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(c) Art & Nepali poem by satisshroff

The way was long, the wind cold

The minstrel was infirm and old;

His withered cheek and tresses grey

Seemed to have known a better day

(Sir Walter Scott in ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’)

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 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,

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.

I remember my Papa saying to me:

‘My son, it was God Shiva

Who taught us humans music.

God Krishna plays the lute,

His Gopinis listen to him full of rapture.

Saraswati is always depicted with the sitar.

So you see, my son,

It was the Gods who taught us music.

You only have to listen

To Nature in the wee morning hours

Or at night,

You will hear glorious melodies

That you capture with your sarangi.

Your instrument becomes

The voice of Prakriti.

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 at 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:

“I was extremely delighted with Satis Shroff’s work. Many people write poetry for years and never obtain the level of artistry that is present in his work. He is an elite poet with an undying passion for poetry.” Nigel Hillary, Publisher, Poetry Division – Noble House U.K.

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 Earth’s 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.
Your muscles flex, the nerves flatter, the heart gallops,
As you feel how puny you are,
Among all those incessant and powerful waves.’

“Satis Shroff’s writing is refined – pure undistilled.” (Susan Marie, www.Gather.com

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Commentary on Tibet:

Dalai Lama’s Realpolitik: A Policy of Appeasement (Satis Shroff)

 

The Chinese poet Dong Guanfu writes in his blog: “We cannot win the heart of the Tibetans if we only develop their economy. If we cannot manage to understand this, then many other conflicts will follow. There’s no denying that one of the reasons of staging the Olympic Games is that we want to make money. But the greater value of the Games is to strengthen and rejuvenate the spirit of a nation. How many spiritual values can we convey by way of the Olympic torch? This is a question that has to be weighed by the whole Chinese folk, especially the ruling part members (in Beijing). ”

 

The Dalai Lama has threatened to resign as the political leader of the Tibetans in Tibet and the diaspora (USA, India, Nepal and Switzerland), but the protests within Tibet has been rising although Tibet has been hermetically sealed for foreign journalists, and the nabbed demonstrators have been put to show as terrorists, their own outmoded arms on display (Royal Enfield rifles from World War II), knives and a few cartridges. A young monk was shown on TV welcoming and thanking the Chinese Army soldiers as ‘saviours’ by putting the traditional khada scarves on their heads.

 

Never before was a farce staged so badly. It was sickening to watch it, propaganda at its worst. The foreign journalists were obliged to leave Lhasa so that the Chinese propaganda could function without democratic impediments. And the views that have emerged through Xinhuan and Chinese TV are conspicuous through their slanted reporting to the benefit of the rulers in Beijing. The selected foreign-press was invited to Lhasa but this time the younger generation of Tibetan lamas were shown in tears with the words in their mouths, “Tibet is not free!” You could only feel a numbness and a lump in your throat.

 

The world knew already in 2001 that Peking put not only the Tibetans under pressure but consequently cracked down on intellectuals and other Tibetan people, and went even so far as to hang them en masse as political criminals. It is ironical that the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Beijing. One hopes that this will be a lesson to the Olympic Committee, if they are ever in a dilemma of staging the Games in similar countries, where the rights of the individuals are suppressed, and human rights are trampled upon. This goes against the Olympic spirit. But the question of morality and ethics doesn’t seem to arise when political lobbyists are at work, and economic and commercial gains are also a part of the game, in this case, Games. The privileged party elite of Peking and the organisers of many western countries seem to have a common opinion as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, and they all come up with: how could be punish our own sportsmen and women by not letting them take part in the competitions? Think of the gold medal possibilities that might be lost.

 

A sportsman with ethos and integrity would be ashamed to take part in the competitions. Most of the organising and participating nations are against boycotting the Games “because it would damage the sport and the contestants (sic).” On the one side, we have competitors wanting to take part in the Games no matter what it costs. On the other side, there are the one-party organisers in Beijing who see the Tibetans as disturbing elements led by the Dalai Lama clique, although they know very well that this is a cheap lie, fabricated to suits their purpose. Thanks to the Olympic Games 2008, the Chinese elite are in the international limelight, and have been ignoring the critical views of the rest of the world’s leaders and world organisations, and using them for their own purposes. The march of the Chinese troops in Lhasa has shown the real face of China.

 

What are gold medals worth in terms of humanity? A dark shadow has been cast upon the Olympics 2008 and August is nearing, but Peking is adamant. It’s still playing the olde, hackneyed melody, instead of listening to the Tibetans and the conscience of the world that are demanding equal human rights and justice, tolerance and respect for China’s minorities. The sportsmen and women have got nothing to lose their fame in the form of gold medals and money from future sponsors, but the Tibetans and the Chinese have a lot to win in terms of human values, tolerance, compassion and togetherness—a Miteinander.

 

I met an old German lady yesterday on my way from downtown Freiburg and she said, “Herr Shroff, you should have seen the film about the Lhasa-Peking train in Fernsehen. It was fantastic. They even have oxygen-masks, like in the Airbus, for the passengers who feel weak. How thoughtful of them!”

 

It is a fact that China has opened to the economic benefits of the western world, but in the jurisprudence sector, China this big Asian giant, is still an underdeveloped country and more paragraphs on human and individual rights have yet to be added before China’s Communist Party can speak of equal rights like others in the comity of nations. China’s leaders have been keeping its own Han-folk in the dark through the usage of propaganda by treating the Tibetans who protest in public as criminals. But the worst part of this propaganda war is that the Han-Chinese have become gullible and actually believe the theatre that has all the while been presented by Xinhua and CCTV. Moreover, the Han-Chinese believe that they freed the poor Tibetans from slavery and feudalism. The reality is, however, complex, because the Tibetan folk have their own script, scriptures, their own history of development, their mentality, psyche, religion, traditions and rich culture. When you see a Tibetan monk or youth throwing stones, it is a metaphor of a David who is trying to raise his hand against a Goliath (Han-Chinese), and this protest has nothing to do with criminality in the ordinary sense of the word. The real crime was committed when Han-Chinese overran the Tibetan Plateau and robbed the Tibetans of their religion, language, culture and outlawed them after the principle: A good Tibetan is a Han-Tibetan.

 

There was a time when the Dalai Lama was a welcome guest, as the spititual and temporal ruler of Tibet, and he was feted by rich and poor alike, by academicians and statesmen. Even the town of Freiburg showed that we were in solidarity with him, his folk and his cause. Now we are silent when Tibet needs us. The Olympic spirit and Machtpolitik should not be allowed to go hand in hand. We have had parallels in Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980. The International Olympic Committee has made a terrible mistake in awarding Peking, at this stage of its power-politics, the privilege of staging the Olympic Games.

 

Come August and the Games are really staged in Beijing, this will be the unkindest cut for the people of Tibet, the peace-loving Dalai Lama, the man who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in Stockholm, lest we forget, by the western world. The Dalai Lama has been all along constantly following a pragmatic Realpolitik, for the only way to bring China to reason is through the practice of patience, far-sightedness, pragmatism and non-violence in the spirit of Gandhiji and Martin Luther King.

 

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying that China’s re-settlement policy is a “demographic aggression” and that China is a Police-State with “the rule of terror.” How are the Europeans reacting to all this? The EU Commissioner Ferrero Waldner threatened with an Olympia boycott and the EU foreign minister demanded that Peking should carry out a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. According to the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the EU foreign ministers want to invite the Dalai Lama to Brussels. The EU parliament has already extended its invitation to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. China’s Jiang Yu from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs naturally protested.

 

Tibet and China are an unequal brotherhood sealed by fate, destiny, kismet, history. Tibet was ignored for centuries but globalisation has caught up with Peking after the Han-Chinese marched into Lhasa and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee or face imprisonment.

 

It can only be hoped that the Beijing government gives up the path of brutal confrontation, does a bit of soul searching and turns to the peaceful path of conflict solution through dialogue at the same eye-level, and not from above-to-below with its minorities. Since the Chinese and Tibetans (government in exile at Dharamsala) obviously are not in a position to carry out talks together, it would be better if Beijing consented to talks with UN mediators.

 

There is no denying that the Olympic Games are a competitive festival of sports and cultures, but how can people of different cultures celebrate when war-tanks and the Chinese Army are holding the Tibetan folk back in Lhasa, “Jhokang-market, and people in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Tongren (Rebkong) in the province Qinghai? The situation is similar to 1989 when ten thausand Tibetans demonstrated against the Chinese regime.In those days Perking imposed military rule over Lhasa, and sent its People’s Army to the streets. Hundreds of monks were imprisoned, many were shot.

 

Today, a new generation of monks and Tibetan angry youth have grown up and are only trying to fight for their human rights, as members of Homo sapiens. Even the Dalai Lama spoke of more autonomy, mind you, within the framework of the Chinese constitution. What the Tibetans want are equal rights and freedom from the cultural domination of thousands of Han Chinese, who have been re-settled by Beijing’s policy makers with the result that the Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. This is certainly not what the Tibetans and the western world understand under ‘autonomy.’

 

For centuries Tibet was the ‘autonomous region’ of China. But the Tibetans have been deprived of their very autonomy with the creation of a Chinese governor. China has in the past regarded the Himalayan countries as its phalanx, and has fought fiercely against India in 1962 over the border areas. There’s a Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai atmosphere, as the two big South Asian powers vie with each other for economic and commercial gains and cooperation, as evident newly between the Indian and Chinese troops that took part in military exercises. I remember a similar military exercise at the invitation of the Indian Army. A Chinese general had been invited and the Indian Army demonstrated its fire-power. The Chinese general applauded the firepower of his neighbour, then added: “Wonderful, but can you produce this same firepower under Himalayan conditions?” And truly enough, in 1962 the Chinese troops had a better fire-power than the Indians and were no match for the thoroughly trained mountain divisions of China.

 

The Lingua franca of Tibet is not Tibetan now but Standard Chinese, for the Han Chinese are out to develop Tibet and its people culturally, economically, socially and psychologically after the motto: there’s no better culture than the Han culture.

 

In the Kindergardens and schools of Tibet most of the lessons are held in Chinese, and not Tibetan. If one speaks Tibetan, one risks losing one’s job. When the Tibetan parents speak with the teachers they are obliged to do so only in Chinese, even though they are Tibetans. If this isn’t cultural imperialism, then what is it?

 

Even though some athletes are showing character and personal integrity by protesting as individuals spontaneously, the majority, however, do want to take part in the Games. Like for instance the German spear-thrower Christina Obergföll who said: “The boycott would steal the chance of a lifetime.” The manager of Sabine Spitz (mountain-bike discipline) said: “The boycott will only punish the athletes.”

 

Beijing has to listen to the Dalai Lama and his followers in the West, and in Tibet, and take to dialogue, instead of playing the hardliner and condemning and slandering His Holiness and his ‘so-called clique.’ The former spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet has serious and sincere intentions as far as the future of Tibet is concerned The communist politicians in Beijing have to realise that the only way to peace and stability in this former poverty-stricken country of monks, farmers and nomads is not through the use of force (Gewalt) but through well-meant consessions through dialogue, and by raising the status of the Tibetans to that of the Han-Chinese, and letting and encouraging them to develop Tibet together, and not by regarding Tibet’s wonderful culture and religion as something inferior and exotic. We can all learn from Tibet’s rich culture. Beijing has more to gain if it follows the path of peace, tolerance and Miteinander (togetherness) instead of using cheap propaganda to stage a Peking Opera with Tibetans as the culprits, which no one with a conscience, character and integrity wants to see. The scenario is well-known in the western world and no propaganda in this world can help the Chinese government in this particular issue.

 

The Han and other Chinese have the chance to prove to the world that they can practice social welfare and social development by giving the Tibetans the same autonomy, same status as the other Chinese. Otherwise, Beijing’s political goals remain a farce, reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.

 

The Ocean of Wisdom (Satis Shroff)

 

Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual and former

Temporal ruler of Tibet,

Came to a town in the Black Forest

And conquered the hearts of the Freiburger.

A lama in a back limousine,

Applauded by hundreds of Europeans and Asians.

You could feel the goose-pimples in your body,

Tears of joy came to your eyes.

His Holiness prays and blesses

The Tibet Kailash Haus,

A thousand Tibetan prayer flags

Flutter merrily in the wind,

Carrying the mumbled words to Himmel.

 

At the Freiburger Town Council

Says the lama:

Nations, races, social classes

Even religions are secondary.

What is important is that

We are all human beings.

 

Even the sun breaks through the clouds

When Tenzin Gyatso folds his hands,

Smiles from the balcony,

And throws flying kisses

To the German masses.

Even Petrus seems to be smile in Heaven.

 

The Ambassador of Peace

Hopes for a peaceful change,

In Tibet, the Roof of the World,

Where the economy booms

Under the control of the Chinese,

But where democracy and human rights

Are still stifled.

 

I remember seeing His Holiness

As a child in the foothills of the Himalayas,

As he fled across the Abode of the Snows.

Crowds thronged with snow white khadas,

To greet the Dalai Lama.

And here was I in Germany

With my humble prayers,

And there His Holiness,

Blessing us all,

The personification of the Ocean of Wisdom.

 

A seventy-two year old monk,

With the charisma and spontaneity of a child.

A message which said:

Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist or atheist,

If you have compassion for humans,

You can’t be wrong.’

What counts are the inner values

Within us:

Love, forgiveness, tolerance and self-discipline.

Religions help us to make these values even stronger.

Like the inner love and dialogue,

Between a mother and a child,.

To create a Century of Dialogue.

 

 

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