities.

 

Ach Freiburg, wasn’t it this German town which invited and feted the Dalai Lama and showed that we were in solidarity with him, his folk and his cause? Now we are silent when Tibet needs us. The Olympic spirit and Machtpolitik should not be allowed to go hand in hand. We have had parallels in Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980. The International Olympic Committee has made a terrible mistake in awarding Peking, at this stage of its power-politics, the privilege of staging the Olympic Games.

 

Come August and the Games are really staged in Beijing, this will be the unkindest cut for the people of Tibet, the peace-loving Dalai Lama, the man who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in Stockholm, lest we forget, by the western world.

 

It can only be hoped that the Beijing government gives up the path of brutal confrontation, does a bit of soul searching and turns to the peaceful path of conflict solution through dialogue at the same eye-level, and not from above-to-below with its minorities. Since the Chinese and Tibetans (government in exile at Dharamsala) obviously are not in a position to carry out talks together, it would be better if Beijing consented to talks with UN mediators.

 

There is no denying that the Olympic Games are a competitive festival of sports and cultures, but how can people of different cultures celebrate when war-tanks and the Chinese Army are holding the Tibetan folk back in Lhasa, “Jhokang-market, and people in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Tongren (Rebkong) in the province Qinghai? The situation is similar to 1989 when ten thausand Tibetans demonstrated against the Chinese regime.In those days Perking imposed military rule over Lhasa, and sent its People’s Army to the streets. Hundreds of monks were imprisoned, many were shot.

 

Today, a new generation of monks and Tibetan angry youth have grown up and are only trying to fight for their human rights, as members of Homo sapiens. Even the Dalai Lama spoke of more autonomy, mind you, within the framework of the Chinese constitution. What the Tibetans want are equal rights and freedom from the cultural domination of thousands of Han Chinese, who have been re-settled by Beijing’s policy makers with the result that the Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. This is certainly not what the Tibetans and the western world understand under ‘autonomy.’

 

For centuries Tibet was the ‘autonomous region’ of China. But the Tibetans hae been deprived of their very autonomy with the creation of a Chinese governor. China has in the past regarded the Himalayan countries as its phalanx, and has fought fiercely against India in 1962 over the border areas. There’s a Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai atmosphere, as the two big South Asian powers vie with each other for economic and commercial gains and cooperation newly between the Indian and Chinese troops and take part in military exercises. The Lingua franca of Tibet is not Tibetan now but Standard Chinese, for the Han Chinese are out to develop Tibet and its people culturally, economically, socially and psychologically after the motto: there’s no better culture than the Han culture.

 

In the Kindergardens and schools of Tibet most of the lessons are held in Chinese, and not Tibetan. If one speaks Tibetan, one risks losing one’s job. When the Tibetan parents speak with the teachers they are obliged to do so only in Chinese, even though they are Tibetans. If this isn’t cultural imperialism, then what is it?

 

Even though some athletes are showing character and personal integrity by protesting as individuals spontaneously, the majority, however, do want to take part in the Games. Like for instance the German spear-thrower Christina Obergföll who said: “The boycott would steal the chance of a lifetime.” The manager of Sabine Spitz (mountain-bike discipline) said: “The boycott will only punish the athletes.”

 

Beijing has to listen to the Dalai Lama and his followers in the West, and in Tibet, and take to dialogue, instead of playing the hardliner and condemning and slandering His Holiness and his ‘so-called clique.’ The former spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet has serious and sincere intentions as far as the future of Tibet is concerned The communist politicians in Beijing have to realise that the only way to peace and stability in this former poverty-stricken country of monks, farmers and nomads is not through the use of force (Gewalt) but through well-meant consessions through dialogue, and by raising the status of the Tibetans to that of the Han-Chinese, andletting and encouraging them to develop Tibet together, and not by regarding Tibet’s wonderful culture and religion as something inferior and exotic. We can all learn from Tibet’s rich culture. Beijing has more to gain if it follows the path of peace, tolerance and Miteinander (togetherness) instead of using cheap propaganda to stage a Peking Opera with Tibetans as the culprits, which no one with a conscience, character and integrity wants to see. The scenario is well-known in the western world and no propaganda in this world can help the Chinese government in this particular issue.

 

The Han and other Chinese have the chance to prove to the world that they can practice social welfare and social development by giving the Tibetans the same autonomy, same status as the other Chinese. Otherwise, Beijing’s political goals remain a farce, reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.

 

The Ocean of Wisdom (Satis Shroff)

 

Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual and former

Temporal ruler of Tibet,

Came to a town in the Black Forest

And conquered the hearts of the Freiburger.

A lama in a back limousine,

Applauded by hundreds of Europeans and Asians.

You could feel the goose-pimples in your body,

Tears of joy came to your eyes.

His Holiness prays and blesses

The Tibet Kailash Haus,

A thousand Tibetan prayer flags

Flutter merrily in the wind,

Carrying the mumbled words to Himmel.

 

At the Freiburger Town Council

Says the lama:

Nations, races, social classes

Even religions are secondary.

What is important is that

We are all human beings.

 

Even the sun breaks through the clouds

When Tenzin Gyatso folds his hands,

Smiles from the balcony,

And throws flying kisses

To the German masses.

Even Petrus seems to be smile in Heaven.

 

The Ambassador of Peace

Hopes for a peaceful change,

In Tibet, the Roof of the World,

Where the economy booms

Under the control of the Chinese,

But where democracy and human rights

Are still stifled.

 

I remember seeing His Holiness

As a child in the foothills of the Himalayas,

As he fled across the Abode of the Snows.

Crowds thronged with snow white khadas,

To greet the Dalai Lama.

And here was I in Germany

With my humble prayers,

And there His Holiness,

Blessing us all,

The personification of the Ocean of Wisdom.

 

A seventy-two year old monk,

With the charisma and spontaneity of a child.

A message which said:

Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist or atheist,

If you have compassion for humans,

You can’t be wrong.’

What counts are the inner values

Within us:

Love, forgiveness, tolerance and self-discipline.

Religions help us to make these values even stronger.

Like the inner love and dialogue,

Between a mother and a child,.

To create a Century of Dialogue.

 

 

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‘From the Land of the Gods: Art of the Kathmandu Valley’ & ‘Nepal in Black and White: Photographs by Kevin Bubriski’ March 14 – October 13, 2008

RMA is pleased to present two exhibitions focused on Nepal, ‘From the Land of the Gods: Art of the Kathmandu Valley’ and ‘Nepal in Black and White: Photographs by Kevin Bubriski.’ Both exhibitions open to the public on Friday, March 14 and run through Monday, October 13, 2008.
Taken together, the exhibitions offer a nuanced exploration of Nepal – its art, culture, religious belief systems, people and politics – spanning from 1200 to the late 1980s.

‘From the Land of the Gods: Art of the Kathmandu Valley’ draws from RMA’s permanent collection, exhibiting more than 50 of the museum’s finest examples of Nepalese sculpture, painting, and ritual objects. Emphasis is on highlighting the variety of forms and subjects, techniques and media, which emerged from Nepal’s creative matrix. The exhibition also touches on the main religious traditions of the
Kathmandu Valley, Hinduism (Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shakta) and Buddhism, which have been integral in the artistic and culturally rich environment.
Historically, the kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley comprised the political, religious, and cultural entity now known as Nepal. Located between India and the region of Tibet, the valley acts as a crossroads
of trans-Himalayan trade, the shared sacred site of various Himalayan religions, and one of the epicenters for much of Himalayan art. This unique position has fostered a tremendous amount of cultural, social,
and religious exchange in Nepal, thus establishing a living creative tradition that is one of the single most important influences in Himalayan art history.

‘Nepal in Black and White: Photographs by Kevin Bubriski’ presents more than 30 of Kevin Bubriski’s photographs, selected from his large body of work produced over the last 35 years of his visits to Nepal, beginning in 1975. The exhibition is composed of his black and white photographs, taken in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. In addition, four of Kevin Bubriski’s color photographs will be on view in the lobby near RMA’s spiral staircase.

Kevin Bubriski’s first introduction to the country he would come to document over the years was as a Peace Corps volunteer working on drinking water supply pipelines in remote mountain villages. He carried
a 35mm camera with him everywhere he went, taking photographs that would form the beginning of the body of work he built up over the following years. In 1984, Kevin Bubriski returned to Nepal as a photographer. This time, he carried with him a 4″ x 5″ view camera, a tripod, and the trappings of a mobile professional set-up, traveling the length and breadth of the country for the better part of three years.

With unflinching clarity and sharp detail, the photographs in ‘Nepal in Black and White: Photographs by Kevin Bubriski’ show the changes that took place between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, especially the influence of Western society on a previously isolated culture.

In his words: „The realization that not only my camera but also the modern world was, in turn, making ever-increasing intrusions into even the most remote areas of Nepal compelled me to document a time and way of life slipping inexorably into the past“.

About RMA: RMA houses an esteemed collection of Himalayan art. The paintings, pictorial textiles, and sculpture are drawn from cultures that touch upon the 1,800 mile arc of mountains that extends from Afghanistan in the northwest to Myanmar (Burma) in the southeast and includes Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, and Bhutan. The larger Himalayan cultural sphere, determined by significant cultural exchange over millennia, includes Iran, India, China, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The rich cultural legacy of this region, largely unfamiliar to Western viewers, offers an uncommon opportunity for visual adventure and aesthetic discovery. For young and old alike it is an environment in
which to encounter the unknown and find meaningful dialogue. It requires actively bringing to bear one’s previous experience, looking closely at the material at hand, discriminating carefully, and shaping
the imagination. The fundamental aim of the museum is to provide this adventure in learning through art.

Working to foster connections between visitors and the art is RMA’s diverse team of knowledgeable and professional guides who are always available on the gallery floors to answer questions, engage in
discussions, and help explore the art at any level. The guides work in concert with RMA’s ambitious schedule of exhibitions, education, and public programming, designed to provide multiple entryways to delve into Himalayan art.

FROM: Rubin Museum of Art (RMA), 150 West 17th Street, New York, NY
10011
Contact: Karen Kedmey
Phone: (212) 620 5000 x331Rubenstein Public Relations
Contact: Holly Jespersen
Phone: (212) 843 8071

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The Living Goddess Kumari:

 

Hush! Gods Cannot Die in Nepal (Satis Shroff)

 

The Kumari, who is worshipped as the Living Goddess in Katmandu, is a small girl who lives in a beautiful palace with exquisitely carved wooden windows called the Palace of the Kumari. You can recognise her on her scarlet sari with golden edges, her pagoda-formed jet black hair, which are tied neatly on top. And she wears the third eye of wisdom on her forehead.

 

The beginnings of the Kumari Cult date back to the 13th century. A decisive event of the cult took place in 1323 when a king named Hari Singh Deva, who hailed from North India fled from the Islamic invaders and sought refuge in Nepal with his family. Among others things he’d also brought along his family goddess Taleju Bhavani. Hara Singh soon became the King of Bhaktapur, and as a consequence Taleju Bhavani became the ruling Goddess of the town of Katmandu. Even today, the Kumari remains the most important Goddess of the Nepalese King, and the protector of Katmandu Valley.

 

According to a legend delivered 200 years ago, when Nepal comprised many small independent kingdoms, the Goddess used to visit one of these kings once in a while. They used to talk with each other with respect and played Tripasa, an old dice game in those days. One day King Jaya Prakash Malla fell unfortunately in love the Goddess and tried to seduce her, who understandibly felt piqued and insulted, and henceforth didn’t pay them any more visits. She came once in his dream once though and ordered him to choose a small girl from the Sakya family, the caste of the Newar goldsmiths of Kathmandu Valley. The Goddess proclaimed that she would reside as a reincarnation in the innocent and virgin body of the Sakya girl. The Goddess Taleju told him, ‘Pray and worship her as Kumari, the Living Goddess, for when you worship her, you worship me.’

 

As time went on the other kings carried out the tradition of the Kumari cult, and when you go to Nepal you’ll see and experience this ancient cult even today. The Katmandu Kumari is the Royal Kumari, and is worshipped by the King of Nepal, even though the King has been stripped of his judiciary, legislative and executive powers, because according to Hindu tradition the King of Nepal is still regarded as the reincarnation of Vishnu by the Hindus, the second God of the Hindu triad (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The worshippers of Vishnu (Bishnu) recognise in him the supreme being from whom all things emanate. In the epics Mahabharata and the Puranas, Vishnu is the creator (Prajapati) and supreme God.

 

It might be noted that last year King Gyanendra insisted on visiting the Kumari in her palace and worshipped the Living Goddess, despite the fact that he’d become unpopular as a monarch with the people of Kathmandu Valley, and Nepal in general., through his brutal use of force instead of peaceful democratic dialogue. While King Birendra, his dead brother, was a popular monarch, Gyanendra’s ascension to Nepal’s throne was jinxed from the beginning and stood under a bad planetary constellation, as the court astrologer (Raj jotisi) would put it. King Birendra lost his absolute power in 1990 after a bloody people’s revolution. Nepal became thereafter a parlamentary monarchy, but the mountainous country became politically unstable. Even though a Nepalese journalist has written a best-seller in the country with the title „Rakta Kunda“ which threw light into the working of the blue-blooded royal denizens of the Narayanhiti Palace, and the palace murders, it is, nevertheless, not clear who really shot and eliminated the entire Shah clan. Strangely enough, King Gyanendra and his family were conspicious through their absence during the massacre.

 

It was more a symbolical gesture to appease the people of Nepal, who were out in the streets along with the armed and militant Maoists, that King Gyanendra paid homage to the Living Goddess last year. It seems to have worked wonders. Some important politicians of the Congress Party have now expressed their second thoughts about having the disposed of the King. A pro-monarchy movement seems to have cropped up in the Nepalese capital.

 

Now back to the Kumari or Indra Jatra. A jatra is a religious procession in Nepal and India. ‘Who’s Indra?’ you might ask. Indra is the God of the firmament, the personified atmosphere. It is during the Indra Jatra’s third night of festivities that the Shah King of Nepal visits the the Kumari in her palace, which is located near Basantapur Plaza. This is thought to be not only a gesture of respect but also an evidence that the king holds no power over the manifestation of Taleju Bhavani. The Kumari legitimates through this act of granting the King of Nepal an audience, and applying tika on his forehead, his rule for a period of one year. And thereby hangs a tale.

 

‘How can one become a Living Goddess?’ you might ask. In order to be a Kumari, the female candidates have to be three or four years old and must fulfill a row of conditions that have been set down in the scriptures as ‘the list of 32 signs’:

 

The virgin has to have well proportioned hands, and feet like those of a duck. She must have beautifully formed heels and possess circular lines on the soles of her dainty feet. Her body has to have the form of saptaccha leaf. Her cheeks and busom must resemble that of a lion. The nape of her neck and throat like a conch from the ocean. She much have forty well-formed, white teeth. The tongue must be small, wet and sensitive. Her voice must resemble that of a sparrow. The eyes and eye-lashed like those of the holy cow. Her shadow has to be beautiful and golden hued. The hair has to be smooth, black and has to fall to the right side. Her hands, feet and long toes have to be soft and small. She must have round shoulders and long arms. The body of the Kumari has to be flawless, sans pockmarks, and a skim with well-formed pores. She must have a round head with a high forehead. A resistent body, well-formed like the nyagrodha tree.

 

The girls who possess the 32 outer perfections are obliged to wait till it becomes dark, so that they can qualify in the feats in scary full darkness, when normal three or four year old kids get the creeps and cry for ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ in the dark, full of fear. But these are ancient Hindu rituals, customs and traditions in a far-away land, performed by under the strict supervision of Buddhist and Hindu priests. The real Kumari is expected to show her courage by overcoming these terrible, shocking scenarios that unfurl one after the other throughout the night, and ferocious growls and noises made by the hidden priests, and are show terrible and frightening masks of demons, and the sight of 108 slaughtered buffalo heads dripping with blood. If, and only if, she doesn’t cry is this regarded as one of the signs of her godliness. Once she has been chosen, she becomes a Living Goddess, wears the regalia associated with the Goddess Taleju Bhavani, and presides at the many Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies as the Living Goddess, till she reaches puberty, when her hormones take over her phycical and psychic development into a woman, and she menstruates. A Goddess does not bleed. In case she does, naturally at puberty or earlier through a fall and subsequent injury, she becomes a mortal. A bleeding, crying, but perhaps happy mortal. Gone are the days and nights in the Kumari Palace, where she blessed all the Hindus, Buddhist and grey-eyed, blonde haired curious visitors with their mobilecams and camcorders. A reign without her parents, following strict rules and regulations comes to an end. She can find solace in th arms of her parents and brothers and sisters.

 

The Kumaris receive a small pension after their ‘ruling’ periods are over. If a Kumari bleeds when she looses a tooth, it means she has to leave her throne. The priest touches six parts of the Kumari’s body body with a bunch of grass: the vulva, Labia majoris, the navel, the breast and the throat. This ritual is meant to transform the body of the mortal girl to that of a godly one. In Nepal there are quire a few Kumaris, and three of them are worshipped with great ceremonies and fanfare in Katmandu, Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) and Patan (Lalitpur). But not all Kumaris live such isolated lives like the Royal Kumari of Katmandu, who has to be carried by the priests lest her holy feet be polluted by the filth of the earth trodden by mortals. Normally, a Sakya Newari girl can be a Kumari and is respected and worshipped till seven or eight years. Nevertheless, the Kumari is a feature (Konstrukt) or institute based on fragile premises. If a Kumari dies during her tenure as a Living Goddess, she cannot be reincarnated, because according to Hinduism a Goddess cannot die. But weren’t King Birendra and Queen Aiyeshwarya and other members of the divine royal family shot and died like common mortals? Hush! Gods cannot die in Nepal.

 

When Sajani Sakya, a Kumari who went to the USA on a 39 day trip to attend the screening of a BBC documentary about her life, some priests headed by Jaiprasad Regmi, demanded that she be declared a mortal and thus no longer a Kumari, because a Goddess is not allowed to go abroad—across the kala pani (black water). A faux pas that the purity-pollution-thinking priests haven’t forgiven her. There is obviously a power play between the orthodox priests on the one hand, and the

democratic, neo-ethnic federalists, human rights activists, feminists and maoists on the other hand. Whereas the priests are trying to prevent the undermining of their ancient rights and privileges as mediators between the Gods and humans, there is an increasingcommercialisation of the revered but poor Living Goddess by the western media. Instead of centuries of silence as a Kumari, the Living Goddess of Katmandu might in future give public human-interest interviews, and exclusive photo shootings in her new role till the hormones play havoc in her godly body.

 

Nepal has to go with the times, for the the Hindu and Buddhist worshippers of the Kumari have left the country and the believers have settled down in foreign shores, and desire and demand their share of of the Heimat, religion and culture. If the worshippers can’t come to the Goddess Kumari, then the Living Goddess has to go on tournee across the Seven Seas, kala pani as we call it, and carry out the panipatya ceremony like generations of Hindu and Buddhist British Gurkhas have done, when they return home from their deadly missions abroad fighting for the Queen of England. I did it too.

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Note: Hello Satis:

Greetings from America. Great article! I wish gods could die in Nepal!! 
Prakash Bom 
I hope you remember Govinda Koirala and Gopi Upreti from Central Hostel Tahachal Kathmandu, Nepal

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The Charms of Written English (Satis Shroff)

 

Words and expressions change their meanings when a language leaves its native environment and the meanings change and are lost in translation, creating embarrasing, humorous situations. Speech is a cacophony of noises, rhythms and tunes, whereas the printed page is what it is. English is a global language spoken by almost 2000 million people. Daniel Defoe defined this hybrid language as a mixture of “Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman English.”

 

Spoken English is one thing, but written English can be just as charming and amusing for the world is not full of academicians, and while travelling to other countries you do come across expressions that you might find baffling, amazing, ridiculous, funny, and sometimes they make no sense. They reflect the way other people use English in everyday situations during holidays, and especially in hotels.

 

When you visit Germany’s Black Forest you might chance to see a sign: “It is strictly forbidden on our Black Forest Camping Site that people of different sex, for instance men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.”

 

You are inclined to think: are the Schwarzwälder so prude? Every Baggersee, which is the German term for a lake, has its FKK beach. It’s not the Black Forest I’ve known. One sees naturalists living and sun-bathing comfortably in their natural and simple surroundings, without anyone raising as much as an eye-brow. No one cares if it makes the rest of us ‘unnaturalists.’ Sex is a never-ending topic, which makes sexology for many people the most fascinating of all ‘-ologies.’ We love ice-cream in summer, we fall in love, make love, and the word remains a magical distributing word.

 

In an article I’d mentioned that my German grandma used to call 007 “Rogger Mooray” because she didn’t speak English. When F. Eugene Barber, CEO Las Vegas, heard that he said, ‘The Italians do that as well. When they come to America, they tend to add a vowel to each major word. I looked in an Italian dictionary many years ago—I now understanda whata they isa talkina abouta.”

 

He went on the say, ‘Some things come across okay. We say ‘He sleeps like a log’ and a German would say ‘Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier’ and that makes sense. ‘Brand new’ translates the same way and has the same identical meaning—brandneu!’

 

In a Zürich hotel (Switzerland) was a notice: ‘Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.”

 

A lovely idea on the many uses of a hotel lobby. They certainly aren’t prude out there in Switzerland, you might think.

 

If married people had extra-marital sexual relationships, the women invariably had lovers and the men had mistresses. Today both men and women have lovers.

 

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant you could read: “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.” Sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it? What the hotel-manager has done here is to put his best foot forward and make a literal translation of “sich nicht zu wünschen übrig lassen.

A very elaborate way of saying that their wines are great.

 

In another menu at a Polish hotel in Warsaw you read: “Salad a firm’s own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people’s fashion.”

 

I’ll take the roasted duck let loose. Isn’t there bird-flu at the moment? But would you earnestly like to have beef rashers really beaten up, like they do it in the countryside? The poor creatures. You might have the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after you.

 

Oh, Paris is so lovely in springtime. Outside a Paris dress shop you read: “Dresses for street walking.”

 

Street walkers are women who belong to the oldest profession in the world. That is really walking on thin ice. Near the Moulin Rouge pavement? Oh, no. I’m sure you don’t want ‘dresses for street walking.’

 

Apropos dresses, you know the Collosus of Rhodes. At a Rhodes tailor-shop you could read the sign: “Order your summer suits. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.”

 

How ghastly! I thought Greece was the cradle of democracy, with freedom of movement and speech. Aren’t they in the European Union? Have to ring up Brussels.

 

Ah yes, Rome: the city of Romulus and Remus and the magnificent pieta and Michaelangelo sculptures of Leonardo da Vinci. In modern Rome, you could read at a laundry: “Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.”

 

We Germans call it FKK, Free Körper Kulture, that is, nude in the city of Rome with all those Paparazzis and Latin Lovers. To visitors from the USA it’s ‘sex in the city,’ I presume. What a thought under the blazing Italian sun, and what an exquisite translation from Italian into English. It just takes your breath away.

 

At a Czech tourist agency you could read: “Take one of our horse-driven city tours – we guarantee no miscarriages.”

 

You associate the word ‘miscarriage’ with bringing forth babies prematurely before they had a chance to even breathe. The guarantee was plainly for mishap that might occur along Prague’s Charles Bridge. What a healthy ride for grown ups. I’ll have to tell that to my friend Bruno Käshammer, who’s a gynacologist.

 

In a Swiss mountain inn one was confronted with: “Special day – no ice cream.” I can very well imagine it, with snow and icy peaks, snow-bound valleys and spurs in the Swiss countryside and apre-ski.

 

At a Copenhagen airline ticket office you were confronted with this message: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”

 

Oh-my-God! How do I get my bags back? This happens all the while, but to admit it officially in Denmark, that’s really honest. At least they don’t say whether the machine or the personnel were responsible for the mistake.

 

On the door of a Moscow hotel room was a message: “”If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.

 

Otherwise, nyet? You are reminded of Ian Fleming’s protagonist: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence. Thrice is enemy action. Russia doesn’t like tourists who come again and again like rubber balls and argue with: “Because it’s there. It’s so cheap when you have dollars to throw around. I love the KGB and Siberia’s Gulag.”

 

At a cocktail lounge in neighbouring Norway you can read: “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.”

 

Do children like cocktails? Some pregnant ladies must have taken one for the road and had to deliver in the bar. You can imagine what jolly names the babies must have had: Tequilla Nabokov, Vodka Vasilsky, Scotch McGregor.

 

In a Paris hotel elevator you could read: “Please leave your values at the front desk.” Can you leave your worth, principles and standards in the front desk of a hotel in Paris, the City of Love? Your ‘valuables’ was what the hotel management wanted to convey to its guests.

 

And in a hotel in Athens: “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 am daily.”

 

Which leaves you wondering: what if one doesn’t?

 

Found in a Serbian hotel: “The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.” By Jove! What a job. A wonderful translation from the serbo-croatian language, which obviously might create consternation, panic or shock waves among the young chamber-maids in Belgrade.

 

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel, on the other side of a Russian Orthodox monastery, you could read: “You are welcome to visit the cemetery where the famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday.”

 

I see. Is that why there are hardly any intellectuals left?

 

Winter has been banished in the Alpine countries after the Fasnet carnival celebrations and in an Austrian hotel which catered to skiers was a note: “Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.”

 

Boots of ascension? Oh, you mean climbing boots? What a charming way to describe a pair of Bergstiefeln, Wanderschuhe or trekking shoes.

 

In a Belgrade hotel elevator hung a piece of paper neatly typed with the message: “To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.”

 

Americans first, please.

 

For the West, the Hungarians are East Bloc, for the East Bloc Hungry is more or less western. To the Hungarians they are a little bit of both. In a Budapest zoo there was a sign: “Please go not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.”

 

Hope he enjoys it, you might add. He must be on the Atkins-diet a long time.

 

In the office of a Roman doctor who had a medical degree from Perugia you could read: “Specialist in women and other diseases.”

 

‘Since when are women diseases?’ you might wonder. This physician must be a macho and chauvanist. Despite equal-pay legislation, women still earn less than men and are underrepresented in the professions and are engaged in office and welfare work. Germany is going with the times, and it is regarded as belittling a female when she’s described as a ‘Fräulein.’ The Fräuleinwunder is out. Every girl over eighteen is to be addressed as a ‘Frau’ in Germany. So don’t you ‘Fräulein’ the lady at the restaurant or at the October beer festival, if you want to pay the bill on your next visit to Germany. She’s a young lady, junge Dame, if you’re talking about her in the third person singular. The word ‘ladies’ is regarded by some as snobbish and genteel.

 

In Germany teenagers use the word ‘cool’ often. If it’s something they don’t like, they come up with: ‘Oh, how uncool!’

 

However, ‘cool’ in American jazz music means: retrained, relaxed or unemotional. If you are up-to-date, you’re cool and it has the same meaning as ‘laid-back.’

 

‘Dictionaries are among the noblest ventures of man the ordering animal, the only signposts we have in the great forest of words which we wander all our lives,’ said Gerald Long, BBC. If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. If what said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone. Like Shakespeare said: There’s much virtue in ‘if’.

 

If you said so, then I said so. If you didn’t, neither did I.

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