Archive for the ‘Johnny Gurkha’ Category

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.

* * *

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’


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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 The British and the Gurkhas: Worlds Apart? (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)


Even though generations of Nepalese soldiers called the fearsome Gurkhas, have fought Britain’s colonial and other wars (Falklands, Croatia, Iraq) the Gurkhas don’t have the same rights as ordinary British citizens.

It was a magnificent scenario: the proud Royal Scouts led British cadets, Territorial Army and Gurkhas over Waverly Bridge and along Princes Street. The Gurkhas were led by a man in spotted leopard cloak beating a drum, followed by vehicles with armed Gurkhas.
Who are these Gurkhas? You might ask. They are Britain’s 3,500 elite soldiers from the small Himalayan country Nepal. These Gurkhas have fought and died with the British Armed Forces for two centuries. This year, according to the Scotsman (news.scotsman.com), Gurkhas have been dumped back in Nepal with a stipend by the thousand. This, after two centuries of fighting your wars for you.They are not, never have been, paid the same as a British soldier.
When it comes to money-matters, the Brits have always regarded the Gurkhas as cheap labourers and mercinaries that you can recruit in a matter of months, or even weeks. There are always 28,000 young Nepalese who want to join the Royal Gurkha Brigade. Only 200 are chosen annually. What happens to the others? Do they join the Maoists to get battle experience? I knew one named Kunjo Lama who didn’t make it at the recruiting depot in Dharan (Eastern Nepal) and worked as a teacher in a Nepalese village in the hills rather than face the ignominy of returning home as the laughing stock of the hamlet dwellers. Losing one’s face is something serious in the Nepalese world, and for the Nepalese psyche. But Kunjo made it at the next admissions and even took part in the Falkland War at Port Stanley against the Argentinians.He showed me a photograph from his wallet of himself and his fellow Gurkhas in front of a helicopter, armed to the teeth during the war at the Malvinas.
Sometime later during a trip to London I saw how the South Asian people were living in London’s East End, where the Cockneys use to live earlier, with its brick-houses (Monica Ali’s ‘Brick Lane’). Nay, the Gurkhas didn’t even enjoy the same status as the asylum-seekers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Jamaica and other former colonies, settled in London’s East End or Southhall. The Gurkhas are based in Church Crookham, Hampshire, but they are lucky if they can return to their home country after fighting Britain’s wars and police missions in the British Rhine Army, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, Falklands, Lebanon, Croatia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
To think that so many ethnic Nepalese mothers have lost their sons, and so many children have lost their fathers and sisters their dear brothers fighting for the Glory of Britain, is indeed worth contemplating and discussing about in the London Parliament by the new government.
The Gurkhas, who are ruthless warriors at war, have always been obedient, loyal, disciplined and subordinate to their British officers for 200 years. Their loyalty and bravery have always been unfaltering. Had Indira Gandhi taken the Gurkhas as her personal bodyguards like the Queen of England, instead of the Sikhs, at a time when when the storming of the Golden Temple of Amritsar was a big issue in Punjab and India, I’m sure she would have lived longer.
But most South Asians think: that’s kismat. It was written that she had to die a violent death. Schicksalsdenken.
A Gurkha serves in the Army a minimum of fifteen and a maximum of thirty years after which they are discharged and obliged to leave Britain for Nepal. No, they aren’t allowed to stay on, settle down and enjoy the English countryside with their meagre pensions, as far as English lifestyles and pays-scales are concerned. The British government always uses Nepal’s pay-scales as a yardstick to pay off their loyal Gurkhas. Prior to the EU-membership of East Bloc countries, when a Polish worker came to help pluck the strawberries in the vicinity of Freiburg (Germany), they weren’t paid the actual rate for west workers in Germany either. Now that the Poles have no zlotys, and are paid in Euros in their own countries, it doesn’t seem to be lucrative to go all the way to Germany, with the result that the strawberries get overripe and go kaputt. Ethnic Germans are reluctant to do this back-breaking job under the blazing sun.
The British Army onced sacked 111 Gurkhas, and as a result the Gurkhas wrote a petition to the Queen of England to help the men who had been sent to Nepal, and to improve the treatment of the Gurkhas (who had after all fought for Britain in the Falklands) throughout the Army. The petition to Queen Elizabeth II was signed: Your Majesty’s most obedient servants. The all (sic) ranks of SP 1/7th Gurkha Rifles.
A question that vexed me is why the Gurkha children have to do the SLC (School Leaving Certificate) exams of Nepal, instead of the GCE ‘A’ levels, like all school-kids in England? The British government and the Nepalese monarchs never appreciated the importance of better, higher education for the offsprings of the Gurkhas. With British educational certificates and degrees thousands of sons and daughters of the Gurkhas would have had better chances in their lives and would be much better off than their soldiering Dads and brothers. The idea from the start was to put the Gurkhas and their families in ghettos alias barracks or lines, and no attempts were made to integrate them and their families in the British society.
If a Gurkha would join France’s Foreign Legion, they’d be taught the French language and would get a much better status in the French society than the British give to the Gurkhas. I don’t want to say alas, but Nepal just wasn’t a French colony, though the French managed to come up to an enclave named Pondicherry in India. Nepal has no special relationships with the French but with the British
There have been isolated instances of Gurkhas involved in recent courtroom skirmishes with the British Ministry of Defence to receive the same pension and conditions as other British soldiers. Whereas an ex-Gurkha received 40,000 English pounds payment from Britain after a court ruling, which was an isolated instance, another Gurkhas claim was rejected by a Nepal court. ‘Better to die than be a coward’ is the motto of the Gurkha warriors who are an integral part of the British Army. It should run ‘better to fight a battle with a good lawyer against the Ministry of Defence than against Britains foes, as we say in Germany: bis die Fronten geklärt sind.
Britain and its admirable people still have to do a bit of soul-searching on the question of their best friends-in-arms. The officers in the administration and the Defence Ministry think of the Gurkhas still as cannon-fodder and not as humans, at eye-level with the same rights and equality. They still play the game of the Raj: masters and servants. This must not be tolerated and must be put to an end by the new government at 10 Downing Street, for they have gone too far.
What is the difference between an asylum-seeker and a Gurkha in Britain? In the long run the asylum-seeker gets a British passport, British pay (if he or she’s qualified) and British rights and his or her children kindergartens,schools, colleges and universities in Britain, and become a part of the British mainstream. Not so the Gurkhas and their families.
Due to questionable ‘special relations’ between Britain and Nepal that haven’t been ratified yet, the poor Gurkha and his family have to say goodbye to Britain and head for the barren hills of Nepal. That’s the plight of what Sir Ralph Turner MC, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles, 1931 said, „ Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had a country more faithful friends than you.“
When you think of how true, loyal friends are treated for their faithfulness in even present-day Britain, you can only shake your head or hide in shame.
During the Falklands War out in the Malvinas under Margret Thatcher’s primiership, the British were put in an embarassing situation by Argentina’s UN- representative for he accused the British of having deployed ‘Gurkha mercinary’ troops. The British government demented that and said it had special relationsships with Nepal and that the Gurkhas were its own troops, belonging to and integrated in the British Army.
But the sad reality is: when a British leutenant saunters by, a Gurkha-Major is obliged to salute him! And not the other way around. This still means that all soldiers are equal in the British or Gurkha army, but some solders are more equal than the others, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which Gurkha school children learn in good English schools in India’s Darjeeling and Nepal. In this context it must be mentioned that 45,000 Gurkhas died in the two World Wars under the Union Jack and another thousand since then, even though the Gurkhas were reduced and demobilised to Brigade strength in the British and Regiment strength in the Indian Army. This was after the partition of India in 1947 after an agreement between Nepal, India and Britain, whereby four regiments from the Indian Army were transferred to the British Army, which then became the Gurkha Brigade.
It’s still the white sahib commanding the natives, despite the so-called handsome pensions that the Gurkhas receive, according to Nepalese standards. When I lecture in Switzerland I earn almost 100 Swiss Francs per hour. I think that it’s high time that the Gurkhas received the same wages as their British fellow soldiers. Please don’t come up with the Sugauli Treaty or ‘special relations crap’ that dates to the times of Queen Victoria and Junga Bahadur Rana.
I think it’s high time that the Gurkhas went to an international court in Strassburg, Belgium and received Flankenschutz from Human Rights Organisations in Britain, Britain Watch, NGOs and whatever.
If you don’t know the impact that the death of a Gurkha can have on his near and dear-ones, then please read the following lyric and think of the plight of the Gurkha mother:


A GURKHA MOTHER (Satis Shroff)

(Death of a Precious Jewel)


The gurkha with a khukri

But no enemy

Works for the British Gurkhas

And yet gets shot at

In missions he doesn’t comprehend.

Order is hukum,

Hukum is life

Johnny Gurkha still dies under foreign skies.


He never asks why

Politics isn’t his style

He’s fought against all and sundry:

Turks, Tibetans, Italians and Indians

Germans, Japanese, Chinese

Argentinians and Vietnamese.

Indonesians and Iraqis.

Loyalty to the utmost

Never fearing a loss.


The loss of a mother’s son

From the mountains of Nepal.


Her grandpa died in Burma

For the glory of the British.

Her husband in Mesopotemia

She knows not against whom

No one did tell her.

Her brother fell in France,

Against the Teutonic hordes.

She prays to Shiva of the Snows for peace

And her son’s safety.

Her joy and her hope

Farming on a terraced slope.


A son who helped wipe her tears

And ease the pain in her mother’s heart.

A frugal mother who lives by the seasons

And peers down to the valleys

Year in and year out

In expectation of her soldier son.


A smart Gurkha is underway

Heard from across the hill with a shout

‘It’s an officer from his battalion.

A letter with a seal and a poker-face

“Your son died on duty,” he says,

“Keeping peace for Her Majesty

The Queen of England.”


A world crumbles down

The Nepalese mother cannot utter a word

Gone is her son,

Her precious jewel.

Her only insurance and sunshine

In the craggy hills of Nepal.

And with him her dreams

A spartan life that kills.



gurkha: soldier from Nepal

khukri: curved knife used in hand-to-hand combat

hukum: Befehl/command/order

shiva: a god in Hinduism

Cherrio for now, more in the next.


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