Archive for February, 2010

(c) Art & Nepali poem by satisshroff

The way was long, the wind cold

The minstrel was infirm and old;

His withered cheek and tresses grey

Seemed to have known a better day

(Sir Walter Scott in ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’)

Gainey: A Minstrel’s Songs of Love and Sorrow (Satis Shroff)

Go away, you maya.


Haunt me not

In my dreams.

What has become of my country?

My grandpa said:

“In Nepal even a child

Can walk the countryside alone.”

It’s just not true,

Not for a Nepalese,

Born with a sarangi in his hand.

I’m a musician,

One of the lower caste

In the Hindu hierarchy.

I bring delight to my listeners,

Hope to touch the hearts

Of my spectators.

I sing about love,

Hate and evil,

Kings and Queens,

Princes and Princesses,

The poor and the rich,

And the fight for existence,

In the craggy foothills

And the towering heights

Of the Himalayas.

The Abode of the Snows,

Where Buddhist and Hindu

Gods and Goddesses reside,

And look over mankind

And his folly.

I was born in Tanhau,

A nondescript hamlet in Nepal,

Were it not for Bhanu Bhakta Acharya

Who was born here,

The poet who translated the Ramayana,

From high-flown Sanskrit into simple Nepali

For all to read.

I remember the first day

My father handed me a sarangi.

He taught me how to hold and swing the bow.

I was delighted with the first squeaks it made,

As I moved the bow on the taught horsetail strings.

It was as though my small sarangi

Was talking with me.

I was so happy,

I and my sarangi,

My sarangi and me.

Tears of joy ran down my cheeks.

I was so thankful.

I touched my Papa’s feet,

As is the custom in the Himalayas.

I could embrace the whole world.

I remember my Papa saying to me:

‘My son, it was God Shiva

Who taught us humans music.

God Krishna plays the lute,

His Gopinis listen to him full of rapture.

Saraswati is always depicted with the sitar.

So you see, my son,

It was the Gods who taught us music.

You only have to listen

To Nature in the wee morning hours

Or at night,

You will hear glorious melodies

That you capture with your sarangi.

Your instrument becomes

The voice of Prakriti.

My father taught me the tones,

And the songs to go with them,

For we, gaineys, are minstrels

Who wander from place to place,

Like gypsies,

Like butterflies in Spring.

We are a restless folk

To be seen everywhere,

Where people dwell,

For we live from their charity

And our trade.

The voice of the gainey,

The sad melody of the sarangi.

A boon to those who love the lyrics,

A nuisance to those who hate it.

Many a time, we’ve been kicked and beaten

By young people who prefer canned music,

From their ghetto-blasters.

Outlandish melodies,

Electronic beats you can’t catch up with.

Spinning on their heads,

Hip-hopping like robots,

Not humans.

It’s the techno, ecstasy generation

Where have all the old melodies gone?

The Nepalese folksongs of yore?

The song of the Gainey?

“This is globanisation,” they told me.

The grey-eyed visitors from abroad,

‘Quirays’ as we call them in Nepal.

Or ‘gora-sahibs’ in Hindustan.

The quirays took countless pictures of me,

With their cameras,

Gave handsome tips.

A grey-haired didi with spectacles,

And teeth in like a horse’s mouth,

Even gave me a polaroid-picture

Of me,

With my sarangi,

My mountain violin.

Sometimes I look at my fading picture

And wonder how fast time flows.

My smile is disappearing,

Grey hair at the sides,

The beginning of baldness.

I’ve lost a lot of my molars,

At the hands of the Barbier

From Muzzafapur in the Indian plains.

He gave me clove oil

To ease my pain,

As he pulled out my fouled teeth,

In an open-air salon,

Right near the Tribhuvan Highway.

I still have my voice

And my sarangi,

And love to sing my repertoire,

Even though many people

Sneer and jeer at me,

And prefer Bollywood texts

From my larynx.

To please their whims,

I learned even Bollywood songs,

Against my will,

Eavesdropping behind cinema curtains,

To please the tourists

And my country’s modern youth,

I even learned some English songs.

Oh money, dear money.

I’ve become a cultural prostitute.

I’ve done my Zunft, my trade,

An injustice,

But I did it to survive.

I had to integrate myself

And to assimilate

In my changing society.

Time has not stood still

Under the shadow of the Himalayas.

One day when I was much younger,

I was resting under a Pipal tree

When I saw one beautiful tourist girl.

I looked and smiled at her.

She caressed her hair,

And smiled back.

For me it was love at first sight.

All the while gazing at her

I took out my small sarangi,

With bells on my fiddle bow

And played a sad Nepali melody

Composed by Ambar Gurung,

Which I’d learned in my wanderings

From Ilam to Darjeeling.

I am the Sky

You are the Soil,

Even though we yearn

A thousand times,

We cannot be together.

I was sentimental that moment.

Had tears in my eyes

When I finished my song.’

The blonde woman sauntered up to me,

And said in a smooth voice,

‘Thank you for the lovely song.

Can you tell me what it means?’

I felt a lump on my throat

And couldn’t speak

For a while.

Then, with a sigh, I said,

‘We have this caste system in Nepal.

When I first saw you,

I imagined you were a fair bahun girl.

We aren’t allowed to fall in love

With bahunis.

It is a forbidden love,

A love that can never come true.

I love you

But I can’t have you.’

‘But you haven’t even tried,’

Said the blonde girl coyly.

‘I like your golden hair,

Your blue eyes.

It’s like watching the sky.’

‘Oh, thank you,


She asked: ‘But why do you say:

‘We cannot be together?’

‘We are together now,’ I replied,

‘But the society does not like

Us gaineys from the lower caste.

The bahuns, chettris castes are above us.

They look down upon us.’

‘Why do they do that?’

Asked the blonde girl.

I spat out:

‘Because they are high-born.

We, kamis, damais and sarkis, are dalits.

We are the downtrodden,

The underdogs of this society

In the foothills of the Himalayas.’

‘Who made you what you are?’ she asked.

I told her: ‘The Hindu society is formed this way:

Once upon a time there was a bahun,

And from him came the Varnas.

The Vernas are a division of society

Into four parts.

Brahma created the bahuns

From his mouth.

The chettris who are warriors

Came from his shoulder,

The traders from his thigh

And the servants

From the sole of his feet.’

‘What about the poor dalits?’

Quipped the blonde foreigner.

‘The dalits fell deeper in the Hindu society,

And were not regarded as full members

Of the human race.

We had to do the errands and menial jobs

That were forbidden for the higher castes.’

‘Like what?’ she asked.

‘Like disposing dead animals,

Making leather by skinning hides

Of dead animals,

Cleaning toilets and latrines,

Clearing the sewage canals of the rich,

High born Hindus.

I am not allowed to touch a bahun,

Even with my shadow, you know.’

‘What a mean, ugly system,’ she commented,

And shook her head.

‘May I touch you?’ she asked impulsively.

She was daring and wanted to see how I’d react.

‘You may,’ I replied.

She touched my hand,

Then my cheeks with her two hands.

I found it pleasant and a great honour.

I joined my hands and said sincerely,


I, a dalit, a no-name, a no-human,

Had been touched by a young, beautiful woman,

A kuiray tourist,

From across the Black Waters:


A wave of happiness and joy

Swept over me.

A miracle had happened.

Like a princess kissing a toad,

In fairy tales I’d heard.

Perhaps Gandhi was right:

I was a Child of God,

A Harijan,

And this fair lady an apsara.

She, in her European mind,

Thought she’d brought human rights

At least to the gainey,

This wonderful wandering minstrel,

With his quaint fiddle

Called sarangi.

She said in her melodious voice,

‘In my country all people are free and equal,

Have the same rights and dignity.

All humans have common sense,

A conscience,

And we ought to meet each other

As brothers and sisters.

I tucked my sarangi in my armpit,

Clapped my hands and said:

‘That’s nice.

Noble thoughts.

It works for you here, perhaps.

But it won’t work for me,’

Feeling a sense of remorse and nausea

Sweep over me.

* * *

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 (Lehrbeauftragter für Creative Writing, Albert Ludwigs Universität Freiburg). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

What others have said about the author:

“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.

Satis Shroff  writes with intelligence, wit and grace. (Bruce Dobler, Associate Professor in Creative Writing MFA, University of Iowa).

‘Satis Shroff writes political poetry, about the war in Nepal, the sad fate of the Nepalese people, the emergence of neo-fascism in Germany. His bicultural perspective makes his poems rich, full of awe and at the same time heartbreakingly sad. I writing ‘home,’ he not only returns to his country of origin time and again, he also carries the fate of his people to readers in the West, and his task of writing thus is also a very important one in political terms. His true gift is to invent Nepalese metaphors and make them accessible to the West through his poetry.’ (Sandra Sigel, Writer, Germany).

Brilliant, I enjoyed your poems thoroughly. I can hear the underlying German and Nepali thoughts within your English language. The strictness of the German form mixed with the vividness of your Nepalese mother tongue. An interesting mix. Nepal is a jewel on the Earth’s surface, her majesty and charm should be protected, and yet exposed with dignity through words. You do your country justice and I find your bicultural understanding so unique and a marvel to read.’ Reviewed by Heide Poudel in WritersDen.com 6/4/2007.

‘The manner in which Satis Shroff writes takes the reader right along with him. Extremely vivid and just enough and the irony of the music. Beautiful prosaic thought and astounding writing.
Your muscles flex, the nerves flatter, the heart gallops,
As you feel how puny you are,
Among all those incessant and powerful waves.’

“Satis Shroff’s writing is refined – pure undistilled.” (Susan Marie, www.Gather.com

Read Full Post »

European Ethnology: FASNET IN FREIBURG-KAPPEL (Satis Shroff)

Narri! Narro! The fasnet has begun and the scary and hideous Schauinsland Berggeister, spirits from the mountains, have stormed the local kindergarten and school. The spirits are motley attired, and spring and prance about, wearing their masks and costumes and make the children happy because they also distribute goodies in the form of bon-bons, sweets, chocolates, popcorn in small plastic bags. The children just love it, sing and dance with the Berggeister on this day. No classworks, no homeworks. Just fun and cheerfulness is the order of the day.

The next target of the Berggeister is the Kappeler town  council when the mayor is obliged to hand over the key of the council to the Berggeister as a sign of courteousness and surrender  to the Berggeister who then take over the show, throw confetti from the windows and at the otherwise stiff civil servants. Civilized and controlled anarchy spreads everywhere for even though people drink alcohol, they do behave themselves and are decent, though jovial and in high spirits. On the next day February 12, 2010 there’s a Bruachtumsabend at 8:11 pm during which the traditions and customs are re-told to the visitors in the festival hall where they’re all gathered. Then comes the Children’s Fasnet on February 14, followed by the burial  of the Fasnet on February 16 in the form of a symbolic figure, during which the witches, Berggeister and other eerie masked figures weep loudly and bid adieu to winter. The last fasnet event is the Scheibensclagen at the Eschenwegle on February 27 during which burning pieces of glowing wood are shot into the starry, wintry sky. It looks like playing gold from a hilltop. Instead of caddies children take delight in gathering the flying blazing wood, after they’ve cooled down a bit.

Freiburg celebrates Rose Monday with a procession in which lots of participants and on-lookers watch the floats going past the Bertold’s fountain along the Kaiser Joseph street. The procession commences at 2 pm with over 100 cliques or vereins, as associations are called in German. It might be fun if you can recognise the Guenterstaeler Bohrer, the Waldsee matrosen, the Schnogedaetscher, the Wuehlmaeuse of Littenweiler and, of course, the Schauinsland Berggeister.

There is also a magical and mystical element in the fasnet celebrations for we still tend to be superstitious and still knock on wood to wish ourselves luck or to make a wish when we see a chimney-sweep passing by. You’re even supposed to touch him or her. Actually it was a profession for men but now even women don the black attire of the chimney sweep. Through gendering, women at last approaching, if not encroaching, the bastions of the patriarchs, which is a good thing.  Not only astronomy  but also astrology has entered the parlours and is here to stay.  There are Germans and other Alpine folk who still avoid certain odd numbers because they are regarded as inauspicious and bring one misfortune and bad luck. I remember experiencing the custom of caressing a piglet in a basket to bring you luck in the following year. That was when I was visiting some friends in the Rhone area. Whereas some Swiss masks from the Alps and Italy tend to be scary, most masks from the Swabian-Allemanic fasnet have been polished and gone aesthetic. The fasnet tradition still possesses Germanic and so-called heathen and pagan cultural elements.

During the strict Reformation many customs of the fasnet celebrations had to be relinquished  so that only a vestigial part remained. Even the swine’s bladder swinging Schuddig from the Elzach Valley had to change his costume. The masks and costumes had to go with the times. Even in the old Reichsstadt Rottweil, which is known for its springing-of-the-knaves (Narrensprung), the old Schantle still wears a dress with a cape made of brown textile. In Freiburg we have the Blue Narre, who wears big bells and a blue costume, the Fasnetrufer with multicoloured patchwork scales, and a smiling wooden face with two prominent teeth, and the Herdamer Lalli, with his rouge-noir dress and a tongue that sticks out. Günter Grass wrote a book-title ‘Zunge zeigen’ about the former Calcutta which is Kolkota in the Bengali tongue. Grass depicted Kali showing her red tongue. In Europe, when a person shows his or her tongue, it means that the person is not of the same opinion and it is his or her way of showing emotional negation. In South Asia showing your tongue means you’re embarrassed or ashamed.

There are a few wooden sculptors who make wooded masks in the Black Forest. One such sculptor is Herr Lang, who has a shop-cum-workshop near the tennis court in Elzach (www.holzbildhauerei.de). He says: ‘We’ve been making Fasnacht masks since 50 years out of lime-wood. Our customers come from the entire Allemanic area and also Elzach, Waldkirch and Endingen. Just call us and we’ll make a fasnet mask for you.’

Heinz Wintermantel, has written a book ‘Hoorig, hoorig isch die Katz,’ which is a fasnet motto from Schramberg (near Oberndorf) where you are obliged to sing this song with the fasnet-figure, and after the song is over you’re blessed with a brezel, a round, salty bread. The blessing is called Brezelsegen. Wintermantel says: ‘The feasting, wearing of masks and processions are a compensation  for the days of fasting that follow. Fasnacht is merely the time between Thursday till Ash Wednesday. The term ‘Fasnacht,’ as used in the Allemanic-Swabian celebrations, is thought to have been changed to Fastnacht at the turn of the 12th century under the influence of Christian Middle Ages. The oldest source about the Fasnacht in Freiburg dates back to 1283 in a document of the cloister Adelshausen in which the Fasnacht is mentioned. This meaning exists till this day and has been integrated into the Christian calender and shows a lot of Christian aspects. We know that Christianity embraced the so-called pagan symbols, traditions, customs and changed their names. Christianity was no longer involved in struggling against the personified natural calamities. If something terrible like an earthquake, landslides, avalanches in the Alps, a disease like plague (now Aids, MRC etc) or volcanic eruptions occurred, people who read the bible closely, were religious or spiritual, called it the punishment of God. And with this thought of punishment it was pointed that human beings are sinners and indecent. The sinners were symbolised by the motley coloured and thus stained and impure clothes of the knaves (Narrenkleid). The symbol of the spiritually pure person became the  white colour of baptism. This is also the reason why the church never challenged the roots of fasnet or fasnacht that lay in so-called heathen customs.  In this context it is interesting to note that the Hindus also wear white as a sign of ritual purity during the initiation ceremony and during funerals.

Since winter is a long and bitter season, the ancestors of the Swabian-Allemanic fasnet fought against the demonic powers by wearing terrifying, hideous masks to fight the ice, snow, mountain mist and snow-storms and thus banished winter by burning its effigy and gave vent to their primordeal emotions by shouting, cursing, screaming, making noises, jumping and springing in the air  in just the same wild manner as evil spirits are wont to do.

Even today, if you visit the Allemanic-Swabian fasnet celebrations, you’ll see these scary masks and the masked and costumed figures scream and shout as their ancestors did. Another old tradition to be seen in Kappel is the Scheibenschlagen ceremony along the Eschenwegele, where a big bon-fire is made and the glowing pieces of wood cut in squares are shot to the Dreisam Valley below. If the piece of glowing wood doesn’t fly and is a dud, you might have bad luck this year.

Next week I’m off to the celebrate the three most beautiful days of the year in Basle (Switzerland) at 4pm. Ghoulish atmosphere. Suddenly, you hear the shrill piccollo flutes and the beating of loud drums. The beginning of ‘drey scheenste Dääg.’ There’s nothing like it.

Grüezi! Welcome to Basle in Switzerland.

Read Full Post »