Archive for March, 2010

Medical Ethnology:

Little Sushma’s Story (Satis Shroff)

The case history of a small girl named Sushma is typical for Nepal. Sushma was 6 years old when she was playing near an open fire, and wriggled into the fire with her feet and received third degree burns on her feet and right leg. All the toes were burnt and the wounds on her leg were infected. She was in a critical stage. The German-Nepalese team carried out the initial life-saving treatment during the surgical camp. Since it was impossible to carry out further treatment in Surkhet, the team decided to transport the despairing mother and the suffering child to the Interplast hospital in Sankhu.

In the following months little Sushma was operated five times and countless swabs had to be changed and her wounds bandaged. As the wound healing progressed, Sushma’s mother helped her daughter take water baths. Sushma was discharged seven months later and it was a wonderful case of assistance in a developing country through the mutual cooperation between Germans and Nepalese surgeons. Sushma wears orthopedic shoes now and modern medicine has given her a new life and hope, despite the loss of all toes and a part of her foot.

It’s a delight to see Sushma laugh again with her mother. Wonders happen.

The Interplast idea was born in the USA, a project to treat people who suffer from injuries through fire, weapons in war and anomalies during the birth. Such operations are expensive and cannot be carried out by the local surgeons in the so-called Third World countries. The idea was to send plastic surgeons to these countries and perform operations with the assistance of their counterparts. If no experts were available, Interplast also did the job of training them.

In Nepal there’s a hospital for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Sankhu, which is in the vicinity of Katmandu. The Nepalese counterpart is the Sushma Koirala Memorial Trust (SKM) and is run since 1999 by the German surgeon Dr. Andreas Settje. The hospital has 50 beds and the work is done with the help of Nepalese doctors and voluntary specialists from Germany. Over 1,800 surgical operations are performed annually. Additionally, there’s the 24 hour emergency service for the local people of Sankhu, a dental ward, physical therapy for post-operative cases and other facilities which the local people use.

Interplast Nepal has a teaching-hospital character and trains Nepalese nurses and physicians. This is an excellent example of helping people in a developing country to help themselves, and to render medical assistance to poor people in the long run. The patients are asked to pay whatever they can afford, but for people who don’t have any financial resources, the therapy is free of charge.

The hospital manager is Ms. Christa Drigalla, the technical supervisor is Hein Stahl and Dr. Andreas Settje is the chief surgeon. Lilo Knörrich, who is a physical therapist, has worked many times in the hospital. A regular visiting plastic surgeon is Dr. Hubertus Tikoru and he is responsible for the training of Nepalese medical personnel.  Professor Dieter Pape, surgeon, was the first medical director of the SKM-hospital. A Nepalese surgeon Dr. Raju Pandey also operates with his German counterparts. Dr.Sybille Keller, who is a regular visiting dentist, coordinates all voluntary work of the dentists, and Dr. Klaus Macher, a dental surgeon, takes care of the financial aspect of Interplast’s dental department.

The surgeons of the SKM hospital travel to different part of the mountainous country where operation camps are organised. A team of workers go ahead as a vanguard and seek prospective patients for operations, get their basic data and photograph the patients and their injuries. A three-day jeep ride is normal in hilly Nepal, and the majority of the people live in inaccessable areas where there aren’t any medical facilities. In a surgical camp 80 to 100 operations are done. The hospital staff organise free transport to the hospital in Sankhu when the patients have to undergo major operations. One such regular camp is the district hospital in Surkhet (Western Nepal), which is 650 km away from Katmandu. It takes two days to negotiate this distance. The district hospital in Surkhet has only two physicians and has to treat over 100,000 patients.

(In case you’d like to help other such Sushma’s in Nepal please make a donation by looking up: www.nepal-hospital.de).


(c) Art by satisshroff

Medical Ethnology: Helping the Nepalese to Help Themselves (Satis Shroff)

Christa Drigalla is an amiable German lady, a hospital manager who worked at the Diakonie hospital in Freiburg (South-west Germany), where she did Nursing Management. Sometime back, this author had the opportunity of going for a walk to the Emperor’s Chair (Kaiserstuhl), a volcanic wine-growing area in the vicinity of Freiburg, with Christa.

‘I’d love to trek to the Rara lake. I saw colour transparencies of Rara shown by a Freiburger professor in St. Georgen and was so fascinated’, said Christa. She has been to Annapurna, Chitwan and Langtang. ‘Springtime in the Himalayas is wonderful’, she said as she drank her Nepal tea and mentioned names like Kanchan Gompa, Laurebina-pass and Sundari and about 17 to 18 degrees centigrade temperatures in the month of November. But she said she liked to brave it all and wouldn’t miss trekking a bit.

At the beginning Christa worked as a nurse at the Shanti Seva Griha, a leprosy clinic, run by a lady from Dortmund Marianne Grosspietsch, which is located in Pashupati, near the river. She helped where she could, and was uncomplicated. The small 12-bed clinic, an outdoor Ambulanz. In German ‘Ambulanz’ is not a car to transport injured patients, but a ward to cater to the needs of the outdoor patients. An ambulance in the English sense of the word is called a Rettungswagen. Shanti Seva also runs a school for the children of the leprosy patients. There’s a coffee-shop, a tailoring-service and a branch in Budanilkantha, which is open twice a week. The outdoor ward has over 2,300 registered patients.

The poor, ill, blind, lame and lepers come from the miserable, smoggy streets of Katmandu and the temple complex of Pashupatinath, Nepal’s biggest and holiest gold-roofed hinduistic temple. The sickly beggars are never too tired to beg for alms from pious people (Hindus from Nepal and India), who are allowed to worship in the sancrum sanctorum of the Shiva-temple.

The other curious visitors who are obliged to remain in the periphery of Pashupatinath are the digital camera-toting foreign tourists. Whether it’s coy and shy bathing Nepalese women in wet, sticky saris, burning Hindu corpses and the mourning relatives of the deceased, hungry lepers or agile Rhesus temple-monkeys, the dauntless tourists photograph everything for their transparency, powerpoint, video and DVD-shows back home. The Shanti Seva Griha takes care additionally of the white-haired, wrinkled widows, women and children from the neighbourhood. There’s no social security and support for the elderly in Nepal and many countries of South Asia. And the treatment is free. The Griha also has a rehabilitation-centre near the Royal Golf Club Nepal. It has a tailoring workshop where stigmatised Nepali lepers work in peace. Lepers are still heavily stigmatised in Nepal, like the people with plague in the Middle Ages in Europe. Today, it’s possible to cure the disease by using an antibiotic cocktail.

Christa said that she put up at a small lodge near the Clinic, and lived sometimes with Nepalese friends near the Ring-road. There’s a German nurse named Irma who hails from Achern and she has additionally a leading role at the Nursing Campus (Patan). Christa comes from a hamlet named Albringhausen, with a population of 229  in Lower Saxony, a flat state at an elevation of 14metres above sea-level.

‘It’s all farms, corn-fields, meadows and windmills. More and more farmers are giving up their farms and the farms are in poor conditions due to the bad EU agricultural politics. It’s East Friesian country with fishers, crabs, cows.’ She has a brother and a sister out there in Lower Saxony but she lives the mountains. If she’s not trekking in the Himalayas then she’s invariably wandering up and down the Swiss Alps or in the Black Forest Mountains.

‘I have it in my genes, this Wanderlust,’ she says almost apologetically. Christa Drigalla has been running the Interplast Germany’s hospital in Nepal for a long time. Interplast is a US- German undertaking which carries out plastic surgery on leprosy patients, which is extremely useful for the poor Nepali patients, who are ostracised and shunned by the Nepali society.

She talks at length about the corruption scandals in Kathmandu. ‘Everybody is pumping money into Nepal but where is it vanishing? The number of beggars in Katmandu, and Nepal in general, seem to multiplying. I don’t see any structure in Nepal. There are so many NGO projects, and there’s hardly any monitoring done.’ All the NGOs ought to be coordinated by the new government’s Social Ministry. Every big foreign country has, in addition to its official development volunteer programme, a bevy of NGO projects. Even local NGOs are cropping up like mushrooms after a monsoon shower. And all international organisations want to help the fifth poorest country in the world to get up on its feet.”

Where are the priorities? For instance, most of the foreign projects have programmes in the educational sector, but they don’t dare to intervene and help develop new, attractive vocational curricula. They just open or support existing schools, and let the Nepalis carry on with their own anachronistic teaching methods and curricula. Only the rich have access to modern education. What are Nepal boys and girls to do after they have done their School Leaving Certificate? Who is going to finance higher education? There are just not enough vocational outlets.

There’s no question about the need for NGOs but where does the money disappear? Isn’t it literally helping others to help themselves through the aid-industry? The money and effort just doesn’t seem to trickle down to the grassroots. Quo vadis development aid?

Christa Drigalla says, ‘‘A deep orthodox faith in religion is not good for these modern times. For now. It’s better to try and improve one’s present life(style) than to expect that it will be better in one’s next life. I often hear paralysing fatalistic opinions like ‘ke garnu? jindagi jestai chha (What shall I do? Life is like that). Or ‘ke garnu? upai chaina! (What shall I do? There’s no way). Modern educated Nepalis tend to say ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Perhaps that is the value of education.’

‘Practical steps are useful in pepping oneself up. When I was at Shanti Griha we constructed a shower for the staff and patients. She longs to see the friendly faces of Prabha the social worker, Hari the sanitater, Krishna the physiotherapist, Dr. Singh the team-physician and Marianne.

‘I’ve been expanding the plastic surgery hospital project run by Interplast at Salambutar, near Sankhu,’ says Christa Drigalla. This new hospital was opened officially in November 1997 and was dubbed Sushma Koirala Memorial Hospital (SKMH) after the daughter of the former Nepalese Prime Minister who burnt to death in her sari. The international medical team of the SKMH is busy with operative corrections of patients who have scars from burns, deformities from birth, or have lost a part of their hands or feet through leprosy-infection. This medical area has been the connecting link with the Shanti-Griha-Project with its leprosy patients. Besides rendering concrete medical help to these Nepalese patients, the aim of the ‘Interplast’ organisation in the whole world is to teach local surgeons special operation-techniques, and to give their know-how to them so that they can operate independently at a later stage. Other members of the medical-staff like nurses, sanitaters, physiotherapists also receive special training and instructions to take optimal care of the post-operative patients. The Interplast-run hospital is, after a period of initial financial and intellectual help, to be overtaken by the Nepalese counterparts.

Christa has been working for more than a decade in Nepal and has survived the revolution of the eighties, the nineties and now the Maoist take over at the recent polls.

‘I’m sure that this ‘help to self-help’ (Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe) is the most effective solution towards improving the situation of the patients in Nepal,’ says Christa Drigalla. She has  always had an inner desire for a long time to get to know Nepal not only as a tourist, but to live here and to experience the entire seasonal changes of Nature, with winter and sommer, the dry period and monsoon, to get to know and understand the people better and to do more trekking’. And that’s exactly what she has been doing all these years and has even built a wonderful house in scenic Nagarkot from where she can peer at the Himalayas..

One can only admire her courage, endeavour and the ability to assert herself and I’d like to wish her well. She is what we call in German eine gute Seele, a good soul, and is the personification of togetherness, Miteinander.

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OBERRIED: Schwarzwälder Torte, Speck and Sausages (Satis Shroff)

Oberried is a wellness place, tucked away on the highest Black Forest mountains. From here you can trek to Feldberg and Schauinsland. There’s a church with a big, the Heimatmuseum called ‘Schniederlihof’, the mountain museum Schauinsland and for young and elderly the amusement park Steinwasen located on a hillside. The reason I went there with my friend Klaus Sütterle was to pay the local butcher Peter Reichenbach in his Metzgerei.

It was a short drive past beautiful Foret Noir scenery. Up there it was still winter and there was snow all over the slopes, spurs, hills and rooftops of the Black Forest farmsteads. The vegetation in this area Dreisam Valley is subalpine and you see numerous ski-lifts, ski tracks and trekking trails paved by a bulldozer on the mantle of snow covering the Black Forest.

Peter Reichenbach is a stocky guy with a moustache, short hair and an excellent sense of Schwarzwälder humour. He had two ladies working with him. In Germany you are allowed to open a butchery only if you possess the Meisterbrief, which is a certificate hat you receive after a strict exam. You have to work as an apprentice under such a master and then are allowed to take the Meister examination. The two ladies didn’t have any ambitions of doing the Meisterprüfung, as exam are called in German. Germany has a dual system of education and the brighter ones are allowed to attend the Gymnasium after the fourth class, where you can do final exams that are equivalent to the General Certificate of Education ‘A’ level in the UK and the Bacculaureate in France. The others can take up a profession after the tenth class in a Hauptschule or a Realschule. So the German society still sorts out the best scholars early and the parents sit with their children and help them with their homework or if they don’t have time they send their charges to institutes specialised in doing homeworks for the kids.

Since the biting Black Forest wind was still howling outside the Metzgerei, the metal door had to be closed shut if, and when, someone came in or went out.  You could instantaneously discern the aromatic smell of the scores of sausages hanging from the low ceiling: blood sausages, liver sausages, speck and schinken, the famous Schwarzwälder speck, chicken, geese and other dairy products. In England you hear that Germans don’t laugh or don’t crack jokes. But here you could see and hear them laughing and working with their clients. And Klaus, my laughing, good humoured companion, seems to know almost all the people in Oberried, Buchenbach, Kappel and Kirchzarten. He grew up here, you know, and is actually an IT-specialist and also the chairman of the MGV Kappel where we sing together as second tenors.

He who knows the Black Forest also knows the famous speciality: Schwarzwälder Schinken. And Peter Reichenbach smokes his own Black Forest speck according to an old recipe handed down to his father from his grandpa. The Schwarzwälder aren’t a tall folk and are similar in stature to the Nepalese from the hills. The pork speck and wine from the areas are traditional dishes. The speck has to be cut in very thin slices and eaten with fresh Bauernbrot, which is a big round bread smeared with Black Forest butter. A jug of the Schwarzwälder milk and you’re ready to do the day’s work. Ah, the wonderful smell of speck with the aroma of elderberry. There’s also an elderberry-wine. The speck belongs to the staple food of the farmers since centuries. The longer the pork speck is smokes in the Black Forest homesteads, the more it loses its water content and becomes harder and more intensive. That’s the reason why you have to cut it in extremely thin slices. Peter Reichenbach’s motto and logo is: Gut zu wissen, wo’s herkommt. He’s absolutely right. It’s good to know where it comes from in these days of adultration where people only want to make fast money.

Easter falls normally in the month of March, which is actually a Roman month named after Martius in Latin. In olde Rome it was named after the God of War: Mars, and it had 31 days and was the first month of the Roman calendar. In the Holy Week (Passion) it was  a religious tradition to eat a ‘green’ meal. Green cabbage and nettle (Nepali: sisnu) with cress and hop. As an alternative the Swabians still cook dumplings filled with minced vegetables called ‘Maulschellen’ to remind the people of the slap in the face that Jesus received from Caiphas.

We bade Peter Reichenbach and his team adieu and drove down the scenic landscape to a local conditor. If you like cakes and coffee you ought to try the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a sumptuous cake decorated with cherries, cream and almost immersed in the excellent and fiery Kirschwasser schnaps. It’s not for small children, you know, with all that schnaps. It is thought that the torte came from Switzerland, although with biscuits, cherries and nuts, combined with cream. The Schwarzwälder Torte sold by the Swiss chain Migros has a generous portion of chocolate. In 1915  the confectioner Joseph Keller of the prominent Café Agner in Bad Godesberg, near Bonn, said he’d created the torte. But there’s no proof of it. It was mentioned for the first time in 1934 by J.M.Erich Weber (Dresden) in his book: ‘250 Confectionery Specialities and How they are Made.’ In those days this speciality was offered in big German, Austrian and Swiss cities. After 1945 the Black Forest Torte became the most popular cake in Germany and is relished in all parts of the world.

Guten Appetit! And welcome to the Black Forest.

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OH, KIRTIPUR (Satis Shroff)

Archana came from Kirtipur,

The hill of the noseless and earless.

She was a Vajracharya woman

Of the priest caste.

She spoke a language

Full of sweet monosyllables.

A young woman with fine features,

She could stare at one

And see through to the depths of one’s heart.

Raj was a Chettri from the Eastern hills

With a sacred thread on his neck

From the warrior and noble caste.

They loved each other in the Nepalese way,

Talking with their eyes and hearts.

Never in physical ecstasy,

Always platonic and united in dreams.

No rumbas, no slow fox.

Just the sweet odour of her hair and neck

In moments of stolen darkness

In a movie hall,

With two hundred curious eyes,

Focused on the Bollywood  silver screen.

Or was it on their necks?

Both were through with their colleges.

She chose to study at Tribhuvan university.

He was awarded a scholarship to Germany.

Archana said, ‘But no one is forcing you

To study abroad. I fear that it’ll take years.

Perhaps you won’t come to Nepal.’

Later, Raj sang, twanging on his guitar,

Squatting below the temple:

‘Oh, Kirtipur, hill of the dead,

The peak of my desire.’

Humans who lay in grotesque positions

Contorted bodies piled on top of each other.

Hands stretching out

Or clutching their amputated

Ears and noses,

As though to stop the pain

And help their blood to clot

On their wounds.

The shame of the Gurkhas

From the fort of Gorkha.

On the day of his departure

Archana appeared alone at the Tribhuvan airport,

With a ritual silver copper plate:

Scarlet yoghurt tika, beetle nuts, spices,

A garland of lotus flowers and sweet meat.

A traditional Nepalese farewell.

A letter came from Nepal.

A physician friend wrote:

‘Dear Raj,

Archana of Kirtipur has married

A Brahmin businessman from Pokhara.

Sorry to bring you this sad news.


Ashoke Sakya.’

‘I’m sad today said Raj,

As he buried his face

In his blonde fiancee’s lap.

‘How strange and ecstatic it was’ said Yvonne later.

Summer 2005 (Satis Shroff)

I sat in the garden

With Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure on my lap,

And watched a small butterfly

With dark spots on its frail wings,

Violet patterns on its tail.

It was Aglais utricae

Flattering lightly

Between the marigolds

And chrysanthemums.

The Potentilla nepalensis

Was growing well

Under the shade of the rhododendrons.

The great pumpkin was spreading

Its leafy tentacles everywhere.

The tomatoes were fighting for light

Hiding beneath the pumkin’s gigantic green leaves.

A Papilio machaon with its swallow-tail

Came from no where.

The laughter of the children,

As they swung in the garden’s two swings

Were a delight to one’s soul.

Little Florentin’s fear of bees,

Natasha’s morbid fear of spiders,

Elena’s garden gymnastics

And Julian’s delight in discovering

New insects, snails and snakes.

Holding hands we strolled in our garden.

You watered the flowers and trees,

I removed long, brown snails,

A hobby-gardener of Nepalese descent,

In a lovely house with character in Zähringen,

An Allemanic stronghold.

Once the subject of dispute

Between Austria and France,

Now a sleepy residential area of Freiburg.


Grow With Love (Satis Shroff)

Love yourself

Accept yourself,

For self-love and self-respect

Are the basis of joy, emotion

And spiritual well being.

Watch your feelings,

Study your thoughts

And your beliefs,

For your existence

Is unique and beautiful.

You came to the world alone

And you go back alone.

But while you breathe

You are near

To your fellow human beings,

Families, friends and strangers

As long as you are receptive.

Open yourself to lust and joy,

To the wonders of daily life and Nature.

Don’t close your door to love.

If you remain superficial,

You’ll never reach its depth.

Love is more than a feeling.

Love is also passion and devotion.

Grow with love and tenderness.

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Yours truly, Satis Shroff,Germany

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 Nepal, what has become of you?

Your features have changed with time.

The innocent face of the Kumari

Has changed to the blood-thirsty countenance

Of Kal Bhairab,

From development to destruction,

From bikas to binas.

A crown prince fell in love,

But couldn’t assert himself,

In a palace where ancient traditions still prevail.

Despite Eton college and a liberal education,

He chose guns instead of rhetoric,

And ended his young life,

As well as those of his parents

And other royal members.

An aunt from London aptly remarked,

‘He was like the terminator.’

Another bloodshed in a Gorkha palace,

Recalling the Kot massacre

Under Jung Bahadur Rana.

You’re no longer the same

There’s insurrection and turmoil

Against the government and the police.

Your sons and daughters

Are at war again.

Maobadis with revolutionary flair,

With ideologies from across the Tibetan Plateau

And Peru.

Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere,

Flourish in the Himalayas.

Demanding a revolutionary-tax

From tourists and Nepalis

With brazen, bloody attacks

Fighting for their own rights,

The rights of the bewildered

Common man.

Well-trained government troops at the orders

Of politicians safe in Kathmandu.

Leaders who despise talks and compromises,

Flexed their tongues and muscles,

And let the imported automatic salves speak their deaths.

Ill-armed guerrillas against well-armed Royal Gurkhas

In the foothills of the Himalayas.

Nepali children have no choice,

But to take sides

To take to arms

Not knowing the reason

And against whom.

The child-soldier gets orders

From grown-ups.

The hapless souls open fire.

Hukum is order,

The child-soldier cannot reason why.

Shedding precious human blood,

For causes they both hold high.

Ach, this massacre

In the shadow of the Himalayas.

Nepalis look out

Of their ornate windows,

In the west, east,

North and south Nepal

And think:

How long will this krieg go on?

How much do we have to suffer?

How many money-lenders, businessmen, civil servants,

Policemen and gurkhas do the Maobadis want to kill

Or be killed?

How many men, women, boys and girls have to be mortally injured

Till Kal Bhairab is pacified by the Sleeping Vishnu?

How many towns and villages in the seventy five districts

Do the Maobadis want to free from capitalism?

When the missionaries close their schools,

Must the Hindus and Buddhists shut their temples and shrines?

Shall atheism be the order of the day?

Not in Nepal.

It breaks my heart,

As I hear over the radio:

Nepal’s not safe for visitors.

Visitors who leave their money behind,

In the pockets of travel agencies,

Rug dealers, currency and drug dealers,

Hordes of ill-paid honest Sherpas

And Tamang porters.

Sweat beads trickling from their sun-burnt faces,

In the dizzy heights of the Dolpo,

Annapurna ranges

And the Khumbu glaciers.

Eking out a living and facing the treacherous

Icy crevasses, snow-outs, precipices

And a thousand deaths.

Beyond the beaten trekking paths

Live the poorer families of Nepal.

No roads,

No schools,

Sans drinking water,

Sans hospitals,

Where aids and children’s work prevail.

Lichhavis, Thakuris and Mallas have made you eternal

Man Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu,

After great victories over neighbouring states.

Amshu Verma was a warrior,

Who mastered the Lichavi Code.

He gave his daughter in marriage

To Srong Beean Sgam Po,

The ruler of Tibet,

Who also married a Chinese princess.

Jayastathi Malla ruled long and introduced

The system of the caste,

A system based on family occupation,

That became rigid with the tide of time.

Yaksha Malla,

The ruler of Kathmandu Valley,

Divided it into Kathmandu,

Patan and Bhadgaon

For his three sons.

It was Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha,

Who brought you together,

As a melting pot of ethnic diversities.

With Gorkha conquests that cost the motherland

Thousands of ears, noses and Nepali blood

The Ranas usurped the royal throne

And put a prime minister after the other

For 104 years.

104 years of a country in poverty

And medieval existence.

It was King Tribhuvan’s proclamation,

The blood of the Nepalis,

Who fought against the Gorkhas

Under the command of the Ranas,

That ended the Rana autocracy.

His son King Mahendra saw to it

That he held the septre

When Nepal entered the UNO.

The multiparty system

Along with the Congress party

Was banned.

Then came thirty years of Panchayat promises

Of a Hindu rule

With a system based on the five village elders,

Like the proverbial five fingers in one’s hand,

That are not alike,

Yet functioned in harmony.

The Panchayat government was indeed an old system,

Packed and sold

As a new and traditional one.

A system is just as good

As the people who run it.

And Nepal didn’t run.

It revived the age-old chakary,

Feudalism  with its countless spies and yes-men,

Middle-men who held out their hands

For bribes, perks and amenities.

Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts,

Discrimination, injustice, bad governance

Became the nature of the day.

A big chasm appeared

Between the haves-and-have-nots.

The social inequality,

Frustrated expectations of the poor

Led to a search for an alternative pole.

The farmers were ignored,

The forests and land confiscated,

Corruption and inefficiency became

The rule of the day.

Even His Majesty’s servants

Went so far as to say:

Raja ko kam,

Kahiley jahla gham.

The birthplace of Buddha

And the Land of Pashupati,

A land which King Birendra declared

A Zone of Peace,

Through signatures of the world’s leaders

Was at war again.

Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars

For development aid,

Another 14 million dollars

For insurgency relevant spendings

5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA

5,500 maschine guns from Belgium.

Guns that were aimed at Nepali men, women and children,

In the mountains of Nepal.

Alas, under the shade of the Himalayas,

This corner of the world became volatile again.

The educated people changes sides,

From Mandalay to Congress

From Congress to the Maobadis.

The students from Dolpo and Silgadi,

Made unforgettable by Peter Mathiessen

In his quest for his inner self

And his friend George Schaller’s search

For the snow leopard,

Wrote Marxist verses,

Acquired volumes

From the embassies in Kathmandu:

Kim Il Sung’s writings,

Mao’s red booklet,

Marx’s Das Kapital,

Lenin’s works,

And defended socialist ideas

At His Majesty’s Central Hostel

At Tahachal.

I saw their earnest faces,

With guns in their arms

Instead of books,

Boistrous and ready to fight

To the end

For a cause they cherished

In their frustrated and fiery hearts.

But aren’t these sons of Nepal misguided and blinded

By the seemingly victories of socialism?

Even Gorbachov pleaded for Peristroika,

And Putin admires Germany,

Its culture and commerce.

Look at the old Soviet Union,

Other East Bloc nations.

They have all swapped sides,

Are EU and Nato members.

Globalisation has changed the world fast,

But in Nepal time stands still

The blind beggar at the New Road gate sings:

Lata ko desh ma, gaddha tantheri.

In a land where the tongue-tied live,

The deaf desire to rule.

Oh my Nepal, quo vadis?

The only way to peace and harmony  is

By laying aside the arms.

Can Nepal afford to be the bastion

Of a movement and a government

That rides rough-shod

Over the lives and rights of fellow Nepalis?

Can’t we learn from the lessons

Of Afghanistan and Iraq?

The Maobadis were given a chance at the polls,

Like all other democratic parties.

Maobadis are bahuns and chettris,

Be they Prachanda or Baburam Bhattrai,

Leaders who’d prefer to be republicans

In the shadow of the Himalayas?

Shall the former Maobadis

Be regular soldiers?

Shall the Madeshis

And Paharis go asunder?

Where is the charismatic,

Unifying figure,

In Nepal’s political landscape?

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,

The Maoists and democrats,

Madeshis and Paharis,

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.

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 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:

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 Earths 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.”
(Susan Marie, www.Gather.com

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