ZEITGEIST POEMS I (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)
Wer den Dichter will verstehen
Muß in Dichters Lande gehen.
(Johann Wolfgang Goethe)
The Nepalese world that the Nepalese poets and writers describe and create is a different one, compared to the western one and in order to understand a Nepalese poet one has to visit his country. It is true that modern technology and globalisation have reached Kathmandu Valley and the bigger towns of the Himalayan Kingdom, but the world outside Kathmandu Valley still remains rural and untouched by modernity.
Now that the Maoists and the government forces of Nepal have decided to use political dialogue instead of weapons, the tourists have started coming to this Himalayan country to tread along the Jomsom, Langtang, Everst-trails and enjoy the scenery and tank fresh Himalayan air and do something for one’s wellness, for a trek in Nepal is still one of the best sports according to the US Medical Association.
However, in the rural areas of Nepal the traditional caste-system still prevails. Nepal still has immense problems in the socio-cultural, religious, economic sectors. The rampant corruption in all sectors, with special emphasis in politics, commercial and economic sectors has shaken the beliefs of generations of Nepalese. The much-proclaimed democracy initiated in 1990 hasn't been able to fulfil its promises, and Maoist communism is widespread in the count of Nepal, especially in western Nepal, where the people of tibeto-burman origin live, as though it were a panacea for all of this ailing nation's malady.
In the past in Solokhumbu, known for its Everest-trekking route, 300 maoists were killed by the police. According to some organisations at least 200,000 Nepalese have left their homes and another 1,8 million have sought refuge in other countries. Among them are Nepal’s intellectuals: politicians, civil servants, teachers, medical doctors, male and female nurses. Between 1996 and 2005 the Maoists killed 4,500 Nepalese and the Royal Nepalese Army and police killed 8,200 Nepalese. As time has shown us in the past, there is no genuine cure for all the problems of this country. Nepal's democracy has to learn to crawl before it can walk and after a decade of constitutional democracy, the nation is still in its infancy.
The incessant changes of governments and the rise of communism is irritating not only to the people within, but also the comity of aid-giving nations without. Despite the 40,000 NGOs and aid-giving agencies, Nepal still belongs to the Least Developed Countries. There’s definitely something wrong in this nature paradise.
It's always the travelling tourist, geologist, geographer, biologist, climber and ethnologist who writes about Nepal and its people, environment, flora and fauna. The Nepalis are mostly statists in these visit-Nepal-scenarios published in New York, Paris, Munich and Sydney and they are described through western eyes. But there have been generations of thinking and writing Nepalis, who were either educated in old Benares (Varanasi), in British Public Schools in Darjeeling and government schools and colleges in Nepal and India, who have written and published hundreds of books and magazines.
In Patan's Madan Puraskar Library alone, which Mr. Kamal Mani Dixit, Patan's Man of Letters, describes as the "Temple of Nepali language," there are 15,000 Nepali books and 3500 different magazines and periodicals about which the western world hasn't heard or read. A start was made by Michael Hutt of the School of Oriental Studies London, in his English translation of contemporary Nepali prose and verse in Himalayan Voices and Modern Nepali Literature. Now there are scores of websites: (www.nepalforum.com, www.wnso.org, www.nepalitimes.com, www.samudaya.org, www.himalkhabar.com, www.paradesh.com to name a few), helping writers and poets from Nepal to publish their works expediently and this is also a step in the direction of opening Nepal's literature to the German-speaking world in Germany, Austria, South Tirol and Switzerland.
If the Zeitgeist poems create sympathy and understanding of the Nepali psyche, culture, religion, living conditions and human problems in the Himalayan urban and rural environment in daily life, then they have achieved their goal. Some of the themes that have been dealt with in this collection are:
money-lender, struggle for democracy, Transition (When the Soul Leaves), the position of women in the Nepalese society (Mutter, Bombay Brothel, Nirmala: Between Terror and Ecstasy), the mountainous environment (The Lure of the Himalayas ), the struggle for existence, living as emigrants abroad (Muna Madan, Gibt es Hexen in Deutschland?), ideology and poverty (Mutter), the life of a soldier (Der Verlust einer Mutter), rabies-infection and death (Fatale Entscheidung), fantasy (Der Spinnenmensch, Die Ameisenkönigin), separation and emancipation (Santa Fe), problems of migration abroad and Fremdenhass (Mental Molotovs), tourismus (My Nightmare), alcoholism (The Professor’s Wife), violence (Krieg), neighbours (The Summer Heat) and love (A Sighing Blonde Princess, Without Words).
Satis Shroff has translated Nepali literature (prose and poems) by Nepali writers such as: Laxmiprasad Devkota (Muna Madan), Bhupi Sherchan, Banira Giri (Kathmandu), Bhisma Upreti, Krishna Bhakta Shrestha, Bal Krishna Sama (Ich Hasse & Auf der Suche nach Poesie), Abhi Subedi, Toya Gurung, Dorjee Tschering Lepcha (Die Ameisenkönigin & Der Spinnenmensch), Guruprasad Mainali (Der Martyrer), Krishna Bam Malla (Der Pfluger), Lekhnach Paudyal (Der Himalaya), Hridaya Singh Pradhan (Die Tränen von Ujyali), Shiva Kumer Rai (Der Preis des Fisches), Toya Gurung (Mein Traum), Binaya Rawal (Phulmayas Dasainfest), Abhi Subedi (Am Abend mit dem Auto), Bimal Nibha (Jumla), Jiwan Acharya (Der Bildhauer & Muglin) etc. into German.
These poems and prose are aimed at all readers and seeks to contribute towards appreciating the innermost thoughts, fears, delights, hopes and frustrations of the caste-bound, caste-ridden, purity and pollution obsessed high-caste Indo-aryan Nepalese, and the nonchalant but handicapped tribal Nepalese from different parts and walks of life.
Satis Shroff, Freiburg (c) 2007
A GURKHA MOTHER (Satis Shroff)
(Death of a Precious Jewel)
The gurkha with a khukri
But no enemy
Works for the United Nations
And yet gets shot at
In missions he doesn't comprehend.
Order is hukum, hukum is life
Johnny Gurkha still dies under foreign skies.
He never asks why
Politics isn't his style
He's fought against all and sundry:
Turks, Tibetans, Italians and Indians
Germans, Japanese, Chinese
Argentenians and Vietnamese.
Indonesians and Iraqis.
Loyalty to the utmost
Never fearing a loss.
The loss of a mother's son
From the mountains of Nepal.
Her grandpa died in Burma
For the glory of the British.
Her husband in Mesopotemia
She knows not against whom
No one did tell her.
Her brother fell in France,
Against the Teutonic hordes.
She prays to Shiva of the Snows for peace
And her son's safety.
Her joy and her hope
Farming on a terraced slope.
A son who helped wipe her tears
And ease the pain in her mother's heart.
A frugal mother who lives by the seasons
And peers down to the valleys
Year in and year out
In expectation of her soldier son.
A smart Gurkha is underway
Heard from across the hill with a shout
'It’s an officer from his battalion.
A letter with a seal and a poker-face:
"Your son died on duty", he says,
"Keeping peace for the country
And the United Nations".
A world crumbles down
The Nepalese mother cannot utter a word
Gone is her son,
Her precious jewel.
Her only insurance and sunshine
In the craggy hills of Nepal.
And with him her dreams,
A spartan life that kills.
gurkha: soldier from Nepalkhukri: curved knife used in hand-to-hand combathukum: Befehl/command/ordershiva: a god in Hinduism
--------------------------------------------------------------Der Verlust des Sohnes einer Mutter (Satis Shroff)
Der Gurkha mit einem gefährlichen KhukuriAber kein Feind in Sicht,Arbeitet für den UNO, und wird erschossenfür Einsätze, die er nicht begreift.Befehl ist Hukum, Hukum ist sein LebenJohnny Gurkha stirbt noch unter fremdem Himmel.Er fragt nie warumDie Politik ist nicht seine Stärke.Er hat gegen alle gekämpft:Türken, Tibeter, Italiener, und InderDeutsche, Japaner, Chinesen,Vietnamesen und Argentinier.Loyal bis ans Ende,Er trauert keinem Verlust nach.Der Verlust des Sohnes einer Mutter,Von den Bergen Nepals.Ihr Großvater starb in Birmas DschungelFür die glorreichen Engländer.Ihr Mann fiel in Mesopotamien,Sie weiß nicht gegen wen,Keiner hat es ihr gesagt.Ihr Bruder ist in Frankreich gefallen,Gegen die teutonische Reichsarmee.Sie betet Shiva von den Schneegipfeln anFür Frieden auf Erden, und ihres Sohnes Wohlbefinden.Ihr einzige Freude, ihre letzte Hoffnung,Während sie den Terrassenacker auf einem schroffen Hang bestellt.Ein Sohn, der ihr half,Ihre Tränen zu wischenUnd den Schmerz in ihrem mütterlichen Herz zu lindern.Eine arme Mutter, die mit den Jahreszeiten lebt,Jahr ein und Jahr aus, hinunter in die Täler schautMit Sehnsucht auf ihren Soldatensohn.Ein Gurkha ist endlich unterwegsMan hört es über den Bergen mit einem Geschrei.Es ist ein Offizier von seiner Batallion.Ein Brief mit Siegel und ein Pokergesicht„Ihren Sohn starb im Dienst“, sagt er lakonisch„Er kämpfte für den Frieden des LandesUnd für die Vereinigten Nationen“.Eine Welt bricht zusammenUnd kommt zu einem Ende.Ein Kloß im Hals der Nepali Mutter.Nicht ein Wort kann sie herausbringen.Weg ist ihr Sohn, ihr kostbares Juwel.Ihr einzige Versicherung und ihr Sonnenschein.In den unfruchtbaren, kargen Bergen,Und mit ihm ihre TräumeEin spartanisches Leben, das den Tod bringt.
THE AGONY OF WAR (Satis Shroff)
Once upon a time there was a seventeen year old boy
Who lived in the Polish city of Danzig.
He was ordered to join the Waffen-SS,
Hitler’s elite division.
Oh, what an honour for a seventeen year old,
Almost a privilege to join the Waffen-SS.
The boy said, “Wir wurden von früh bis spät
Geschliffen und sollten
Zur Sau gemacht werden.”
A Russian grenade shrapnel brought his role
In the war to an abrupt end.
That was on April 20, 1945.
In the same evening,
He was brought to Meissen,
Where he came to know about his Vaterland’s defeat.
The war was lost long ago.
He realised how an ordinary soldier
Became helpless after being used as a tool in the war,
Following orders that didn’t demand heroism
In the brutal reality of war.
It was a streak of luck,
And his inability to ride a bicycle,
That saved his skin
At the Russian-held village of Niederlausitz.
His comrades rode the bicycle,
And he was obliged to give them fire-support
With a maschine-gun.
His seven comrades and the officer
Were slain by the Russians.
The only survivor was a boy
Of seventeen named Grass.
He abandoned his light maschine-gun,
And left the house of the bicycle-seller,
Through the backyard garden
With its creaky gate.
What were the chances in the days of the Third Reich
For a 17 year old boy to understand the world?
The BBC was a feindliche radio,
And Goebbels’ propaganda maschinery
Was in full swing.
There was no time to reflect in those days.
Fürcht und Elend im Dritten Reich,
Wrote Bertold Brecht later.
Why did he wait till he was almost eighty?
Why did he torment his soul all these years?
Why didn’t he tell the bitter truth,
About his tragi-comical role in the war
With the Waffen-SS?
He was a Hitlerjunge,
A young Nazi.
Faithful till the end.
A boy who was seduced by the Waffen-SS.
His excuse:„Ich habe mich verführen lassen.
“The reality of the war brought
Endless death and suffering.
He felt the fear in his bones,
His eyes were opened at last.
Grass is a figure,
You think you know well.
Yet he’s aloof
And you hardly know him,
This literary titan.
He breathes literature
And political engagement.
In his new book: Beim Häuten der Zwiebeln
He confides he has lived from page to page,
And from book to book.
Is he a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
Dr. Freud and Mephistopheles,
In the same breast?
Grass belongs to us,
For he has spent the time with us.
It was his personal weakness
Not to tell earlier.
He’s a playwright, director and actor
Of his own creativeness.
His characters Oskar and Mahlke weren’t holy Joes.
It was his way of indirectly showing
What went inside him.
Ach, his true confession took time.
It was like peeling an onion with tears,
One layer after the other.
Better late than never.
--------------------------------------------------------------Works by Günter Grass: Surrealist poems Die Vorzüge der Windhühner 1956, grotesque plays Hochwasser 1956, Onkel-Onkel, Noch zehn Minuten bis Buffalo, Die bösen Köche 1957, original novel Die Blechtrommel 1959 (The Tin Drum), poems and drawings Gleisdreieck 1960, Hundejahre 1963, Die Plebjer proben den Aufstand 1966, Büchner Prize 1965, illustrated poems Ausgefragt 1967, third novel örtlich betäubt, play Davor, 1969 gesammelte Gedichte1971, Maria zuehren 1973, Liebe geprüft 1974, wie ich mich sehe 1980, fourth novel Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke 1972,a study of melancholy Melancholia I, lengthy novel Der Butt1977, Das Treffen in Telgte 1979, Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus 1980, Widerstand lernen, Politische Gegenreden 1980-1983, Aufsätze zur Literatur 1957-79 in 1980. Beim Häuten der Zwiebeln 2006.
KATHMANDU IS NEPAL (Satis Shroff)
There were two young men, brothersWho left their homes in the Eastern Himalayas.The older one, for his father had barked at him,“Go to Nepal and never come home again.”The younger, for he couldn’t bear the beatingsAt the hands of his old man.The older brother sobbed and stifled his sorrow and anger,For Nepal was in fact Kathmandu,With its colleges, universities, Education Ministry,Temples, Rana-palaces and golden pagodasIts share of hippies, hashish, tourists,Rising prices and expensive rooms to rent.The younger brother went to Dharan,And enlisted in the British Army depotTo become a Gurkha,A soldier in King Edwards Own Gurkha Rifles.He came home the day became a recruit,With a bald head, as though his father had died.He looked forward to the parades and hardshipsThat went under the guise of physical exercises.He thought of stern, merciless sergeants and corporalsOf soccer games and regimental drillsA young man’s thrill of war-films and ScotchAnd Gurkha-rum evenings.He’d heard it all from the Gurkhas Who’d returned in the Dasain festivals.There was Kunjo Lama his maternal cousin,Who boasted of his judo-prowess And showed photos of his British gal,A pale blonde from Chichester In an English living-room.----------------------------------------------------------------A METAPHOR IN THE EVENING SKY (Satis Shroff)
It was a glorious sunset,
The clouds blazing in scarlet and orange hues,
As the young man, riding on the back of a lorry,
Sacks full of rice and salt,
Stared at the Siwaliks and Mahabharat mountains
Dwindling behind him.
As the sun set in the Himalayas,
The shadows grew longer in the vales.
The young man saw the golden moon,
Shining from a cloudy sky.
The same moon he’d seen
On a poster in his uncle’s kitchen
As he ate cross-legged his dal-bhat-shikar
After the hand-washing ritual.
Was the moon a metaphor?
Was it his fate to travel to Kathmandu,
Leaving behind his childhood
Friends and relatives in the hills,
Who were struggling for their very existence,
In the foothills of the Kanchenjunga,
Where the peaks were not summits to be scaled,
With or without oxygen,
But the abodes of the Gods and Goddesses.
A realm where bhuts and prets, boksas and boksis,
Demons and dakinis prevailed.
Gurkhas: Nepali soldiers serving in Nepalese, Indian and British armies
Dal-bhat: Linsen und Reis
Bhuts and prets: Demonen und Geister
Boksas und Boksis: männliche und weibliche Hexen
OH, ARCHANA (Satis Shroff)
Archana came from Kirtipur,
The hill of the noseless and earless.
She was a Vajracharya woman
Of the priest caste.
She spoke a language
Full of sweet monosyllables.
A young woman with fine features,
She could stare at one
And see through to the depths of one’s heart.
Raj was a Chettri from the Eastern hills,
With a sacred thread on his neck,
From the warrior and noble caste.
They loved each other in the Nepalese way,
Talking with their eyes and hearts.
Never in physical ecstasy,
Always platonic and united in dreams.
No rumbas, no slow fox.
Just the sweet odour of her hair and neck
In moments of stolen darkness
In a movie hall,
With two hundred curious eyes,
Focused on the Bollywood silver screen.
Or was it on their necks?
TWO LOVERS (Satis Shroff)
The two were through with their colleges.She chose to study at Tribhuvan university.He was awarded a scholarship to Germany.She said, ‘But no one is forcing youTo study abroad. I fear that it’ll take years.Perhaps you won’t come to Nepal.’On the day of his departureShe appeared alone at the Tribhuvan airport,With a ritual silver copper plate:Scarlet yoghurt tika, beetle nuts, spices,A garland of lotus flowers and sweet meat.A traditional Nepalese farewell.Years later came a letter from Nepal.A physician friend wrote:‘Dear Raj,Archana of Kirtipur has marriedA Brahmin businessman from Pokhara.Sorry to bring you this sad news.Sincerely,Ashoke Sakya.’‘I’m sad today,’ said Raj,As he hid his faceIn his blonde fiancee’s shoulder.
SANTA FE (Satis Shroff)
A German professor wooed me
And said I could still do my creative writing
If, and when, I married him.
I said 'Ja' and gave birth to five children,
And had no time to write.
I was forever cooking, changing napkins,
Applying creams on the baby's bottom,
Cooking meals and washing,
For seven family members,
Feeding and nursing the small ones,Praising and caressing the bigger ones.I had snatches of thoughts for my writing.But they evaporated into thin air.Lost were my intellectual gems,Between sunrise and sunset.The family was too much with me.One day I left for Santa Fe,The one place where I felt free.Free to think and sort out my thoughts,And watch them grow in my laptop.
THE BROKEN POET (Satis Shroff)
I was the president of the Nepali Literary Society
And my realm was a small kingdom,
Of readers and writers in the foothills of the Himalayas.
I came a long way,Having started as an accountant of His Majesty’s government.I was a Brahmin and married a Chettri woman,Pretty as a Bollywood starlet.It flattered my masculinity,For she was a decade younger than I.I took up writing late and managed to publish a few poems.They said my verses were bad and received many reject slips.By chance I ran into a gifted young man,Who became my ghost writer.He’d write wonderful verses and short-stories in my name.I became prolific and prominent.Till my ghost-writer ran away with my young wife.After a bout of liver cirrhosis.The Gurkha rum and expensive ScotchGot the better of me.I kept a stiff upper-lip till the bitter end.Glossary:Bahun / Chettri: high caste Hindus in NepalBollywood: India’s Hollywood, located in Bombay (Mumbai)Gurkha: Soldier from Nepal
In the Shadow of the Himalayas (Satis Shroff)
My Nepal, what has become of you?Your features have changed with time.The innocent face of the KumariHas changed to the blood-thirsty countenance of Kal Bhairab,From development to destruction,You’re no longer the same.There’s insurrection and turmoilAgainst the government and the police.Your sons and daughters are at war,With the Gurkhas again.Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere,Flourish in the Himalayas.With brazen, bloody attacksFighting for their communist rights,And the rights of the bewildered common man.The Nepalese child-soldier gets orders from grown-upsAnd the hapless souls open fire.The child-soldier cannot reason,Shedding precious human blood.Ach, this massacre in the shadow of the Himalayas.We can only hope for peace.Om shanti,Om.*****The Sleeping Vishnu (Satis Shroff)Nepalese men and womenLook out of their ornate windows,In west, east, north and south NepalAnd think:How long will this krieg go on?How much do we have to suffer?How many money-lenders, businessmen,Civil servants, policemen,Gurkhas Do the Maobadis want to killOr be killed?How many men, women, boys and girlsHave to be mortally injuredTill Kal Bhairab is pacifiedBy the Sleeping Vishnu?Our fervent prayers have been heard.May there be peace in the Kingdom.
FROM LICHHAVIS TO RANAS (Satis Shroff)
Lichhavis, Thakuris and Mallas have made you eternalMan Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu,After great victories over neighbouring states.Amshu Verma was a warrior and mastered the Lichavi Code.He gave his daughter in marriage to Srong Bean 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 motherlandThousands of ears, noses and Nepalese blood.The intrigues and tragedies in the palace went on unabated.The Ranas usurped the royal throneAnd put a prime minister after the other for 104 years.104 years of poverty, isolation and medieval existence.Times have changed.Aren’t we a constitutional monarchy again?
PANCHAYAT PROMISES (Satis Shroff)
Thirty years of Panchayat promises of an ancient 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 function in harmony.
The Panchayat government was 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 handsFor bribes, perks and amenities.Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts,Discrimination, injustice, bad governanceBecame the nature of the day.A big chasm appeared between the haves-and-have-nots.The social inequality, frustrated expectations of the poorLed 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.
VOLATILE HIMALAYAS (Satis Shroff)
The birthplace of BuddhaAnd the Land of Pashupati,A land which King Birendra declared a Zone of Peace,Through signatures of the world’s leadersWas at war till recently.Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars for development aid,Another 14 million dollars for insurgency relevant spendings5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA5,500 maschine guns from Belgium.Guns that were aimed at Nepali men, women and children,In the mountains of Nepal.Gott sei Dank, th under the shade of the Himalayas,This corner of the world is volatile again.
GUNS INSTEAD OF BOOKS (Satis Shroff)
My academic friends have 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 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,
And defended socialist ideas
At His Majesty’s Central Hostel in Tahachal.
I see their earnest faces, with guns in their arms
Instead of books,
Boisterous and ready to fight to the end
For a cause they cherish 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, and other East Bloc nations.
They have all swapped sides and are EU and Nato members.----------------------------------------
TIME STANDS STILL IN NEPAL (Satis Shroff)
Globalisation has changed the world fast,
But in Nepal time stands still.
The blind beggar at the New Road gate sings:
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
To lay 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, Romania,Poland, East Germany and Iraq?
The Maobadis are getting 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 have no choice but to retain monarchy in Nepal.
Hush, an unholy alliance has made the rounds,
The political parties and the Maoists are united
And are rattling their sabres under Vishnu’s bed of serpents.
Will Narad bring us good news?
Shall we huddle and shiver together in angst,
And do what the British do?
Wait, watch and drink Ilam tea. ___________________________________
MY TORMENTED SOUL (Satis Shroff)
I dream of a land far away.A land where a king rules his realm,Where the peasants plough the fields,That don’t belong to them.A land where a woman gathersWhite, red, yellow and crimsontablets and pills,From the altruistic world tourists who come her way.Most aren’t doctors or nurses,But they distribute the pills,With no second thoughts about the side-effects.The woman possesses an arsenal,Of potent pharmaceuticals.She can’t read the finely printed alien instructions,For she can neither read nor write.The very thought of her giving the bright pills and tabletsTo another ill Nepalese child or mother,Torments my soul.How ghastly this thoughtless worldOf educated trekkers who give medical alms,Play the macabre role of physiciansIn the amphitheatre of the Himalayas.
BOMBAY BROTHEL (Satis Shroff)
‘You’re not going to get away this time.And you’ll never ever bring a Nepalese childTo a Bombay brothel,’ I said to myself.I’d killed a man who’d betrayed meAnd sold me to an old, cunning Indian woman,Who ran a brothel in Bombay’s Upper Grant Road.I still see the face of Lalita-bai,Her greedy eyes gleaming at the sight of rich Indian customers.I hear the eternal video-music of Bollywood.The man I’d slainHad promised to give me a job,As a starlet in Bollywood.I was young, naïve and full of dreams.He took me to a shabby, cage-like room,Where three thugs did the rest.They robbed my virginity,Thrashed me, put me on drugs.I had no control over my limbs,My torso, my mind.It was Hell on earth.******A BAD BOLLYWOOD FILM (Satis Shroff)I was starring in a bad Bollywood film,A lamb that had been sacrificed,Not to the Hindu Gods,But to Indian customers and pimpsFrom all walks of life.What followed were five years of captivity,Rape and molestation.I pleaded with tears in my eyesTo the customers to help me out of my misery.They just shook their heads and beat me,Ravished me and threw dirty rupees at my face.I never felt so ashamed, demeaned,Maltreated in my young life.One day a local doctor with a lab-reportTold Lalita-bai that I had aids.From that day on I became an outcast.I was beaten and bruised,For a disease I hadn’t asked for.I felt broken and wretched.I returned to Nepal, my homeland.I lived like a recluse,Didn’t talk to anyone.I worked in the fields,Cut grass and gathered firewood.I lost my weight.I was slipping.Till the day the man who’d ruinedMy life came in search of new fleshFor Bombay’s brothels.I asked the man to spend the night in my house.He agreed readily.I cooked for him, gave him a lot of raksi,Till he sang and slept.It was late at night.I knew he’d go out to the toiletAfter all that drinking.I got up, took my naked khukriAnd followed him stealthily.The air was fresh outside.A mountain breeze made the leavesEmit a soft whispering sound.I crouched behind a bush and waited.He murmured drunkenly ‘Resam piri-ri.’As he made his way back,I was behind him.I took a big step forwards with my right foot,Swung the khukri bladeAnd hit him behind his neck.I winced as I heard a crack,Flesh and bone giving in.A spurt of blood in the moonlight.He fell with a thud in two parts.His distorted head rolled to one side,And his body to the other.My heart was racing.I couldn’t almost breathe.I sat hunched like all women do,Waited to catch my breath.The minutes seemed like hours.I got up, went to the dhara to wash my khukri.I never felt so relieved in my life.I buried him that night.But I had nightmares for the rest of my life.Glossary:khukri: curved multipurpose knife often used in Nepali households and by Gurkha regiments as a deadly weapon.Dhara: water-sprout in the hills.Resam piri-ri: a popular Nepali folksong heard often along the trekking-trails of Annapurna, Langtang and Everest.Bollywood: India’s Hollywood
When Mother Closes Her Eyes (Satis Shroff)
When mother closes her eyes,
She sees everything in its place
In the kingdom of Nepal.
She sees the highest building in Kathmandu,
The King’s Narayanhiti palace.
It looms higher than the dharara,
Swayambhu, Taleju and Pashupati,
For therein lives Vishnu,
Whom the Hindus call:
The unconquerable preserver.
The conqueror of Nepal?
No, that was his ancestor Prithvi Narayan Shah,
A king of Gorkha.Vishnu is the preserver of the world,
With qualities of mercy and goodness.
Vishnu is all-pervading and self-existent,
Visits the Nepal’s remote districts
In a helicopter with his consort and militia.
He inaugurates building s.
Factories and events.
Vishnu dissolves the parliament too,
For the sake of his kingdom.
His subjects and worshippers are, of late, divided.
Have Ravana and his demons besieged his land?
When mother opens her eyes,
She sees Vishnu still slumbering
On his bed of Sesha, the serpent
In the pools of Budanilkantha and Balaju.
Where is the Creator?
When will he wake up from his eternal sleep?
Only Bhairab’s destruction
O the Himalayan world is to be seen.
Much blood has been shed
Between the decades and the centuries.
The mound of noses and ears
Of the vanquished at Kirtipur,
The shot and mutilated at the Kot massacre,
The revolution in front of the Narayanhiti Palace,
When Nepalese screamed and died for democracy.
And now the corpses of the Maobadis,
Civilians and Nepalese security men.
Hush! Sleeping Gods should not be awakened.
LIFE IS A COSMIC DANCE (Satis Shroff)
My soul is a passionate dancer.
I hear music where ever I am,
Whatever I do.
I hear the lively rhythm beckoning me to dance.
Sometimes it violins and Vienna waltz.
At other times a fiery salsa.
A Punjabi bhangra or a slow fox.
Life is a cosmic dance.
With its kampfmuster
And its own choreography.
We have people around us.
We look at each other,
Oblivious of the others.
Drawn together by an invisible force.
The Flamenco guitarist wails,
‘Life is an apple:
And throw it away.’
Patchwork Kaleidoscope (Satis Shroff)
What’s happening around us?
Lovers getting united,
Only to be separated.
Champagne glasses are raised.
We look deep into our eyes,
Our very souls.
There are reunions
But with other partners and families.
With tormented and bewildered children.
Marriages between gays and lesbians,
Adopted children to give the new bond
A family touch.
A colourful kaleidoscope unfurls before our eyes.
Do we know enough about relationships?
You and me.
Me and you.
Till death do us part?
Or till someone enters your or my life,
And takes my breath away.
A DISRUPTED LIFE (Satis Shroff)
I bought some buns and bread at the local bakery
And met our elderly neighbour Frau Nelles
She looked well-dressed and walked with a careful gait,
Up the Pochgasse having done her errands.
She greeted in German with ‘Guten morgen.’
Sighed and said, ‘Wissen Sie,
I feel a wave of sadness sweep over me.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Today is our wedding anniversary.’
‘Is it that bad?’ I whispered.
‘Yes,’ she replied.
‘My husband just stares at me
And says nothing,
He has that blank expression on his face.
This isn’t the optimistic, respected philology professor
I married thirty years ago.
He forgets everything.
Our birthdays, the anniversaries of our children,
My husband has Alzheimer.
Es tut so weh!
Our double bed isn’t a bed of roses anymore,
It’s a bed of thorny roses.
I snatch a couple of hours of sleep,
When I can.
I don’t have a husband now,
I have a child,
That needs caring day and night.
I’ve become apprehensive.
I have angst.
I’m concerned when he coughs
Or when he stops to breathe.
He snores again,
And keeps me awake.
Has prostrate problems,
And is fragile.
Like Shakespeare aptly said:
‘Care keeps his watch in every old (wo)man’s eye,
And where care lodges, sleep will never lie.’
Neither can I live with myself,
Nor can I bring him to a home.
Guten morgen: good morning
Es tut so weh!: It pains such a lot
Home: Altersheim, home for old people
A Walk Through the Graveyard (Satis Shroff)
On the way to the gym hall with my children,
We go through a cemetery.
Julian hides between the tombstones,
Only to show up in front of us with a grin.
Elena hums “Gottes Liebe ist so wunderbar.”
A song she picked up at her catholic Kindergarden.
She asks suddenly,
‘Papa, what happens when one dies?’
Glossary:Gottes Liebe ist so wunderbar: God's love is so wonderful
EAST AND WEST (Satis Shroff)
As the Breisgau-train dashes in the Black Forest,
Between Elztal and Freiburg,
I am with my thoughts in South Asia.
I hear the melodious cry of the vendors:
‘Pan, bidi, cigarette,’
Interspersed with ‘garam chai!
The sound of sambosas bubbling in vegetable oil,
The rat-ta-tat of onions, garlic and salad
Being rhythmically chopped in the kitchen,
Mingled with the ritual songs of the Hindus.
The voices of uncles, aunts, cousins
Debating, discussing, gesticulating, grimacing
In Nepali, English, Newari, Hindi and Sindhi.
I head for Swayambhu,
The hill of the Self-Existent One.
Om mane pame hum stirs in the air,
As a lama passes by.
I’m greeted by cries of Rhesus monkeys,
Pigeons, mynahs, crows,
And the cracks of automatic guns
Of the Nepalese Army.
I glance at the commuters in the train:
Blonds, brunettes, German fellow-citizens,
Black, red and gold stripes on their faces.
All with great expectations:
Will Germany be the world champion?
CATCHY RHYTHMS (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)
There’s a brodelndes Miteinander,
Different sounds, natural sounds,
I hear Papa listening to classical ragas.
We, his sons and daughters,
Dancing the twist, rock n’ roll, jive to Cool Britania,
The afternoon programme of the BBC.
Catchy Bollywood wechsel rhythms,
Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle,
Rafi, Mukesh and Kishor Kumar.
In the evenings after Radio Nepal’s External Service,
Radio Colombo’s light Anglo-American melodies:
Dean Martin’s drunken schmaltz,
Billy Fury, Cliff Richards, Rickey Nelson,
And Sir Swivel-hip, Elvis Presley
Wailing ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.’
Out in the streets the songs of the beggars,
‘Amai, paisa deo,
Babai khanu chaina,’
Overwhelmed by the cacaphony
Of the obligatory marriage brass-band,
Wearing shocking green and red uniforms.
A tourist wired for sound walks by,
With a tortured smile on his face,
An acoustic agitation for an i-Pod listener,
Who prefers his own canned music.
From a side street you discern the tune
Of ‘Rajamati kumati’ rendered by a group
Of Jyapoo traditional musicians,
After a hard day’s work,
In the wet paddy fields of Kathmandu.
Near the Mahabaoudha temple you see
Young Sherpas, Thakalis, Tamangs, Newars
Listening, hip-hopping and break-dancing
To their imported ghetto-blasters:
Michel Jackson’s catchy tunes,
Eminem, 2 Pac, Madonna, 50 Cents.
A WORLD FULL OF MUSIC (Satis Shroff)
The whole world is full of music,
Making it, feasting on it,
Dancing and nodding to it.
I remember the old village dalit,
From the caste of the untouchables,
Who’d come and beat his big drum,
Before he proclaimed the decision
Of the five village elders.
Everyone hears music, everyone makes music,
With or without music instruments,
Humming the latest Bollywood tunes,
Drumming on the tables, wooden walls,
Boxes, crates, thalis, saucers and pans.
Everyone’s engaged in singing and dancing.
The older people chanting bhajans and vedic songs,
Buddhist monks reciting from the sutras in sonorous voices,
When someone dies in the neighbourhood.
Entire nights of prayers for the departed soul.
THE MUSIC OF LIFE (Satis Shroff)
I remember the beautiful music
From the streets of Bombay,
Where I spent the winters during my school-days.
Or was it musical noise?
Unruhe, panic and flight for some,
It was the music of life for me
In that tumultuous, exciting city.
When the sea of humanity was too much for me,
I could escape by train to the Marine Drive,
And see and hear the music of the breakers,
The waves of the Arabian Sea
Splashing and thrashing
Along the coast of Mumbai.
Your muscles flex, the nerves flatter,
The heart gallops,
As you feel how puny you are,
Among all those incessant and powerful waves.
THE DIALOGUE OF CULTURES
(Satis Shroff, Freiburg)
Music has left its cultural confines.You hear the strings of a sitarMingling with big band sounds.Percussions from AfricaAccompanying ragas from Nepal.A never-ending performance of musiciansFrom all over the world.Bollywood dancing workshops at Lörrach,Slam poetry at Freiburg’s Atlantic inn.A didgeridoo accompaning Japanese drumsAt the Zeltmusik festival.Tabla and tanpura involved in a musical dialogue,With trumpet and saxaphone,Argentinian tango and Carribian salsa,Fiery Flamenco dancers dancing With classical Bharta Natyam dancers,Mani Rimdu masked-dancers accompanied By a Tibetan monastery orchestra,And shrill Swiss piccolo flute tunes and drummers.I reach my destination With the green and white Breisgaubahn,Get off at Zähringen-Freiburg.The Black Forest looks ravishing,For it’s Springtime.As I walk past the Café Bueb, the Metzgerei,The St. Blasius church bells begin to chime.I see Annette’s tiny garden with red, yellow and white tulips,‘Hallochen!’ she says with a broad, blonde smile.I walk on and admire Frau Bender’s cherry-blossom tree,Her pensioned husband nods back at me.And in the distance, a view of the Schwarzwald. As I approach my home,I hear the sound of Schumann’s sonate number 3,Played by Vladimir Horowitz.That’s harmony for the heart.I know I’m home abroad.
Wechselrhythmus: changing rhythms
Bahn: trainMumbai: Bombay
Bueb: small male child
Chen: Verniedlichung, like Babu-cha in Newari
Schwarzwald: The Black Forest of south-west Germany
THE LURE OF THE HIMALAYAS (Satis Shroff)
500 years ago near the town of Kashgar,
I, a stranger in local clothes was captured
By the sturdy riders of Vali Khan.
What was a stranger
With fair skin and blue eyes,
Looking for in Vali Khan’s terrain?
I, the stranger spoke a strange tongue.
‘He’s a spy sent by China.
Behead him,’ barked the Khan’s officer.
I pleaded and tried to explain
My mission in their country.
It was all in vain.
On August 26, 1857 I, Adolph Schlagintweit,
A German traveller, an adventurer,
Was beheaded as a spy,
Without a trial.
I was a German who set out on the footsteps
Of the illustrious Alexander von Humboldt,
With my two brothers Hermann and Robert,
From Southhampton on September 20,1854
To see India, the Himalayas and Higher Asia.
The mission of the 29000km journey
Was to make an exact cartography
Of the little known countries,
Sans invitation, I must admit.
In Kamet we reached a 6785m peak,
An elevation record in those days.
We measured the altitudes,
Gathered magnetic, meteorological,
And anthropological data.
We even collected extensive
Botanical, zoological and ethnographic gems.
Hermann and I made 751 sketches,
Drawings, water-colour and oil paintings.
The motifs were Himalayan panoramas,
Single summits, glacier formations,
Himalayan rivers and houses of the natives.
Padam valley, near the old moraine
Of the main glacier at Zanskar in pencil and pen.
A view from Gunshankar peak 6023 metres,
From the Trans-Sutlej chain in aquarelle.
A European female in oriental dress in Calcutta 1855.
Brahmin, Rajput and Sudra women draped in saris.
Kristo Prasad, a 35 year old Rajput
Photographed in Benaras.
An old Hindu fakir with knee-long rasta braids,
Bhot women from Ladakh, snapped in Simla.
Kahars, Palki-porters from Bihar,
Hindus of the Sudra caste.
A Lepcha armed with bow and arrows,
In traditional dress up to his calves
And a hat with plume.
Kistositta, a 25 year old Brahmin from Bengal,
Combing the hair of Mungia,
A 43 year old Vaisa woman.
A wandering Muslim minstrel Manglu at Agra,
With his sarangi.
A 31 year old Ram Singh, a Sudra from Benaras,
Playing his Kolebassen flute.
And thatched Khasi houses at Cherrapunji
The precious documents of our long journey
Can be seen at the Alpine Museum Munich.
Even a letter,
Sent by Robert to our sister Matilde,
Written on November 2, 1866 from Srinagar:
We travelled a 200 English mile route,
Without seeing a human being,
Who didn’t belong to our caravan.
Besides our horses, we had camels,
The right ones with two humps,
Which you don’t find in India.
We crossed high glacier passes at 5500m
And crossed treacherous mountain streams.’
My fascination for the Himalayas
Got the better of me.
I had breathed the rare Himalayan air,
And felt like Icarus.
I wanted to fly higher and higher,
Forgetting where I was.
My brothers Hermann and Robert left India
By ship and reached Berlin in June,1857.
I wanted to traverse the continent
Disregarding the dangers,
For von Humboldt was my hero.
Instead of honour and fame,
My body was dragged by wild riders in the dust,
Although I had long left the world.
A Persian traveller, a Muslim with a heart
Found my headless body.
He brought my remains all the way to India,
Where he handed it to a British colonial officer.
It was a fatal fascination,
But had I the chance, I’d do it again.
Satis Shroff has been a journalist since 1973 and has worked with The Rising Nepal, an English daily in Kathmandu, as a features editor, and knows the media and politics in Nepal as an insider. He is a writer and poet based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) who also writes on ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Science in Germany, and Creative Writing in Freiburg & Manchester. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. 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).
Wonderful clarity and good details. (Sharon Mc Cartney, Fiddlehead Poetry Journal)
Due to his very pleasant personality and in-depth experience in both South Asian, as well as Western workstyles and living, Satis Shroff brings with him a cultural sensitivity that is refined. His writings have always reflected the positive attributes of optimism, tolerance, and a need to explain and to describe without looking down on either his subject or his reader. (Kanak Mani Dixit, Himal Southasia, Kathmandu).