Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

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.

 

Read Full Post »

FASCINATING NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

Image 

FASZINATION NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

Wo? VHS-Freiburg…Weekend Seminar..

Wochenendseminar mit Satish Shroff am 06./07.Oktober 2012

 

 Image

Sie haben vor, nach Nepal zu reisen? In diesem Seminar erfahren Sie wichtiges über Sitten und Gebräuche, erhalten Einblick in die Kultur und Sprache des Landes sowie Kenntnisse über Flora und Fauna (Wildlife). 

Der Dozent ist gebürtiger Nepalese und wird Ihnen seine Heimat nahebringen. Den Abschluss dieses Seminars bildet ein gemeinsames Nepali-Büffet.

 

Samstag, 06.Oktober/Sonntag, 07.Oktober 2012, jeweils 10.00-16.00 Uhr (mit Pausen), VHS im Schwarzen Kloster, Raum 110, € 55, Kurs-Nr. 111.415

 

 Image

 

Read Full Post »

Satis Shroff: MEMOIR

 

I could see Madame Defarge knitting the names of the noblemen and women to be executed. Dickens was a great master of fabulation. I was ripe for those stories and was as curious as a Siamese cat I had named Sirikit, reading, turning page for page, absolutely absorbed in the unfolding stories..

I like writing which means sitting down and typing what you’ve thought about. Writing is a solitary performance but when I sing with my croonies of the MGV-Kappel it is sharing our joy and sadness and it’s a collective song that we produce and that makes our hearts beat higher during concerts. When an idea moves me for days I have the craving to pen it. I get ideas when I’m ironing clothes and listening to Nepali songs or Bollywood ones. When I don’t have time, I make a poem out of it, for poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity. When I prepare my medical lectures I’m transferring knowledge from my university past and bringing them together verbally, and I realise it’s great fun to attain topicality by connecting the medical themes with what’s topical thereby creating a bridge between the two. That makes a lecture interesting, which is like a performance, a recital in which you interact with the audience. 
At school I was taught art by a lean, bearded Scottish teacher who loved to pain landscapes with water-colours. Whenever I travel during holidays, I keep an ArtJournal with my sketches and drawings, and try to capture the feelings, impressions of the place and people I meet, and it’s great fun to turn the pages years later and be reminded how it was then. I like doing all these things and they’re all near to my heart. 

* * *
Literature is translating emotions and facts from truth to fiction. It’s like a borderline syndrome; between sanity and insanity there’s fine dividing line. Similarly, non-fiction can be transformed into fiction. Virginia Woolf said, ‘There must be great freedom from reality.’ For Goethe, art was art because it was not nature. That’s what I like about fiction, this ability of transforming mundane things in life to jewels through the use of words. Rilke mentioned one ought to describe beauty with inner, quiet, humble righteousness. Approach nature and show what you see and experienced, loved and lost.

* * *

At school I used to read P.G.Wodehouse (about how silly aristocrats are and how wise the butler Jeeves is) and Richard Gordon (a physician who gave up practicing Medicine and started writing funny books). For me Richard Gordon was a living example of someone who could connect literature with bio-medical sciences. Desmond Morris, zoologist (The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo) was another example for me. He has also written a book about how modern soccer players do tribal dances on the football-field, with all those screaming spectators, when their team scores a goal. That’s ethnological rituals that are being carried out by European footballers. 

Since I went to a British school I was fed with EngLit and was acquainted with the works of English writers like Milton, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Walter Scott, RL Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, HG Wells, Victor Hugo, Poe, Defoe, Hemingway, and poets like Burns, Keats, Yeats, Dante, Goldsmith. Since we had Nepali in our curriculum it was delightful to read Bhanu Bhakta, Mainali, Shiva Kumar Rai and other Nepali authors. At home I used to pray and perform the pujas with my Mom, who was a great story teller and that was how I learned about the fantastic stories of Hindu mythology. At school we also did Roman and Greek mythology. My head was full of heroes. I was also an avid comicstrip reader and there were Classics Illustrated comic with English literature. I used to walk miles to swap comic-books in Nepal. It was mostly friends from the British Gurkhas who had assess to such comics, gadgets, musical instruments they’d bought in Hong Kong, since it was a British enclave then.
Science can be interesting and there is a genre which makes scientific literature very interesting for those who are curious and hungry for more knowledge.

In Kathmandu I worked as a journalist with an English newspaper The Rising Nepal. I enjoyed writing a Science Spot column. One day Navin Chandra Joshi, an Indian economist who was working for the Indian Cooperative Mission asked a senior editor and me:

‘Accha, can you please tell me who Satis Shroff is?’ 

Mana Ranjan gave a sheepish smile and said, ‘You’ve been talking with him all the time.’ 

The elderly Mr. Joshi was plainly surprised and said, ‘Judging from his writing, I thought he was a wise old man.’ 

I was 25 then and I turned red and was amused. 

As I grew older, I discovered the works of Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Authur Miller, Henry Miller, Doris Lessing and James Joyce. The lecturers from the English Department and the Literary Supplements were all revering his works: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake. His works appealed to be because I was also educated by the Christian Brothers of Ireland in the foothills of the Himalayas, with the same strictness and heavy hand. God is watching you.. 

Since my college friends left for Moscow University and Lumumba Friendship University after college, I started taking interest in Russian literature and borrowed books from the Soviet library and read: Tolstoi, Dostojewskije, Chekov and later even Solzinitzyn’s Archipel Gulag. I spent a lot of time in the well-stocked American Library in Katmandu’s New Road and read Henry Miller, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Thoreau, Whitman.

Favourite books and authors:

Bhanu Bhakta Acharya’s ‘Ramayana,’ Devkota’s ‘Muna Madan,’ Guru Prasad Mainali’s ‘Machha-ko Mol,’ Shiva Kumar Rai’s ‘Dak Bungalow,’ Hemingway’s Fiesta, For Whom the Bells Toll, Günter Grass ‘Blechtrommel,’ Zunge zeigen, Marcel Reich Ranicki’s ‘Mein Leben,’VS Naipaul’s ‘ ‘Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness,’ James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses, Stephan Hero, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Faust I, Faust II’, Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace,’ Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Briefe an einen jungen Dichter’ Goethe’s ‘Die Leiden des jungen Werther,’The Diaries of Franz Kafka’ Carl Gustav Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections,’ Patrick Süskind’s ‘Perfume,’ John Updike’s ‘The Witches of Eastwick,’ ‘Couples,’ Peter Matthiessen’s ‘The Snow Leopard,’ Mark Twain ‘A Tramp Abroad,’John Steinbeck’s ‘The Pearl,’ Rushdie’s ‘Midnight Children,’ Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections,’ John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River. 

Position of Nepali as world literature in terms of standard:

Nepali literature has had a Cinderella or Aschenputtel-existence and it was only through Michael Hutt, who prefers to work closely with Nepalese authors and publishes with them, under the aegis of SOAS that literature from Nepal is trying to catch the attention of the world. We have to differentiate between Nepalese writing in the vernacular and those writing in English. Translating is a big job and a lot of essence of a language gets lost in translation. What did the author mean when he or she said that? Can I translate it literally? Or do I have to translate it figuratively? If the author is near you, you can ask him or her what the meaning of a sentence, certain words or expression is. This isn’t the case always. So what you translate is your thought of what the writer or poet had said. I used to rollick with laughter when I read books by PG Wodehouse and Richard Gordon. I bought German editions and found the translations good. But the translated books didn’t bring me to laugh. 

Tribhuvan University has been educating hundreds of teachers at the Master’s Level but the teacher’s haven’t made a big impression on the world literary stage because most of them teach, and don’t write. Our neighbour India is different and there are more educated people who read and write. The demand for books is immense. Writing in English is a luxury for people who belong to the upper strata of the Nepalese society. Most can’t even afford books and have a tough time trying to make ends meet. The colleges and universities don’t teach Creative Writing. They teach the works of English poets and writers from colonial times, and not post-colonial. There are a good many writers in Nepal but their works have to be edited and promoted by publishers on a standard basis. If it’s a good story and has universal appeal then it’ll make it to the international scene. Rabindra Nath Tagore is a writer who has been forgotten. It was the English translation that made the world, and Stockholm, take notice. 

Manjushree Thapa and Samrat Upadhya have caught the attention of western media because they write in English. One studied and lived in the USA and the other is settled there. Moreover, the American publishing world does more for its migrant authors than other countries. There are prizes in which only USA-educated migrants are allowed to apply to be nominated, a certain protectionism for their US-migrants.

(The lecturer with his Creative Writing students in Freiburg)

Motivation to write:
The main motivation is to share my thoughts with the reader and to try out different genres. Since I know a lot of school-friends who dropped out and joined the British Gurkhas to see the world, it was disgusting to see how the British government treated their comrade-in-arms from the hills of Nepal. On the one hand, they said they are our best allies, part of the British Army and on the other hand I got letters from Gurkhas showing how low their salaries are in the Gurkha Brigade. A Johnny Gurkha gets only half the pay that a British Tommy is paid. Colonialism? Master-and –Servant relationship? They were treating them like guest-workers from Nepal and hiring and firing them at will, depending upon whether the Brits needed cannon-fodder. All they had to do was to recruit more Brigades in Nepal. This injustice motivated me to write a series on the Gurkhas and the Brits. I like NatureJournaling too and it’s wonderful to take long walks in the Black Forest countryside and in Switzerland. As a Nepalese I’m always fascinated and awed by the Alps and the Himalayas. 

Writing style:

Every writer in his journey towards literature discovers his own style. Here’s what Heidi Poudel says about my style: ‘Brilliant, I enjoyed your poems thoroughly. I can hear the underlying German and Nepali thoughts within your English language. The strictness of the German form mixed with the vividness of your Nepalese mother tongue. An interesting mix. Nepal is a jewel on the Earths surface, her majesty and charm should be protected, and yet exposed with dignity through words. You do your country justice and I find your bicultural understanding so unique and a marvel to read.’ Reviewed by Heide Poudel in WritersDen.com.

I might sound old fashioned but there’s lot of wisdom in these two small words: Carpe diem. Use your time. It can also mean ‘seize the job’ as in the case of Keating in the book ‘Dead Poets Society.’ When I was in Katmandu a friend named Bindu Dhoj who was doing MBA in Delhi said, ‘Satish, you have to assert yourself in life.’ That was a good piece of advice. In the Nepalese society we have a lot of chakari and afnu manchay caused by the caste-and-jaat system. But in Europe even if you are well-qualified, you do have to learn to assert and ‘sell’ and market yourself through good public relations. That’s why it’s also important to have a serious web-presence. Germany is a great, tolerant country despite the Nazi past, and it’s an economic and military power. If you have chosen Germany, then make it a point to ‘do in Germany as the Germans do.’ Get a circle of German friends, interact with them, lose your shyness, get in touch with German families and speak, read, write and dream in German. If you like singing then join a choir (like me), if you like art join a Kunstverein, if you like sport then be a member of a Sportverein. If you’re a physician, join the Marburger or Hartmann Bund. Don’t think about it. Do it. It’s like swimming. You have to jump into the water. Dry swimming or thinking alone won’t help you. Cultural exchange can be amusing and rewarding for your own development. 

Current and future projects: I always have writing projects in my mind and you’ll catch me scribbling notices at different times of the day. I feel like a kid in a department store when I think about the internet. No haggling with editors, no waiting for a piece of writing to be published. I find blogs fantastic. Imagine the agonies a writer had to go through in the old days after having submitted a poem or a novel. Now, it’s child’s play. Even Elfriede Jelenek uses her blog to write directly for the reading pleasure of her readers. The idea has caught on. In a life time you do write a lot and I’m out to string all my past writings in a book in the Ich-Form, that is, first person singular and am interested in memoir writing, spiritual writing, medical-ethno writing and, of course, my Zeitgeistlyrik . Georg F. Will said: A powerful teacher is a benevolent contagion, an infectious spirit, an emulable stance toward life. I like the idea of being an ‘infectious spirit’ as far as my Creative Writing lectures are concerned, and it does your soul good when a young female student comes up to you after the lecture and says: ‘Thank you very much for the lecture. You’ve ignited the fire in me with your words.’ I love to make Creative Writing a benevolent contagion and infect young minds with words. 

To my Readers: Be proud of yourself, talk with yourself as you talk with a good friend, with respect and have goals in mind. If your goal is too high you must readjust it. My Mom used to say, ‘Chora bhayey pachi ik rakhna parchha. When you’re a son you have to strive for higher goals in life. I’d say a daughter can also adopt this. Like the proverbial Gurkha, keep a stiff upper lip and don’t give up. Keep on marching along your route and you’ll reach your destination in life. But on the other hand, be happy and contended with small successes and things. We Nepalese are attributed with ‘Die Heiterkeit der Seele’ because we are contented with small things which is a quality we should never lose. Keep that friendly Nepali smile on your face, for it will bring you miles and miles of smiles; and life’s worthwhile because you smile. 

On literature: When you read a novel or short-story, you can feel the excitement, you discover with the writer new terrain. You’re surprised. You’re in a reading-trance and the purpose of literature is to give you reading experience and pleasure. Literature is not the birth-right of the lecturers of English departments in universities where every author of merit is analysed, taken apart, mixing the fictive tale with the writer’s personal problems in reality. The authors are bestowed with literary prizes, feted at literary festivals and invited to literary conferences and public readings. 

Literature belongs to the folk of a culture, but the academicians have made it their own pride possession. Would like to hear Hemingway telling you a story he had written or an academician hold a lecture about what Hemingway wrote? I’d prefer the former because it belongs to the people, the readers, the listeners. In India and Nepal we have story-tellers who go from village to village and tell stories from the Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita. Story-telling has always appealed to simple people and the high-brows alike, and has remained an important cultural heritage. The same holds for the Gaineys, those wandering minstrels from Nepal and Northern India, with their crude violins called sarangis. They tell stories of former kings, princes and princesses, battles, fairy tales, village stories, ballads accompanied by the whining, sad sound of the sarangi. 

Literature has always flown into history, religion, sociology, ethnology and is a heritage of mankind, and you can find all these wonderful stories in your local library or your e-archive.

My first contact with a good library was the American Library in Katmandu. A new world of knowledge opened to me. I could read the Scientific American, Time, Newsweek, the Economist, The New York Times, National Geographic, the Smithsonian, the Christian Science Monitor. The most fascinating thing about it was , you only had to be a member and you could take the precious books home.

OMG! It was unbelievable for a Nepalese who came from a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas. Nobody bothered about what you were reading: stories, history, new and old ideas, inventions, theories, general and specific knowledge. The sky was the limit. I had a voracious appetite, and it was like the opening of a Bildungsroman.

Historical novels tell us about how it was to live in former days, the forms of society involved that the writer evokes in his or her pages. In ‘A Year in Provence’ Peter Mayle makes you almost taste the excellent French food and wine, and the search for truffles with a swine in hilarious, as well as the game of bol. On the other hand, James Joyce evokes a life-changing experience with his protagonists Leopold Bloom and Stephan Daedalus in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Ulysses is a modern interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey, an inner monologue recalled as memories of places, people, smells, tastes and thoughts of the protagonist . The Bhagwad Gita is a luminous and priceless gem in the literary world, possesses world history character, and teaches us the unity in diversity. It is a dialogue between the hero Arjuna and Krishna, who is the chariot-driver. Krishna is an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. The Mahabharata alone has 18 chapters and the epic has 18 books with legends, episodes and didactic pieces that are connected with the main story. It is a fascinating reading about the war between relatives, written in the 4th and 3rd centuries before the birth of Christ. He who reads knows better than to be indoctrinated, for he or she learns to think, opening new worlds and lines of thought.

In my school-days I read Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and it became alive when I went to the Bastille Museum in Paris with a fellow medical student. My memory of A Tale of Two Cities took shape there, as I peered at the old, historical exhibits and the guillotine. Later in the evening my friend Peter’s sister, who was married to a Parisian said, ‘Oh, Satish, there are so many things to see in Paris than a museum the entire afternoon.’ For me it was like time-travelling to the times of the French Revolution, because I’d soaked up the story in my school days. I could see Madame Defarge knitting the names of the noblemen and women to be executed. Dickens was a great master of fabulation. I was ripe for those stories and was as curious as a Siamese cat I had named Sirikit, reading, turning page for page, absolutely absorbed in the unfolding stories. Time and space and my personal demands were unimportant. It was the story that had to be read, even with a midnight candle when the local hydroelectric power supply failed. That happened to me when I read ‘The Godfather’ (Der Pate) while visiting a friend from Iceland. I couldn’t put the book down.

I felt sad when a 14 year old computer-crazy schoolkid said: ‘Who reads books these days? Everything’s in the internet.’ The question is: do kids read books on their laptops and eReaders? School websites, Facebook and You Tube and their apps have added new hobbies for children who’re growing up. Does the cyberspace-generation have only time for games? I tell them they should use: Google Scholar, Pubmed etc. to gather knowledge and learn to transfer it.E-books are in: I think it’s great to have such a lot of authors in e-format in your pocket. Never a boring moment: the world of lit, science-fiction, thrillers all unfurl as you read or even listen to these, plugged in to your MP3. Watch the traffic though..

Read Full Post »

Summary: Nepalese journalist Satis Shroff wrote about a Nepalese mother who waits for her to return from the British Gurkha Army in vain. This story has affected thousands of mothers in Nepal, a poverty-stricken country where the sons join the foreign armies  to eke out a living because they have no chance to educate themselves formally, and life is hard and competitive in Nepal. Satis has written a series of articles on the Gurkhas in the media and it was only recently that the Gurkhas were granted the right to stay in Britain, educate their children and receive the benefits of the NHS. For 200 years the loyal, dedicated Gurkhas were treated as merchandise, discriminated and sent home on a hire-and-fire basis. Many Gurkhas have fought their cases against Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in courts in London and have won in recently because they have at last broken their silence

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnNymFm3TaM

 

 

 

A GURKHA MOTHER’S TEARS  (Satis Shroff)

(Death of a Precious Jewel)

 

 

A Nepalese mother sits in front of her verandah, smokes her crude cigarette looks at the lofty Himalayan peaks and asks:

‘My Nepal, what has become of you?’

Your features have changed with time. The innocent face of the Kumari has changed to that of the blood-thirsty countenance of Kal Bhairab, from development to destruction, from bikas to binas.

‘I have lived to see a crown prince who fell in love, but couldn’t assert himself, in a palace where ancient traditions still prevail. Despite Eton college and a liberal education, he chose guns instead of rhetoric, and ended his young life, as well as those of his parents and other royal members. An aunt from London aptly remarked on Nepal TV: He was like the terminator.’

Another bloodshed in a Gorkha palace, recalling the Kot massacre under Jung Bahadur Rana.

You’re no longer the same. There’s insurrection and turmoil against the government and the police. Your sons and daughters are at war, with the Gurkhas again. Maobadis with revolutionary flair, with ideologies from across the Tibetan Plateau and Peru.Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere, flourish in the Himalayas.

Demanding a revolutionary-tax from tourists and Nepalis with brazen, bloody attacks, fighting for their own rights and the rights of the bewildered common man.

Well-trained government troops at the orders of politicians safe in Kathmandu. Leaders, who despise talks and compromises, flex their tongues and muscles, and let the imported automatic salves speak their deaths. Ill-armed guerrillas against well-armed Royal Gurkhas in the foothills of the Himalayas. Where will this end?

Nepali children have no chance, but to take sides. To take to arms not knowing the reason and against whom. The child-soldier gets orders from grown-ups and the hapless souls open fire.

Hukum is order, the child-soldier cannot reason why.

 

Shedding precious human blood, for causes they both hold high.

 

Ach, this massacre in the shadow of the Himalayas.

We, Nepalis, look out of our ornate windows, in the west, east, north and south Nepal and think: how long will this krieg go on? How much do we have to suffer? How many money-lenders, businessmen, civil servants, khaki-clad policemen and Gurkhas do the Maobadis want to kill. Or be killed?

How many men, women, boys and girls have to be mortally injured till Kal Bhairab is pacified by the Sleeping Vishnu? How many towns and villages in the seventy five districts

Do the Maobadis want to free from capitalism? When the missionaries close their schools,

Must the Hindus and Buddhists shut their temples and shrines? Shall atheism be the order of the day? Not in Nepal.

It breaks my heart, as I hear over the radio: Nepal’s not safe for visitors. Visitors who leave their money behind, in the pockets of travel agencies, rug dealers, currency and drug dealers,

and hordes of ill-paid honest Sherpas, Thakali, Gurung and Tamang porters. Sweat beads trickling from their sun-burnt faces, in the dizzy heights of the Dolpo, Annapurna ranges and the Khumbu glaciers, eking out a living and facing the treacherous icy crevasses, snow-outs, precipices and a thousand deaths.

Beyond the beaten trekking paths live the poorer families of Nepal. No roads, no schools, sans drinking water and sans hospitals.

Where aids and children’s work prevail.

The dynasties of Lichhavis, Thakuris and Mallas have made you eternal. Man Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu, after great victories over neighbouring states. Amshu Verma was a warrior and mastered the Lichhavi Code. He gave his daughter in marriage to Srong Beean Sgam Po, the ruler of Tibet, who also married a Chinese princess.

 

Jayastathi Malla ruled long and introduced the system of the caste, a system based on the family occupation, that became rigid with the tide of time.

 

Yaksha Malla the ruler of Kathmandu Valley, divided it into Kathmandu, Patan and Bhadgaon for his three sons.

It was Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha, who brought you together, as a melting pot of ethnic diversities, with Gorkha conquests that cost the motherland thousands of ears, noses and Nepali blood. The spoils of that war can be seen even today at the temple in Kirtipur.

The Ranas usurped the royal throne and put a prime minister after the other for 104 years.

104 years of a country in poverty and medieval existence. It was King Tribhuvan’s proclamation and the blood of the Nepalis, who fought against the Gorkhas under the command of the Ranas, that ended the Rana autocracy.

His son King Mahendra saw to it that he held the septre when Nepal entered the UNO. The multiparty system along with the Congress party was banned. Then came thirty years of Panchayat promises of a Hindu rule with a system based on the five village elders, like the proverbial five fingers in one’s hand, that are not alike and yet functioned in harmony.

The Panchayat government was indeed an old system, from the holy days of the Vedas, packed and sold as a new and traditional one.

A system is just as good as the people who run it. And Nepal didn’t run. It revived the age-old chakary, feudalism  with its countless spies and yes-men, middle-men who held out their hands for bribes, perks and amenities.

Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts, discrimination, injustice, bad governance became the nature of the day.

A big chasm appeared between the haves-and-have-nots. The social inequality, frustrated expectations of the poor led to a search for an alternative pole. The farmers were ignored, the forests and land confiscated, corruption, bad-governance and inefficiency became the rule of the day.

Even His Majesty’s servants went so far as to say: Raja ko kam, kahiley jahla gham.

This birthplace of the holy and enlightened Buddha and the Land of Pashupati, a land which King Birendra declared a Zone of Peace, through signatures of the world’s leaders was at war a decade long.

Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars for development aid, another 14 million dollars for insurgency relevant spendings, 5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA, 5,500 machine guns from Belgium.

Guns that were aimed at Nepali men, women and children in the mountains of Nepal. Alas, under the shade of the Himalayas, this corner of the world became volatile again.

People I knew changed sides, from Mandalay to Congress, from Congress to the Maobadis.

From Hinduism to Communism. Even Nepal’s bahuns vied with each other to become the first communists for there were important political positions to be given away to party-members. Ah, Dolpo and Silgadi, made unforgettable by Peter Mathiessen in his quest for his inner self, and his friend George Schaller’s search for the snow leopard, was where Nepali students wrote Marxist verses and acquired volumes from the embassies in Kathmandu: Kim Il Sung’s writings, Mao’s red booklet, Marx’s Das Kapital and Lenin’s works. They defended socialist ideas at His Majesty’s Central Hostel in Tahachal and elsewhere. This was the fruit of the scholarships given to Nepalese students by the Soviet government to later create a Russian-speaking elite in developing and least-developed countries, just the way the Brits had done with the Indians, Burmese, Malays and Africans in their former colonies.

I see their earnest faces, then with books in their arms, later with guns. Trigger-happy, boisterous and ready to fight to the end for a cause they cherish in their frustrated and fiery hearts: to do away with poverty, royalty, corruption, nepotism and capitalism and feudalism.

But weren’t these sons of Nepal misguided and blinded by the initially sweeping victories of socialism?

Even Gorbachov, the baldy man with a red forehead, pleaded for Peristroika, and Putin had shown his admiration for Germany, its culture and commerce.

Look at the old Soviet Union, and other East Bloc nations. They have all swapped sides and are EU and Nato members.

Globalisation has changed the world fast, but in Nepal time stands still. The blind beggar at the New Road gate sings: lata ko desh ma, gaddha tantheri. In a land where the tongue-tied live, the deaf desire to rule.

 

Oh my Nepal, quo vadis?

The only way to peace and harmony  is by laying aside the arms forever. Let there be no more bloodshed among the Nepalese and Gurkhas, and let no Gurkha raise his khukri against another’s throat. I know it’s wishful thinking in this Kali Yuga, this Age of  Darkness. I wanted my son to be an educated person with the pension earned by my husband, but he went his own way, following others like him in their youthful, capricious manners. He became a school dropout, joined the British Gurkhas in Dharan and away he was out in the wide world, across the Black Waters, as we call the Oceans. He wrote beautiful cards from Hong Kong, the Rhine towns and London. I felt so proud to have a son who wrote such lovely cards, I a Gurkha widow, withering in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Sometimes I ask myself, can Nepal afford to be the bastion of a movement and a government

that rides rough-shod over the lives and rights of fellow Nepalis? Can’t we learn from the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq? The people in the Hindukush must be suffering since centuries. The Pathans and Pashtoon chieftains fought even in the times of Queen Victoria and even before that. The British took their Gurkha troops to fight against the Afghans. A British captain wrote home to his parents: ‘You have no idea what fine little fellows the Goorkhas are. They actually do not know what fear is.’

Yes, this fearless attitude has been a boon to the Gurkhas but also the cause of death, which has made thousands of Gurkha mothers weep dearly. I dare not think about the mothers of the soldiers slain by our Gurkhas. The Gurkhas were our sons and when they were in battle they also had fear like any other soldiers. Piles of letters written by the Gurkhas in the battlefields were confiscated, censored and not sent to families and relatives in Nepal. The Gurkhas love their legends but behind these legends there’s also another story. The story of a soldier who was discriminated by his officers, cheated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). When a British Gurkha became an invalid or developed illness, he was shipped to Nepal as soon as possible, and didn’t enjoy the benefits of the NHS. Healthy Gurkhas were and are always good Gurkhas. The Royal Palace and the former Nepalese governments did little to assist the Gurkhas in their demands for equal pay in the British Army. In the Falkland War the Argentinians protested at the UNO that the Brits were using mercenaries to fight under the Union Jack. The British MoD replied that the Gurkhas were a part of the British Army. If they were a part of the British Army when had they been given only half the pay that a British Tommy got? Why weren’t the children of the Gurkhas given the right to learn and sit for the GCE examinations? Why were Gurkhas just sacked and sent home on the hire-and-fire principle? Perhaps because we Nepalese or Gurkhas haven’t put much emphasis on education and there are only a few Nepalese who are solicitors who can put the case of the Gurkhas forwards in the British, European or International courts.

Meanwhile, the Maobadis, as Maoists are called in Nepal, have been given a chance at the polls, like all other democratic parties, for the Maobadis are bahuns and chettris, be they Prachanda or Baburam Bhattrai, leaders who fought against monarchy and later even preferred to retain it in Nepal.

After the massacre of the Royals in the Narayanhiti Palace by Prince Dipendra, Birendra’s brother Gyanendra Shah ascended the throne in a blitz ceremony. What better chance for a constitutional monarch, a re-incarnated Vishnu, who held the executive, judiciary, legislative, spiritual and temporal powers in the shadow of the Himalayas to flourish again? The people thought otherwise, and the Nepalese Maoists marched into Kathmandu and the Valley became a scarlet sea.

 

* * *

 

 

The Gurkha with a khukri but no enemy, works not for his country but for the Queen of England since the times of Queen Victoria. Yet gets shot at in missions he doesn’t comprehend. Order is hukum, hukum is life and 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 and never fearing a loss. The loss of a mother’s son from the mountains of Nepal.

My grandpa died in Burma for the glory of the British. My husband in Mesopotemia, I honestly do not know against whom for no one did tell me. My brother fell in France, against the Teutonic hordes.

I pray everyday to Shiva of the Snows for peace and my son’s safety. My joy and my hope, as I do farming on a terraced slope. A son who helped wipe my tears and ease the pain in my mother-heart. I’m his frugal mother, who lives by the seasons and peers down to the valleys, year in and year out in expectation of my dear soldier son.

One fine day, two smart Gurkhas are underway, heard from across the hill with a shout, as is the communication-custom in our hilly country:

‘It’s an officer from his battalion and an orderly.’

A letter with a scarlet seal and two poker-faces.

‘Your son died on duty,’ said the blue-eyed and red-headed British officer, ‘keeping peace for the country and Her Majesty the Queen of England.’ The Gurkha orderly near him translated into Nepali.

A world crumbled down. I couldn’t bring myself to utter even a word. Gone was my son, my precious jewel. My only insurance and sunshine in the craggy hills of Nepal. And with him my dreams. A spartan life that kills.

Read Full Post »

Yours truly, Satis Shroff,Germany

Gainey: A Minstrel’s Songs of Love and Sorrow (Satis Shroff)

Go away, you maya.

Disappear.

Haunt me not

In my dreams..

What has become of my country?

———-

My Nepal, what has become of you?

Your features have changed with time.

The innocent face of the Kumari

Has changed to the blood-thirsty countenance

Of Kal Bhairab,

From development to destruction,

From bikas to binas.

A crown prince fell in love,

But couldn’t assert himself,

In a palace where ancient traditions still prevail.

Despite Eton college and a liberal education,

He chose guns instead of rhetoric,

And ended his young life,

As well as those of his parents

And other royal members.

An aunt from London aptly remarked,

‘He was like the terminator.’

Another bloodshed in a Gorkha palace,

Recalling the Kot massacre

Under Jung Bahadur Rana.

You’re no longer the same

There’s insurrection and turmoil

Against the government and the police.

Your sons and daughters

Are at war again.

Maobadis with revolutionary flair,

With ideologies from across the Tibetan Plateau

And Peru.

Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere,

Flourish in the Himalayas.

Demanding a revolutionary-tax

From tourists and Nepalis

With brazen, bloody attacks

Fighting for their own rights,

The rights of the bewildered

Common man.

Well-trained government troops at the orders

Of politicians safe in Kathmandu.

Leaders who despise talks and compromises,

Flexed their tongues and muscles,

And let the imported automatic salves speak their deaths.

Ill-armed guerrillas against well-armed Royal Gurkhas

In the foothills of the Himalayas.

Nepali children have no choice,

But to take sides

To take to arms

Not knowing the reason

And against whom.

The child-soldier gets orders

From grown-ups.

The hapless souls open fire.

Hukum is order,

The child-soldier cannot reason why.

Shedding precious human blood,

For causes they both hold high.

Ach, this massacre

In the shadow of the Himalayas.

Nepalis look out

Of their ornate windows,

In the west, east,

North and south Nepal

And think:

How long will this krieg go on?

How much do we have to suffer?

How many money-lenders, businessmen, civil servants,

Policemen and gurkhas do the Maobadis want to kill

Or be killed?

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

Till Kal Bhairab is pacified by the Sleeping Vishnu?

How many towns and villages in the seventy five districts

Do the Maobadis want to free from capitalism?

When the missionaries close their schools,

Must the Hindus and Buddhists shut their temples and shrines?

Shall atheism be the order of the day?

Not in Nepal.

It breaks my heart,

As I hear over the radio:

Nepal’s not safe for visitors.

Visitors who leave their money behind,

In the pockets of travel agencies,

Rug dealers, currency and drug dealers,

Hordes of ill-paid honest Sherpas

And Tamang porters.

Sweat beads trickling from their sun-burnt faces,

In the dizzy heights of the Dolpo,

Annapurna ranges

And the Khumbu glaciers.

Eking out a living and facing the treacherous

Icy crevasses, snow-outs, precipices

And a thousand deaths.

Beyond the beaten trekking paths

Live the poorer families of Nepal.

No roads,

No schools,

Sans drinking water,

Sans hospitals,

Where aids and children’s work prevail.

Lichhavis, Thakuris and Mallas have made you eternal

Man Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu,

After great victories over neighbouring states.

Amshu Verma was a warrior,

Who mastered the Lichavi Code.

He gave his daughter in marriage

To Srong Beean Sgam Po,

The ruler of Tibet,

Who also married a Chinese princess.

Jayastathi Malla ruled long and introduced

The system of the caste,

A system based on family occupation,

That became rigid with the tide of time.

Yaksha Malla,

The ruler of Kathmandu Valley,

Divided it into Kathmandu,

Patan and Bhadgaon

For his three sons.

It was Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha,

Who brought you together,

As a melting pot of ethnic diversities.

With Gorkha conquests that cost the motherland

Thousands of ears, noses and Nepali blood

The Ranas usurped the royal throne

And put a prime minister after the other

For 104 years.

104 years of a country in poverty

And medieval existence.

It was King Tribhuvan’s proclamation,

The blood of the Nepalis,

Who fought against the Gorkhas

Under the command of the Ranas,

That ended the Rana autocracy.

His son King Mahendra saw to it

That he held the septre

When Nepal entered the UNO.

The multiparty system

Along with the Congress party

Was banned.

Then came thirty years of Panchayat promises

Of a Hindu rule

With a system based on the five village elders,

Like the proverbial five fingers in one’s hand,

That are not alike,

Yet functioned in harmony.

The Panchayat government was indeed an old system,

Packed and sold

As a new and traditional one.

A system is just as good

As the people who run it.

And Nepal didn’t run.

It revived the age-old chakary,

Feudalism  with its countless spies and yes-men,

Middle-men who held out their hands

For bribes, perks and amenities.

Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts,

Discrimination, injustice, bad governance

Became the nature of the day.

A big chasm appeared

Between the haves-and-have-nots.

The social inequality,

Frustrated expectations of the poor

Led to a search for an alternative pole.

The farmers were ignored,

The forests and land confiscated,

Corruption and inefficiency became

The rule of the day.

Even His Majesty’s servants

Went so far as to say:

Raja ko kam,

Kahiley jahla gham.

The birthplace of Buddha

And the Land of Pashupati,

A land which King Birendra declared

A Zone of Peace,

Through signatures of the world’s leaders

Was at war again.

Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars

For development aid,

Another 14 million dollars

For insurgency relevant spendings

5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA

5,500 maschine guns from Belgium.

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

In the mountains of Nepal.

Alas, under the shade of the Himalayas,

This corner of the world became volatile again.

The educated people changes sides,

From Mandalay to Congress

From Congress to the Maobadis.

The students from Dolpo and Silgadi,

Made unforgettable by Peter Mathiessen

In his quest for his inner self

And his friend George Schaller’s search

For the snow leopard,

Wrote Marxist verses,

Acquired volumes

From the embassies in Kathmandu:

Kim Il Sung’s writings,

Mao’s red booklet,

Marx’s Das Kapital,

Lenin’s works,

And defended socialist ideas

At His Majesty’s Central Hostel

At Tahachal.

I saw their earnest faces,

With guns in their arms

Instead of books,

Boistrous and ready to fight

To the end

For a cause they cherished

In their frustrated and fiery hearts.

But aren’t these sons of Nepal misguided and blinded

By the seemingly victories of socialism?

Even Gorbachov pleaded for Peristroika,

And Putin admires Germany,

Its culture and commerce.

Look at the old Soviet Union,

Other East Bloc nations.

They have all swapped sides,

Are EU and Nato members.

Globalisation has changed the world fast,

But in Nepal time stands still

The blind beggar at the New Road gate sings:

Lata ko desh ma, gaddha tantheri.

In a land where the tongue-tied live,

The deaf desire to rule.

Oh my Nepal, quo vadis?

The only way to peace and harmony  is

By laying aside the arms.

Can Nepal afford to be the bastion

Of a movement and a government

That rides rough-shod

Over the lives and rights of fellow Nepalis?

Can’t we learn from the lessons

Of Afghanistan and Iraq?

The Maobadis were given a chance at the polls,

Like all other democratic parties.

Maobadis are bahuns and chettris,

Be they Prachanda or Baburam Bhattrai,

Leaders who’d prefer to be republicans

In the shadow of the Himalayas?

Shall the former Maobadis

Be regular soldiers?

Shall the Madeshis

And Paharis go asunder?

Where is the charismatic,

Unifying figure,

In Nepal’s political landscape?

My grandpa said:

“In Nepal even a child

Can walk the countryside alone.”

It’s just not true.

Not for a Nepalese,

Born with a sarangi in his hand.

I’m a musician,

One of the lower caste

In the Hindu hierarchy.

I bring delight to my listeners,

Hope to touch the hearts

Of my spectators.

I sing about love,

Hate and evil,

Kings and Queens,

Princes and Princesses,

The poor and the rich,

The Maoists and democrats,

Madeshis and Paharis,

And the fight for existence,

In the craggy foothills

And the towering heights

Of the Himalayas.

The Abode of the Snows,

Where Buddhist and Hindu

Gods and Goddesses reside,

And look over mankind

And his folly.

I was born in Tanhau,

A nondescript hamlet in Nepal,

Were it not for Bhanu Bhakta Acharya

Who was born here,

The poet who translated the Ramayana,

From high-flown Sanskrit into simple Nepali

For all to read.

I remember the first day

My father handed me a sarangi.

He taught me how to hold and swing the bow.

I was delighted with the first squeaks it made,

As I moved the bow on the taught horsetail strings.

It was as though my small sarangi

Was talking with me.

I was so happy,

I and my sarangi,

My sarangi and me.

Tears of joy ran down my cheeks.

I was so thankful.

I touched my Papa’s feet,

As is the custom in the Himalayas.

I could embrace the whole world.

My father taught me the tones,

And the songs to go with them,

For we gaineys are minstrels

Who wander from place to place,

Like gypsies,

Like butterflies in Spring.

We are a restless folk

To be seen everywhere,

Where people dwell,

For we live from their charity

And our trade.

The voice of the gainey,

The sad melody of the sarangi.

A boon to those who love the lyrics,

A nuisance to those who hate it.

Many a time, we’ve been kicked and beaten

By young people who prefer canned music,

From their ghetto-blasters.

Outlandish melodies,

Electronic beats you can’t catch up with.

Spinning on their heads,

Hip-hopping like robots,

Not humans.

It’s the techno, ecstasy generation

Where have all the old melodies gone?

The Nepalese folksongs of yore?

The song of the Gainey?

“This is globanisation,” they told me.

The grey-eyed visitors from abroad,

‘Quirays’ as we call them in Nepal.

Or ‘gora-sahibs’ in Hindustan.

The quirays took countless pictures of me,

With their cameras,

Gave handsome tips.

A grey-haired didi with spectacles,

And teeth in like a horse’s mouth,

Even gave me a polaroid-picture

Of me,

With my sarangi,

My mountain violin.

Sometimes I look my fading picture

And wonder how fast time flows.

My smile is disappearing,

Grey hair at the sides,

The beginning of baldness.

I’ve lost a lot of my molars,

At the hands of the Barbier

From Muzzafapur in the Indian plains,

He gave me clove oil

To ease my pain,

As he pulled out my fouled teeth,

In an open-air salon

Right near the Tribhuvan Highway.

I still have my voice

And my sarangi,

And love to sing my repertoire,

Even though many people

Sneer and jeer at me,

And prefer Bollywood texts

From my larynx.

To please their whims,

I learned even Bollywood songs,

Against my will,

Eavesdropping behind cinema curtains,

To please the tourists

And my country’s modern youth,

I even learned some English songs.

Oh money, dear money.

I’ve become a cultural prostitute.

I’ve done my Zunft, my trade,

An injustice,

But I did it to survive.

I had to integrate myself

And to assimilate

In my changing society.

Time has not stood still

Under the shadow of the Himalayas.

One day when I was much younger,

I was resting under a Pipal tree

When I saw one beautiful tourist girl.

I looked and smiled at her.

She caressed her hair,

And smiled back.

For me it was love at first sight.

All the while gazing at her

I took out my small sarangi,

With bells on my fiddle bow

And played a sad Nepali melody

Composed by Ambar Gurung,

Which I’d learned in my wanderings

From Ilam to Darjeeling.

I am the Sky

You are the Soil,

Even though we yearn

A thousand times,

We cannot be together.

I was sentimental that moment.

Had tears in my eyes

When I finished my song.’

The blonde woman sauntered up to me,

And said in a smooth voice,

‘Thank you for the lovely song.

Can you tell me what it means?’

I felt a lump on my throat

And couldn’t speak

For a while.

Then, with a sigh, I said,

‘We have this caste system in Nepal.

When I first saw you,

I imagined you were a fair bahun girl.

We aren’t allowed to fall in love

With bahunis.

It is a forbidden love,

A love that can never come true.

I love you

But I can’t have you.’

‘But you haven’t even tried,’

Said the blonde girl coyly.

‘I like your golden hair,

Your blue eyes.

It’s like watching the sky.’

‘Oh, thank you,

Danyabad.

She asked: ‘But why do you say:

‘We cannot be together?’

‘We are together now,’ I replied,

‘But the society does not like

Us gaineys from the lower caste.

The bahuns, chettris castes are above us.

They look down upon us.’

‘Why do they do that?’

Asked the blonde girl.

I spat out:

‘Because they are high-born.

We, kamis, damais and sarkis,

Are dalits.

We are the downtrodden,

The underdogs of this society

In the foothills of the Himalayas.’

‘Who made you what you are?’ she asked.

I told her: ‘The Hindu society is formed this way:

Once upon a time there was a bahun,

And from him came the Varnas.

The Vernas are a division of society

Into four parts.

Brahma created the bahuns

From his mouth.

The chettris who are warriors

Came from his shoulder,

The traders from his thigh

And the servants

From the sole of his feet.’

‘What about the poor dalits?’

Quipped the blonde foreigner.

‘The dalits fell deeper in the Hindu society,

And were not regarded as full members

Of the human race.

We had to do the errands and menial jobs

That were forbidden for the higher castes.’

‘Like what?’ she asked.

‘Like disposing dead animals,

Making leather by skinning hides

Of dead animals,

Cleaning toilets and latrines,

Clearing the sewage canals of the rich,

High born Hindus.

I am not allowed to touch a bahun,

Even with my shadow, you know.’

‘What a mean, ugly system,’ she commented,

And shook her head.

‘May I touch you?’ she asked impulsively.

She was daring and wanted to see how I’d react.

‘You may,’ I replied.

She touched my hand,

Then my cheeks with her two hands.

I found it pleasant and a great honour.

I joined my hands and said sincerely,

‘Dhanyabad.’

I, a dalit, a no-name, a no-human,

Had been touched by a young, beautiful woman,

A kuiray tourist,

From across the Black Waters:

Kalapani.

A wave of happiness and joy

Swept over me.

A miracle had happened.

Like a princess kissing a toad,

In fairy tales I’d heard.

Perhaps Gandhi was right:

I was a Child of God,

A Harijan,

And this fair lady an apsara.

She, in her European mind,

Thought she’d brought human rights

At least to the gainey,

This wonderful wandering minstrel,

With his quaint fiddle

Called sarangi.

She said in her melodious voice,

‘In my country all people are free and equal,

Have the same rights and dignity.

All humans have common sense,

A conscience,

And we ought to meet each other

As brothers and sisters.

I tucked my sarangi in my armpit,

Clapped my hands and said:

‘That’s nice.

Noble thoughts.

It works for you here, perhaps.

But it won’t work for me,’

Feeling a sense of remorse and nausea

Sweep over me.

About the Author:

Satis Shroff teaches Creative Writing at the University of Freiburg, and is the published author of three books on www.Lulu.com: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelgue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer. He also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany  in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (Lehrbeauftragter für Creative Writing, Albert Ludwigs Universität Freiburg). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

What others have said about the author:

Satis Shroff  writes with intelligence, wit and grace. (Bruce Dobler, Associate Professor in Creative Writing MFA, University of Iowa).

‘Satis Shroff writes political poetry, about the war in Nepal, the sad fate of the Nepalese people, the emergence of neo-fascism in Germany. His bicultural perspective makes his poems rich, full of awe and at the same time heartbreakingly sad. I writing ‘home,’ he not only returns to his country of origin time and again, he also carries the fate of his people to readers in the West, and his task of writing thus is also a very important one in political terms. His true gift is to invent Nepalese metaphors and make them accessible to the West through his poetry.’ (Sandra Sigel, Writer, Germany).

Brilliant, I enjoyed your poems thoroughly. I can hear the underlying German and Nepali thoughts within your English language. The strictness of the German form mixed with the vividness of your Nepalese mother tongue. An interesting mix. Nepal is a jewel on the Earths surface, her majesty and charm should be protected, and yet exposed with dignity through words. You do your country justice and I find your bicultural understanding so unique and a marvel to read.’ Reviewed by Heide Poudel in WritersDen.com 6/4/2007.

“The manner in which Satis Shroff writes takes the reader right along with him. Extremely vivid and just enough and the irony of the music. Beautiful prosaic thought and astounding writing.”
(Susan Marie, www.Gather.com

Read Full Post »

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.

——————————————————————————————————-

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

Read Full Post »

<!– @page { size: 21cm 29.7cm; margin: 2cm } P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm } –>

Oh, Kanchenjunga (Satis Shroff)

A splash of the crimson rays of the sun appeared on the tip of the 8598m Kanchenjunga Range. Then it turned into orange and was gradually bathed in a yellowish tint, becoming extremely bright. You could discern the chirping of the Himalayan birds in the surrounding bushes and trees, amidst the clicking of cameras. I was on Tiger Hill. But my thoughts were elsewhere.

I was thinking about Kanchenjunga, my Hausberg as we are wont to call it in Germany, and the former memories of my school-days in the foothills of the Himalayas. These mountains had moulded and shaped me to overcome odds, like other thousands of other Gorkhalis, Nepalese, Lepchas, Bhutanese, Tibetans and Indians, from both sides of the Himalayas. I have watched the Kanchenjunga ever since I was a child in its different moods and seasonal changes. Cloud-watching over the Kanchenjunga was always a fascinating pastime whether from Ilam, Sikkim or Darjeeling´s Tiger Hill or even Sandakphu. To the Sikkimese the Kanchenjunga has always been a sacred mountain, and on its feet are precious stones, salt, holy sciptures, healing plants and cereals. It is a thousand year belief and tradition that the Himalayas, the abode of the Gods, should not be sullied by the feet of mortals.

Oh Kanchenjunga, you have taught us Gorkhalis and Nepalis to keep a stiff upper-lip in the face of adversity created by humans in this world and to light a candle, rather than to curse the darkness. To adapt, share and assimilate, rather than go under when the going gets tough in foreign shores. The Himalayas have taught us to be resilient and to bear pain without complaining, to search for solutions and to keep our ideals high, and not to forget our rich culture, tradition and religious beliefs.

After a brisk drive through pine-forested areas and blue mountains, I was rewarded by a vision of the Kanchenjunga Massif in all its majesty. At Ghoom, which is the highest point along the Hill Cart road, we went to the 19th century Buddhist monastery, about 8km from Darjeeling. In the massive, pompous pagoda-like building with a yellow rooftop, was a shrine of the Maitree Buddha, with butter lamps and Buddhist scarves in gaudy scarlet, white and gold.

It was a feast for the eyes. Tibetan art in exile. You go through the rooms of the museum which has precious Buddhist literature, traditional Himalayan ritual masks and a numismatic collection in the centre of the room, with coins and currency from Tibet that were in circulation till 1959. A small friendly lama-apprentice posed for a photograph of the tourists. And another little Buddha,with jet-black hair, suddenly came up, behind a mask of a Tibetan demon with ferocious-looking teeth, and sprang in front of us to get photographed for posterity.

A blue coloured Darjeeling Himalayan train built in 1881 by Sharp, Steward & Co, Glasgow, chugged along on its way to Kurseong (Khar-sang), another hill station along the route from Darjeeling to Siliguri in the plains of India. There were young Gorkhali boys from Ghoom, having a jolly time, jumping in and out of the running toy-train, with the conductor shouting at them and doing likewise, and trying to nab one of them. But the Ghoom boys were far better and faster than the ageing, panting train-conductor, whose tongue almost hanged out of his red face. It was a jolly tamasha indeed. A spectacle for the passengers amidst the breath-taking scenery in tea-country.

I thought about my friend Harka, who used to live in Ghoom, and who was one of those boys during my school-days. The last I heard of him was when he and his dear wife invited yours truly and a student friend named Tekendra Karki, now a physician in Katmandu, to have excellent Ilam tea with Soaltee Oberoi sandwiches. Tek and I were doing our BSc then at Tri Chandra college in Katmandu.

Along the side of the mini railway track, reminiscent of the Schwabian Eisenbahn from Biberach , were groups of vendors of Tibetan origin selling used clothes, trinkets, belts, bags and most other accessoirs that you find being sold along the Laden La road, leading to Chowrasta in Darjeeling.

A short drive to the Batasia loop, where the blue train made a couple of loops during its descent to Darjeeling, and suddenly you saw the clouds above the silvery massif, rising languidly in the morning.

The families of the British officers used to retreat to the hills of Darjeeling, Simla, Naini Tal to escape from the scorching heat of the India summer, and carried out their social lives and sport under the shadow of the Himalayas. Cricket, polo, pony-riding,soccer. You can still go to the Gymkhana and do roller-skating, try out a Planter’s Punch and, of course, a First Flush or dust Darjeeling tea to suit your pocket. The Chogyal of Sikkim gave the hill-station Darjeeling to the British as a gesture of Friendship, for the Sikkimese fought with the British troops against the Nepalese in the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-15). The British government thanked the Chogyal of Sikkim and rewarded him with a handsome annual British pension. Didn’t he become a vassal of Great Britian after this act?

I went with my burly Gorkha school-friend Susil to Dow Hill via Kurseong, past the Tuberculosis sanatorium, in a World War II vintage jeep driven by a Gorkha named Norden Lama, who had blood-shot eyes and a whiff of raksi. There´s no promillen control (alcohol-on-wheels) in Darjeeling, and in the cold winter and rainy monsoon months it isn´t unusual to find jeep and truck-drivers stopping to take a swig of raksi, one for the road, to keep themselves warm. I must admit, I felt relieved when we reached our destination in one piece.

Driving along the left track of the autobahn at 150 km per hour is safe compared to all the curves that one has to negotiate along the Darjeeling trail on misty days. We were rewarded with excellent ethnic Rai-cuisine comprising dal-bhat-shikar cooked with coriander, cumin, salt, chillies, garlic, ginger and love. My school friend who´s a Chettri, a high caste Hindu, known for the ritual purity and pollution thinking, had married a Rai lady, much to the chagrin of his parents, but unlike Amber Gurung´s sad song “Ma amber huh, timi dharti,” they were extremely happy and had come together after the principle: where there´s a will, there´s a way. Or “miya bibi raaji, to kya kareyga kaji.”

As is the custom among Gorkhalis, we ritually washed our hands, sat down cross-legged, put a little food symbolically for the Gods and Goddesses, and relished our meal without talking. Talking during meals is bad manners in the Land of the Gorkhas, Nepal and the diaspora where the Gorkhalis and Nepalese live.Gorkhaland is a dream of people who cam from Nepal through migration to the British tea gardens, roads and toy-train workshops in Tindharia, and since the roads have gained importance after the British left and in the aftermath of the Indo-Chinese conflict in 1962, there was a need for the roads to be repaired by the Indian government and what better workers to hire in the foothills of the Himalayas than the sturdy, willing helpers of Nepalese origin who have lived in the area since generations.

Just as the government of Nepal under King Mahendra and Birendra carried out resettlement programms for the hill people who were eternally foraging for work in the plains (Terai) and India, the Bengal government did the same through its bureaucratic rules of transferring the Nepalese of Darjeeling district who had worked in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to the plains at Katihar and other places. It was a difficult transfer for the Gorkhalis, and they not only had to battle with the beastly and scorching sun of the the Indian plains but also had to learn to communicate in Hindi, Bihari, Bengali and English with the arrogant Bengalis.

On the other hand, the Bengali babus started coming in teeming numbers to the hills of Darjeeling fleeing from the plains of Calcutta, and delighted at the prospects of living in the hills of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong with perks and enjoying the fresh air and Nature, especially Kanchanjunga. The mountain took a new meaning for the Bengalis and Satyajit Ray was inspired to produce and direct a film with the title: Kanchenjunga. It became „Amar Konchonjonga” for the Bengalis.

And thereby hangs a tale.

Ode to Kanchenjunga from a Old Boy

Satis

I felt really “chuffed” when I saw your text on Radheshyam Sharma’s Blog, ” My School_ I wish “, asking after me. Yes I’m alive and kicking and have been settled in Perth since December 1972. Never too late to learn so this Bajay is grateful for the 77 years I’ve reached and blessed with good health and a close loving family and I’m still learning !

I am an ardent fan of your honest and ethical literary work and feel proud that I may have played a small part in it when I had to drum Nesfield’s Grammar et al into unreceptive heads. I pride myself in proclaiming that I have spent more than forty years in the place of my birth, Darjeeling and I have not been shaken in my love for the place and people in spite of the transformation I have seen on my visits. Your writing reenforces this and no one can take our Kunchenjunga from us.

You have done …Omnia Bene Facere

Matt Lobo

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »