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.”
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?
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,
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.
The Gurkhas Are With You (Satis Shroff)
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,
Guarding the Queen at the Palace,
Doing security checks
And for Claudia Schiffer,
The Sultan of Brunei.
Or as the Brits prefer:
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
Military glory for the Gurkhas:
Mentions in despatches,
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,
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
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
On the part of the Gurkhas:
In the trenches of Europe,
The jungles of Borneo,
In far away Falklands,
And war-torn Iraq.
Blood, sweat and tears,
Eking out a meagre existence
In the craggy hills of Nepal
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,
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.
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
Thus Tory and Labour governments have come
The Gurkha injustice has remained
To this day.
All Englishmen cannot be gentlemen,
But in this case even fellow officers.
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
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,
Between Nepal and Britain.
The sturdy, betrayed Gurkha puts on
A cheerful countenance,
Waves a silk scarf
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.
 OMG: Oh My God
 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).
 Resam: silk, piriri: flutter i.e. a silk scarf flutters in the wind