FLEETING FAMILIAR FACES:
Growling Gurkhas (Satis Shroff)
My old cronies from school were still struggling,
Against Bengalis in power;
Drowning their sorrows in expensive Scotch,
And growling: ‘Gorkhaland for Gorkhas.’
* * *
Love in Catmandu (Satis Shroff)
I once loved a fair Newari lady as a student,
But you couldn’t get past her caste barrier.
Now she’s a mother with kids of her own.
* * *
Silence in Catmandu
Had a close but nauseating friend
Who had a cardiac arrest;
And I’m wondering about his intentions,
For he was rather garrulous.
Now there is silence.
Was all the din and noise worth it?
* * *
Freiburg: no matter what (Satis Shroff)
Another was a zampano,
Who sought verbal duels,
With all and sundry.
I asked him a question about his lifestyle.
He replied: ‘I’ll live on like this no matter what.’
Ah, those piles of schnitzels and gallons of weizen,
That did the rest.
Why did he depart so early?
* * *
Black Forest roof rabbits (Satis Shroff)
The dear Swabian mother of a friend in the Black Forest
She always had a smile for me.
Told me tales about poverty in the last war.
‘Ach, Satisle, I took a table-cloth and sewed
A pair of pants for Sepp.
City people came to us farmers
To beg for potatoes and left-overs.
People used to cats in those days,
And called them Dachhasen.
Dachhasen: roof-rabbits synonym for cats
* * *
A Mahabharat Widow’s Woes (Satis Shroff)
In see the elderly face of a Tamang lady,
Selling sweets and home-grown vegetables.
The furrows have deepened on her harsh rugged face,
As rugged as the Mahabharat hills.
She still wears her gold nose-ring,
But he silver-haired husband,
Who was a cook with the Madras regiment ,
Has passed away.
As a widow she can’t remarry.
To be a widow is to suffer social death,
When you don’t have relatives or friends.
* * *
Schwarzwald: A Child From Her Father (Satis Shroff)
Tante Siglinde lived in a Schwarzwald hamlet,
Offered me wine and was so kind.
She shared a house with her daughter
And her son-in-law.
Her only friend was a black, scared dog.
Her daughter used to mishandle her.
At Tante Siglinde’s funeral
I came to know she had a child
From her own father.
Strange things happen also
Under the Schwarzwald roofs.
* * *
I Heard the Thrushes (Satis Shroff)
Ah, I heard the thrushes this morning,
Among the bushes.
It feels like Spring.
The blackbirds, finches and swallows
Have kept me company in winter.
The stone walls and brown eaves
Are wet with constant rain.
The grey clouds have given to faint blue skies,
The mists from the valleys have disappeared.
I see the blue Schwarzwald ranges,
With spurs, meadows and treelines,
Painted in a light Prussian blue.
On the slope above the house a pair of deer come
To pick leaves and soft petals,
Stay awhile and move silently away,
Bringing me hope of Spring.
My mind wanders far away to the Indian subcontinent,
And the Mahabharat hills of Nepal,
People celebrate basanta panchami,
And pray to Goddess Saraswati,
To acquire knowledge at every age.
* * *
Immolation of Widows (Satis Shroff)
Sati the custom of immolation of widows
On their husbands ‘ funeral pyres,
Was banned in 1829 by Lord William Bentnick,
In the British Raj.
You say bride-burning has been outlawed?
It’s the 21st century but sati makes the news still.
Widows dousing with fuel
Burning bright under social duress.
Even murders are still common.
Conflict over dowry and property,
Are the causes of man-made karma.
Greedy and devilish relatives
In the rural areas,
Act as executioners of bad will.
Children are still married
To old men.
* * *
Of Satis and Burning Maharanis (Satis Shroff)
Maharaja Junga Bahadur died in 1877
With him his living Maharani,
And two other Maharanis,
For polygamy was normal in Nepal.
The living Maharanis gave alms to the poor,
Put on scarlet saris like brides,
That’s what satis wear;
Ascended to their pyres of wood.
The eldest queen gave a speech
In praise of her husband,
Then laid herself beside her dear Maharaja.
She ordered the pyres to be lit;
Agni’s flames licked the sky.
Agni: means fire, which is the most ancient sacred object of Hindu worship, and is one of the main deities of the Vedas. Agni, Vayu (Indra) and Surya (sun) preside over earth, air, sky and are equal in dignity. Agni is the mediator between humans and Gods.
Sati (suttee): was the daughter Daksha and wife of Rudra (Shiva). In the ‘Vishnu Purana’ she abandons her body as a result of the anger of Daksha. In the modern ‘Kasi Khanda’ she enters the fire and becomes a sati.