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Review: The World Beyond the Mountains (Satis Shroff)

Byron Farwell: The Gurkhas, Penguin 1985, London, 317 pages, ISBN o-14-007569-0

 

 

‘The Gurkhas’ is a history of the finest infantrymen in the world who come from a country where ‘It is better to die than to be a coward,’ and where most bear the name Bahadur, which means ‘courageous,’ and who carry out their mission with the help of the deadly, curved kukris.

 

Ayo Gurkhali!’ Here come the Gurkhas! Is a battlecry that makes their enemies in battle wince, and sometimes abandon their weapons to save their dear lives. Younghusband marched unopposed into Lhasa on August 3, 1904 with his Gurkhas. During the Falkland War the Argentines fled when they realized that they were being outflanked by the Gurkhas.

 

Byron Farwell narrative about the Gurkha battalions and their military engagements are enhanced by citations from the books on the same, making it a jolly reading material. The readability score is good and the book is studded with historical photographs of the Gurkhas’ acts of gallantry.

 

Farwell served as an officer in North Africa and Italy in the Second World War and later also in the Korean War. He has travelled more than a hundred countries. His other books are: The Man Who Presumed, a biography of Sir Richard Burton bearing the title ‘Burton,’ Prisoners of the Mahdi, Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, the Great Boer War, and a social history of the Victorian and Edwardian Army with the title ‘For Queen and Country.’ In 1986 Viking published his ‘Eminent Victorian Soldiers’ and he’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1964.

 

Farwell’s book is a comprehensive history of the lives and achievements of the Gurkha soldiers of Nepal in the Indian and later British Gurkhas after India gained its independence, and about the extraordinary relationship which existed, and apparently still exists between the British officer and Johnny Gurkha. Since the author served as an officer in the North Africa and Italian campaigns in the Second World War, it’s only natural that he enthuses about the cheerful, stocky hillmen of Nepal.

 

As to the sources used by the author, he has relied much on regimental histories and the autobiographical works of officers who served with the Gurkhas. Farwell has used the Indian Army’s English annual journal called ‘The Gurkha.’Besides that he used ‘The Khukri,’ a similar journal published by the British Brigade of Gurkhas and interview with some officers. It might be mentioned that not all acts of bravery were noted in the past. Citing an item on a Gurkha from the Third Battalion of the 8th Gurkha Rifles, he mentions: ‘Particular mention must be made of the courage of 86600 Rifleman Punaram Pun. Unfortunately he died. We never know how Pun distinguished himself.

 

The book has 29 chapters devoted to war and peace in Nepal, the role of the Gurkhas in Delhi, made famous by Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’ film. The chapter on Character and Characteristics deals with how Johnny Gurkha ticks. There are chapters devoted to Gurkhas in Afghanistan in the olde days, the North East Frontier, how Gurkhas are recruited, the role of the Nepalese warriors in World War I (France), Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotamia. A chapter on Gurkha officers, relationships, Nepalese festivals (Dasain and Tihar), home, family, preparing for battle (World War II), the North African War in the Second World War, South East Asia, Italy, retreat from Burma, Chindits, India’s independence and partition, the savage wars of peace, Borneo, reduction of force and retirement. The role of the Gurkhas today and tomorrow. The book has a four-point appendix and the last one is about the Gurkha tribes.

 

In the aftermath of the Falklands, the author stated, ‘there will continue to be a place for these Nepalese mercenaries in the British Army. In a world unwilling to abandon war as a means of settling disputes the Gurkhas will always play a role as warriors or as peace-keepers.

 

The steadfast, stocky, courageous Gurkhas have never deserted their British officers. But two Brit officers Major Boileau and Captain Butcher who deserted their Gurkha soldiers at the Residency, were court-martialled and cashierd.

 

The first edition of the book was published by Allen Lane in 1984 which was after the Falkland war. Farwell writes:’Mercenaries have been in bad odour in recent years, but the trade is an ancient and enduring one. He cites A.E. Housman who had praise for them in ‘Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries:

 

What God abandoned, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.’

 

In his book Farwell is conspicuous for his branding the Gurkhas as ‘mercenaries’ throughout the text. During the Falkland War the British MoD was politically embarrassed by the Argentinians at the UNO that the Brits were using ‘mercenary Gurkhas’ for the battle in the Malvinas. This made the Brit government declare with emphasis that the Gurkhas ‘were an integral part of the British Army. If that was so why did Johnny Gurkha receive only half the pay of a Britsh Tommy all these years? Why weren’t the children of the Gurkhas allowed to go to British schools to earn their GCE ‘A’ levels? Generations of Asian schoolkids domiciled in England have been passing the exams and studying in British colleges and universities. Why not the Gurkha school-kids? When you ask such questions you either get a diplomatic silence or some silly excuse about a British-Nepalease Treaty dating back to 1816 forgetting that we’re in the 21 century, in here and now in the UK.   

 

The sad part of the Gurkha-story is that the Brits never intended to integrate the generations of Gurkhas, who served in Britain’s Army and fought its wars, into the British society. This issue has always been taboo in British military circles. The Gurkhas should die serving the Queen and the Union Jack but they should return to Nepal when their service contract was over, much like Helmut Kohl’s Turkish guest-workers who were invited to Germany to run the factories for the German males had died in the war or were crippled and couldn’t work. Kohl hoped that the Turks would return to their homes. The Turks, Italians, Spaniards and Portugese weren’t obedient, disciplined and loyal like the Gurkhas. They knew what democracy was and that they had rights to live in Germany. The Brits sent the Gurkhas home to Nepal whenever there was disagreement. You could court martial a Gurkha for disobedience, but the so-called Gastarbeiter (guest-worker) in Germany weren’t soldiers and nothing could subordinate them. They fought for their rights, like the second generation of workers’ children who were born in Britain. The Gurkhas were left alone. Not one Brit officer came forward to fight for the cause of their oh-so-heroic Gurkhas because there were scared stiff that the MoD would fire them. It was a strange ‘special’ relationship between the Gurkhas and their officers. Not a single officer worth his grain opened his mouth. It took a Joanna Lumley, a woman, to corner a minister about the Gurkha Issue with a running camera.

 

Whereas Byron Farwell doesn’t look at the Gurkhas from the anthropological view, he does compare the Gurkhas among themselves in terms of tribes and clans, which is typical of colonialists out to seek the best of Mongolian hillmen from Nepal and to turn them into obedient, loyal fighting-machines. In this process he quotes from the sources listed on the last few pages of his book. What emerges is a Gurkha profile as an ideal rifleman who’s brave, tough, patient, adaptable, skilled in fieldcraft, proud of his military record and unswerving loyal towards their bread-givers: the MoD in London and Delhi.

 

It is said that the Gurkhas can stand hardships and anything, except abuse.

 

And yet they have been abused by both the Nepal Durbar and the British Ministry of Defence, despite the Gurkhas’ ‘selfless devotion to the British cause, which can hardly matched by any race to another in the whole world history of the world. Why they should have thus treated us is something of a mystery.’ It was General Francis Tuker who said that. Farwell adds: ‘Indeed; and a mystery which needs to be explored, for while the Brits undoubtedly had enormous affection for the Gurkhas, they failed in the event to match their loyalty.’

 

The author’s purpose in this book was to bring in a historical account of the Gurkhas from Nepal and how and where they fought under the Union Jack from Queen Victoria’s times till the Falkland War, for that’s where the book ends. The reader learns a great deal about the Gurkha regiments and Brigades in British India, independent India and the Gurkhas in Britain and Hong Kong, along with the role of the Gurkhas in Britain’s skirmishes around the world. Since this book was published in 1984 an up-to-date sequel is imperative to keep the readers abreast with new developments. Nevertheless, the author has done a good job in presenting the Gurkhas to readers around the globe for they have fought Britain’s wars in France, Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotemia in the First World War and in almost every front in the Second World War from Singapore to Italy and North Africa.

 

What does it mean to a Gurkha to be refused at a Gurkha recruiting depot? It means an anticlimax and shame to a prospective soldier. Most young men bid farewell to everyone they know in their villages in a solemn ceremony. The mother presents him a handful of coins which he distributes to his girl-friends who’re waiting along the path. Failed recruits don’t wish to return home. I knew a young man, a school drop-out, who went to the British Camp in Dharan (Nepal) was rejected, and instead of returning home in shame and ignominy, he chose to work as a school-teacher in a local school in the hills, and a year later passed the recruitment test to join the British Gurkhas. He returned home after two years with lots of presents for his family and relatives, and wore immaculate Hong Kong tailor-designed suits, and went for walks much like the elderly veterans in his hometown. According to Farwell ‘every young man who set off for the recruiting depot was confident of acceptance.

 

In reality the story of the Gurkhas isn’t always courage and glory. In letters home during the First and Second World Wars many Gurkhas wrote to their parents, friends and girl-friends about the loneliness, absurdity and fear in the trenches but these letters were opened, censored and never reached their destinations for they were withheld by the MoD, and now given free for public viewing in the archived of the British Museum.

 

The Gurkhas as a theme are topical, much like the US Navy Seals and the French Foreign Legion, and the significance of the Gurkhas and their tribulations and woes at the hands of London’s MoD which has, in recent times, led to court cases of the Gurkhas versus the MoD. This book provides a good background of how the Gurkhas, as a cheap mercenary force to fight Britain’s battles in the world fronts, on a hire-and-fire basis. To this end, young Nepalese men join the Gurkhas and are exposed a world of new experiences, depending on whether they are doing guard duty in front of the Buckingham Palace or elsewhere. In order to adapt they had only to do as they were told; the army took care of them.

 

Were the Gurkhas integrated into British lifestyle? The answer is no. They were confined to their barracks. If they ever fought against against discrimination, they were sent back to Nepal. They lived a parallel life, divided by culture and religion. There has always been a latent racial prejudice in the ranks of the officers and the MoD. British identity was seen in the 1950s in racial terms but in the 1990s Britishness became simply the ability to tolerate different religions, and ethnicity as an affirmation of who they are. Whereas outside the Gurkha barracks, youths of Asian and Carribean origin who were genuine British passport holders, fought for their political and social rights in Britain, and helped to generate political struggles against discrimination by creating bridges across ethnic, racial and cultural barriers, the Gurkhas have always had a ghetto existence in their British barracks, aloof from what went on politically in the United Kingdom. When the MoD came up with cuts in military manpower, the loyal, courageous, cheerful, obedient Gurkhas were obliged to accept it as their fate as ‘mercenary soldier’ who could be hired-and-booted out as the situation demanded. No insurance, no NHS-benefits, no accommodation outside the barracks. No chance to mingle and fraternize with the British civilians. They were kept, and still are, like the asylum-seekers in Switzerland. At 10 pm they have to be in their barracks.

 

There were always human resources in the hills of Nepal for the next battle anywhere in the world. Despite their sterling qualities, the Gurkhas have been given a raw deal in terms of remuneration in the British Army. Whereas the migration to Britain made central in the curriculum of secondary schools, whereby pupils are expected to learn core ‘Brit’ values such as tolerance, respect, freedom of speech and justice and learn of the shared British heritage, the Gurkhas and their children still feel alienated in Britain, and left out from the bebefits of the civil society. For its fighting force Britain recruits young, enthusiastic men from Nepal but what happens to the Gurkhas who have developed gerontological problems? The NHS turns a deaf ear and the MoD too.

 

The first migrants landed in Britain in 1948 and integration of Asians from India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh as well as West Indians has partially worked well. The interracial marriage between black-white is high at 40% but Asians prefer not to marry white women and Asian women are married off by their parents with partners from their former home countries or males who’ve grown up in Britain. The West Indians are also well represented in politics (MPs or councellors). Asian children are regarded as being diligent and assimilation in education is good. Education and employment go hand in hand. The hardworking Asians possess business acumen. Underlying racial prejudice still exists in the UK which is regarded as a ‘mind matter’ which no law can possibly change, much like in Germany where neonazis are facing trial for killing migrants who were shop-owners.

 

The Gurkhas are known for their ability to adapt to different combat environments in the jungle, desert, craggy terrain, and he can also adapt in Britain’s jungle of concrete, given the opportunity by their officers, MoD and Her Majesty’s government. It’s high time the Gurkhas came home to Britain to roost with all the benefits that the British society has to offer for they have been ignored and treated as foster-children for too long. A start has been made by Gurkhas who have appointed solicitors to fight for their rights in British courts. It took long time for the Gurks, as they are fondly called by the Brits, to react in the British society. The Gurkhas are catching on and are absorbing so-called ‘alien, unregimental ideas’ which are democratic, humane and beneficial to them.

 

Why do the British use Nepal as a human warehouse for its wars? Kalunga (Nepal) has gone in the annals of British Military History as a bloody affair, and the British suffered greater casualty than the Gurkha, even though the latter were outnumbered. Balbahadur lost 520, the British lost 31 officers and 750 other ranks. But in the end Ochterlony defeated the Gurkha General Amar Singh at Jaithak, and once again in a decisive battle at Malaun. What followed was the Treaty of Segauli signed on march 4,1816. Nepal was obliged to give up the provinces of Kumaon and Gharwal, as well as the lower Terai. Moreover, Nepal had to accept a British Resident and the most curious and important clause in the Segauli Treaty was that it gave the ‘British the right to recruit Nepalese subjects.’ What remains of the two battles are two tiny obelisks erected by the Brits at Kalunga (20 km from the India border-town Raxaul) dedicated to General Rollo Gillespie and his British and Indian dead. The other obelisk is dedicated to their gallant adversaries. ‘The love affair’ between the Brits and the doughty little Mongolian hillmen had begun and has lasted 194 years.

 

Farwell writes: ‘the Gurkhas being mercenaries, enlisted for pay. Indeed the pay, low though it was, seemed attractive to those from a land where there is little hard cash. They also wanted to leave ‘the confined and restrictive life of the mountain village and to see the world beyond the mountains.

 

A scheme to admit Gurkhas to military institutions of higher learning began in the 1950s. A line boy officer cadet Bijay Kumar Rawat was the best overall officer cadet at Sandhurst.

 

Ironically enough in recent times the Brigade of the Gurkhas have been deployed in the Hindukush, and a Brit Gurkha officer was disgusted that a Johnny Gurkha took out the head of a Taliban he’d slashed with his khukri. During the World War II the war in Burma was brutal. A patrol of the 4/8th Gurkhas brought back to camp the severed head of a Japanese officer. Lieutenant Colonel Walter C. Walker, the battalion commander, had it nailed to the trunk of a tree near his bunker. The head had a ‘wispy beard and a drooping moustache.’

 

Byron Farwell speaks of the ‘zest of the Gurkhas in their pursuit of the retreating Japanese has been compared to that of terriers after rats.’ One British commander offered a reward for each head brought in and one Gurkha havildar returned with six bloody ears in his haversack. The commander asked where the heads were. The Gurkha replied, ‘Too heavy to carry, sahib.’

At another skirmish forty Japanese ran into a Gurkha trap  and the Lieutenant Commander McCready of the 1/10th Gurkhas commented: ‘There was a great blooding of khukris and ..no wounded were brought back.’ Lalbahadur Limbu received an immediate award of the Military Cross.

 Are told by veterans in the hills of Nepal. What the Gurkha did in Afghanistan was to re-live one such story he’d heard in his childhood. It was the British officers who encouraged and rewarded such feats and took delight in them and bragged about their men at the mess-halls and officer’s clubs, and they still do it.

 

Recently, a pensioned old Gurkha was going for a walk and was robbed by a white gang who took away the Rolex watch he was wearing. There’s no human warmth and consideration among the urban gang members, and they’re known to be ruthless and cold. A Gurkha’s past isn’t interesting to them and they don’t care what happens to them. Their cool heroes are Scarface and Goodfellas. Welcome to Britain today. Daylight break-ins muggings and car thefts are common in parts of London. Freiburg (Germany), where I live is known for its bicycle thieves. When it comes becomes dark the police in Brixton are unwilling to go to the trouble spots.

 

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Category: Short-story DESTINATION NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

“That’s a terrible injustice,” said Raj Rana aloud at the Paddington Station. Mr. Rana was at the station, on his way to Gatwick Airport. From there he had a flight ticket from Her Majesty’s Government to Nepal after long years of service in the British Gurkhas.

“What do you mean, Raj-ji?” said the turbaned Punjabi bus-driver from London, whom he’d known for a decade.

“The Brits are not nice to the Gurkhas. Look at me. I slaved for the Union Jack during the Falkland War. My father fought for the Brits in the World War II and was wounded by the Germans.”

“Why join the British or Indian Army? Just apply for political asylum like me. I came over when the Indian Army stormed our Golden Temple in Amritsar.”

“It’s not easy for Nepalese to apply for asylum.”

“Why? Everybody gets an asylum in Britain. Look at the streets in the East End, Southhall. Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Jamaicans everywhere.”

“The British and German authorities always say: “Nepal is a peaceful country. There’s no war out there. The tourists go there all the time. How can we Gurkhas convince the British government that we want to stay on in England after we’ve done our service? They always send us home,” said Mr. Rana.

“Home is where your heart is,” said the Sikh, thoughtfully smoothening his moustache.

Exactly. My heart is in England. My wife also wants to stay here and so do our two children.”

“When I was in India I used to say, “Indian government, no good government. Apply, apply, no reply,” said the Punjabi whose name was Avtar Singh. He’d found it difficult to get jobs in India. He’d sent out a lot of applications without any success.

The Gurkha Raj Rana replied, “Now I’m in Britain and I’m saying British government, no good government. The British we meet in everyday life are splendid people, straightforward and helpful, and hold us in high regard. We, Gurkhas, have fought for England since 1816.

“You Nepalese have no lobby in Britain. That’s the reason why the Brits treat you like that,” said Mr.Singh, scratching under his turban for the sun was shining that day in London. He’d brought along his telescope umbrella along. You never knew with English weather.

No lobby? How can we have a lobby when we live in barracks with our families. No contact with the British people. Our children have to do SLC, and not GCSE certificates when they finish schooling.”

“SLC?”

Mr. Rana explained, “School Leaving Certificate, a paper from Nepal.”

Mr. Singh suddenly came up with: “You know what, Rana-ji? I think it’s because Nepal was never in the Commonwealth.”

“Do we have to apologise that we’ve remained an independent and sovereign state?” said Mr. Rana.

“During the Falkland War the British government said, ‘The Gurkhas are an integral part of the British Army,’” said the Gurkha.

“Yes, I remember reading about it. It was because the Argentinians protested in the UNO that the British were deploying mercenary soldiers,” said Mr. Singh.

“Some mercenary soldiers, “ remarked Mr. Rana. “For our bravery and loyalty, the Queen of England awarded us 6,500 decorations, including 13 Victoria Crosses and two George Cross medals. But you can’t live on medals alone, you know, Mr. Singh.”

“If we are equal to the British soldiers and an integral part of the Army, then why do we have lesser pay than the British soldiers?” said Mr. Rana.

“You are right. Why? I get the same pay as a white Cockney bus-driver.”

“I think you people have no lawyers and politicians behind you.”

“Mrs. Blair fought for our rights once. But her husband is no longer in politics.”

Expressing solidarity with the Gurkha movement, Liberal Democratic MP of the British parliament, Peter Carroll, had once said that the 1997 cut off date was unjustified, and that it was wrong for UK to continue to discriminate against people who had defended the UK and even sacrificed their lives, while protecting Britain and the crown. A delegation of former Gurkhas had later handed over a petition at the 10 Downing Street, the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair, and held a meeting with Veterans Minister of the British government, Derek Twiggs. In a letter faxed to GAESO and the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Nepal, Col. R.J.J. Ellis defended the cut-off date as being the day “when the (Gurkha) Brigade became a UK-based force.” On July 1, 1997, the brigade was moved to Britain from Hong Kong because the British were obliged to hand over the former Crown Colony to China.

Mahendra Lal Rai, Secretary of GAESO went on record as saying: “We will continue our fight for equal rights on the streets, as well as in court rooms against the discriminatory policies of the British government.” Very little had happened since then.

The British authorities had refuted allegations that there has been discrimination against the 3,500 British Gurkha soldiers serving in the British army.

Besharam! Such an impertinence,” said Mr. Singh, with a big sigh.

The train came and Mr. Singh hugged Mr. Rana, who entered the compartment, waved at a smiling Mr. Singh with his family, and in their thoughts they were already in Katmandu, where things were uncertain and a Maoist republic awaited them, with hikes in prices of basic commodities, political instability. Nepal seemed to be disintegrating because there was no unifying figure. The people in Nepal’s southern Terai were demanding a separate state and recognition of Hindi as the language of the Madhisays, and some had even suggested that the Terai, Nepal’s Corn Chamber, should become a state of the Indian Union. Perhaps that’s how a democratic republic functioned in the early stages.

Mr. Rana felt a terrible feeling of nausea sweeping over him when he thought about the forthcoming trip to his second homeland Darjeeling. Those grabbing Bengali customs officers who were out to rob the Gurkhas by pretending to demand taxes for foreign luxury items. Even gadgets that one used daily like hair-dryers, electric shavers, kitchen appliances were ‘taxed’ without receipts, which meant the money wandered into the pockets of the Bengali customs officers, and the Indian, or for that matter the Bengal government received nothing from this border-income. That was how it functioned.

As in the late eighties, there was the danger of a Gorkhaland civil war because a lot of problems were still unsolved. The Gorkhalis were divided now, and Subhas Ghising’s work with his Hill Council was being challenged. Bimal Gurung was gaining in profile. Jyoti Basu’s communist government was, as usual, using political delay tactics when it came to Gorkhaland issues. Where was it better? To live in strife-torn Gorkhaland or in Nepal, a republic run by a Maoist leader? Mr. Rana and his wife had to decide fast.

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Commentary on Johnny Gurkhas and British Tommies:

Unspoken Barriers and the Need For a Deeper Cultural Change (Satis Shroff)

There is no major transformation in the workplace of the Gurkhas, and the pay gap still remains, even though the Gurkhas are an integral part of the British Army. Discrimination still exists between the officers and the Gurkhas, between the British government and the soldiers Gurkha Brigades. Whereas a Johnny Gurkha gets £46 per month during service, a British Tommie gets £450.

What the government ought to introduce, and the public ought to fight for, is a Gurkha Discrimination Act during or in the next legislative period. On March 2, 2008 the 30th anniversary of the Wilson government’s Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Opportunities Commission was introduced in Britain. Harassment of the Gurkhas by some of their sadistic officers should be made a form of discrimination and the officers court marshalled or brought to justice.

The Labour introduced the Equal Pay Act in 1970. The equal pay was for all British subjects, but not for the British Gurkhas. The Nepalese serving in the Brigade of Gurkhas in England might not be British subjects, but if they are an integral part of the British Army, then they should also be given the same pay. It might be mentioned that not only the Gurkhas but also the British women part-time workers earn 40% less per hour than full-time British men.

The Gurkhas are full-time professional soldiers. But as far as the dictates of Her Majesty’s Ministry of Defence is concerned, all soldiers of Britain are equal but some soldiers are still more equal than the others. What would George Orwell of ‘Animal Farm’ fame say to that?

The Gurkhas are employed primarily in the public sector as regular soldiers recruited in Nepal, and to some extent in the private sector as trusted and efficient security guards. The British have recruited even Nepalese women for a female version of the Gurkhas, and they do their military duties in the Emirates, of course, for the business delights of the British government.

Protection against discrimination is important, and it does not suffice just to write about the flavour of the extraordinary relationship which existed, and still exists, between the British officer and the Gurkha soldier. After all, the brave Gurkhas have fought under the Union Jack in France, Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotamia in the World War I, and in Singapore, Italy and North Africa in the World War II. In the post World War era, the Gurkhas have worked in the Falkland War, Kosovo, Croatia and Iraq.

The Gurkha-problem has to be solved and the Gurkhas given equal rights, and the choice to stay on in Britain if they choose, after they are pensioned from their Army service. The Gurkha children should be allowed to attend normal British schools and do their GCSEs, A-levels, go to British universities and enter into the professions, just as any British subject. Gurkhas born in the United Kingdom and its overseas territories should be automatically granted British citizenship—without coffing up excuses about outdated British-Nepalese treaties and agreements. The soldiers in the French Foreign Legion are previliged and respected in the French society but the Gurkhas are declared persona non grata in England and the society once they develop gerontological problems and refused medical treatment by the NHS in Britain.

On the issue of the Gurkhas during the partition of Hindustan into India and Pakistan in 1947, the British General Tuker said: Our own British fault. We had hopelessly mishandled the whole business.” The Gurkha Army Ex-servicemen’s Organization (GAESO) has been demanding rights for the Gurkhas for almost 15 years. Previously, the British Army had a pension plan for Gurkhas in which they received only one-sixth of what British soldiers got under the AFP. In order to qualify for that inferior pension plan, a Gurkha needed to serve for 15 years, while a British Tommie could be eligible for the AFP program after just two years in service.

While the recent review ensures pension parity for future Gurkha recruits, the cut-off date effectively leaves out nearly 40,000 living Gurkhas who retired before 1997, many of whom live in poverty in Nepal. The British social organisations and the government don’t care about the fate of the old pensioned Gurkhas because the government can recruit any number of cannon-fodder in the hills of Nepal. The Brits have only to beckon and the prospective Gurkhas come streaming down from the hills to be recruited for the Gurkha Brigade and a trip to England, and where ever the British are engaged in a skirmish around the globe.

The mishandling of the Gurkha-business can now be corrected and the Johnny Gurkhas given their due in terms of equal salary, respect, tolerance and chances in the British society—much like the British Tommies. When you come to think of the 6,500 decorations to Gurkhas for their bravery and loyalty, including 13 Victoria Crosses and two George Cross medals, and the 45,000 Gurkha deaths in battle during Britain’s wars since 1816 till now. An additional 150,000 were injured, according to an eight-member independent international commission that visited Nepal in May 2005.

A nation has to go with the times.

Quo vadis, United Kingdom?

Zeitgeistlyrik:

Drinking Darjeeling Tea in England (Satis Shroff)

Beware the Ides of September

Manchester will be a milestone

In Gordon Brown’s polit-life.

Your economic ‘competence’

Has become an Achilles heel,

Your weak point.

The people’s party of New Labour

Wants to get rid of you.

These are the rumours,

Heard in the trendy streets of London.

Twelve months ago Gordon Brown

Was the Messiah of Brit politics,

After Blair’s disastrous role in the Labour,

Unpopular, depressed,

His energy absorbed by Iraq.

Alas, even the new Messiah

Has lost his face,

Within a short time.

His weakness: decision making.

England is nervous, fidgety,

For Labour fears a possible loss,

Of its 353 Under House seats.

Above the English cabinet,

Looms a Damocles sword.

Will Labour watch

And drink Darjeeling tea,

Till a debacle develops?

Labour is in a dilemma.

Aha, wonders still do happen.

In the recent recession,

Brown was declared a winner,

Frau Merkel a loser.

David Miliband has simmered down.

A silly season indeed.

Let’s drink Darjeeling tea

In good olde England,

And do like we Germans do:

Wait and see.

Zeitgeistlyrik:

The Gurkhas Are With You (Satis Shroff)

Ayo Gurkhali!

The Gurkhas are upon you!

This was the battle-cry

That filled the British heart,

With pride and admiration,

And put the foe in fear.

The Gurkhas are not upon you.

They are with you,

Among you,

In London,

Guarding the Queen at the Palace,

Doing security checks

For VIPs

And for Claudia Schiffer,

The Sultan of Brunei.

Johnny Gurkhas

Or as the Brits prefer:

Johnny Gurks.

Sir Ralph Turner,

An adjutant of the Gurkhas

In World War I said:

‘Uncomplaining you endure

Hunger, thirst and wounds;

And at the last,

Your unwavering lines

Disappear into smoke

And wrath of battle.’

Another General Sir Francis Tuker

Spoke of the Gurkhas:

‘Selfless devotion to the British cause,

Which can be hardly matched

By any race to another

In the whole history of the world..

Why they should have

Thus treated us,

Is something of a mystery.’

9000 Gurkhas died

For the Glory of England,

23,655 were severely wounded

Or injured.

Military glory for the Gurkhas:

2734 decorations,

Mentions in despatches,

Gallantry certificates.

Nepal’s mothers paid dearly

For England’s glory.

And what do I hear?

The vast silence of the Gurkhas.

England has failed miserably

To match the Gurkha’s loyalty and affection

For the British.

Faith binds humans

The Brits have faith

In the bravery and loyalty,

Honesty, sturdiness, steadfastness

Of the Gurkhas.

Do the souls of the perished Gurkhas

Have faith in the British?

Souls of Gurkhas dead and gone

Still linger seeking injustice

At the hands of Queen Victoria

And Queen Elizabeth II,

Warlords,

Or was it warladies,

They died for.

How has the loyalty and special relations

Been rewarded in England

Since the Treaty of Segauli

On March 4, 1816 ?

A treaty that gave the British

The right to recruit Nepalese.

When it came to her own kind,

Her Majesty the Queen

Was generous.

She lavishly bestowed lands,

Lordships and knighthoods

To those who served the crown well,

And added more feathers to England’s fame.

A Bombay-born Salman Rushdie

Gets a knighthood from the Queen,

For his Satanic and other verses.

So do Brits who play classic and pop.

When it comes to the non-British,

Alas, Her majesty feigns myopia.

She sees not the 200 years

Of blood-sacrifice

On the part of the Gurkhas:

In the trenches of Europe,

The jungles of Borneo,

In far away Falklands,

Crisis-ridden Croatia

And war-torn Iraq.

Blood, sweat and tears,

Eking out a meagre existence

In the craggy hills of Nepal

And Darjeeling.

The price of glory was high,

Fighting in the killing-fields

Of Delhi, the Black Mountains,

Khyber Pass, Gilgit, Ali Masjid.

Warring against Wazirs, Masuds,

Yusafzais and Orakzais

In the North-West Frontier.

And against the Abors,

Nagas and Lushais

In the North-East Frontier.

Neuve Chapelle in France,

A hill named Q in Gallipoli.

Suez and Mesopotamia.

In the Second Word War

Battling for Britain

In North Africa, South-East Asia,

Italy and the Retreat from Burma.

The Queen graciously passes the ball

And proclaims from Buckingham Palace:

‘The Gurkha issue

Is a matter for the ruling government.’

Thus prime ministers come and go,

Akin to the fickle English weather.

The resolute Queen remains,

Like Chomolungma,

The Goddess Mother of the Earth,

Above the clouds in her pristine glory,

But the Gurkha issue prevails.

‘Draw up a date

To give the Gurkhas their due,’

Is the order from 10 Downing Street.

‘OMG[1],

We can’t pay for the 200 years.

We’ll be ruined as a ruling party,

When we do that.’

A sentence like a guillotine.

Is the injustice done to the Gurkhas

Of service to the British public?

It’s like adding insult

To injury.

Thus Tory and Labour governments have come

And gone,

The Gurkha injustice has remained

To this day.

Apparently,

All Englishmen cannot be gentlemen,

Especially politicians,

But in this case even fellow officers.[2]

Colonel Ellis and General Sir Francis Tuker,

The former a downright bureaucrat,

The latter with a big heart.

England got everything

Out of the Gurkha.

Squeezed him like a lemon,

Discarded and banned

From entering London

And its frontiers,

When he developed gerontological problems.

‘Go home with your pension

But don’t come back.

We hire young Gurkhas

Our NHS doesn’t support pensioned invalids.’

Johnny Gurkha wonders aloud:

‘Why they should have thus

Treated us,

And are still treating us,

Is a mystery.’

Meanwhile, life in the terraced hills of Nepal,

Where fathers toil on the stubborn soil,

And children work in the steep fields

A broken, wrinkled old mother waits,

For a meagre pension

From Her Majesty’s far off Government,

Across the Kala Pani,

The Black Waters.

Faith builds a bridge

Between Johnny Gurkhas

And British Tommies,

Comrades-at-arms,

Between Nepal and Britain.

The sturdy, betrayed Gurkha puts on

A cheerful countenance,

Waves a silk scarf

And sings:

Resam piriri[3],’

An old trail song

Heard in the Himalayas.

About the Author: Satis Shroff 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 is a regular contributor on The American Chronicle and its 21 affiliated newspapers in the USA, in addition to Gather.com, Boloji.com etc.


[1] OMG: Oh My God

[2] In a letter faxed to GAESO and the United British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Nepal, Col. R.J.J. Ellis defended the cut-off date as being the day “when the (Gurkha) Brigade became a UK-based force.” On July 1, 1997, the brigade was moved to Britain from Hong Kong because the British were obliged to hand over the former Crown Colony to China. (According to this kind of administrative chase, the Gurkhas who fought for the Brits in its wars in the past 200 years were regarded as its foreign-based forces and, as such, did not enjoy the privileges that a “UK-based force” was entitled to, merely because they were put into another category by some miserly bureaucrat. I thought Germans were sticklers for bureaucracy but Her Majesty’s Government has outdone all other European nations in this issue).

[3] Resam: silk, piriri: flutter i.e. a silk scarf flutters in the wind

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