Wer den Dichter will verstehen
Muß in Dichters Lande gehen.

– Goethe

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

As the Breisgau-train dashes in the Black Forest,
Between Elztal and Freiburg,

I am with my thoughts in South Asia.
I saunter towards Swayambhu in Nepal,
The hill of the Self-Existent One.
‘Om mane peme hum’ stirs in the air,
As a lama passes by.
I’m greeted by cries of Rhesus monkeys,
Pigeons, mynahs, crows,

The whole world is full of music,
Making it, feasting on it,
Dancing and nodding to it.
Music has left its cultural confines.

The train stops at Zähringen-Freiburg.
I get off and peer at the blue-green forest in the distance.
It’s Springtime.
As I approach my home at the Pochgasse,
I discern Schumann’s sonate number 3,
Played by Vladimir Horowitz.

That’s harmony for the heart.

Glossary:
Bahn: train
Mumbai: Bombay
Bueb: small male child
Chen: Verniedlichung, like Babu-cha in Newari
Schwarzwald: The Black Forest of south-west Germany
Miteinander: togetherness
*****

8a4d0-bhaktapur
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 Kumari
Has changed to the blood-thirsty countenance of Kal Bhairab,
From development to destruction,
You’re no longer the same.
There’s insurrection and turmoil
Against the government and the police.
Your sons and daughters are at war,
With the Gurkhas again.

Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere,
Flourish in the Himalayas.
With brazen, bloody attacks
Fighting for their communist rights,
And the rights of the bewildered common man.

The Nepalese child-soldier gets orders from grown-ups
And 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.

*****


Beyond Cultural Confines (Satis Shroff)

Music has left its cultural confines.
You hear the strings of a sitar
Mingling with big band sounds.
Percussions from Africa
Accompanying ragas from Nepal.

A never-ending performance of musicians
From all over the world.
Bollywood dancing workshops at Lörrach,
Slam poetry at Freiburg’s Atlantic inn.
A didgeridoo accompaning Japanese drums
At the Zeltmusik festival.

Tabla and tanpura involved in a musical dialogue,
With trumpet and saxaphone,
Argentinian tango and Carribian salsa,
Fiery Flamenco dancers swirling proudly
With classical Bharta Natyam dancers,
Mani Rimdu masked-dancers accompanied
By a Tibetan monastery orchestra,
Mingling with shrill Swiss piccolo flute tunes
And masked drummers.

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,
Her slender cat stretches itself,
Emits a miao and goes by.
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 Black Forest,
With whispering wind-rotors,
And the trees in the vicinity,
Full of birds
Coming home to roost.

*****

COVER Author satisshroff (c) catmandu
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.

Glossary:
Gurkhas: Nepali soldiers serving in Nepalese, Indian and British armies
Dal-bhat: Linsen und Reis
Shikar: Fleischgericht
Bhuts and prets: Demonen und Geister
Boksas und Boksis: männliche und weibliche Hexen
****


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’s 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.
Mesmerised,
Drawn together by an invisible force.

The Flamenco guitarist wails,
‘Life is an apple:
Pluck it,
Relish it,
And throw it away.’

****
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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.
Patchwork families,
With tormented and bewildered children.
Marriages between gays and lesbians,
Adopted children to give the new bond
A family touch.

A colorful 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.
Or yours.

————————————-


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 you
To study abroad. I fear that it’ll take years.
Perhaps you won’t come to Nepal.’

On the day of his departure
She 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 married
A Brahmin businessman from Pokhara.
Sorry to bring you this sad news.
Sincerely,
Ashoke Sakya
.’

‘I’m sad today,’ said Raj,
As he hid his face
In his blonde fiancee’s shoulder.
It was like Ambar Gurung’s old song:
‘I am the sky,
You are the earth,
Even though we desire so much,
We cannot be united.’

That’s caste system for you,
And for me.
—————————

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Der Verlust des Sohnes einer Mutter (Satis Shroff)

Der Gurkha mit einem gefährlichen Khukuri
Aber kein Feind in Sicht,
Arbeitet für den Briten und wird erschossen
für Einsätze, die er nicht begreift.
Befehl ist sein Leben
Johnny Gurkha stirbt noch
Unter fremdem Himmel.

Loyal bis ans Ende,
Er trauert keinem Verlust nach.
Der Verlust des Sohnes einer Mutter,
Von den Bergen Nepals.

Ihr Großvater starb in Birmas Dschungel
Für 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 an
Für 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 wischen
Und 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 schaut
Mit Sehnsucht auf ihren Soldatensohn.

*****

Eine Welt bricht zusammen (Satis Shroff)

Ein Gurkha ist endlich unterwegs
Man 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 Landes
Und für England.“

Eine Welt bricht zusammen
Und 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 Träume
Ein spartanisches Leben, das den Tod bringt.
___________________________________________________

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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 gathers
White, red, yellow and crimson
tablets 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 tablets
To another ill Nepalese child or mother,
Torments my soul.

How ghastly this thoughtless world
Of educated trekkers who give medical alms,
Play the macabre role of physicians
In the amphitheatre of the Himalayas.

——————————————

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 Scotch
Got the better of me.
I kept a stiff upper-lip till the bitter end.

Glossary:
Bahun / Chettri: high caste Hindus in Nepal
Bollywood: India’s Hollywood, located in Bombay (Mumbai)
Gurkha: Soldier from Nepal

*****

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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 Kumari
Has changed to the blood-thirsty countenance of Kal Bhairab,
From development to destruction,
You’re no longer the same.
There’s insurrection and turmoil
Against the government and the police.
Your sons and daughters are at war,
With the Gurkhas again.

Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere,
Flourish in the Himalayas.
With brazen, bloody attacks
Fighting for their communist rights,
And the rights of the bewildered common man.

The Nepalese child-soldier gets orders from grown-ups
And 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 women
Look out of their ornate windows,
In west, east, north and south Nepal
And think:
How long will this krieg go on?
How much do we have to suffer?
How many money-lenders, businessmen,
Civil servants, policemen,
Gurkhas
Do the Maobadis want to kill
Or be killed?
How many men, women, boys and girls
Have to be mortally injured
Till Kal Bhairab is pacified
By the Sleeping Vishnu?
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 eternal
Man Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu,
After great victories over neighbouring states.

Amshu Verma was a warrior and mastered the 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 motherland
Thousands of ears, noses and Nepalese blood.
The intrigues and tragedies in the palace went on unabated.

The Ranas usurped the royal throne
And put a prime minister after the other for 104 years.
104 years of poverty, isolation and medieval existence.

Times have changed.
We are 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 hands
For bribes, perks and amenities.
Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts,
Discrimination, injustice, bad governance
Became the nature of the day.

A big chasm appeared between the haves-and-have-nots.
The social inequality, frustrated expectations of the poor
Led to a search for an alternative pole.
The farmers were ignored, the forests and land confiscated,
Corruption and inefficiency became the rule of the day.
Even His Majesty’s servants went so far as to say:
Raja ko kam, kahiley jahla gham.

*****

VOLATILE HIMALAYAS (Satis Shroff)

The birthplace of Buddha
And the Land of Pashupati,
A land which King Birendra declared a Zone of Peace,
Through signatures of the world’s leaders
Was at war till recently.

Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars for development aid,
Another 14 million dollars for insurgency relevant spendings
5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA
5,500 maschine guns from Belgium.
Guns that were aimed at Nepali men, women and children,
In the mountains of Nepal.

Gott sei Dank, this corner of the world,
Under the shade of the Himalayas,
Is not volatile anymore.

*****

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.
Putin admires Germany, its culture and commerce.
Look at the old, crumbling Soviet Union,
And other East Bloc nations.
They have all swapped sides and are EU and Nato members.

When will we, in Nepal, learn
About the fruits of democracy and tolerance?

*****

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?
We shall do what the Germans do:
Warten und Tee trinken.
Wait, watch and drink tea.
___________________________________

Impressions from Journey to Crispiano via Brindisi (satisshroff)
Impressions from Journey to Crispiano via Brindisi (satisshroff)

A MOTHER’S PRECIOUS JUWEL (Satis Shroff)

The gurkha with a khukri
But no personal enemy,
Works under the Union Jack,
In missions he doesn’t comprehend.
Johnny Gurkha still dies
Under foreign skies.

Her grandpa died in Burma
For the glory of the British.
Her husband in Mesopotemia.
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,
Till a British officer arrives,
With a letter and a poker-face.
‘Your son fell on duty, Madam’ he says dryly,

The death of a mother’s precious jewel,
And the Himalayan pain in her heart.
.
Glossary:
Gurkha: soldier from Nepal
khukri: curved knife used in hand-to-hand combat
Shiva: a God in Hinduism

******

A SPARTAN LIFE THAT KILLS (Satis Shroff)

A frugal Nepalese mother lives by the seasons
And peers down to the valleys
Year in and year out
In expectation of her Gurkha son.

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.

Glossary:
Gurkha: soldier from Nepal

******

BOMBAY BROTHEL (Satis Shroff)

‘You’re not going to get away this time.
And you’ll never ever bring a Nepalese child
To a Bombay brothel,’ I said to myself.
I’d killed a man who’d betrayed me
And 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 and Arab customers.
I hear the eternal video-music of Bollywood.

The man I’d slain
Had 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 pimps
From all walks of life.

What followed were five years of captivity,
Rape and molestation.
I pleaded with tears in my eyes
To the customers to help me out of my misery.
They just shook their heads,
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-report
Told 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 weight.
I was slipping.

Till the day the man who’d ruined
My life came in search of new flesh
For 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 toilet
After all that drinking.
I got up, took my naked khukri
And followed him stealthily.

The air was fresh outside.
A mountain breeze made the leaves
Emit 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 blade
And 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 Nepal’s remote districts
In a helicopter with his consort and militia.
He inaugurates building
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 of the Himalayan world was 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.

******

******

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,
And 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, the seasons.
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’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.

Glossary:
Guten morgen: good morning
Es tut so weh!: It pains such a lot

****

COVER Author satisshroff (c) catmandu

KATHMANDU IS NEPAL (Satis Shroff)

There were two young men, brothers
Who 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 beatings
At 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 pagodas
Its share of hippies, hashish, tourists,
Rising prices and expensive rooms to rent.

The younger brother went to Dharan,
And enlisted in the British Army depot
To 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 hardships
That went under the guise of physical exercises.
He thought of stern, merciless sergeants and corporals
Of soccer games and regimental drills
A young man’s thrill of war-films and scotch and 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.

*****

MUSIC BETWEEN EAST AND WEST (Satis Shroff)

I’ve become a European,
Integrated and assimilated,
But I am with my thoughts in South Asia.

I hear the melodious cry of the vendors:
‘Pan, bidi, cigarette,’
Interspersed with ‘garam chai! 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 Sanskrit songs of the Hindus:
‘Tame-wa Mata, Sabita tame-wa,
Tame-wa vidhyam, Tame-wa saranam.’
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 Heckler & Koch guns of the Royal Army.

There’s a brodelndes Miteinander,
Different sounds, natural sounds,
Musical 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, 5 Cents.

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,
Interspersed with serious Tibetan monastery music.

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,

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.

Glossary:

Wechselrhythmus: changing rhythms
Bahn: train
Mumbai: Bombay
Bueb: small male child
Chen: Verniedlichung, like Babu-cha in Newari
Schwarzwald: The Black Forest of south-west Germany
Miteinander: togetherness

***** 

8a4d0-bhaktapur


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.
The monsoon,
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,
With transit visas.

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