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Archive for August, 2010

Creative Writing Critique (Satis Shroff): Fire in the Blood

Creative Writing Critique (Satis Shroff): FIRE IN THE BLOOD

Review: Irene Nemirovsky Fire in the Blood, Vintage Books, London 2008,

153 pages, 7,99 Sterling Pounds (ISBN: 978-0-099-51609-5)

Denise Epstein was 13 when her mother Irene Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz, where she eventually died in 1942. The daughter is now an octogenarian and was instrumental in helping her mother attain her place in the world literature. Irene Nemirovsky was a writer who could look into the souls of humans and make music with words. Her masterpiece Suite francaise was published in France in 2004 and was immediately awarded the Prix Renaudot.

The characters of Fire in Blood are  drawn from a rural French town in Burgundy, a wine-growing area where people are simple and stick together, want to retain their ‘peace’ and don’t like the police and the authorities. A place where all people show conformity and keep their mouths shut. Peace is a synonym for not wanting to be involved in the affairs of other people. The author’s attitude towards the characters has a universal appeal, for it could happen anywhere in the world in a closed-circuit society where outsiders are shunned and not generally accepted. Nemirovsky shows not only what people do to others but also what the passage of time does to us all. The characters aren’t flat and every character bounds into life and you an imagine the world that she creates in her 153 page novel still goes on with its own pace without much changes. The community itself shows a predatory behaviour of extreme cunning.

The major theme of Fire in Blood is love, poverty, arranged marriages and extra-marital affairs that lead to complications and new story developments. The protagonist Sylvestre also called Silvio tells the story in the first person singular and recalls stories in front of the fireplace about his beautiful, graceful cousin Helene and her daughter Colette, Brigitte Delos and Francoise, their marriages, happiness and boredom and the seasonal changes of the Burgundy countryside. Silvio speaks about impatient young people and the perfectly balanced older people at peace with themselves and the world, despite the creeping fear of death. The book is replete with the truths, deaths, marriages, children, houses, mills, dowry, haves and have-nots, stinginess, love-affairs, hatred, deception and betrayal.  Nemirovsky is an excellent story-teller and reveals her tale of flaws and cruelties of the human heart in an intricately woven story. She builds up suspense and you feel the catharsis when an innocent-looking protagonist tells her version of how a man was murdered.

The theme is traditional and familiar and is psychologically and socially interesting in intent.

Silvio tells about his childhood and about children asking their parents how they met, fell in love and married. He also mentions past loves, former grudges, inheritances, law suits and who-married-whom and why in the French provincial setting. The story plot is slow at the beginning but gathers momentum, and the climax is not the murder but how the author unfurls the story of the confession. In the end Silvio confides to the reader how much he still loves his dear cousin Helene, who’s married to Francoise.

The intellectual qualities of writing of Nemirovsky are her cheerfulness, sudden twists and power of observation which flow into the story making it a delightful read. She gives you the impression that her tale is linear, only to show you that there’s a twist that takes narration in another direction. Silvio, the Ich-Erzähler, says to Colette, who wants to involve him in her family drama: ‘Tell them you have a lover and that he killed your husband.. What exactly did happen?’

wit and humour and there’s rhythm in the tale.

Nemirovsky employs the stylistic device of symbolism to characterise the farmers and their hypocritical nature, how they mob people they don’t prefer to have around them and how they indulge in backbiting. A stingy 60 year old farmer marries  a lovely 20 year old woman and the gossips begin. Silvio remembers how Colette had once told him he resembled a faun: ‘an old faun, now, who has stopped chasing nymphs and who huddles near the fireplace.’

This is the confession of a man who had once fire in blood, and a meditation on the various stages of life, the passing of time, in which youth and age are at odds. A recurring theme is the seed from which problems grow: ‘Imagine a field being saved and all the promise that’s contained in a grain of wheat, all the future harvests…well, it’s exactly the same in life.’

Nemirovsky’s use of dialogue is very effective and takes the story forward.

Her literary oeuvre ranges from an extraordinary collection of papers,  Fire in the Blood, Suite francaise, David Golder, Le Bal, the Courilof Affair, All Our Worldly Goods.

The Germany titles are: Die Hunde und die Wölfe, Feuer im Herbst, Herbstfliege, Leidenschaft, Die Familie Hardelot, Der Fall Kurilow and Irene Nemirovsky: Die Biographie.

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Irene Nemirovsky: COLD BLOOD (Satis Shroff)

Subtitle: Moaning in All Eternity

Six decades ago,

My life came to an end,

In Auschwitz.

I, Irene Nemirovsky, a writer

Of Jewish-Russian descent,

Died in Auschwitz.

I live now in my books,

In my daughter’s memories,

Who’s already an octogenarian,

Still full of love and fighting spirit:

For she fights against

The injustice of those gruesome days.

I was thirty-nine,

Had asthma,

Died shortly after I landed in Auschwitz.

I died of inflammation of my lungs,

In the month of October.

That very year the Nazis deported

Michael Epstein, dear my husband,

Who’d pleaded to have me,

His wife, freed from the clutches

Of the Gestapo.

They also killed him.

My daughters Denise 13,

And Elizabeth 5,

Were saved by friends

Of the French Resistance,

Tucked away in a cloister for nuns,

Hidden in damp cellars.

They had  my suitcase with them,

Where ever they hid,

Guarding it like the Crown Jewels.

To them it was not only a book,

But my last words,

That I’d penned in Issy-l’Eveque.

I wanted to put together five manuscripts

In one: Suite Francaise,

That was my writer’s dream.

I could put only

‘Storm in July’ and ‚Dolche’

Together.

I passed away early in August 1942.

Too early.

In my two books I’ve written

About the flight of the Parisians

From the victorious Germans,

The awful situation in an occupied hamlet.

Small people and collaborators,

Who’d go to extremes

To save their skins,

Like ants in a destroyed ant-hill.

It’s sixty years hence,

But my work hasn’t lost its glow,

Like the lava from an erupting volcano.

You can feel its intensity,

When an entire nation

Was humiliated and had to capitulate,

Losing its grace, dignity and life.

I was born in Kiew,

Fled to Paris via Finnland and Sweden,

After the Russian Revolution.

I was a maniac,

When it came to reading,

Had a French governess,

Went often to the Cote d’ Azure and Biarritz.

I studied literature in Sorbonne in 1919.

Shortly thereafter,

I began to write:

About my Russian past,

My wandering years.

The colour of the literature I wrote

Is blood from an old wound.

From this wound I’ve drawn

The maladies of the society,

Human folley.

I was influenced by writers,

From Leo Tolstoi to Henrik Ibsen.

An unhappy childhood,

Is like when your soul has died,

Without a funeral:

Moaning in all eternity.

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Obituary: Words to Lisa & Stephanie on Bruce Dobler, Creative Writer, Emeritus Prof and colleague who passed away recently:

I was so moved by Bruce Dobler’s poem in which he addresses both Lisa and Stephanie. The poems is a bit long and I have edited it to a shorter version.

SIX DAYS INTO THE WAR (Bruce Dobler:January 21, 1991)

…And here in Pittsburgh,

where the trees grow darker

against their burden

the snow falls like memories:

are the children safe?

It’s a holiday. Lisa in Baltimore,

can stay off the Beltway

at least this once.

Stephanie, in Bloomington, will have

the sense to wear a scarf.

I want them inside.

In Pittsburgh, we are staying in all day.

I wish I had been kinder when

snow fell past our windows in Vermont,

twenty years ago

just like today

everyone in their own sorrows

their own joys

everyone looking out the window

and everyone thinking:

how long will it go on

how much will we get?

Es wird stille sein und Leere.

Es wird Trauer sein und Schmerz.

Es wird dankbare Erinnerung sein,

die wie ein heler Stern the Nacht leuchtet,

bis weit hinein in den morgen.

– Satis Shroff

Wer so wirkt im Leben,

Wer so erfüllte seine Pflicht

und stets sein Bestes hat gegeben,

Für immer bleibt Bruce Dobler uns ein Licht.

– Satis Shroff

Bruce Dobler is the author of two “documentary” novels, Icepick and The Last Rush North (Little, Brown) and an “as-told-to” memoir of a counterfeiter, I Made It Myself (Grosset & Dunlap).

He recently completed 1212: The Children’s Crusade, a highly-researched historical novel, and is now working on his new book, Writing Creative Nonfiction: Creative and Critical Approaches, for Palgrave/Macmillan, to be published late in 2007. In addition, he is working on Vacant Lot, a quirky, off-beat memoir centered on one of those plots of ground that old-timers still called “prairies,” down on the South Side of Chicago.

I Made It Myself By M.M. Landress With Bruce Dobler The true story of a respectable printer turned counterfeiter Some observations from one of the few counterfeiters who never served time: On tricks of his trade: “Printing money that’s good enough to pass off on a bank is to a printer what the PhD is to a student.” On temptation: “There is probably not a single printer who doesn’t consider at some moment in his life the possibility of printing counterfeit bills….A standard joke in the trade is ‘are you making any money?'” On the criminal life: “This was too exhausting, physically and emotionally. I don’t think I was really cut out to be a criminal….I really couldn’t see how the ones who were could stand it over the years. No wonder they are called ‘hardened.'” Grosset & Dunlap (New York), 1973—ISBN: 0-448-02206-0

Icepick By Bruce Dobler A novel about life and death in a maximum security prison Icepick is neither the best nor the worst of the nation’s maximum security prisons. It is overcrowded, understaffed. Its plant is antiquated. Guard brutality is comparatively rare at Icepick. Violence, on the other hand—sexual, racial, political—is commonplace. Icepick is not a nice place to visit. It is a far worse place to live and work in. Yet some 850 Americans (of whom 70 percent are African American) do make their permanent home at the Illinois State Penitentiary in Chicago. And most survive….Some do not.

In this sweeping and explosive documentary novel, ICEPICK, Bruce Dobler lays bare the harsh world of the maximum security prison. Little, Brown & Co. (Boston), 1974—ISBN: 0-316-18915-4 Novel About The Last Great American Frontier Adventure—The Building Of The Pipeline Across The Frozen Vastness Of Alaska. Ranging From High-Rise Executive Suites In Anchorage To Remote Base Camps Where Even The Fog Freezes, This Documentary Novel Portrays The Drive To Explore—And Exploit—That Has Dominated The Life Of Alaska…And Dramatizes The Perilous Tension Between An Unspoiled Wilderness And The Desire Of Men To Tame It. Bruce Dobler Traveled And Worked In Alaska For A Year And A Half. He Drove And Flew The Entire Pipeline Route In All Seasons And Visited Every Camp On The Line. Little, Brown & Co. (Boston), 1976—ISBN: 0-316-18916-2

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1000 Years of Zähringen (Satis Shroff)

The ruins of Zähringen’s castle lies on a hillock overlooking the Vale of Dreisam. And the hamlet of Zähringen is a part of Freiburg. Zähringen is 1000 years old, reason enough to celebrate a festival with the inauguration of the Zähringer fountain, which is a tall monolith with a scarlet heart on the top, a work of art. Like all such celebrations, the 1000 years of Zähringen began with a mass at the St.Blasius church, followed by a cultural program with the cooperation of the Zähringer towns.

Zähringen’s history which dates back to a document entitled ‘castrum Zaringen,’ was founded in 1128 at the end of the 11th century, on the fundament of a once Allemanic building. The event was the heir, who came had Swabian blood in his veins, Berthold II, who received the town from the Count of Rheinfelden. Bertold II is seen as the founder of Zähringen, and in the year 1100 he was bestowed the title of ‘dux de Zaringen.’ A dux or duke is called ‘Herzog’ in German and thus the Zahringer. Became nobility in the German Empire, although the nobility lasted only a short while—till the death of Bertold V. The castle of Zähringen became their main residence and had been raised to the rank of a Reichsburg (Empire Castle).

At the beginning of the 12th century, the dukes changed their main residence to Freiburg and left the old castle in the care of the Vögten.

The year 1278 brought the first destruction of Zähringen castle at the hands of the Freiburger. The old castle was renovated from 1281 onwards. In 1327 Zähringen became the property of the Freiburger Patrizier Snewlin-Bernlapp. (Today there’s Bernlapp apothecary and a street carrying his name in downtown Zähringen, right near the tram station).

The castle was besieged and destroyed again during the Peasants’ War (Bauernkrieg) in the year 1525. The Thirty Year War brought a complete destruction of the castle. The castle ruin changed hands from the Abbot of St. Peter, and finally became the property of Baden in 1805.

Today, the castle ruin of Zähringen dates back to the late 13th century and the castle wall ring and the fundaments of the olde castle are still intact. The castle ruin has become an attraction for visitors who like nordic walking and hiking, school-kids and senior generations, although it doesn’t have the same allure as the ruins of Staufen, Schiltach, the ruins of Rötteln, Schloss Ortenberg at Ortenau or Hornberg-upon- Neckar.

Ach, Zähringen (Satis Shroff)

Zähringen lies to the north of Freiburg,

A castle ruin, which is a tourist attraction.

In the early days they used to dig for silver ores below the castle.

The ores that were dug were brought to the ‘Poche’,

Where they separated the silver from the ore

By melting them at high temperatures in the charcoal-kilns.

At the moment it smells of smoked-fish.

The adjacent barn has been rented to a German,

Who wears his spectacles on the tip of his nose,

He lisps and tells stories of the old times in Zähringen.

He smokes trout from the Black Forest thrice a year.

I think he sells them, otherwise he wouldn’t smoke so many fishes.

He always hands me a freshly smoked trout

Wrapped on a piece of German newspaper.

I thank him and hand him a bottle of Weissherbst from our cellar.

When I sit and read a book on the terrace,

Frau Keller greets me with a friendly ‘Hallochen!’ from the street.

She has short, silvery hair and has a warm smile across her face.

She’s an ethnic German from Romania.

I like her soft-spoken East Bloc accent.

Her friendliness is disarming even though she has a lot of pain.

In the afternoon I hear soft piano melodies,

When my son Julian does his music exercises.

The tones of the piano mingle with bird-cries,

And suddenly one hears the loud noise of a lorry,

Transporting either furniture or building materials,

Up and down the Pochgasse.

A lot of expensive villas are cropping up.

The Zähringer, as people living in Zähringen are wont to be called,

Are an active folk when it comes to organising things.

Every autumn there’s a Hock around the St. Blasius church,

A get together, with Blasmusik, children’s cries of joy,

The smell of waffel, noodle soup, roasted pork, sausages,

Fried potatoes and pizza lies in the air.

The ancestors of the people in Zähringer were charcoal-burners,

Who lived behind the castle.

One day the coal-burner discovered melted silver under his oven.

In those days there used to live a king, who’d fled to Kaisersstuhl.

He lived with his family in poverty.

The coal-burner went and gave the silver he’d found to the king.

The king was so impressed that he gave his daughter

In marriage to the coal-burner,

As well as the land surrounding Freiburg.

The king named him the Herzog von Zähringen.

The Zähringer duke founded Freiburg and other castles.

There’s a tunnel at the end of the Pochgasse.

The cars drive below and the ICE and Swiss trains above.

Young and elderly Germans come by and ask only one question:

Wo, bitte, geht’s zum Zähringerburg?“

Where’s the road to the Zähringen castle-ruins?

The castle was built in 1091 by Herzog Bertold V.

It was destroyed by war and fire.

What has remained is an 18 meter high tower,

With a commanding view of Freiburg.

Glossary:

Gasse: small lane

Köhler: charcoal-burner

Köhlerei: charcoal works

Weissherbst: a German wine

Burg: castle

Meiler: charcoal-kiln

Blaskapelle: brass-band

spanferkel: porkling

Herzog: Duke of Zähringen

Meanwhile, as they say ins stories, the charcoal-burner became so powerful that he turned into a tyrant. One day the charcoal-burner or Kohler as we say in German, commanded his cook to fry a boy and serve it for dinner. The cook complied fearing for his own life. When the duke saw what the cook had done at his command, he repented the barbarious act and promised to mend his ways by building two monasteries—St.Peter and St. Ruprecht in the Black Forest.

However, it must be mentioned that there are different versions to the castle of Zähringen. In the verses of Schuzler 1846 (page 353-355), the Kohler finds gold instead of silver, and it’s not a king with whom he bargains but the emperor, who comes personally clothed as a monk and seeks refuge at the charcoal-burner’s home, who in turn offers the emperor his gold as a sign of loyalty. The emperor accepts the gold and gives him his own daughter’s hand to show his thankfulness, and also gives him the acres of Breisgau as his dukedom.

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http://www.zfs.uni-freiburg.de/zfs/dozent/lehrbeauftragte4/index_html/#shroff.

Creative Writing Critique: Chicken of India Unite! (Satis Shroff)

Review: Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger. Atlantic Books, London, 2008. Man Booker Prize 2008. German version: ‘Der Weisse Tiger’ published by C.H. Beck, 2008.

Aravind Adiga was a correspondent for the newsmag Time and wrote articles for the Financial Times, the Independent and Sunday Times. He was born in Madras in 1974 and is a Mumbai-wallah now. The protagonist of his first novel is Balram Halwai, (I’m a helluva Mumbai-halwa fan, you know) who tells his story in the first person singular. Halwai has a fantastic charisma and shows you how you can climb the Indian mainstream ladder as a philosopher and entrepreneur. An Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, at the same time (sic). Balram’s prerogative is to turn bad news into good news, and the White Tiger, who’s terribly scared of lizards, slits the throat of his boss to attain his goal, and doesn’t even regret his deed.

In the subcontinent, however, Aravind Adiga’s novel has received sceptical critique. Manjula Padmanabhan wrote in ‘Outlook’ that it lacks humour, and the formidable Delhi-based Kushwant Singh 92, who used to write for the Illustrated Weekly of India and is regarded as the doyen of Indian English literature, found it good to read but endlessly depressing.

‘And what’s so depressing?’ you might ask. I found his style refreshing and creative the way he introduced himself to Wen Jiabao. At the beginning of each capital he quotes from a part of his ‘wanted’ poster. The author writes about poverty, corruption, aggression and the brutal struggle for power in the Indian society. A society in which the middle class is reaching economically for the sky, in which Adiga’s biting and scathing criticism sounds out of place, when deshi Indians are dreaming of manned flights to the moon, outer space and mountains of nuclear arsenal against China or any other neighbouring states that might try to flex muscles against Hindustan.

India is sometimes like a Bollywood film, which the poverty-stricken masses enjoy watching, to forget their daily problems for two hours. The rich Indians want to give their gastrointestinal tract a rest and so they go to the cinema between bouts of paan-spitting and farting due to lack of exercise and oily food. They all identify themselves with the protagonists for these hundred and twenty minutes and are transported into another world with location shooting in Switzerland, Schwarzwald, Grand Canyon, the Egyptian Pyramids, sizzling London, fashionable New York and romantic Paris. After twelve songs, emotions taking a roller-coaster ride, the Indians stagger out of the stuffy, sweaty cinemas and are greeted by the blazing and scorching Indian sun, slums, streets spilling with haggard, emaciated humanity, pocket-thieves, real-life goondas, cheating businessmen, money-lenders, snake-girl-destitute-charmers, thugs in white collars and the big question: what shall I and my family eat tonight? Roti, kapada, makan, that is, bread, clothes and a posh house are like a dream to most Indians dwelling in the pavements of Mumbai, or for that matter in Delhi, Bangalore, Mangalore, Mysore, Calcutta (Read Günter Grass’s Zunge Zeigen) and other Indian cities, where they burn rubbish for warmth.

The stomach groans with a sad melody in the loneliness and darkness of a metropolis like Mumbai, a city that never sleeps. As Adiga says, ‘an India of Light, and an India of Darkness in which the black, polluted river Mother Ganga flows.’

Ach, munjo Mumbai! The terrible monsoon, the jam-packed city, Koliwada, Sion, Bandra, Marine Drive, Juhu Beach. I can visualise them all, like I was there. I spent almost every winter during the holidays visiting my uncles, aunts and cousins, the jet-set Shroffs of Bombay. I’m glad that there are people like Aravind Adiga, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai who speak for the millions of under-privileged, downtrodden people and give them a voice through literature. Aravind deserves the Man Booker Prize like no other, because the novel is extraordinary. It doesn’t have the intellectual poise of VS Naipaul or Rushdie’s masala language. It has it’s own Mumbai matter-of-fact speech, a melange of Oxford and NY. And what we get to hear when we take the crowded trains from the suburbs of this vast metropolis, with its mixture of Marathi, Gujerati, Sindhi and scores of other Indian languages is also what Balram is talking about. Adiga was bold enough to present the Other India than what film moghuls and other so-called intellectuals would have us believe.

Balram’s is a strong political voice and mirrors the Indian society which wants to present Bharat in superlatives: superpower, affluent society and mainstream culture, whereas in reality there’s tremendous darkness in the society of the subcontinent. Even though Adiga has lived a life of affluence, studied at Columbia and Oxford universities, he has raised his voice in his book against the nepotism, corruption, in-fighting between communal groups, between the rich and the super-rich, a dynamic process in which the poor, dalits, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Children of God (untouchables), ‘scheduled’ castes and tribes have no outlet, and are to this day mere pawns at the hands of the rich in Hindustan, as India was called before the Brits came to colonise the sub-continent.

Balram, Adiga’s protagonist, shows how to assert oneself in the Indian society, come what may. I hope this book won’t create monsters without character, integrity, ethos, and soulless humans, devoid of values and norms. From what sources are the characters drawn? The story is in the form of a letter written by the protagonist to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and is drawn from India’s history as told by a school drop-out, chauffeur, entrepreneur, a self-made man with all his charms and flaws, a man who knows his own India, and who presents his views frankly and candidly, sometimes much like P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. The author’s attitude toward his characters is comical and satirical when it comes to realities of life for India’s poverty stricken underdogs, whether in the form of a rickshaw puller, tea-shop boy or the driver of a rich Indian businessman. His characters are alive and kicking, and it is a delight to go with Balram in this thrilling ride through India’s history, Bangalore, Old and New Delhi, Mumbai and its denizens. The major theme is how to get along in a sprawling country like India, and the author reveals his murderous plan brilliantly through a series of police descriptions of a man named Balram Halwai.

The theme is a beaten path, traditional and familiar, for this is not the first book on Mumbai and Indian society. Other stalwarts like Kuldip Singh, Salman Rushdie, Amitabh Ghosh, VS Naipaul, Anita and Kiran Desai and a host of writers from the Raj have walked along this path, each penning their respective Zeitgeist. In this case, the theme is social, entertaining, escapist in nature, and the reader is like a voyeur in the scenarios created by Balaram. The climax is when the Chinese leader actually comes to Bangalore. So much for Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. Unlike Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss) Adiga says, “Based on my experience, Indian girls are the best. (Well second best. I tell you, Mr Jiaobao, it’s one of the most thrilling sights you can have as a man in Bangalore, to see the eyes of a pair of Nepali girls flashing out at you from the dark hood of an autorickshaw (sic).

As to the intellectual qualities of the writing, I loved the simplicity and clarity that Adiga has chosen for his novel. He intersperses his text with a lot of dialogue with his characters and increases the readability score, and is dripping with satire and humour, even while describing an earnest emotional matter like the cremation of Balram’s mother, whereby the humour is entirely British—with Indian undertones. The setting is cleverly constructed. In order to have pace and action in the story Adiga sends Balram to the streets of Bangalore as a chauffeur, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a conversation and narration where a wily driver Balram tunes in. He’s learning, ever learning from the smart guys in the back seat, and in the end he’s the smartest guy in Bangalore, evoking an atmosphere of struggle for survival in the jungles of concrete in India. Indeed, blazingly savage, this book. A good buy this autumn.

About the Author: Satis Shroff lectures on Creative Writing at the University of Freiburg http://www.zfs.uni-freiburg.de/zfs/dozent/lehrbeauftragte4/index_html/#shroff. 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, 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.

Satis Shroff is a poet and writer based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) who also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (University of Freiburg). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

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Review by Satis Shroff, Germany: Getting Along in Life in Tricky Kathmandu

Bhatt, Krishna: City Women and the Ghost Writer, Olympia Publishers, London 2008, 191 pages, EUR 7,99 (ISBN 9781905513444)

Krishna Bhatt, the author, a person who was ‘educated to get a graduate degree in Biology and Chemistry,’came to Kathmandu in 1996 and has seen profound political changes. In this book he seeks to find an ‘explanation for what is happening.’ Life, it seems, to him, is tricky, while political violence has been shocking him episodically. That’s the gist of it: twenty-one short episodes that are revealed to the reader by an author, who’s trademark is honesty, clarity and simplicity—without delving too deep into the subject for the sake of straight narration. What emerges is a melange of tales about life, religion, Nepalese and Indian society packed with humour. A delightful read, a work of fiction and you can jump right into the stories anywhere you like.

Additionally, Bhatt has published ‘Humour and Last Laugh’ in October 2004, a collection of satirical articles published in newspapers in Kathmandu, which is available only in Kathmandu’s bookstores. The author emphasises that he has always written in English and adds, “Reading led me to writing.” He found his London publisher through the internet. Lol!

Did you know that people who are married wear an ‘air of sacrificial glory’ about them in Nepal? The other themes are keeping mistresses in Kathmandu, sending children abroad for education, the woes of psychotherapists in Nepal (no clients). I’ll leave it to you to find out why. Nepal is rich in glaciers and the water ought to be harnessed to produce drinking water and electricity, but in Kathmandu, as in many parts of the republic, there’s a terribly scarcity of water among the poor and wanton wastage among the Gharania—upper class dwellers of Kathmandu. The Kathmanduites fight not only against water scarcity but also a losing battle against ants and roaches. The author explains the many uses of the common condom, especially a sterilised male who uses his vasectomy for the purpose of seduction. However, his tale about the death of his father in “The Harsh Priest and Mourning” remains a poignant and excellent piece of writing, and I could feel with him. It not only describes the Hindu traditions on death and dying but also the emotions experienced by the author.

Like the Oxford educated Pico Ayer who has the ability to describe every ‘shimmy’ that he comes by when he travels, Bhatt too says that Thamel District is all ‘discotheques and massage parlours’ in the story ‘A Meeting of Cultures,’ in which the author meets two former East Germans and one of them thinks ‘people in Germany are lazy.’ Did she mean the Ossies or the Wessies? If that doesn’t get you, I’m sure the many uses of English and vernacular newspapers will certainly do. What’s even amusing is a ritual marriage ceremony of frogs to appease the rain gods. It might be mentioned that in Kathmandu Indra is the God of Rain, the God of the firmament and the personified atmosphere. In the Vedas he stands in the first Rank among the Gods. When you come to think of it, we Hindus are eternally trying to appease the Gods with our daily rituals, special pujas and homs around the sacred Agni (Ignis). Agni is one of the chief deities of the Vedas, and a great number of Sanskrit hymns are addressed to him.

Bhatt uses life and the people around him, and in the media, as his characters and his attitude towards his characters is of a reconciling nature. The characters work sometimes flat for he doesn’t develop them, but the stories he tells are about people you and I could possibly know, and seem very familiar.

Most of the stories are short and quick, good reads in this epoch of computers, laptops,DVDs, SMS, MMS, which is convenient for people with not much time at their disposal. Other themes are: writing, the muse, fellow writers (without naming names, except in the case of V.S. Naipaul), east meet west, abortion, art and pornography, colleagues and former HMG administrators. His opinions are always honest and entertaining in intent, and his tales have more narration than dialogues. Krishna Bhatt is a welcome scribe in the ranks of Kunda Dixit, Samrat Upadhya, Manjushri Thapa and is another new voice from the Himalayas who will make his presence felt in the world of fiction writing. His ‘Irreconcilable Death’ is thought-provoking, a writer who wants to change morality and fails to reconcile with death, like many writers before him. Writers may come and go, but Bhatt wants to leave his impression in his own way and time. Time will certainly tell.

I wish him well.

Review German version by:Satis Shroff

Rezension:

Grünfelder, Alice (Hrsg.), Himalaya: Menschen und Mythen, Zürich Unionsverlag 2002, 314 S., EUR 19, 80 (ISBN 3-293-00298-6).

Alice Grünfelder hat Sinologie und Germanistik studiert, lebte zwei Jahre in China und arbeitet gegenwärtig als freie Lektorin und Literaturvermittlerin in Berlin. Dieses Buch ist vergleichbar mit einem Strauss zusammengestellter Blumen aus dem Himalaya, die die Herausgeberin gepflückt hat. Es handelt von den Menschen und deren Problemen im 450 km langen Himalaya Gebirge. Das Buch orientiert sich, an englischen Übersetzungen von der Literatur aus dem Himalaya.

Nepal ist literarisch gut vertreten mit dem Anthropologen Dor Bahadur Bista, dem Bergsteiger Tenzing Norgay, die in Kathmandu lebenden Journalisten Kanak Dixit and Deepak Thapa, dem Fremdenführer Shankar Lamichane, dem Dichter Pallav Ranjan und dem Entwicklungsspezialisten Harka Gurung. Manche Geschichten sind nicht neu für Nepal-Kenner, aber das Buch ist für Leser, die in Deutschland, Österreich, Südtirol und die Schweiz leben, bestimmt. Außer sieben Nepali Autoren gibt es Geschichten von sieben indischen, drei tibetischen, zwei chinesischen und zwei bhutanesischen Autoren.

Die Themen des Buches sind: Die Vorteile und Nachteile der Verwestlichung in Nepal, da Nepal erst 1950 für den Fremden sozusagen geöffnet wurde. Kanak Dixit erzählt dies deutlich in „Welchen Himalaya hätten Sie gern?“. In einer anderen liebenswerten Gesichte erzählt er über die Reise von einem Nepali Frosch namens Bhaktaprasad. K.C. Bhanja, ein umweltbewußter Bergsteiger, erzählt über das empfindliche Erbe—die Himalaya und deren spirituelle Bedeutung. Die „Himalaya-Ballade“ von der chinesischen Autorin Ma Yuan, „Die ewigen Berge“ von dem Han-Chinesen Jin Zhiguo, und der indischer Bergsteiger H. P. S. Ahluwalia in „Höher als Everest“, schließlich Swami Pranavanadas in seinem „Pilgerreise zum Kailash und der See Manasovar“ haben alle die Berge aus verschiedenen Sichten thematisiert. Tenzing Norgay, der erste Nepali, der auf dem Gipfel von Mt. Everest mit dem Neuseeländer Edmund Hillary bestiegen war, erzählt, dass er „ein glücklicher Mensch“ sei. Der Nepali Journalist Deepak Thapa beschreibt den berühmten Sherpa Bergsteiger Ang Rita als einen sozialen Aufsteiger.

Während wir in einer Geschichte von Kunzang Choden (Auf den Spuren des Migoi) erfahren, dass die Bhutanesen, als ein buddhistisches Volk, nicht einmal einen Tier Leid zufügen können, erzählt uns Kanak Dixit von 100 000 Lhotshampas (nepalstämmige Einwohner), die von der bhutanesischen Regierung vertrieben worden sind und jetzt in Flüchtlingslagern in Jhapa leben.

James Hilton hat das Wort Shangri-La für eine Geschichte, in Umlauf gebracht die sich in Tibet abspielte. Genauso ist mit dem Ausdruck „Das Dach der Welt“ die tibetische Plateau gemeint und nicht Nepal oder Bhutan. Die bewegende Geschichte, die der Kunsthändler Shanker Lamechane erzählt, handelt von einem gelähmten Jungen. Sein Karma wird in Dialogform zwischen ein Nepali Reiseleiter und einem überschwenglichen Tourist erzählt. Das hilflose Kind bringt uns dazu, über die Freude in Alltag nachzudenken, was wir meistens nicht tun können, weil wir mit dem Alltag so beschäftigt sind. Während Harka Gurung „Fakten und Fiktionen über den Schneemensch“ zusammenstellt, schildert uns Kunzang Choden, eine Psychologin aus Bhutan, über „Yaks, Yakhirten und der Yeti“. Wir erfahren von einem alten Yakhirt namens Mimi Khandola, wie das freundliche Wesen Migoi, gennant Yeti, von einem Rudel Wildhunden erlegt wurde. In „Nicht einmal ein Leichnam zum Einäschern“ lernen wir von dem tragischen Schicksal eines Mädchens namens Pem Doikar, die von einem Migoi entführt wurde.

Diese Anthologie versucht nicht die Himalaya Literatur als ganzes zu repräsentieren, aber betont bestimmte Themen, die im Alltagsleben der Bergbewohner auftauchen. Die Welt, die die Dichter und Schriftsteller aus dem Himalaya beschreiben und kreieren, ist ganz anders im Vergleich zur westlichen Literatur über die Himalaya Bewohner. Es ist wahr, dass der Trekking-Tourismus, moderne Technologie, die Entwicklungshilfeindustrie, die NGOs, Aids und Globalisation die Himalayas erreicht haben, aber die Gebiete die vom Tourismus unberührt sind, sind immer noch ursprünglich, gebunden an Traditionen, Kultur und Religion.

Auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse gibt es kaum Bücher die von Schriftstellern und Dichtern aus dem Himalaya stammen. Es sind immer die reisenden Touristen, Geologen, Geographen, Biologen, Bergsteiger und Ethnologen, die über Nepal, Tibet, Zanskar, Mustang, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh und seine Leute, Religion, Kultur und Umwelt schreiben. Die Bewohner des Himalaya sind immer Statisten im eigenen Land gewesen in den Szenarios, die im Himalaya inszeniert worden sind, und die in New York, Paris, München and Sydney veröffentlicht werden. Sie werden durch westliche Augen beschrieben.

Dennoch gab es Generationen von denkenden und schreibenden Nepalis, Inder, Bhutanesen und Tibeter, die Hunderte von Schriftstücken, Zeitschriften und Bücher geschrieben und veröffentlicht haben, in ihren eigenen Sprachen. Allein in Patans Madan Puraskar Bibliothek, die Kamal Mani Dixit, Patan’s Man of Letters, beschreibt als „der Tempel der Nepali Sprache,“ gibt es 15,000 Nepali Bücher und 3500 verschiedene Zeitschriften wovon die westliche Welt noch nie gehört oder gelesen hat.

Der englische Professor Michael Hutt machte einen Anfang. Er übersetzte zeitgenössische Nepali Prosa und Gedichte in „Himalayan Voices“ und „Modern Nepali Literature“. Die erste Fremdsprache wird weiterhin Englisch bleiben, weil die East India Company dort zuerst ankam.

Dieses Buch von Alice Grünfelder erzeugt Sympathie und Verständnis für die nepali, indische, bhutanesische, tibetische, chinesische Psyche, Kultur, Religion. Es beschreibt die Lebensbedingungen und menschlichen Probleme in den dörflichen und städtischen Himalayagebieten und ist eine willkommene Ergänzung zu der langsam wachsenden Sammlung von literarische Übersetzungen aus dem Himalaya, die von den einheimischen Autoren geschrieben worden sind. Ich wünsche Frau Grünfelder Erfolg in Ihre Aufgabe als Vermittlerin zwischen den literarischen Welten von Asien und Europa.

© Review: Satis Shroff, Freiburg

English Version by: satisshroff, freiburg

Book-review:

Grünfelder, Alice (Editor), Himalaya: Menschen und Mythen, Zürich Unionsverlag 2002, 314 pages, EURO 19, 80 (ISBN 3-293-00298-6).

Alice Grünfelder has studied Sinology and German literature, lived two years in China and works in the publishing branch in Berlin. This book is comparable to a bouquet of the choicest Himalayan flowers picked by the editor and deals with the trials and tribulations of a cross-section of the people in the 450 km long Abode of the Snows–Himalayas. The book orients, as expected, on the English translations of Himalayan literature. The chances of having Nepali literature translated into foreign languages depends upon the Nepalis themselves, because foreigners mostly loath to learn Nepali. If a translation is published in English the success of the book is used as a yardstick to decide whether it is going to be profitable to bring it out in European or in other languages.

Nepal is conspicuous with contributions by the anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista, the climber Tenzing Norgay, the Kathmandu-based journalists Kanak Dixit and Deepak Thapa, the tourist-guide Shankar Lamichane, the poet Pallav Ranjan and the development-specialist Harka Gurung. For regular readers of Himal Asia, The Rising Nepal and GEO some of these stories are perhaps not new but this book is aimed at the German speaking readers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In addition to the seven Nepali authors, there are also stories by seven Indian, three Tibetan, two Chinese authors and two Bhutanese authors.

Some of the themes that have been dealt with in this collection are: the pros and cons of westernisation as told by Kanak Dixit in “Which Himalaya would you like?” and an endearing story of a journey through Nepal as a Nepali frog named Bhaktaprasad. K.C. Bhanja, the ecology-conscious climber writes about the spiritual meaning of our fragile heritage—the Himalayas. “The Himalayan Ballads” by the Chinese author Ma Yuan, “The Eternal Mountains” by the Han-Chinese Jin Zhiguo, the Indian climber H. P. S. Ahluwalia in “Higher than Everest” und Swami Pranavanadas in his Pilgrim journey to Kailash and the Manasovar Lake” have presented the mountains from different perspectives. Tenzing Norgay, the first Nepali who reached the top of Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary, says that he was a happy person.

The Nepali journalist Deepak Thapa portrays the famous Sherpa climber Ang Rita as a social “Upwardly Mobile” person. Whereas in Kunzang Choden’s story (In the Tracks of the Migoi) we learn that the Bhutanese, as a Buddhist folk, are not capable of harming even a small animal, in another story Kanak Dixit tells us about the 100 000 Lhotshampas (Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin) who were thrown out by the Bhutanese government and live in refugee-camps in Jhapa. The curio art-trader Shanker Lamichane’s “The Half Closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Setting Sun” is a poignant tale of a paralysed boy’s karma, related as a dialogue between a Nepali guide and a tourist. The helpless child makes us think in his mute way about the joys in everyday life that we don’t see and feel, because the world is too much with us. Whereas Harka Gurung has gathered facts and fiction“ and tells us about the different aspects of the Snowman, another author who is a psychologist from Bhutan, tells us about yaks, yak-keepers and the Yeti and we come to know through an old yak-keeper named Mimi Khandola, how the friendly creature called the Migoi, alias Yeti, gets chased and killed by a group of wild-dogs. In “Not Even a Corpse to Cremate” we learn about the traumatic shock and tragic fate of a girl named Pem Doikar, who was kidnapped by a Migoi.

This anthology does not profess to represent Himalayan literature as a whole, but lays emphasis on the people and myths centred around the Himalayas. For instance, the Nepali world that the poets and writers describe and create is a different one, compared to the western one. It is true that trekking-tourism, modern technology, the aid-industry, NGOs, aids and globalisation have reached Nepal, Bhutan, India, but the areas not frequented by the trekking and climbing tourists still remain rural, tradition-bound and untouched by modernity.

There are hardly any books written by writers from the Himalayas at the Frankfurter Book Fair. It’s always the travelling tourist, geologist, geographer, biologist, climber and ethnologist who writes about Nepal, Tibet, Zanskar, Mustang, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh and its people, culture, religion, environment, flora and fauna. The Himalayan people have always been statists in the visit-the-Himalaya-scenarios published in New York, Paris, Munich and Sydney and they are described through western eyes.

But there have been generations of thinking and writing Nepalis, Indians, Bhutanese and Tibetans who have written and published hundreds of books and magazines in their own languages. In Patan’s Madan Puraskar Library alone, which Mr. Kamal Mani Dixit, Patan’s Man of Letters, describes as the “Temple of Nepali language”, there are 15,000 Nepali books and 3500 different magazines and periodicals about which the western world hasn’t heard or read. A start was made by Michael Hutt of the School of Oriental Studies London, in his English translation of contemporary Nepali prose and verse in Himalayan Voices and Modern Nepali Literature. It took him eight years to write his book and he took the trouble to meet most of the Nepali authors in Nepal and Darjeeling. The readers in the western world will know more about Himalayan literature as more and more original literary works are translated from Nepali, Tibetan, Hindi, Bhutanese, Lepcha, Bengali into English, German, French and other languages of the EU. The first foreign language, however, will remain English because the East India Company got there first.

This book compiled by Alice Grünfelder creates sympathy and understanding for the Nepali, Indian, Bhutanese, Tibetan, Chinese psyche, culture, religion, living conditions and human problems in the urban and rural Himalayan environment, and is a welcome addition to the slowly growing translated collection of Himalayan literature penned by writers living in the Himalayas. I wish her well in her function as a mediator between the literary worlds of Asia and Europe.

Satis Shroff, Freiburg

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Walking Along Goethe’s Path in Ilmenau (Satis Shroff)

Subtitle: Fragments of a Big Confession

It was on the evening of September 6,1780. Johann Wolfgang Goethe was writing one of his beautiful lyrical works with a pencil on the inner wall of the hunting-hut on the Kickelhahn. This particular verse was published in an anthology 35 years later.

A day before his last birthday, he went to the small hut, which was nailed together with planks, to recall the lines that he’d written in his younger days. That was in August, 27, 1831.

Today, you certainly will not find the inscription written with his hand, because the original hut was devoured by flames in the year 1870. But forty years later, the hut was rebuilt on the old foundation. In the year 1999, which was celebrated as the Goethe Year, the members of an international conference of Goethe-translators met at Goethe’s favourite hut to recite his verse in their respective languages. The translations were financially supported by the Stiftung Weimarer Classic and the Goethe Society. I’ve translated Goethe’s poem into Nepali, a language which is derived from Sanskrit and uses the Devnagari script.

The small, lovely town of Ilmenau lies on the north side of the Thuringer forest and is known for its mountain excavations, glass and porcelain industry, and is also known as Goethetown. Apropos porcelain, Meissen is the greatest place for those who want to gather exquisite works of earthenware art in porcelain, you know. He visited Ilmenau twenty-eight times. The town of Ilmenau has laid a path with the letter ‘g,’ which Goethe used to use when he signed his initial. Just a small ‘g’ for a literary giant.

We start the Goethe walk tour along the market in Ilmenau. To the left you see the imposing thre storied house. Goethe used to reside in the corner room on the first floor. He used to live and write there whenever he came to Ilmenau. Today it’s a part of the museum, which bears testimony to Goethe’s literary works and information about Ilmenau. The beautiful museum rooms, which have furniture from Goethe’s times, are used today for literary and musical events. If you’ve read Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meister’ then you’ve read about his description of the inns ‘Zum Adler’ and ‘To the Sun.’ Alas, these two houses were in a desolated, dilapidated state and had to be demolished in 1992.

A new one has been built with a similar façade. Let’s saunter from the marketplace through the Obertor Street to the graveyard. Near the entrance is the grave of Corona Schröters, who was a beautiful singer and actress in the court of Weimar. Corona was the first actress who played the role of Goethe’s heroine ‘Iphigenie.’

From the graveyard you can take a short-cut to the upper exit, where you come across many memorial-stones for the prominent people of Ilmenau. You cross the B4 and climb up the Sturmheide to the middle and upper Berggraben. This is a path with different elevations along the mountain massif, which were previously hill-trenches in which water used to flow from the mountains, and was channelised to Sturmheide and Roda.

You reach Manebacher Valley after a comfortable walk through a thick forest and watch the splendid valley below. After sometime, you reach Schwalbenstein, a high rock with porphyry, where you can rest in the adjacent hut called ‘Schutzhutte.’ It was in the Schwalbenstein that Goethe wrote the 4th Act of his famous ‘Iphigenie auf Taurus’ on March 19,1779 and in the following years Torquato Tasso. On a rock you can read the beginning of this 4th Act, and you are reminded of the beauty of the German language and the rhythmical power of Goethe’s prose, which has a magical effect on you and moves you to the core.

You move on to the next inn in the forest called ‘Schöffenhaus’ and descend towards Manebach, past Emmastein and the house of the Cantor, in whose garden Goethe used to do his sketches and other drawings. You cross the railway tracks and the street and climb the small bridle path across the hilly meadow, and reach Helenenruhe. A resting place for a certain Helen. You look from there in the distance towards the forested hills behind Schwalbenstein and trek over to Big Hermann Stone. The route is rather steep and most demanding. When you reach the big rock on which once perched a castle in the Middle Ages, you are rewarded by the sight of a cave. Goethe wrote about this cave: ‘It’s my favourite place, where I want to live and work.’ Perhaps it might inspire you too.

This was where Goethe worked and did his drawings. He even brought his lady von Stein when she visited him in Ilmenau. Frau von Stein was a serene, tempered lady-in-waiting who influenced Goethe, and under her friendship Goethe developed into a mature and balanced man.

After the last steep ascent you reach the 861m Klickelhahn. You can see the magnificent Thuringer Forest from here. We know through Goethe’s letter to Ms. von Stein that he fled from the town to Thuringen’s cool forested area whenever he could and wrote to her in Weimar about the beauty of the forest of Thuringen. When words couldn’t describe the opulent beauty of a place, he sent her his excellent drawings, for a picture tells more than a thousand words: he drew the cave of Hermannstein, the misty valleys of Ilmenau, Manebach and Stützerbach. As though the drawings weren’t enough, he wrote further: ‘…there are drawings and descriptions everywhere.’ Perhaps he too found ‘sermons in stones and good in everything,’ like William Shakespeare did in the forest in his ‘As You Like It.’

Goethe was moved by the picturesque idyll of it penned his poems thus:

Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh,

in allen Wipfeln

spurst du kaum einen Hauch;

die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.

Warte nur, balde ruhest du auch.

Goethe was influenced by Herder’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s genius, and thereafter he’s known to have written a pseudo-Shakespearean tragedy called ‘Geschichte Gottfrieds von Berlichingen, which was ill received by Herder. The school-kids have to learn this on their way to acquiring the high-school certificate.

The hunter’s hut, where Goethe wrote his night-song on September 6, 1780 doesn’t exist anymore, but you can see a remake of the same. And like they say on all guided tours: ‘On a bright day you can see even the distant Harz.’ You descend to the hunter’s hut at Gabelbach (fork-stream). That small house you see was constructed at the order of the Duke Carl August in 1983 when he expected prominent hunting guests. In the house itself you hear lectures about Goethe’s scientific studies in the forest of Thuringen. If you’re tired you can walk to the Shepard’s meadow (Hirtenwiese). From there you can take different routes.But since we ‘re walking along Goethe’s path, we cross the street, and descend to the pretty Schorte Valley.

In Frankfurt Goethe became the leader of a group of intellectuals, which formed the inner circle of the Sturm and Drang. He wrote stormy poetry in free rhythm such as the Wanderers Sturmlied (storm-song), Prometheus, An Schwager Kronos and drafted the scenes of a Faust play, namely Urfaust.

Goethe lived to be 82 and it was in this time that the French Bastille was stormed. Read also A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Goethe was 39 then, and told his companions at Valmy: ‘This is the beginning of a new epoche of world history and you can say, you experienced it.’ In his youth he’d been fiery, energetic and impatient and later he became an oracular figure of Olympian stature. Germany’s man of letters liked acting, drawing, even directing theatres, and is universally regarded as a writer of the first rank. About his own work, Goethe said: ‘All my works are fragments of a big confession.’

His diversity in creative writing was astonishing and he had a wide range of forms: lyric, epic, ballad poetry, drama, novels, short-stories, autobiographical works. The fragments are the essence of his literary genius.

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BELIEFS AND CUSTOMS

(By Satis Shroff)

Whereas the older people in Asia pray the whole day and are in communion with God because the life-span in Asia is shorter, I had the impression here in Europe that  the older generation are still living it up.

You’re pensioned at 65 years in Germany and are still robust and not very old. This new acquired freedom is used for coffee-hours in the afternoon, trekking, sight-seeing and even ballroom dancing and pursuing interesting hobbies like gardening, fishing and bird-watching. Others like the adamant octogenarian Toni Hagen and the impeccable Sir Edmund Hillary even go on working as development workers in the Himalayas, where old age is regarded as an asset and not a liability.

And late, second or third marriages are not uncommon due to the fact that older people are left to themselves, and the younger generation would rather see their parents, grandparents in houses for old people rather than share a house in a joint-family. The family units have become smaller and smaller with the passage of time and industrial development.

Take Frau Brendel’s family for instance. All the sons and daughters have their own families and they are scattered  over Germany and, till recently, even in Australia. The only time they get together is when a silver or golden jubilee or birthday is being celebrated or when someone in the family gets married. And whether it’s a child’s ‘confirmation’ ceremony at the local church, a marriage or whatever: the costs are tremendous, because the Germans do it with style.

I had the impression that it isn’t only the Asians who spend a lot of money on such occassions. Even the Germans seemed to go to extremes. A modern marriage for instance has the aura of a royal marriage and the German brides are dressed up like the late Lady Diana Spencer and the bridegrooms like Prince Charles. What staggers the costs is the party in a Gastwirtschaft or rented hall afterwards, with the choicest menus and unlimited drinks: sekt, wine, beer and schnaps.

Mrs.Brendel’s mother, was an 82 year old corpulent, grand old lady  with failing eyesight, who watched TV sitting only five centimetres in front of the tube, for instance lived in a year on a rotation scheme with all her married sons and daughters travelling from Heidelberg to Bad Waldliesborn and down to Nuremburg and then up to Neustadt. She didn’t have a permanent home of her own. The children took turns in doing grandma-sitting. The family called her ‘Queen Victoria’, as she had a rather commanding  tone.

It reminded me of my own maternal grandma, who was the central figure in the  family, after the death of my grandpa, and who operated from her spacious bed in Victorian style, which had curtains of multicoloured glass-pearls. Visitng her was like entering into a world of 1001 Nights.

The indomitable lady would sit perched high, like an incarnated Rimpoche, and sip her Darjeeling tea and lay her hands on the foreheads and heads of the many relatives and acquaintances who wanted to pay her their respects or ask for favours. She’d cover her mouth with the end of a sari and would ask them uncomfortable questions about their families, demanding obedience and respect from them. And the relatives would comply with due submission. I found it always a spectacle the way people greeted her, presenting her white silk scarfs (khadas), bowing their otherwise proud heads, and receiving either a pat on their heads almost a slap if the grand old lady was disappointed with them. She was their moral instance, their conscience. And she had her spies and informants in the extensive family branches. She still had a lot of land, despite the so-called land-reforms introduced by the government in Kathmandu and her tenants and their families were still heavily dependent on her. She could be a kind soul at times and show compassion but most of the time she was very stern and shrewd towards her ‘subjects’. Her subjects were divided into two religious groups: Buddhists-cum-animists who were called Bhotays and Tamangs and Hindus. But she didn’t show much respect towards the Hindus. In her mind the achievements of a person in this world were more important than lineage and heredity. She’d always come up with, ‘What you make out of life and what you are is more important than what your father or ancestors were’.

Despite her crude ways in dealing with people I admired her secretly. After all, respect was something that had to be earned and didn’t come with one’s age. She was going contrary to the norm of her society in which old-age was regarded with reverence and admiration. In her eyes a person had to defend his or her right with his wisdom, for according to her — wisdom was something that couldn’t be stolen by thugs and robbers in the society, and she laid great emphasis on the importance education, even though she couldn’t read English. She could read and write Tibetan and Nepali though. It didn’t help her in her interactions with the British but her knowledge of Tibetan and Nepali were an asset in dealing with the local people, and she used it with a great deal of skill.

In the living room hung a hugh sepia photograph with a heavy gold-coloured wooden frame of her husband and his British friends posing in front of a vintage car. The British ladies wore quaint hats and flowing skirts, and blouses with buttons right upto the throats, where they gave way to frills around the collars. And whereas grandpa talked with his British guests, grandma was mostly confined to the kitchen where she supervised the Indian, Nepali and British cuisine. Another hugh and massive-framed photograph showed him with his British guests with their guns in their hands proudly posing in front of an enormous tiger that they’d shot in the terai during a shikar.

After the death of Grandpa she’d grown fond of a tall, grey-haired British physician with a goatee who used to treat the people from the hills and give them pills, tablets, mercurochrome on their wounds and tonsils, and zinc oxide salves smeared on a piece of  The Rising Nepal or The Gorkhapatra.

I found Grandma Brendel’s story familiar, because it was exactly what happened to my own paternal grandpa who had to live in Kathmandu, Dharan, Darjeeling and Bombay because his children who ‘looked after him’ were scattered in two countries and five towns.

My paternal grandpa would sit in front of his hinduistic altar and be engaged in praying to the Gods. He’d sit in his lotus position take a mala in his right hand and start reciting the names of as many Gods and Goddesses and paying tribute to them. With 33 million Gods and Goddesses he would be busy for the better part of the day.

There were interesting moments when he’d be also listening to the conversation in the family kitchen and suddenly he’d switch in and start talking as though he hadn’t missed the conversation from the beginning.The only people who were genuinly interested in our grandpa were us kids.

He had the habit of going for long walks in the evening and underway he’d buy sweets as offerings for Gods like Ganesh, the pot-bellied God with the elephant trunk, who has an affinity for laddus and other sweet things. We’d enter the premises of a temple and he’d ring the hugh bells outside, and the whole neighbourhood would reverbate with the sound of the bells. There was always the smell of incense-sticks burning, the smell of milk, yoghurt and freshly made sandalwood paste with which we’d be blessed  on our foreheads as a receipt after making  the offering. A portion of the offering would be kept by the brahmin for himself and the Gods, and I’d get the major part of the delicacies for accompanying him to the many temples.

Grandpa was a robust old fellow with a sense of humour and loved to hum the tunes of Bombay films  through his white starched moustache, whether Nepali, Hindi or Bengali, and could be rather embarassing at times, for he’d persist even though he didn’t know the tune and the lyric at all.

Every Indian or Nepali film has at least 14 songs and it’s more like a melodramatic musical with dances, seductive vamps, fights and rescues with litres of tears, screams, shouts and groans and happy ends—when the lovers are united at last after an endless series of ordeals. It’s kitsch but the masses in India and Nepal love them. The audience applauses, whistles and claps hands and is moved to tears. The film functions as a ventil for the poverty-stricken people and for two hours they identify themselves with the protagonists and live their posh lives in palace-like houses, flying first class, drinking champaigne, wearing the newest creations, doing the newest dances and suffering with the protagonists, feeling for them, and finally thanking them for enticing them to another fantasy world.

They take home the wonderful images and perhaps hope and courage to make something out of their own lives. If not, at least have the satisfaction of identifying themselves with someone else’s fantasy-world. When the poor soul comes out of the cinema-hall, the blazing sun glares at him,the terrible noise and chaos of the traffic, the stench from the alleys, and he is reminded of the struggle for existence and survival. The cinemagoer may be in Bombay, Dacca, Karachi or Kat­mandu: the brutal and sad reality in developing countries is, and remains, the same.

In winter grandpa was glad to be in sunny Bombay, and in summer he could retreat to the cool foothills of the Himalayas. That was the problem of industrialisation and population migration, when the men went looking for better jobs and pastures, or through marriage in the case of women. It’s always the women who follow  their men, leave their hometowns and not the other way round. The future of the bride is always uncertain and depends on the dowry, the sympathy and mercy of the mother-in-law, and the behaviour of her arranged-husband.

Irrespective of the fact whether you’re a Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or  Muslim, the desire and craving to ask God for help and protection has always been evident, be it at the house altar or Herrgottwinkel, at the shrine, temple, pagoda, church, chapel and cathedral and mosque. Sacraments and blessings have always been received from priests, brahmins and lamas. And pilgrimmages have always been undertaken by Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs  and Jains. Ritual ceremonies like baptism, bratabandha, communion and marriages have brought along a good many customs with them, each specific to one’s ethnicity and religion and, nevertheless, similar and familiar in their basic meanings and purposes.

When I see the many votive pictures, gifts and offerings to the churches, temples, pagodas and mosques, I see how strong the clamour for heavenly guidance and succour is, and how varied, and yet similar, the distress is  in the daily lives of people all over the world.

It was interesting to note that despite the marked Christian piety, the  Black Forest people and the people in the Alpine countries like Switzerland, South Tirol, and Austria still cling to their so-called pagan customs, sayings, superstitions, beliefs and customs. This is also typical of the people living in the  foothills of the Himalayas with tantric, Bon-religion and shamanism and shaktiism as accepted and tolerated forms of life and religion.

It was amusing to learn that the fear of ghosts, demons and spirits was widespread in the Black Forest and the Alpine Republics. The spirits were sometimes said to sit on a man’s chest or on his  back, and in this way bring him to the ground. We Nepalis call this phenomenon ‘aithan paryo’ and speak of ‘boksas and boksis’, that is, witches of both sexes. If there’s a female witch, there has to be a male one too.

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

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Art Basel: Aesthetic Escapism (Satis Shroff, Freiburg-Kappel)

The queen of art expositions

Opened her doors,

A big happening in Helvetia’s Basle,

For the forty first time.

A nexus for art connoisseurs,

Worshippers, gallerists, hipsters,

Stars and starlets,

Very important persons,

Not so important persons,

Artists and dabblers,

Praising their extravagant love

Of art.

Art talks in trendy taverns,

To celebrate ten galleries.

Ten artists even depicted

Basle’s cathedral, the ferry

And Vater Rhine

In their art projects:

Sans agonies and trauma of war

In Irak, Kirgistan, Afghanistan,

Sans oil spills and animals dying,

Sans natural calamities.

Pure escapism,

Beauty, taste and art,

Away from the gruesome reality.

Aesthetic flight

In the realm of fantasy,

The works of 2500 artists and sculptors.

To see

And be seen,

From Wednesday till Sunday

In July.

The founder of Art Basel,

Ernst Beyeler died with 88.

What he left behind,

Became the Olym of the art world.

Money and art,

The parallel worlds

Of Alicja Kwade.

A creation of some,

The whims of others.

A Picasso picture

Sold for eleven million euros.

A beautiful work of Marc Quinn’s

‘Bloke With a Cigar’ done in gold,

Was the central figure.

Vienna’s Werner Oskar Jilge

Posed as a living solar lantern.

T293 was a delight

With two retro loudspeakers,

Orange tubes and a box

Mounted on metal legs,

Done by Alberto Tadiello.

Hall Number One

Had exhibits

Of fifty-six world artists.

Gigantic video installations,

Sergio Prego’s blown-up sculpture.

That was Art Unlimited.

The exhibits have been returned,

To their respective owners,

Others have changed hands.

What remains is the good taste

Of aesthetic escapism.

Creative guys don’t fall down

The social gutter,

Lingers the motto.

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