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
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
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
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
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,
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.
Sans drinking water,
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.
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
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,
From the embassies in Kathmandu:
Kim Il Sung’s writings,
Mao’s red booklet,
Marx’s Das Kapital,
And defended socialist ideas
At His Majesty’s Central Hostel
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,
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 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.
Electronic beats you can’t catch up with.
Spinning on their heads,
Hip-hopping like robots,
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
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,
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
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,
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,
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
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,
And we ought to meet each other
As brothers and sisters.
I tucked my sarangi in my armpit,
Clapped my hands and said:
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