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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

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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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