The Lure of the Himalayas (Satis Shroff)

Since 1974 I have been living on and off in Nepal, writing articles and publishing books about Nepal, this beautiful Himalayan country. Even before I knew Satis Shroff personally (later) I was deeply impressed by his articles, which helped me very much to deepen my knowledge about Nepal. Satis Shroff is one of the very few Nepalese writers being able to compare ecology, development and modernisation in the ‘Third’ and ‘First’ World. He is doing this with great enthusiasm, competence and intelligence, showing his great concern for the development of his own country. (Ludmilla Tüting, journalist and publisher, Berlin). For more poems, articles, essays by the author read ‘Between Two Worlds’( Also search & under: satis shroff. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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. I still see myself and Hermann working With our pencils, brushes daubed in water-colours and oil, Trying to capture the colours and perspectives Of the Himalayas. Fond memories of 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 rainiest place on earth. 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 fierce riders in the dust, Although I had long left the world. My soul had raced with the speed of light to Heaven 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 writes with intelligence, wit and grace. (Bruce Dobler, Associate Professor in Creative Writing MFA, University of IOWA). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ MUSIC BETWEEN 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! 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 am greeted by cries of Rhesus monkeys, Pigeons, mynahs, crows, And the cracks of automatic 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 Brittania, The afternoon programme of the BBC. Catchy Bollywood wechsel rhythms, Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Rafi, Mukesh and Kishor Kumar. And 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 his ‘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 and 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. 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, The panchayat. 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 saw and heard 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. 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 dancing With classical Bharta Natyam dancers, Mani Rimdu masked-dancers and 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 winks back at me. And in the distance, a view of the Schwarzwald. As I approach my residence at the end of the Pochgasse, I hear the sound of Shuman’s sonate number 3, Played by Vladimir Horowitz. That’s harmony for the heart. I know I I’m home abroad. 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 *****

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