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Archive for December, 2008

The Ghost Writer (Satis Shroff)

When I close my eyes,

I see everything in its place

In the kingdom of Nepal.

I see the highest building in Kathmandu,

What looms higher than the Dharara,

Swayambhu, Taleju and Pashupati?

The former King’s Narayanhiti palace,

Built by an architect,

From across the Black Waters.

Therein lived Vishnu,

Whom many Hindus still 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,

Visited Nepal’s remote districts

In a helicopter with his consort

And militia.

He inaugurated buildings

Factories and events.

Vishnu dissolved the parliament too,

For the sake of his kingdom,

As I was told to write.

His subjects and worshippers were,

Of late,

Divided.

Alas, Ravana and his demons

Have besieged his land.

The king was obliged to go,

And with him I lost my life-job

As a ghost-writer.

I cannot remember

How many articles, speeches, decrees,

Proclamations I’ve penned

In His Majesty’s Service.

Who would have thought

That I’d have to look

For another job?

Towards the end,

My boss not only lost his shirt,

But also his land,

And blamed me,

His sincere ghost-writer,

For my bad verse and prose.

He barked in a tirade:

“You are to blame for the misery

In my country.”

I, who had praised him,

Written admirable speeches,

Full of love, pathos and empathy

For his poor subjects,

Was now a mere scapegoat.

I, who had written

Soothing lines for the unruly masses,

Who were in revolt,

After centuries of feudal hierarchy,

Mismanagement,

Bad governance,

Corruption and nepotism.

I, who had sought a voice

To pacify the lynch mobs

In the streets of Catmandu,

Biratnagar, Dolpo

And Janakpur.

That was the unkindest cut of all.

The royal newspapers and the paid-press

Were blooming with news

Of development in Nepal.

But the people knew better.

They were waiting.

The dam of development

Had been broken,

A word play on ‘development.’

When the royal dam collapsed in Pokhara,

The people had a big laugh.

The king’s dying father said:

‘When I die,

My country should live.’

On still moments,

I hear the refrain:

Ma marey pani,

Mero desh,

Bachi rahos.

Nepal is now a republic

With cantons instead of zones,

We even have a fish-tailed mountain

That looks like Zermatt.

We have tourism too,

But where are the bankers,

The executives and firms?

We have an Aid Industry,

Cashing in dollars

From foreign governments

And NGOs.

Nepal exports carpets,

Human labourers

For the emirates,

Sherpas for the climbers

And Gurkhas for the Brits

And flesh for the Upper and Lower Grant Roads.

When I open my eyes,

I see Vishnu still slumbering

On his bed of Sesha,

The serpent

In the pools of Budanilkantha

And Balaju.

Prithee, 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 Nepalese screamed

And died for democracy.

And now the corpses of the Maobadis,

Civilians and Nepalese security men.

Hush! Sleeping Gods should not be awakened.

I, who wracked my cerebrum for the King,

Am sickened by the royal demeanour,

For Mr. Shah is now a mortal,

A politician to boot.

I, a royal ghost-writer,

Who once smelt the air

Of the Narayanhiti Palace,

Have nowhere to go.

I’m a writer no more.

I’m a ghost

Under the shadow of the Himalayas.

* * *

The Chance to Change (Satis Shroff)

“Education is the best thing in the world for Nepal’s children, be they Gurkhas, Sherpas or Madeshis. And what Nepal needs most in this crucial transitional period is peace, co-operation between the different ethnic groups, a craving to mend ways, build bridges between its cultures, connect and find common goals.”Satis Shroff

Mr. Swaroop Chamling, who is a Rai and ex-Gurkha settled in UK, is gathering signatures for a Gurkha petition on http://www.Darjeeling Forum (google or yahoo search will do) and I find it interesting that the Gurkhas, civilians and military, are getting organised to fight for their rights at last, after years of discrimination, hiring and firing, and low-pay on the part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in Britain. What I found interesting was the inference of a Gurkha reader on http://www.Gurkhas.com that it was Bahuns and Chettris all the way in Nepalese history and even today, whether in the opposition or in the ruling parties. The same sort of infighting that you see in Delhi between the Punjabis, Bengalis and other Indian ethnic groups is to be seen in Catmandu’s ministries. It’s always Newars versus Bahuns and Chettris, with the rest of the ethnic groups as onlookers. If you want to make a career in Catmandu you have to learn the local lingo, which is a language with monosyllables—Nepal Bhasa.

It is a fact that there are only bahuns and chettris on both sides: among the maoists and political parties in Nepal. The reason why bahuns & chettris dominate the political, economic and other landscapes in Nepal is that they have been privileged through Hinduism and its raja-praja set-up and its caste-system, with its purity and pollution implications that have swept and divided the families in Nepal and the Nepalese diaspora for centuries (as in India even today), and I think that Dor Bahadur Bista has illustrated this amply in his writings, and was cursed wrongly by critics in Catmandu and elsewhere as a ‘Nestbeschmutzer.’

One can combat this discrepancy by uniting to create a new, ethnic-friendly Nepal by decree of law, and by observing the new democratic developments in Nepal as a chance to change the old, federal structures and bringing in a secular state, like our big neighbour India. India did, what Nepal is in the process of doing, by introducing Privvy Purse for the Royals fifty years ago. The king has been sacked and the Narayanhiti Palace now a museum, just like the Hanuman Dhoka palace which can be viewed by Nepalese and tourists alike, and should act as an incentive for young Nepali school-kids to preserve the democratic rights of the country, lest it fall in the wrong hands, and not let history repeat itself.

The Nepalese society finds itself in a period of transition and has yet to decide which form of government is suitable and practicable for the society. Naming the former anchals or zones as cantons alone won’t make a Switzerland out of Nepal, but the will of the people to live under a governmental form based on public opinion and votes might bring this Himalayan country closer to the wishes of its people.

I remember the first page of The Rising Nepal bore the latin words: vox populi, vox dei. That was a time when a king and reincarnation of Vishnu ruled the land. The king had to sadly realise that the voice of the people was not the voice of God. And the voice of the king was certainly not the voice of the people. It was perhaps the voice of the ghost-writer. And thereby hangs a tale.

Education is the best thing in the world for Nepal’s children, be they Gurkha, Sherpa or Madeshi. And what Nepal needs most in this crucial transitional period is peace, co-operation between the different ethnic groups, to mend ways, build bridges between its cultures, connect and find common goals.

But there’s the beginning of democracy in Nepal now, and the tribes and castes that were neglected in the past should get their rights by creating a federal form of government, like in German or in Switzerland, whereby the country has to be formed administratively as federal, local government with the power to carry out trade and commerce with neighbouring countries or states. Only then will there be a freedom of trade and commerce in all geographical and ethnic sectors.

The way it has been in the past: Kathmandu was Nepal. It was too centralised, the King lived in Kathmandu, the parliament was, and still is, in Kathmandu. Even for small things one had to have Kathmandu’s blessings. I hope the new governments will see to this matter and think of Nepal holistically, and not like in the past. I say government, because the political situation hasn’t shown much stability in the past for observers abroad.

Nevertheless, there is hope, and this torch of hope will be carried by the children and youth of Nepal. Whether we are Gurungs, Tamangs, Chettris, Bahuns, Bhujels, Kirats or Madhesis we have to unite and make Nepal a land that we can be proud of through our own endeavours. To borrow a line from JFK ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ After all, we are a republican democracy, aren’t we?

The comity of nations would only be too willing to see a politically and economically stable Nepal and render assistance as in the past, before the war between the government troops and the maoists began.

So let us unite above the communal feelings and ideologies, and think in terms of Nepal as a nation, and not in terms of the opposite of democracy, namely anarchy. Let the children of Nepal from the plains and the hills have the same educational opportunities and work under human conditions. Let us show the world that we have a word for negotiation in our language, and that we also have the ability of carrying out a dialogue in the parliamentary sense of the word.

Peace, trust, faith, character, integrity, tolerance, dignity are qualities that cannot be attained by nurturing communal feelings and ethnic hatred. It is only through peaceful means, trust, honesty, cooperation and coordination that the long arduous task called development can be attained and the people can attain mental, physical and social wellness in the tedious march towards progress. To this end, we have to decide to change. Revolution is change, and the young men and women who were fired by their imagination during the decade long krieg have to do so in a constructive way, or else Nepal will forever remain ‘a yam between two rocks’ and a perpetual member of the least developed countries, in every sense of the word.

Change or perish should be the battle-cry of democracy loving Nepalese. Yes we can, if we want it strong enough.

About the Author: Satis Shroff teaches Creative Writing at the University of Freiburg and is the published author of three books on www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelgue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer. He also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (University of Freiburg). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

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European Ethnology:

kappel-black-forest-c-satisshroff

THE RHÖN: WESSIES AND OSSIES (Satis Shroff, Freiburg im Breisgau)

It seemed to me that the Rhön might not have the attractiveness of the Black Forest in southern Germany, but it was, nevertheless, a beautiful area to walk around for it had the most beautiful flora of Germany. And the people were so hospitable.

I found the old houses so pretty and the town gates, stone bridges and markets so char­ming. The Rhön hills were made of basalt, calc and sandstone. Alexander von Humbolt, the renowned German scientist and explorer, even praised the Milseburg, which lies opposite to the Wasserkuppe, as the most beautiful hill in the country.

Be that as it may, my sojourn in the Rhön was memorable due to Onkel (uncle) Adolf, who was untiring and took pains to explain to them the sights, sounds and smells and historical aspects of the Rhön during the countless excursions by car to Munnerstadt, Bad Neustadt, Nuremburg, Heustreu, Bischofsheim, Mellrichstadt, Fladungen, Hilders, Milseburg, Wasserkuppe and Mittelstreu.

We also went to the former East Germany border towns because Onkel Adolf thought it would be interesting to compare the West with the East (Germany), or the “wessies and the ossies”, as he put it. He was naturally a thorough-bred wessie, but he seemed to have a heart also for the ossies, and wasn’t like the TV character ‘Motzki’, an egocentric, arrogant bloke, who seemed to be railing upon the ossies perpetually. The BBC found it so amusing and typical of the German trait that they showed it in TV in England.

“The only thing that we people of the Rhön have, and can be proud of, is the beauty of the countryside and the historical villages and towns,” explained Onkel Adolf almost apologe­tically.

“In the 30 years war came Wallenstein and took everything. Then came Tilly and he took what he could. The Croatian Isolani came in 1634 and also plundered the Rhön. In the meantime, there was an outbreak of plague”, said Onkel Adolf scratching his receeding forehead and driving his car.

Then came the Swedes and plundered again. Two centuries later in 1866 there was a German civil war between brothers: Prussians against Austrians and Bavarians. The villages of Rhön were the ‘killing fields’ then. The beaten Bavarians had to hand over a piece of the Bavarian Rhön because the Prussians wanted a strategically important border near Bavaria.

‘Eighty years later in 1945, the able men of the Rhön were sent to die in the Volga, Tobruk on the river Seine (Paris), Belgrade, Elbrus and in the Atlantic coast. And then again in the Rhöne, because the then Nazi military fanatics thought they could build a strategically important Rhöen-Wall. The people of the Rhön were always the losers: whether Earls, Dukes, Barons or Nazis ruled the land’ said Onkel Adolf laconically with a shrug of his shoulders.

I’d been to the Rhön twice, which is a Celtic word meaning ‘hills’. There are not only hills but also valleys, basalt quarries, forests, bogs, trout-rich rivers and streams. The Rhön area is shared by the Franks, Hessen and Thuringer people. According to an old verse:

You have there the Rhön circle

Bischofsheim is industrious

Fladungen has the wood

Neustadt has its pride

Munnerstadt its money

Melrichstadt has its fields

Kissingen is famous for its salt.

We drove around the Rhön and went to Mittelstreu’s town graveyard, where Albert and the other Hankes were buried. We entered the small chapel, which was rather frugally decora­ted with an altar and a few benches, and church magazines and donation-slips for the Third World countries. After that we went to the old church and school, where Heidi, Dolf and Heinz learned their ABCs, or “ah-bay-zees” to put it in the German way of pronouncing them.

An exhibition dealing with lifestyle and the people of Mittelstreu in the early days was on. Heidi was rather moved by the exhibits for she’d recognised a lot of things from her past, and started telling us about the people in the old, faded silver nitrate prints. There were old, torn and worn out bibles and tattered flags, ladies underwear and corsettes and primitive agricultural implements there were used manually in those days, on display.

“And that’s a threshing machine which we kids used to pull from one farm to another for a few sweets. Sweets and potatoes were a treat in those days, after the Second World War, and we were always hungry,” said Heidi, her eyes sparkling with old memories. And once we were outside, Adolf showed me the Luftschutzkeller, which was an underground cellar built in the church lawn, with big wooden doors that would open from the ground, and served as an air-raid shelter for the community.

After that we drove to brother Heinz and Astrid Hanke, where we had coffee and German cakes baked by Astrid, an elderly, bespectacled lady who was a genuine Mittelstreuer. The Hankes had moved in after the World War II. They were originally from a town in the former Czechoslovakia, and were disliked a bit, as all strangers are, in the old German town of Mittelstreu. However, they’d gone to school there and were well integrated in the small town community, for they were ethnic Germans after all. It was Heinz, the printer, who had married in Mittelstreu.

The rest of the Hankes were scattered from Munich in Bavaria to the town of Heidelberg and Melbourne in Australia. Albert the eldest son had dodged the draft and had headed for the open spaces of the Australian continent, somehow sick of the German politics and society. He wanted to discover new frontiers and meet new people and new challenges, and not be tied up and stifled with family matters and the Bundeswehr.

He was of the opinion that enough blood had been shed in the last World War with 45 million dead. He was a pacifist. The four western powers and the Soviet Union, the Ostpolitik, the RAF terrorists, the countless demonstrations had made him lose his patience with his country, and he’d turned his back and was footloose. He’d gone to Hamburg and then taken a ship to Australia.

Heidi had visited him with her sister Friedlind, and she had to admit she had liked the Australian way of life because it was different. But she preferred her life in Germany with its sense of order and security, her job and her small circle of friends and, of course, her family.

“Let’s go to the ex-DDR,” said Adolf after we’d bade farewell to Heinz and Astrid, and since there were no objections from any of us we made for the former German Democratic Republic, even though there had never been such a thing as democracy in that country. We drove to Römhild, an old East German town, past a snow-covered Rhön landscape.

“If an East German soldier was stationed in Römhild, it was just as bad as a second Siberia,” said Dolf, scratching his silvery head. Whenever he had to say something funny or exceptional he had to scratch his head.

We went to the previous Stasi (secret police, the East German equivalent to the Gestapo during the Third Reich) villa, now a mountain holiday inn for dollar and euros paying tourists from the west, for dance-and-refreshments. A three-man Ossie band was playing a melange of German and English songs, the latter sung with a terrible Saxon accent. It reminded me of the Anglo-Indians trying to imitate Frank Sinatra and Elton John in the hotels of Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta (Kolkotta).

After that we went to Fladungen, which lies at the end of the High Rhön road, a town enclosed by old Roman walls. Though it was cold and windy, we strolled along the ancient town walls. This idyllic town, with its fortification walls, was built in the year 789 AD. It was an impressive little town with a small stream flowing through it, and had pretty shop fronts, like the ones that you see only in the ancient towns, unscathed by the Krieg and well-preserved by the local Denkmalschutz organisation, which is responsible for restoring and protecting cultural and historical monuments and buildings in Germany.

Every trade had its own sign outside, like in the Middle Ages, cleaned and polished with loving care: the bakery, the apothecary, the butchery, the town archive and the museum. There was always that German sense of order to be seen. After all, a German is brought up to believe that order is the essence of life. Actually ‚ Ordnung ist das Halbe Leben. And on holidays you could also see some people wearing their traditional dresses, or trekker’s trappings and going for walks, either in their towns or out in the forest, despite the cold Rhön winter.

We decided to go to Salzburg (which has nothing to do with its namesake in Austria) where there was an impressive castle with a pine and birch forest nearby. The visitors and locals living near the spas and medical complex were out for walks. After a short dekko at the castle and the town below, they decided to visit Heidi’s nephew Bruno and his wife Inge, where they had Christmas cookies, potato chips, peanuts and played indoor games with their kid. Thomas, the blond 4 year old son had scores of toys: gameboy, chopper, missile truck, with a pair of mounted missiles ready to be launched and crash-cars. The child was aggressive, couldn’t concentrated and given to screaming and crying. Bruno said almost with pride that his son was recently in the Kinder­garten with his 250DM helicopter, and another kid wanted that chopper too and had cried buckets of tears.

I thought it was a strange status-race even at infancy, thanks to the power of ads in TV. I was right because after a moment Inge said, ‘Our son watches TV and wants the kind of toys he sees in the ad-spots.’ With Ninja-turtles, prehistoric dinosaurs, monsters and dragons, missiles, laser-guns, crash-cars and non-stop cable TV, DVDs at your disposal. A wonderful childhood.

“Na ja, phantastisch!” said Heidi softly with an ironic grin as they left.

A few days later, Adolf suggested it was high time we paid Inge and Sepp a visit in their residence at Mellrichstadt, which is a bustling town now, but which was an old Frankish settlement in the 8th century.

We took a brisk walk around the town before going to Sepp’s residence outside the town. The St.Killian church was impressive. In the part of the town called Muhlfeld was a castle built in 1725 on the ruins of a burg. Rossrieth was another picturesque 16th century castle with a moat.

The welcome was traditionally hearty and we were greeted with a wee glass of the excellent Rhön schnaps (raksi). Inge, a fat old lady with red hair, had a penchant for decorating her every available room in her specious house with that touch of feminism: flowers and porcellian, and all sorts of traditional kitsch. Without all that she’d probably feel uneasy, and the way she moved around in her familiar environment, and talked with her relatives and guests. She plainly enjoyed it and felt elated.

Inge’s husband Sepp, an abbreviation for Joseph, was a German with some Jewish blood in him, and he said, “If I feel that I’m being threatened by the neo-nazis, I’ll just pull out my revolver and shoot them. And plead self-defence.” That meant that old Sepp had been brooding about the neo-nazis all the while, because Melrichstadt also had its share of old and new nazis, and he’d been following the developments of the rightists in German TV rather closely, as he told me.

‘With a Jewish background, you never know,” was his standing. Sepp’s parents were gassed by the Nazis at Ausschwitz.

The conversation had centered on neonazis because he’d asked me whether there had been any such Teutonic terror on non-Germans in south-west Germany. I told him that there had been little or no rightist terror. There had been a case of Friedhofsschändigung at Ihringen, in the vicinity of Freiburg, carried out by a few drunken youth. They’d overturned the gravestones of the dead Jews in Ihringen’s Jewish graveyard, and smeared them with nazi slogans like: Jude verrecke (Jews should rot) and the swastika, Germany for the Germans, Jews go home! (Where? When the Jews are German nationals). In neighbouring Basle the Jews were surprised to find an antisemitic poster with the words. ‘Schweizer wehrt euch, don’t buy in Jewish shops!’ The Jewish owner of the shop brought the matter to the organisation David, which is a centre against antisemitism and the state attorney has been informed. It was no coincidence that the poster was put up a day after the Reichskristallnacht. It was on the night of the Reichkristallnacht from 9th till the 10th of November 1938 that the organised mass-murdering of six million Jews began.

Did the neonazis mean that the Jews should leave for Israel? But the few Jews living in Germany are Germans, so where should they go? That’s what a German politician asked Ignaz Bubis once during a press-conference: whether he would go to Israel?

Sepp was a soft-spoken, bespectacled, corpulent German with quite a few gerontological problems and normally shunned guests in the house. But this time he’d enjoyed drinking the excellent Franken wine with us and talked about the past. He was a passionate collector of Jewish religious books and crucifixes, which you could find in every corner of the house. He took pride in telling us that he’d inherited not only the house, but also a vast collection of books. He also showed us his medical compendium and said he could diagnose diseases and showed me a materia medica dated 1985.

Old Sepp was opening up and began talking about the Nazis in Mellrichstadt. He said he knew people who had been communists at first, and became nazis in 1936 and then catholics after the Krieg. As if to bear testimony to this fact, he produced two books written by a Mellrichstadter professor. The first edition of the book was published in 1936 and was dedicated to the Führer and had extensive pages on the “Jews and how to eradica­te them and make Mellrichstadt a city free of Jews…”, with connotations that were similar to Rostok, Leipzig and Hoyerswerda in 1992, which was a small-scale Crystal Night. It sent waves of shock, angst and disgust not only in Germany but also elsewhere.

I remember going to watch a play at St. Joseph’s College North Point (Darjeeling) “Judgement at Nuremberg” staged by Nepali, Mizo, Naga, other Indian and US students. And here I was in this historical German town. The poet E.T.A.Hoffmann called the rebuilt Old Town of Nuremberg “the apple of our princes’ and lordships’ eyes”. The Old Town had been almost razed to the ground by Allied bombings during the Second World War.

Yvonne, who’d visited Nuremberg often said, “A document issued by Emperor Henry III on July 16, 1050 mentions Nuremberg for the first time. The town was then called Noren­berc.” I learned that it was a politico-military royal town created by Emperor Henry III, who reigned from 1039 to 1056. The town had been repeatedly besieged and captured and the settlement below the royal castle had been destroyed by fire in 1130. It was towards the end of the 13th century that Nuremberg’s defensive walls were captured.

We’d put up at the Vier-Jahres-Zeiten hotel, near the railway station, and were in the Old Town after a short walk. We could enter the ancient complex over a drawbridge, and below us was what had been a moat to fend off the enemies, but was now dry and green with well-kept grass. Inside, there were dwellings, shops and workshops of the clever Nurem­berger craftsmen of those bygone days.

I was told that the Nuremberg craftsmen carried out 50 different craft and there were more than 1,200 master-craftsmen working with copper and brass in those days. The town became a leader in many area of technology and in the manufacture of scientific instruments and even the pocket-watch, the globe and the flintlock of which a good many were on display at the German Museum, in addition to the Nuremberger trinkets, and from the 17th century onwards even toys.

It was delightful to visit the toy museum where hundreds of toys from different periods were on display. And exquisite hand-made dolls and doll-houses.

As we approached the monumental edifices of the Reichsparteitag, or the remnants thereof, which the US troops had destroyed and part of which was used to build Nurem­berg, Uncle Adolf said, “It was the economic crisis of 1931-32 and the political foolishness that brought the Nazis to power. These sad monuments are a dark reminder of the Third Reich. There are still hot-heads who dream of a Greater Germany.”

“When these tanks appeared in Nuremberg, we lost the war,” said Adolf laconically, as we went past the vintage Sherman tanks.

I’d seen photographs of a destroyed Nuremberg at the Frauenkirche and asked Adolf how many people had died during the Allied air-raids and he replied,”Nuremberg suffered the heaviest air-raid on the 2nd of January 1945, and a greater part of Old Nuremberg was destroyed. And of the 420,000 inhabitants, there were only 175,000 Germans living in the town. Most of them had either fled or died. Nuremberg was gutted down to 10.7 million cubic metres of rubble!”

It was unbelievable. The massive rebuilding programme started in 1948 had changed the face of war-torn Nuremberg. The Old Town had been rebuilt in the old style, especially the Kaisersburg, St.Lawrence’s church, the Frauenkirche, St.Sebaldus’ church and the town hall. New factories had cropped up, and the town linked up with the autobahn network, a harbour built to connect it with the Rhein-Main-Danube canal and soon Nuremberg was economically growing prosperous again.

In the Old Town we went past shops selling antiques, toys (Zinnfiguren), and porcellain worked out in the finest details. There were window decorations in antique styles. And in the city were fashionable shops.

We had lunch in the city in a traditional restaurant where you could order even Bratwuerst and Franken-wine among other delicacies. There were a lot of Czechs, Slovanians and Poles taking turns at being photographed in front of parked Porche and Mercedes Benz cars, and women posing in front of shops selling wedding gowns. It was like watching the poor man’s and woman’s dream being documented in a fleeting photograph and the words: “We were in the West” to be cherished in a family album for posterity. But with the former East Bloc countries becoming increasingly EU and Nato members, history is changing fast in Europe.

*********

Satis Shroff is a writer living in Freiburg (Germany) and has written textbooks on Nepali: Sprachkunde for Germans (Horlemann Verlag, Bad Honnef) and has written for Nelles Verlag’s guidebook ‘Nepal’(Munich), articles in The Christian Science Monitor, The Fryburger, The Rising Nepal, Radio Nepal, Himal Asia, the Nepalese Perspective and Nepal Information (Cologne). He has studied Medicine and Sozialarbeit in Freiburg and Creative Writing (Writers Bureau, Manchester). He is the published author of three books on www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelgue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS), Boloji and The Asian Writer. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. He is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Nepal’s literary heritage and culture in his writings and in preserving Nepal’s identity in Germany. Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

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black-forest-beauty

Love Songs On a Misty Morning (Satis Shroff)

Do You Remember?

On a misty morning at Pokhara,

We sat in a dugout canoe

With our college friends.

The misty veil slowly disappeared.

Mirrored on the torquoise waters

Of the lake Phewa,

Were the virgin white peaks

Crowned by Machhapuchare,

The fish-tailed one.

Placid, serene, majestic,

A moment of magic.

Do you remember?

The love songs I sang from our canoe,

Strumming on my guitar

Were meant for you.

For you alone.

Even the Himalayan birds

Stopped chirping

To eavesdrop at our wondrous melodies,

Like at a Rodighar.

Our friends sang in chorus:

Nepalese folk-songs,

Bollywood, Urdu

And English lyrics

On that misty morning.

Songs sung in chorus

To share our feelings

Of the beauty of Nature

And human attachments.

Breaking the tranquillity

Of the misty morning in the Lake Phewa.

A motley morning symphony.

The elderly Phewa-fisher with myriads

Of wrinkles on his Tamang smiled,

As he rowed the long canoe.

A knowing smile,

For he too had sung love lyrics

When he was young.

The jhaurey and ghasi songs

A frugal life in the Annapurna hills,

Trying hard to make ends meet.

He had his life behind him,

We had ours before us.

Life was cruel in the hills,

But love was everywhere.

Madamoiselle von Neufchateau (Satis Shroff)

I see you,

Madamoiselle von Neufchateau.

Your winning smile,

Your head bent to the side,

Your charming French accent

From the Vosges.

You invited me to your apartment,

Took you with all my senses.

I smelt you,

Looked at you,

I felt you

With my fingers,

My face,

My lips,

My extremities

Reminiscent of Süsskind’s Protagonist.

Holistic anatomy

In our moments of bliss and joy,

Away from text-books, lectures,

And pedantic professors,

In a provincial town in France.

Red wine, baguette, Dulcimer,

Neil Young,

Dolche vita,

A Bohemian lifestyle.

*****

Madame Chanel (Satis Shroff)

Somehow,

It wasn’t you.

You smelt of Chanel 10.

You wore it when you went out of the door,

You had it on when you entered your chamber.

The smell of formalin still lingered in my nose,

After all those anatomy dissections

In the wintry afternoons in Germany.

Short days and early darkness.

I felt the same caustic smell

Of frogs, dogfish, crustaceans

That died horrible deaths,

Drowned in formaldehyde.

We were students of zoology,

Were obliged to dissect them.

Self instilled, sadistic post-mortems,

Studied their nervous, digestive systems,

In the Vale of Catmandu.

I’m with you now,

Madame Chanel,

To forget the corpses,

Of animals and dissected Germans

In my life.

The elegant, sweet, warm nuance

Of your well-trained body,

Your long brown hair,

Your fair epidermis,

Mingled with soft French words

Of love.

Your Je’taime

Reminds me of Jane Birkin

And her passionate song,

That we cherished three decades ago.

Je’taime,

Cherie.

*****

The Symphony of the Morning (Satis Shroff)

I discern the recurring chirps and whistles

Of the birds in the vast foliage of an oak tree,

A German Eiche.

Whistles, chirps, hoots

And melodious symphony,

Like the incessant waves

Slashing on the shores of the Atlantic.

A single bird gives the tact,

A strong monotonous chirp.

The others follow suit,

Not in unison

But still in harmony.

You notice so many melodies

When you eavesdrop,

In the quiet comfort of your bed.

The natural symphony of the morning:

Adagio, crescendo,

It’s all there

For your fine ears.

——————–

BOMBAY BURNING (Satis Shroff)

Munjo Mumbai!

Bombay’s burning.

All Muslims are not terrorists,

Although some Muslims are.

Not all Hindus are honourable,

But many are.

Whether one is a terrorist,

Lies in the eyes of the observer.

Are the eyes

Those of Hindus or Muslims,

Jains or Sikhs,

Christians or Parsis,

Buddhists or Bahais,

Animists or atheists

Or the Dalits of the Hindu society?

Are the 130 million Muslims of India

To be judged by the Hindus,

Because Bombay’s Taj Mahal Hotel blew up

At the hands of the ‘Deccan Mujahidin?’

The ghost of Osama’s al-Qaida

Makes the rounds again.

India’s liberal, secular status

Is at stake,

When anti-Muslim resentiments

Are fired

By emotional Hindu nationalists.

Is it Hafiz Saeed versus Babu Bajrangi?

There’s more to it

Than meets the eye.

The USA can bomb

Al-Qaida and Taliban

Hideouts in Pakistan.

But India cannot follow suit.

The wounds in the consciousness

Of Indians and Pakistanis,

Caused by the division of the subcontinent

Haven’t healed yet.

The Babri mosque,

The slaughter of Muslims in Gujerat,

The war in Kashmir

Still linger in the memories

Of the Pakistanis.

An attack would only

Open old clots

And trigger a nuclear war.

Have not the Muslims

Of this subcontinent

Shown solidarity and loyalty

When China waged a Himalayan krieg,

When India freed the people of East Pakistan,

When India fought against the Nizam of Hyderabad?

Hindus and Muslims

Can be friends,

Just as Buddhists and Christians.

Let not communal strife

Pollute our minds.

Let us live

And let live.

Togetherness,

Miteinander,

Should be the cry of the day,

Not bloodshed and mayhem

In the name of Allah, Shiva or Christus.

It is humans,

Fanatical humans,

Who create crimes,

Injustice and folly

On human souls.

Gewalt breeds only Gewalt.

Hush, read the holy Koran,

Bible, Vedas and Upanishads

Between the lines,

And struggle for more words of love,

Understanding, tolerance, dignity

Of humans and animals

In this precious world.

Shanti!

Shanti!

About the Author: Satis Shroff teaches Creative Writing at the University of Freiburg and is the published author of four books on http://www.storesLulu.com.satisle: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff) and Kleine und Grosse Nepali Sprachkunde (Horlemann Verlag). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer.

He is a regular contributor on The American Chronicle and its 21 affiliated newspapers in the USA, in addition to http://satisshroff.Gather.com etc. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (University of Freiburg). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

“I was extremely delighted with Satis Shroff’s work. Many people write poetry for years and never obtain the level of artistry that is present in his work. He is an elite poet with an undying passion for poetry.” Nigel Hillary, Publisher, Poetry Division – Noble House U.K.

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east-meets-west-a-homage-to-van-gogh-cart-by-satisshroff

Memoir: IN THE STREETS OF PRAGUE (Satis Shroff)

‘It’s awfully nice to see you in Czech surroundings’ said my long-lost friend Kundan, as he raised his massive, ornate glass of pivo, the famous black Czech beer. That was in 1976 and the Czechs and Slovaks were a single nation. Kunda Dixit was “Our Man Behind the Iron Curtain” and wrote a column in The Rising Nepal named “Prague Prattles.” Kanak might have the gift of the gab, but I’d always enjoyed Kunda’s literary articles during my Katmandu days, when Hippies and Flower Power people were everywhere, mostly to be seen in the high temples and pagodas, stoned with Cannabis sativa, wearing deshi clothes with the word “Ram” printed on them a thousand times.

In Katmandu it was a delight to go to the many psychedelic cafes, where you could drink tea and relish Katmandu’s “special” cake baked with hash. After that, and a round of charas smoking, Katmandu looked different. Fantastic, psychedelic Katmandu, made immortal by Cat Stevens in those days.

The place was U-Thomas, a well known beer tavern in Prague, and seated on a long table were five Nepalese male students and two female Germans. It was good to hear Nepalese being spoken, because over the months I’d had been in Germany, I’d heard only German, French, Spanish or Italian. The joint reminded me of a disco-cellar called ‘Le Caveau’ in Freiburg, a small town in southern Germany, except that there wasn’t any music. However, the din that arose from the tables loaded with loquacious and jolly Czechs would have drowned any type of music, and their presence only heightened the noise.

And who bothers about music, especially when old friends meet in a tavern 9000 km away from the Himalayas. It was one ‘cheers’ and ‘prost’ after another. That’s the wonder of the excellent 13% pivo. They say in Prague beer foamed in the tankards of its citizens long before Columbus discovered America.

When abroad, the Nepalese are always confronted with the question: ‘how do you say ‘cheers’ in your language?’ Which is quite embarrassing, because Nepalese always say ‘pyuno hos!’ (please feel free to drink) or ‘pyunu paryo!’ (let us drink), ‘huncha?’(shall we?) huncha! (we may). The whole affair is carried out non-verbally with a lot of affirmative head shaking from left to right, smiles and the eyebrows taking off like a pair of boomerangs..

The tavern just wasn’t a place where one could do any serious talking because of the general clamour. and we had to contend ourselves with small-talk that passed in the name of conversation. There were a good many interruptions when curious Czechs, high on beer, would stop over at our table and ask us where we came from. One could imagine their curiosity since we looked very different from the usual European foreigners in stature and complexion and, of course, sense of humour, for there we were rollicking with what the Germans call ‘Lebensfreude’ and the French ‘vivre’.

One burly, rosy-cheeked Czech, with a receding forehead, wearing a sailor’s uniform, who had plainly drunk one pivo too much, came every now and then asking for cigarettes. Either there were no cigarette-automats in the tavern or the fellow was broke. When we ignored him, the Czech began to pantomime a Sherpa-porter carrying a load on his back. We didn’t react. After a short while he got bored and left. We also left U-Thomas.

It was winter and there was snow everywhere in the city, and icy gusts of wind blew incessantly, as we walked along the slippery streets of Prague. We boarded the rickety red-coloured state-run tram.

‘That’s the Eiffel Tower of Prague,’ said the jolly Gurung friend, as he pointed to the look-out tower on the Petrin, which formed an impressive background to the grey student hostels, where our Nepalese friends were residing. The amiable Gurung was entertaining the two German ladies in good German, and I noticed that he’d started the conversation with a game of associations: German associations. He mentioned the positive images of Germany: Beckenbauer, Bayern Munich, the VW Beetle (which was still in production at Wolfsburg then), Berlin as a wonderful city, Karel Gott the Czech singer who sings successfully in German, and soon he’d found a tenor which amused the Teutonic ladies. He was doing famously.

I noticed that quite a few Nepalese students had married blonde Czechs and settled down in Prague. There they were, out in the cold, fresh air with their wives and prams, exchanging greetings in Nepali, Newari and Czech languages. The idea appealed to me. Bilingual or multilingual children who visited Czech or Nepalese schools in Czechoslovakia or Nepal. Why not settle down in a foreign country? Or bring your foreign wife or husband home? You could decide where you wanted to live later. There was also the possibility of oscillating between two countries to counter the people who shout “brain-drain!” Or open a travel agency and send Czech tourists on guided trekking tours to the Himalayas? A good many Nepalese students from the Lumumba-Friendship University and Moscow University have brought their Russian spouses along, and they run elite-schools in Katmandu, where the children learn English, Nepal and French. It’s not unusual to see foreign females teaching in Nepalese schools since decades. The number of foreign women married to Nepalese males is rising. And also the number of foreign males taking a Nepalese bride.

On the next day we were invited to a Nepalese lunch: dal-bhat-shikar cooked by one of the brahmin students, and it was delicious. The German ladies Andrea Okewitz and Antonia Trapp relished it. Their only complaint was: ‘Es war scharf!’ (It was hot with chillies). But what’s an Asian meal without chillies? Or sambal olek? Or chutney and achar? Most Germans have a mild taste indeed, and prefer plain boiled potatoes and lot of sauerkraut, in addition to mountains of meat.

While waiting for a bus near the student hostel, I couldn’t resist the temptation of scooping handfuls of snow and confronting the others with snowballs. Soon we had, what the German ladies called a big ‘Schneeballschlacht’ in progress. It had snowed heavily the night before and was awfully chilly.

‘Do you have any samachar (news) from Nepal?’ I asked my pale, bespectacled friend Kundan, who was a brahmin, a high-caste Hindu, and could easily pass off as a European from the north. He’d been home and had mentioned that the policeman at the Pashupatinath hadn’t let him through into the sanctum sanctorum becaus they’d thought he was a foreigner, a “quiray: He Who Has Grey Eyes,” as Nepalese are wont to call westerners. My friend Kundan had reassured the policeman in fluent Nepali but the man had retorted with, ‘A lot of foreign development workers speak better Nepali.’ It was only after Kundan had produced his janai (sacred thread), which most high caste Hindus wear after an elaborate ritual-ceremony, that the policeman waved him past.

“When I left Nepal about two months ago, Nepal was rotting. It was dying. One of those slow painful processes, complete with rattles and groans,” said my long lost friend

‘Was it so dramatic?’ I asked him, for ever since I’d been living in Germany I had only heard of Nepal in the German media when some German expedition had climbed a peak or some crazy yeti-search expedition had thought they’d sighted the abominable snowman.

‘I won’t go through the morbid details and make your life miserable,’ he said with a beneign expression and a twitch of his facial muscles, as he went on to say: “Frankly, I’ve been so anaesthesized by time and instance. I couldn’t express the horrors of contemporary Nepalese life, even if I wanted to. I’m not a pessimist, neither a fatalist, but I don’t see any hope for my beloved motherland. Don’t expect any news coming from that direction to be good news.’

That sounded very pessimistic indeed. Perhaps the Nepalese are survival artists. I couldn’t find another explanation. In the past we have adapted to different dynasties of rulers in Nepal, and in modern times have survived the rule of the arrogant Ranas and the greedy Shahs. And now the republic-minded Maoists under Prachanda. I like to compare politics in Nepal as an eternal game of chess in which the players change after the shuffle of power but the plights of the poor farmer and common man remains miserable all the while. At the moment, the Maoists (tigers) are making the move, but the democratic goats are fighting for the political rights as equaly in the republican parliament. Meanwhile, the Madhesi goats in this political game of bagh-chal (Tiger Move) want to quit the chess board called Nepal and want a pro-Indian state of their own.

‘Just a week ago the Nepalese rupee was devalued 16%. Imagine the plight of an ordinary Nepalese civil servant, who is by comparison much better off than his fellow men financially’, said Kundan.

‘He’ll have to pay 16% on basic commodities like rice and dal. It’s saddening.’

He was right. There was no real democracy in Nepal. The Panchayat System, with its intricate, archaic network of nepotism, corruption and couldn’t-care-less mentality was bleeding the country. The Nepalese intellectuals were playing it safely, and those who cared were living in exile in India in those days. The entire media was controlled by the Palace Secreta­riat, and letters, pleas and petitions to the government for justice went unanswered. If you had connexions in the government or the palace, you could climb the career ladder fast, and if you didn’t have what the simple, honest Nepalese calls “source and force” or “afnu manchey” in the higher echelons of the government and the Narayanhiti palace, you could slave all your life, and still remain in the same job. Now that the king has been ousted and declared a common citizen of Nepal with the previlige of having to pay tax like all mortals, chakari has changed sides and, like in all socialist countries, it helps to have connections in the Maoist-cadre and among the democrats among the Congress and other parties.

A Nepalese king, Prithvi Narayan Shah who was declared the founder of Nepal, had described Nepal as a ‘yam between two big stones’ meaning thereby Tibet (later China) and India. The small country has had a tough time trying to keep a balance between its two gigantic neighbours, who had already fought a Himalaya-war in 1962, which the Chinese had won. After China had annexed Tibet, India did likewise in a­nnexing Goa and Sikkim. And now Nepal was in the news again. There was an article in the French Le Monde datelined New Delhi about the Indo-Nepalese trade and transit agreement which was to expire in August that year (1976).

“The Empress has not forgotten the Nepalese indignation over Sikkim, and demands that Nepal should pay for oil in dollars,’ said my friend. ‘Transit duties have also been raised.’ The word ‘Empress’ was reserved for Indira Gandhi. She was known for her constitutional chicanery and her almost totalitarian Emergency of 1975.

I remember my New Yorker journalist friend Paul Wohl, who used to write for the Christian Science Monitor, quoting from a Parisian newspaper and telling me, ‘On April 2, 1976 Nepal signed a treaty with Bangladesh providing for use of the port of Chittagong for transit shipments to Nepal, but India is taking advantage of the narrow strip of Bengal which separates Bangladesh from Nepal.’ Thus Le Monde.

Whereas the Chinese had their own problems with Tibetans and the implementation of maoistic-ideology, and in maintaining a strict border policy, Nepal’s southern border with India was open for smugglers, tradesmen and border-dwellers from both sides. The government carried out a programme of resettlement of hill tribes in the flatlands, but the recent Madhesi movement which has gained momentum shows a different trend. The Madhesis, as the people of the Terai call themselves (and hill people are called Paharis), have a lot in common with the Indian culture and would like to see themselves integrated with the big neighbour to the south, for Katmandu has ignored them in all those years. Be that as it may, a peaceful compromise has to be found.

After India’s two major border conflicts with Pakistan, and the storming of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the Indian armed forces were getting bolder. Nepal and the other Himalayan nations wouldn’t be able to put up much resistance against the newly created mountain-divisions of the Indian Army. The diplomatic and peaceful channel was the call of the hour. And thus King Birendra’s fervent wish to have Nepal declared as ‘a zone of peace’ guaranteed by international treaty’ like Switzerland in Europe, which was recognized by all warring countries as a neutral territory. Even though China, USA and a host of countries supported the proposal, its immediate neighbour Indian didn’t.

India, through an inspired article, put it this way: ‘The pre-condi­tion for an improvement of Indo-Nepalese relations is the unequivocal acceptance that Nepal, which forms an enclave on the Indian side of the Himalayas, must belong to the defence system of the subcontinent.’ Thus Her Gracious Imperial Majesty…’, said Kundan, with bitterness in his voice. There was no doubt that Nepal was India-locked and not only land-locked. Mrs. Gandhi made also insane internal attempts at social discipline of the Indian masses through licensed thuggery and mass sterilisations.

All that was a long time ago. Indira Gandhi, the uncrowned Empress of India, is dead. Rajiv Gandhi has been murdered. (And so is Benazir Bhutto recently). There was democracy and a multiparty-system in Nepal. A congress party, which had operated all those years in exile in India, held the maximum number of seats in the Nepalese parliament in those days, and Indo-Nepal relations were flourishing with new trade and joint ventures, despite the protests from the communist faction that Nepal was selling out to the neighbour from the south. In the Panchayat era, Katmandu’s beggars were rounded up and transported to the south. They turned up two days later after a long return-march along the Tribhuvan Rajpath. This only showed that you can’t drive people away. They wanted their rights. Human rights, which was long ignored in this kingdom of the past.

Then came Katmandu’s ecological-minded mayor, who wanted to drive the hawkers and peddlers away from Asan Tole and Indrachowk, without much of an alternative, apparently because Katmandu has sister-cities in the western world. But will driving away hawkers and beggars alone be a lasting solution to the problems? After all, what is a hawker or a beggar or a leprosy patient? A human being, a Nepalese in search of a better means of existence and medical treatment. Promising a better quality of life to one section of the population at the cost of the other? There are too many unanswered questions still floating in the Himalayan air. Since King Gyanendra has been stripped of his power, but still prefers to pay his ritual homage to the Katmandu Kumari, the Living Goddess, there are some democrats who still want him as their monarch. The Maoists, however, have took a no-nonsense course and have enforced their idea of turning the former kingdom as the republic of Nepal. Instead of the Anchals or zones we have Swiss Cantons now. The disarming and disbanding of the militant Maoist warriors is another social problem in Nepal. Does the new nation need so many ex-Maobadi fighters in the Nepalese Army? Can the former fighters be recruited to work for the development of Nepal in different development projects? The would be in interest of the country for the youth of Nepal need to be given a future and their destructive energy acquired during the decade-long war be, to borrow a Freudean expression, sublimised towards creativity.

We in the west have to wait and see what unfurls in the years to come with curiosity, anguish and interest. Meanwhile, the first thing that my old friend did when he returned to Nepal with a Slovanian degree from Bratislava, was to build a gobar-gas installation for our dear Deviji.l creation. I’m sure Door Bahadur Bista was delighted to see Kundan’s technologic The food was excellent., as usual, but the kitchen smelt a bit of Landluft, as we say in the German-speaking word. It’s a pity Deviji doesn’t cook for lesser mortals. Her cuisine is the best in Patan. I’d even go further—in the whole Kathmandu Valley.

Another dear friend Christa Drigalla who runs the Interplast hospital at Sankhu mentioned that she has also started a new kitchen production for Nepalese moms, this time a German designed one.

—————————————————————————————

Satis Shroff teaches Creative Writing at the University of Freiburg. He is a writer living in Freiburg (Germany) and has written textbooks on Nepali: Sprachkunde for Germans (Horlemann Verlag, Bad Honnef) and has written for Nelles Verlag’s guidebook ‘Nepal’(Munich), articles in The Christian Science Monitor, The Fryburger, The Rising Nepal, Radio Nepal, Himal Asia, the Nepalese Perspective and Nepal Information (Cologne). He has studied Medicine and Sozialarbeit in Freiburg and Creative Writing (Manchester). He is the published author of three books on www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelgue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists,novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS), Boloji and The Asian Writer. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. He is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Nepal’s literary heritage and culture in his writings and in preserving Nepal’s identity in Germany. Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

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BELLA VENEZIA, MY LOVE (Satis Shroff)

Vive la Venice.

The Serenissima’s long dead,

But the myth of bella Venice lives on,

Created by its native sons:

Canaletto and Guardi,

In the eighteenth century,

With cheerful and festive colours

On canvas.

Venice’s epochal renaissance,

Depicted by painters from northern Europe

And the United States.

Claude Monet’s canvases

Daubed in Venice in 1908,

Only to be followed by Turner.

As a casual visitor you’re captivated

By the canals, bridges, ships,

Marketplaces and palaces

Of this beautiful lagoon city.

It inspired creativity in so many,

To paint and write their feelings

And admiration for beautiful Venice.

‘Too beautiful to be painted,’ said Claude Monet,

Only to come with brushes and colours

That couldn’t resist the temptation.

Modern art’s approaches

In the historical context.

We peer in awe at the works of Old Masters

Titian, Velazquez, Rembrandt,

Hung between Bacon’s works

On the purple wall of the Fondation.

Beyeler takes us to the ‘water-lily city’

An elegiac series of art,

With leitmotifs at the Piazza San Marco,

The Canale Grande, Palladio’s Maggoire,

Santa Maria della Salute churches.

Byron’s allegory of decline and fall,

His evocative imagery of Venice.

William Turner’s transcendent

Visual inventions on canvas.

Eduard Manet painted Venice in 1874,

The first modern artist,

His impression is confreres.

A delightful trend in art:

Self reflexive painting pure.

Sans subjects, sans genres,

No overwhelming with sentimental

Literary past.

Away from official Paris and London,

With their old fashioned visual stereotypes:

Clichés.

Cherish the unique air,

The ravishing beauty of Venice.

Got ‘em all,

In a bid to create new,

Original imagery:

Monet, Manet, Whistler

Odilon Redon, Paul Signac.

Beyeler surprises us with

Franch and Anglo-American avant garde.

Artists who were active in beautiful Venice

From the nineteenth

Till early twentieth century:

Sargent, Monet, Renoir,

Whistler and Anderzorn,

With his art of the magnetic cosmopolitan

Fin-de-siecle Venice.

It was artists who created

The myth of Venice.

The Serenissima remains

A cult destination,

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Intrigued by this mysterious town,

It’s colourful everyday life,

The interplay of the sky and sea,

Ever changing light, the whiff of the waves,

Splashing water,

A symphonic harmony of colours.

Tourists, laymen and women,

Artists, lovers and photographers,

Have all been inspired

By the mysterious muse Venice

To create epochal works,

Unleashing crucial impulses

For the evolution of modern,

Contemporary art.

Art that will live on

For the delight of the connoisseur.

Art you can learn in Paris,

It’s Venice that you have to paint.

Venice, the unreality of a fairy tale.

Venice, where joie de vivre

And melancholy are at home.

The power of the Serenissima and its demise,

Where love and death doth meet,

Coming together and going apart.

Bella Venezia, you’re ambivalent.

I’m attracted to you,

Repulsed by you.

But considering everything in you,

You oldest child of liberty,

I can’t but love you.

* * *

A WRITER IN VENICE (Satis Shroff)

It was a bright sunny morning when Claudia, Giacomo, Silvana I headed for Italy from Freiburg. The first Swiss town we went through was Basel, the second biggest town in Switzerland which is known for its university and Swiss chemical firms near the Swiss-German border.

The sky was a cobalt-blue as we sped through the Arisdorf tunnel. In Switzerland you have to go through a lot of tunnels. The Swiss have introduced a vignette system whereby every car has to have a sticker pasted on its windscreen at a cost of 30 Swiss francs annually. The Swiss autobahn (highway) was surrounded by breath-taking scenery, with green pastures and rounded hillocks. In the distance you could see the Alps. As you speed along the well-maintained highway you see picturesque tiny towns and hamlets with their cute church-tops. There are extremely romantic settings ahead as you watch the mountains reaching out to the lake. You see the mountains right in front of your nose with their pine forests and snows tops. You drive past the Seelisberger lake and view a magnificent mountain scenery.

There are pretty petite Swiss huts on the lush green slopes of the hills with pine trees and jagged peaks, which have often served as backgrounds for scores of Bollywood films. With Lata Mangeshkar’s touching and sad version of ‘Kabhi khushi, kabhi gham’ blaring from the car’s stereo CD player, we certainly felt like Bollywood stars. I was a South Asian from the foothills of the Himalayas and Claudia was from Germany’s Black Forest and we’d met at a ballroom and latin dancing class at the university town of Freiburg. Giacomo was from Brescia, a town in northern Italy and Silvana was from Sicily, and had, as expected, a lot of jovial, southern temperament.

Near Luzern, the Alps appear suddenly in their majesty. When we went past the Sempucher lake I was reminded of the equally beautiful Phewa lake at Pokhara. Then came a series of tunnels. Every time you came out of a tunnel you were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Swiss Alps. Near the Vierwaldstätter lake near Luzern, where we usually spend our holidays in Morschach (Central Switzerland), we went past the William Tell chapel. Tell, it mig

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Category: Short-story DESTINATION NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

“That’s a terrible injustice,” said Raj Rana aloud at the Paddington Station. Mr. Rana was at the station, on his way to Gatwick Airport. From there he had a flight ticket from Her Majesty’s Government to Nepal after long years of service in the British Gurkhas.

“What do you mean, Raj-ji?” said the turbaned Punjabi bus-driver from London, whom he’d known for a decade.

“The Brits are not nice to the Gurkhas. Look at me. I slaved for the Union Jack during the Falkland War. My father fought for the Brits in the World War II and was wounded by the Germans.”

“Why join the British or Indian Army? Just apply for political asylum like me. I came over when the Indian Army stormed our Golden Temple in Amritsar.”

“It’s not easy for Nepalese to apply for asylum.”

“Why? Everybody gets an asylum in Britain. Look at the streets in the East End, Southhall. Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Jamaicans everywhere.”

“The British and German authorities always say: “Nepal is a peaceful country. There’s no war out there. The tourists go there all the time. How can we Gurkhas convince the British government that we want to stay on in England after we’ve done our service? They always send us home,” said Mr. Rana.

“Home is where your heart is,” said the Sikh, thoughtfully smoothening his moustache.

Exactly. My heart is in England. My wife also wants to stay here and so do our two children.”

“When I was in India I used to say, “Indian government, no good government. Apply, apply, no reply,” said the Punjabi whose name was Avtar Singh. He’d found it difficult to get jobs in India. He’d sent out a lot of applications without any success.

The Gurkha Raj Rana replied, “Now I’m in Britain and I’m saying British government, no good government. The British we meet in everyday life are splendid people, straightforward and helpful, and hold us in high regard. We, Gurkhas, have fought for England since 1816.

“You Nepalese have no lobby in Britain. That’s the reason why the Brits treat you like that,” said Mr.Singh, scratching under his turban for the sun was shining that day in London. He’d brought along his telescope umbrella along. You never knew with English weather.

No lobby? How can we have a lobby when we live in barracks with our families. No contact with the British people. Our children have to do SLC, and not GCSE certificates when they finish schooling.”

“SLC?”

Mr. Rana explained, “School Leaving Certificate, a paper from Nepal.”

Mr. Singh suddenly came up with: “You know what, Rana-ji? I think it’s because Nepal was never in the Commonwealth.”

“Do we have to apologise that we’ve remained an independent and sovereign state?” said Mr. Rana.

“During the Falkland War the British government said, ‘The Gurkhas are an integral part of the British Army,’” said the Gurkha.

“Yes, I remember reading about it. It was because the Argentinians protested in the UNO that the British were deploying mercenary soldiers,” said Mr. Singh.

“Some mercenary soldiers, “ remarked Mr. Rana. “For our bravery and loyalty, the Queen of England awarded us 6,500 decorations, including 13 Victoria Crosses and two George Cross medals. But you can’t live on medals alone, you know, Mr. Singh.”

“If we are equal to the British soldiers and an integral part of the Army, then why do we have lesser pay than the British soldiers?” said Mr. Rana.

“You are right. Why? I get the same pay as a white Cockney bus-driver.”

“I think you people have no lawyers and politicians behind you.”

“Mrs. Blair fought for our rights once. But her husband is no longer in politics.”

Expressing solidarity with the Gurkha movement, Liberal Democratic MP of the British parliament, Peter Carroll, had once said that the 1997 cut off date was unjustified, and that it was wrong for UK to continue to discriminate against people who had defended the UK and even sacrificed their lives, while protecting Britain and the crown. A delegation of former Gurkhas had later handed over a petition at the 10 Downing Street, the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair, and held a meeting with Veterans Minister of the British government, Derek Twiggs. In a letter faxed to GAESO and the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Nepal, Col. R.J.J. Ellis defended the cut-off date as being the day “when the (Gurkha) Brigade became a UK-based force.” On July 1, 1997, the brigade was moved to Britain from Hong Kong because the British were obliged to hand over the former Crown Colony to China.

Mahendra Lal Rai, Secretary of GAESO went on record as saying: “We will continue our fight for equal rights on the streets, as well as in court rooms against the discriminatory policies of the British government.” Very little had happened since then.

The British authorities had refuted allegations that there has been discrimination against the 3,500 British Gurkha soldiers serving in the British army.

Besharam! Such an impertinence,” said Mr. Singh, with a big sigh.

The train came and Mr. Singh hugged Mr. Rana, who entered the compartment, waved at a smiling Mr. Singh with his family, and in their thoughts they were already in Katmandu, where things were uncertain and a Maoist republic awaited them, with hikes in prices of basic commodities, political instability. Nepal seemed to be disintegrating because there was no unifying figure. The people in Nepal’s southern Terai were demanding a separate state and recognition of Hindi as the language of the Madhisays, and some had even suggested that the Terai, Nepal’s Corn Chamber, should become a state of the Indian Union. Perhaps that’s how a democratic republic functioned in the early stages.

Mr. Rana felt a terrible feeling of nausea sweeping over him when he thought about the forthcoming trip to his second homeland Darjeeling. Those grabbing Bengali customs officers who were out to rob the Gurkhas by pretending to demand taxes for foreign luxury items. Even gadgets that one used daily like hair-dryers, electric shavers, kitchen appliances were ‘taxed’ without receipts, which meant the money wandered into the pockets of the Bengali customs officers, and the Indian, or for that matter the Bengal government received nothing from this border-income. That was how it functioned.

As in the late eighties, there was the danger of a Gorkhaland civil war because a lot of problems were still unsolved. The Gorkhalis were divided now, and Subhas Ghising’s work with his Hill Council was being challenged. Bimal Gurung was gaining in profile. Jyoti Basu’s communist government was, as usual, using political delay tactics when it came to Gorkhaland issues. Where was it better? To live in strife-torn Gorkhaland or in Nepal, a republic run by a Maoist leader? Mr. Rana and his wife had to decide fast.

——————————————————————————————————-

Commentary on Johnny Gurkhas and British Tommies:

Unspoken Barriers and the Need For a Deeper Cultural Change (Satis Shroff)

There is no major transformation in the workplace of the Gurkhas, and the pay gap still remains, even though the Gurkhas are an integral part of the British Army. Discrimination still exists between the officers and the Gurkhas, between the British government and the soldiers Gurkha Brigades. Whereas a Johnny Gurkha gets £46 per month during service, a British Tommie gets £450.

What the government ought to introduce, and the public ought to fight for, is a Gurkha Discrimination Act during or in the next legislative period. On March 2, 2008 the 30th anniversary of the Wilson government’s Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Opportunities Commission was introduced in Britain. Harassment of the Gurkhas by some of their sadistic officers should be made a form of discrimination and the officers court marshalled or brought to justice.

The Labour introduced the Equal Pay Act in 1970. The equal pay was for all British subjects, but not for the British Gurkhas. The Nepalese serving in the Brigade of Gurkhas in England might not be British subjects, but if they are an integral part of the British Army, then they should also be given the same pay. It might be mentioned that not only the Gurkhas but also the British women part-time workers earn 40% less per hour than full-time British men.

The Gurkhas are full-time professional soldiers. But as far as the dictates of Her Majesty’s Ministry of Defence is concerned, all soldiers of Britain are equal but some soldiers are still more equal than the others. What would George Orwell of ‘Animal Farm’ fame say to that?

The Gurkhas are employed primarily in the public sector as regular soldiers recruited in Nepal, and to some extent in the private sector as trusted and efficient security guards. The British have recruited even Nepalese women for a female version of the Gurkhas, and they do their military duties in the Emirates, of course, for the business delights of the British government.

Protection against discrimination is important, and it does not suffice just to write about the flavour of the extraordinary relationship which existed, and still exists, between the British officer and the Gurkha soldier. After all, the brave Gurkhas have fought under the Union Jack in France, Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotamia in the World War I, and in Singapore, Italy and North Africa in the World War II. In the post World War era, the Gurkhas have worked in the Falkland War, Kosovo, Croatia and Iraq.

The Gurkha-problem has to be solved and the Gurkhas given equal rights, and the choice to stay on in Britain if they choose, after they are pensioned from their Army service. The Gurkha children should be allowed to attend normal British schools and do their GCSEs, A-levels, go to British universities and enter into the professions, just as any British subject. Gurkhas born in the United Kingdom and its overseas territories should be automatically granted British citizenship—without coffing up excuses about outdated British-Nepalese treaties and agreements. The soldiers in the French Foreign Legion are previliged and respected in the French society but the Gurkhas are declared persona non grata in England and the society once they develop gerontological problems and refused medical treatment by the NHS in Britain.

On the issue of the Gurkhas during the partition of Hindustan into India and Pakistan in 1947, the British General Tuker said: Our own British fault. We had hopelessly mishandled the whole business.” The Gurkha Army Ex-servicemen’s Organization (GAESO) has been demanding rights for the Gurkhas for almost 15 years. Previously, the British Army had a pension plan for Gurkhas in which they received only one-sixth of what British soldiers got under the AFP. In order to qualify for that inferior pension plan, a Gurkha needed to serve for 15 years, while a British Tommie could be eligible for the AFP program after just two years in service.

While the recent review ensures pension parity for future Gurkha recruits, the cut-off date effectively leaves out nearly 40,000 living Gurkhas who retired before 1997, many of whom live in poverty in Nepal. The British social organisations and the government don’t care about the fate of the old pensioned Gurkhas because the government can recruit any number of cannon-fodder in the hills of Nepal. The Brits have only to beckon and the prospective Gurkhas come streaming down from the hills to be recruited for the Gurkha Brigade and a trip to England, and where ever the British are engaged in a skirmish around the globe.

The mishandling of the Gurkha-business can now be corrected and the Johnny Gurkhas given their due in terms of equal salary, respect, tolerance and chances in the British society—much like the British Tommies. When you come to think of the 6,500 decorations to Gurkhas for their bravery and loyalty, including 13 Victoria Crosses and two George Cross medals, and the 45,000 Gurkha deaths in battle during Britain’s wars since 1816 till now. An additional 150,000 were injured, according to an eight-member independent international commission that visited Nepal in May 2005.

A nation has to go with the times.

Quo vadis, United Kingdom?

Zeitgeistlyrik:

Drinking Darjeeling Tea in England (Satis Shroff)

Beware the Ides of September

Manchester will be a milestone

In Gordon Brown’s polit-life.

Your economic ‘competence’

Has become an Achilles heel,

Your weak point.

The people’s party of New Labour

Wants to get rid of you.

These are the rumours,

Heard in the trendy streets of London.

Twelve months ago Gordon Brown

Was the Messiah of Brit politics,

After Blair’s disastrous role in the Labour,

Unpopular, depressed,

His energy absorbed by Iraq.

Alas, even the new Messiah

Has lost his face,

Within a short time.

His weakness: decision making.

England is nervous, fidgety,

For Labour fears a possible loss,

Of its 353 Under House seats.

Above the English cabinet,

Looms a Damocles sword.

Will Labour watch

And drink Darjeeling tea,

Till a debacle develops?

Labour is in a dilemma.

Aha, wonders still do happen.

In the recent recession,

Brown was declared a winner,

Frau Merkel a loser.

David Miliband has simmered down.

A silly season indeed.

Let’s drink Darjeeling tea

In good olde England,

And do like we Germans do:

Wait and see.

Zeitgeistlyrik:

The Gurkhas Are With You (Satis Shroff)

Ayo Gurkhali!

The Gurkhas are upon you!

This was the battle-cry

That filled the British heart,

With pride and admiration,

And put the foe in fear.

The Gurkhas are not upon you.

They are with you,

Among you,

In London,

Guarding the Queen at the Palace,

Doing security checks

For VIPs

And for Claudia Schiffer,

The Sultan of Brunei.

Johnny Gurkhas

Or as the Brits prefer:

Johnny Gurks.

Sir Ralph Turner,

An adjutant of the Gurkhas

In World War I said:

‘Uncomplaining you endure

Hunger, thirst and wounds;

And at the last,

Your unwavering lines

Disappear into smoke

And wrath of battle.’

Another General Sir Francis Tuker

Spoke of the Gurkhas:

‘Selfless devotion to the British cause,

Which can be hardly matched

By any race to another

In the whole history of the world..

Why they should have

Thus treated us,

Is something of a mystery.’

9000 Gurkhas died

For the Glory of England,

23,655 were severely wounded

Or injured.

Military glory for the Gurkhas:

2734 decorations,

Mentions in despatches,

Gallantry certificates.

Nepal’s mothers paid dearly

For England’s glory.

And what do I hear?

The vast silence of the Gurkhas.

England has failed miserably

To match the Gurkha’s loyalty and affection

For the British.

Faith binds humans

The Brits have faith

In the bravery and loyalty,

Honesty, sturdiness, steadfastness

Of the Gurkhas.

Do the souls of the perished Gurkhas

Have faith in the British?

Souls of Gurkhas dead and gone

Still linger seeking injustice

At the hands of Queen Victoria

And Queen Elizabeth II,

Warlords,

Or was it warladies,

They died for.

How has the loyalty and special relations

Been rewarded in England

Since the Treaty of Segauli

On March 4, 1816 ?

A treaty that gave the British

The right to recruit Nepalese.

When it came to her own kind,

Her Majesty the Queen

Was generous.

She lavishly bestowed lands,

Lordships and knighthoods

To those who served the crown well,

And added more feathers to England’s fame.

A Bombay-born Salman Rushdie

Gets a knighthood from the Queen,

For his Satanic and other verses.

So do Brits who play classic and pop.

When it comes to the non-British,

Alas, Her majesty feigns myopia.

She sees not the 200 years

Of blood-sacrifice

On the part of the Gurkhas:

In the trenches of Europe,

The jungles of Borneo,

In far away Falklands,

Crisis-ridden Croatia

And war-torn Iraq.

Blood, sweat and tears,

Eking out a meagre existence

In the craggy hills of Nepal

And Darjeeling.

The price of glory was high,

Fighting in the killing-fields

Of Delhi, the Black Mountains,

Khyber Pass, Gilgit, Ali Masjid.

Warring against Wazirs, Masuds,

Yusafzais and Orakzais

In the North-West Frontier.

And against the Abors,

Nagas and Lushais

In the North-East Frontier.

Neuve Chapelle in France,

A hill named Q in Gallipoli.

Suez and Mesopotamia.

In the Second Word War

Battling for Britain

In North Africa, South-East Asia,

Italy and the Retreat from Burma.

The Queen graciously passes the ball

And proclaims from Buckingham Palace:

‘The Gurkha issue

Is a matter for the ruling government.’

Thus prime ministers come and go,

Akin to the fickle English weather.

The resolute Queen remains,

Like Chomolungma,

The Goddess Mother of the Earth,

Above the clouds in her pristine glory,

But the Gurkha issue prevails.

‘Draw up a date

To give the Gurkhas their due,’

Is the order from 10 Downing Street.

‘OMG[1],

We can’t pay for the 200 years.

We’ll be ruined as a ruling party,

When we do that.’

A sentence like a guillotine.

Is the injustice done to the Gurkhas

Of service to the British public?

It’s like adding insult

To injury.

Thus Tory and Labour governments have come

And gone,

The Gurkha injustice has remained

To this day.

Apparently,

All Englishmen cannot be gentlemen,

Especially politicians,

But in this case even fellow officers.[2]

Colonel Ellis and General Sir Francis Tuker,

The former a downright bureaucrat,

The latter with a big heart.

England got everything

Out of the Gurkha.

Squeezed him like a lemon,

Discarded and banned

From entering London

And its frontiers,

When he developed gerontological problems.

‘Go home with your pension

But don’t come back.

We hire young Gurkhas

Our NHS doesn’t support pensioned invalids.’

Johnny Gurkha wonders aloud:

‘Why they should have thus

Treated us,

And are still treating us,

Is a mystery.’

Meanwhile, life in the terraced hills of Nepal,

Where fathers toil on the stubborn soil,

And children work in the steep fields

A broken, wrinkled old mother waits,

For a meagre pension

From Her Majesty’s far off Government,

Across the Kala Pani,

The Black Waters.

Faith builds a bridge

Between Johnny Gurkhas

And British Tommies,

Comrades-at-arms,

Between Nepal and Britain.

The sturdy, betrayed Gurkha puts on

A cheerful countenance,

Waves a silk scarf

And sings:

Resam piriri[3],’

An old trail song

Heard in the Himalayas.

About the Author: Satis Shroff is the published author of three books on www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelgue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry.

Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer. He is a regular contributor on The American Chronicle and its 21 affiliated newspapers in the USA, in addition to Gather.com, Boloji.com etc.


[1] OMG: Oh My God

[2] In a letter faxed to GAESO and the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Nepal, Col. R.J.J. Ellis defended the cut-off date as being the day “when the (Gurkha) Brigade became a UK-based force.” On July 1, 1997, the brigade was moved to Britain from Hong Kong because the British were obliged to hand over the former Crown Colony to China. (According to this kind of administrative chase, the Gurkhas who fought for the Brits in its wars in the past 200 years were regarded as its foreign-based forces and, as such, did not enjoy the privileges that a “UK-based force” was entitled to, merely because they were put into another category by some miserly bureaucrat. I thought Germans were sticklers for bureaucracy but Her Majesty’s Government has outdone all other European nations in this issue).

[3] Resam: silk, piriri: flutter i.e. a silk scarf flutters in the wind

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Category: Short-story DESTINATION NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

“That’s a terrible injustice,” said Raj Rana aloud at the Paddington Station. Mr. Rana was at the station, on his way to Gatwick Airport. From there he had a flight ticket from Her Majesty’s Government to Nepal after long years of service in the British Gurkhas.

“What do you mean, Raj-ji?” said the turbaned Punjabi bus-driver from London, whom he’d known for a decade.

“The Brits are not nice to the Gurkhas. Look at me. I slaved for the Union Jack during the Falkland War. My father fought for the Brits in the World War II and was wounded by the Germans.”

“Why join the British or Indian Army? Just apply for political asylum like me. I came over when the Indian Army stormed our Golden Temple in Amritsar.”

“It’s not easy for Nepalese to apply for asylum.”

“Why? Everybody gets an asylum in Britain. Look at the streets in the East End, Southhall. Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Jamaicans everywhere.”

“The British and German authorities always say: “Nepal is a peaceful country. There’s no war out there. The tourists go there all the time. How can we Gurkhas convince the British government that we want to stay on in England after we’ve done our service? They always send us home,” said Mr. Rana.

“Home is where your heart is,” said the Sikh, thoughtfully smoothening his moustache.

Exactly. My heart is in England. My wife also wants to stay here and so do our two children.”

“When I was in India I used to say, “Indian government, no good government. Apply, apply, no reply,” said the Punjabi whose name was Avtar Singh. He’d found it difficult to get jobs in India. He’d sent out a lot of applications without any success.

The Gurkha Raj Rana replied, “Now I’m in Britain and I’m saying British government, no good government. The British we meet in everyday life are splendid people, straightforward and helpful, and hold us in high regard. We, Gurkhas, have fought for England since 1816.

“You Nepalese have no lobby in Britain. That’s the reason why the Brits treat you like that,” said Mr.Singh, scratching under his turban for the sun was shining that day in London. He’d brought along his telescope umbrella along. You never knew with English weather.

No lobby? How can we have a lobby when we live in barracks with our families. No contact with the British people. Our children have to do SLC, and not GCSE certificates when they finish schooling.”

“SLC?”

Mr. Rana explained, “School Leaving Certificate, a paper from Nepal.”

Mr. Singh suddenly came up with: “You know what, Rana-ji? I think it’s because Nepal was never in the Commonwealth.”

“Do we have to apologise that we’ve remained an independent and sovereign state?” said Mr. Rana.

“During the Falkland War the British government said, ‘The Gurkhas are an integral part of the British Army,’” said the Gurkha.

“Yes, I remember reading about it. It was because the Argentinians protested in the UNO that the British were deploying mercenary soldiers,” said Mr. Singh.

“Some mercenary soldiers, “ remarked Mr. Rana. “For our bravery and loyalty, the Queen of England awarded us 6,500 decorations, including 13 Victoria Crosses and two George Cross medals. But you can’t live on medals alone, you know, Mr. Singh.”

“If we are equal to the British soldiers and an integral part of the Army, then why do we have lesser pay than the British soldiers?” said Mr. Rana.

“You are right. Why? I get the same pay as a white Cockney bus-driver.”

“I think you people have no lawyers and politicians behind you.”

“Mrs. Blair fought for our rights once. But her husband is no longer in politics.”

Expressing solidarity with the Gurkha movement, Liberal Democratic MP of the British parliament, Peter Carroll, had once said that the 1997 cut off date was unjustified, and that it was wrong for UK to continue to discriminate against people who had defended the UK and even sacrificed their lives, while protecting Britain and the crown. A delegation of former Gurkhas had later handed over a petition at the 10 Downing Street, the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair, and held a meeting with Veterans Minister of the British government, Derek Twiggs. In a letter faxed to GAESO and the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Nepal, Col. R.J.J. Ellis defended the cut-off date as being the day “when the (Gurkha) Brigade became a UK-based force.” On July 1, 1997, the brigade was moved to Britain from Hong Kong because the British were obliged to hand over the former Crown Colony to China.

Mahendra Lal Rai, Secretary of GAESO went on record as saying: “We will continue our fight for equal rights on the streets, as well as in court rooms against the discriminatory policies of the British government.” Very little had happened since then.

The British authorities had refuted allegations that there has been discrimination against the 3,500 British Gurkha soldiers serving in the British army.

Besharam! Such an impertinence,” said Mr. Singh, with a big sigh.

The train came and Mr. Singh hugged Mr. Rana, who entered the compartment, waved at a smiling Mr. Singh with his family, and in their thoughts they were already in Katmandu, where things were uncertain and a Maoist republic awaited them, with hikes in prices of basic commodities, political instability. Nepal seemed to be disintegrating because there was no unifying figure. The people in Nepal’s southern Terai were demanding a separate state and recognition of Hindi as the language of the Madhisays, and some had even suggested that the Terai, Nepal’s Corn Chamber, should become a state of the Indian Union. Perhaps that’s how a democratic republic functioned in the early stages.

Mr. Rana felt a terrible feeling of nausea sweeping over him when he thought about the forthcoming trip to his second homeland Darjeeling. Those grabbing Bengali customs officers who were out to rob the Gurkhas by pretending to demand taxes for foreign luxury items. Even gadgets that one used daily like hair-dryers, electric shavers, kitchen appliances were ‘taxed’ without receipts, which meant the money wandered into the pockets of the Bengali customs officers, and the Indian, or for that matter the Bengal government received nothing from this border-income. That was how it functioned.

As in the late eighties, there was the danger of a Gorkhaland civil war because a lot of problems were still unsolved. The Gorkhalis were divided now, and Subhas Ghising’s work with his Hill Council was being challenged. Bimal Gurung was gaining in profile. Jyoti Basu’s communist government was, as usual, using political delay tactics when it came to Gorkhaland issues. Where was it better? To live in strife-torn Gorkhaland or in Nepal, a republic run by a Maoist leader? Mr. Rana and his wife had to decide fast.

——————————————————————————————————-

Commentary on Johnny Gurkhas and British Tommies:

Unspoken Barriers and the Need For a Deeper Cultural Change (Satis Shroff)

There is no major transformation in the workplace of the Gurkhas, and the pay gap still remains, even though the Gurkhas are an integral part of the British Army. Discrimination still exists between the officers and the Gurkhas, between the British government and the soldiers Gurkha Brigades. Whereas a Johnny Gurkha gets £46 per month during service, a British Tommie gets £450.

What the government ought to introduce, and the public ought to fight for, is a Gurkha Discrimination Act during or in the next legislative period. On March 2, 2008 the 30th anniversary of the Wilson government’s Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Opportunities Commission was introduced in Britain. Harassment of the Gurkhas by some of their sadistic officers should be made a form of discrimination and the officers court marshalled or brought to justice.

The Labour introduced the Equal Pay Act in 1970. The equal pay was for all British subjects, but not for the British Gurkhas. The Nepalese serving in the Brigade of Gurkhas in England might not be British subjects, but if they are an integral part of the British Army, then they should also be given the same pay. It might be mentioned that not only the Gurkhas but also the British women part-time workers earn 40% less per hour than full-time British men.

The Gurkhas are full-time professional soldiers. But as far as the dictates of Her Majesty’s Ministry of Defence is concerned, all soldiers of Britain are equal but some soldiers are still more equal than the others. What would George Orwell of ‘Animal Farm’ fame say to that?

The Gurkhas are employed primarily in the public sector as regular soldiers recruited in Nepal, and to some extent in the private sector as trusted and efficient security guards. The British have recruited even Nepalese women for a female version of the Gurkhas, and they do their military duties in the Emirates, of course, for the business delights of the British government.

Protection against discrimination is important, and it does not suffice just to write about the flavour of the extraordinary relationship which existed, and still exists, between the British officer and the Gurkha soldier. After all, the brave Gurkhas have fought under the Union Jack in France, Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotamia in the World War I, and in Singapore, Italy and North Africa in the World War II. In the post World War era, the Gurkhas have worked in the Falkland War, Kosovo, Croatia and Iraq.

The Gurkha-problem has to be solved and the Gurkhas given equal rights, and the choice to stay on in Britain if they choose, after they are pensioned from their Army service. The Gurkha children should be allowed to attend normal British schools and do their GCSEs, A-levels, go to British universities and enter into the professions, just as any British subject. Gurkhas born in the United Kingdom and its overseas territories should be automatically granted British citizenship—without coffing up excuses about outdated British-Nepalese treaties and agreements. The soldiers in the French Foreign Legion are previliged and respected in the French society but the Gurkhas are declared persona non grata in England and the society once they develop gerontological problems and refused medical treatment by the NHS in Britain.

On the issue of the Gurkhas during the partition of Hindustan into India and Pakistan in 1947, the British General Tuker said: Our own British fault. We had hopelessly mishandled the whole business.” The Gurkha Army Ex-servicemen’s Organization (GAESO) has been demanding rights for the Gurkhas for almost 15 years. Previously, the British Army had a pension plan for Gurkhas in which they received only one-sixth of what British soldiers got under the AFP. In order to qualify for that inferior pension plan, a Gurkha needed to serve for 15 years, while a British Tommie could be eligible for the AFP program after just two years in service.

While the recent review ensures pension parity for future Gurkha recruits, the cut-off date effectively leaves out nearly 40,000 living Gurkhas who retired before 1997, many of whom live in poverty in Nepal. The British social organisations and the government don’t care about the fate of the old pensioned Gurkhas because the government can recruit any number of cannon-fodder in the hills of Nepal. The Brits have only to beckon and the prospective Gurkhas come streaming down from the hills to be recruited for the Gurkha Brigade and a trip to England, and where ever the British are engaged in a skirmish around the globe.

The mishandling of the Gurkha-business can now be corrected and the Johnny Gurkhas given their due in terms of equal salary, respect, tolerance and chances in the British society—much like the British Tommies. When you come to think of the 6,500 decorations to Gurkhas for their bravery and loyalty, including 13 Victoria Crosses and two George Cross medals, and the 45,000 Gurkha deaths in battle during Britain’s wars since 1816 till now. An additional 150,000 were injured, according to an eight-member independent international commission that visited Nepal in May 2005.

A nation has to go with the times.

Quo vadis, United Kingdom?

Zeitgeistlyrik:

Drinking Darjeeling Tea in England (Satis Shroff)

Beware the Ides of September

Manchester will be a milestone

In Gordon Brown’s polit-life.

Your economic ‘competence’

Has become an Achilles heel,

Your weak point.

The people’s party of New Labour

Wants to get rid of you.

These are the rumours,

Heard in the trendy streets of London.

Twelve months ago Gordon Brown

Was the Messiah of Brit politics,

After Blair’s disastrous role in the Labour,

Unpopular, depressed,

His energy absorbed by Iraq.

Alas, even the new Messiah

Has lost his face,

Within a short time.

His weakness: decision making.

England is nervous, fidgety,

For Labour fears a possible loss,

Of its 353 Under House seats.

Above the English cabinet,

Looms a Damocles sword.

Will Labour watch

And drink Darjeeling tea,

Till a debacle develops?

Labour is in a dilemma.

Aha, wonders still do happen.

In the recent recession,

Brown was declared a winner,

Frau Merkel a loser.

David Miliband has simmered down.

A silly season indeed.

Let’s drink Darjeeling tea

In good olde England,

And do like we Germans do:

Wait and see.

Zeitgeistlyrik:

The Gurkhas Are With You (Satis Shroff)

Ayo Gurkhali!

The Gurkhas are upon you!

This was the battle-cry

That filled the British heart,

With pride and admiration,

And put the foe in fear.

The Gurkhas are not upon you.

They are with you,

Among you,

In London,

Guarding the Queen at the Palace,

Doing security checks

For VIPs

And for Claudia Schiffer,

The Sultan of Brunei.

Johnny Gurkhas

Or as the Brits prefer:

Johnny Gurks.

Sir Ralph Turner,

An adjutant of the Gurkhas

In World War I said:

‘Uncomplaining you endure

Hunger, thirst and wounds;

And at the last,

Your unwavering lines

Disappear into smoke

And wrath of battle.’

Another General Sir Francis Tuker

Spoke of the Gurkhas:

‘Selfless devotion to the British cause,

Which can be hardly matched

By any race to another

In the whole history of the world..

Why they should have

Thus treated us,

Is something of a mystery.’

9000 Gurkhas died

For the Glory of England,

23,655 were severely wounded

Or injured.

Military glory for the Gurkhas:

2734 decorations,

Mentions in despatches,

Gallantry certificates.

Nepal’s mothers paid dearly

For England’s glory.

And what do I hear?

The vast silence of the Gurkhas.

England has failed miserably

To match the Gurkha’s loyalty and affection

For the British.

Faith binds humans

The Brits have faith

In the bravery and loyalty,

Honesty, sturdiness, steadfastness

Of the Gurkhas.

Do the souls of the perished Gurkhas

Have faith in the British?

Souls of Gurkhas dead and gone

Still linger seeking injustice

At the hands of Queen Victoria

And Queen Elizabeth II,

Warlords,

Or was it warladies,

They died for.

How has the loyalty and special relations

Been rewarded in England

Since the Treaty of Segauli

On March 4, 1816 ?

A treaty that gave the British

The right to recruit Nepalese.

When it came to her own kind,

Her Majesty the Queen

Was generous.

She lavishly bestowed lands,

Lordships and knighthoods

To those who served the crown well,

And added more feathers to England’s fame.

A Bombay-born Salman Rushdie

Gets a knighthood from the Queen,

For his Satanic and other verses.

So do Brits who play classic and pop.

When it comes to the non-British,

Alas, Her majesty feigns myopia.

She sees not the 200 years

Of blood-sacrifice

On the part of the Gurkhas:

In the trenches of Europe,

The jungles of Borneo,

In far away Falklands,

Crisis-ridden Croatia

And war-torn Iraq.

Blood, sweat and tears,

Eking out a meagre existence

In the craggy hills of Nepal

And Darjeeling.

The price of glory was high,

Fighting in the killing-fields

Of Delhi, the Black Mountains,

Khyber Pass, Gilgit, Ali Masjid.

Warring against Wazirs, Masuds,

Yusafzais and Orakzais

In the North-West Frontier.

And against the Abors,

Nagas and Lushais

In the North-East Frontier.

Neuve Chapelle in France,

A hill named Q in Gallipoli.

Suez and Mesopotamia.

In the Second Word War

Battling for Britain

In North Africa, South-East Asia,

Italy and the Retreat from Burma.

The Queen graciously passes the ball

And proclaims from Buckingham Palace:

‘The Gurkha issue

Is a matter for the ruling government.’

Thus prime ministers come and go,

Akin to the fickle English weather.

The resolute Queen remains,

Like Chomolungma,

The Goddess Mother of the Earth,

Above the clouds in her pristine glory,

But the Gurkha issue prevails.

‘Draw up a date

To give the Gurkhas their due,’

Is the order from 10 Downing Street.

‘OMG[1],

We can’t pay for the 200 years.

We’ll be ruined as a ruling party,

When we do that.’

A sentence like a guillotine.

Is the injustice done to the Gurkhas

Of service to the British public?

It’s like adding insult

To injury.

Thus Tory and Labour governments have come

And gone,

The Gurkha injustice has remained

To this day.

Apparently,

All Englishmen cannot be gentlemen,

Especially politicians,

But in this case even fellow officers.[2]

Colonel Ellis and General Sir Francis Tuker,

The former a downright bureaucrat,

The latter with a big heart.

England got everything

Out of the Gurkha.

Squeezed him like a lemon,

Discarded and banned

From entering London

And its frontiers,

When he developed gerontological problems.

‘Go home with your pension

But don’t come back.

We hire young Gurkhas

Our NHS doesn’t support pensioned invalids.’

Johnny Gurkha wonders aloud:

‘Why they should have thus

Treated us,

And are still treating us,

Is a mystery.’

Meanwhile, life in the terraced hills of Nepal,

Where fathers toil on the stubborn soil,

And children work in the steep fields

A broken, wrinkled old mother waits,

For a meagre pension

From Her Majesty’s far off Government,

Across the Kala Pani,

The Black Waters.

Faith builds a bridge

Between Johnny Gurkhas

And British Tommies,

Comrades-at-arms,

Between Nepal and Britain.

The sturdy, betrayed Gurkha puts on

A cheerful countenance,

Waves a silk scarf

And sings:

Resam piriri[3],’

An old trail song

Heard in the Himalayas.

About the Author: Satis Shroff is the published author of three books on www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelgue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry.

Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer. He is a regular contributor on The American Chronicle and its 21 affiliated newspapers in the USA, in addition to Gather.com, Boloji.com etc.


[1] OMG: Oh My God

[2] In a letter faxed to GAESO and the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Nepal, Col. R.J.J. Ellis defended the cut-off date as being the day “when the (Gurkha) Brigade became a UK-based force.” On July 1, 1997, the brigade was moved to Britain from Hong Kong because the British were obliged to hand over the former Crown Colony to China. (According to this kind of administrative chase, the Gurkhas who fought for the Brits in its wars in the past 200 years were regarded as its foreign-based forces and, as such, did not enjoy the privileges that a “UK-based force” was entitled to, merely because they were put into another category by some miserly bureaucrat. I thought Germans were sticklers for bureaucracy but Her Majesty’s Government has outdone all other European nations in this issue).

[3] Resam: silk, piriri: flutter i.e. a silk scarf flutters in the wind

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