CREATIVE WRITING CRITIQUE/ Book reviews (Satis Shroff, Freiburg-Kappel)

Creative Writing Critique: Chicken of India Unite! (Satis Shroff)

Review: Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger. Atlantic Books, London, 2008. Man Booker Prize 2008. German version: ‘Der Weisse Tiger’ published by C.H. Beck, 2008.

Aravind Adiga was a correspondent for the newsmag Time and wrote articles for the Financial Times, the Independent and Sunday Times. He was born in Madras in 1974 and is a Mumbai-wallah now. The protagonist of his first novel is Balram Halwai, (I’m a helluva Mumbai-halwa fan, you know) who tells his story in the first person singular. Halwai has a fantastic charisma and shows you how you can climb the Indian mainstream ladder as a philosopher and entrepreneur. An Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, at the same time (sic). Balram’s prerogative is to turn bad news into good news, and the White Tiger, who’s terribly scared of lizards, slits the throat of his boss to attain his goal, and doesn’t even regret his deed.

In the subcontinent, however, Aravind Adiga’s novel has received sceptical critique. Manjula Padmanabhan wrote in ‘Outlook’ that it lacks humour, and the formidable Delhi-based Kushwant Singh 92, who used to write for the Illustrated Weekly of India and is regarded as the doyen of Indian English literature, found it good to read but endlessly depressing.

‘And what’s so depressing?’ you might ask. I found his style refreshing and creative the way he introduced himself to Wen Jiabao. At the beginning of each capital he quotes from a part of his ‘wanted’ poster. The author writes about poverty, corruption, aggression and the brutal struggle for power in the Indian society. A society in which the middle class is reaching economically for the sky, in which Adiga’s biting and scathing criticism sounds out of place, when deshi Indians are dreaming of manned flights to the moon, outer space and mountains of nuclear arsenal against China or any other neighbouring states that might try to flex muscles against Hindustan.

India is sometimes like a Bollywood film, which the poverty-stricken masses enjoy watching, to forget their daily problems for two hours. The rich Indians want to give their gastrointestinal tract a rest and so they go to the cinema between bouts of paan-spitting and farting due to lack of exercise and oily food. They all identify themselves with the protagonists for these hundred and twenty minutes and are transported into another world with location shooting in Switzerland, Schwarzwald, Grand Canyon, the Egyptian Pyramids, sizzling London, fashionable New York and romantic Paris. After twelve songs, emotions taking a roller-coaster ride, the Indians stagger out of the stuffy, sweaty cinemas and are greeted by the blazing and scorching Indian sun, slums, streets spilling with haggard, emaciated humanity, pocket-thieves, real-life goondas, cheating businessmen, money-lenders, snake-girl-destitute-charmers, thugs in white collars and the big question: what shall I and my family eat tonight? Roti, kapada, makan, that is, bread, clothes and a posh house are like a dream to most Indians dwelling in the pavements of Mumbai, or for that matter in Delhi, Bangalore, Mangalore, Mysore, Calcutta (Read Günter Grass’s Zunge Zeigen) and other Indian cities, where they burn rubbish for warmth.

The stomach groans with a sad melody in the loneliness and darkness of a metropolis like Mumbai, a city that never sleeps. As Adiga says, ‘an India of Light, and an India of Darkness in which the black, polluted river Mother Ganga flows.’

Ach, munjo Mumbai! The terrible monsoon, the jam-packed city, Koliwada, Sion, Bandra, Marine Drive, Juhu Beach. I can visualise them all, like I was there. I spent almost every winter during the holidays visiting my uncles, aunts and cousins, the jet-set Shroffs of Bombay. I’m glad that there are people like Aravind Adiga, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai who speak for the millions of under-privileged, downtrodden people and give them a voice through literature. Aravind deserves the Man Booker Prize like no other, because the novel is extraordinary. It doesn’t have the intellectual poise of VS Naipaul or Rushdie’s masala language. It has it’s own Mumbai matter-of-fact speech, a melange of Oxford and NY. And what we get to hear when we take the crowded trains from the suburbs of this vast metropolis, with its mixture of Marathi, Gujerati, Sindhi and scores of other Indian languages is also what Balram is talking about. Adiga was bold enough to present the Other India than what film moghuls and other so-called intellectuals would have us believe. Balram’s is a strong political voice and mirrors the Indian society which wants to present Bharat in superlatives: superpower, affluent society and mainstream culture, whereas in reality there’s tremendous darkness in the society of the subcontinent. Even though Adiga has lived a life of affluence, studied at Columbia and Oxford universities, he has raised his voice in his book against the nepotism, corruption, in-fighting between communal groups, between the rich and the super-rich, a dynamic process in which the poor, dalits, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Children of God (untouchables), ‘scheduled’ castes and tribes have no outlet, and are to this day mere pawns at the hands of the rich in Hindustan, as India was called before the Brits came to colonise the sub-continent. Balram, Adiga’s protagonist, shows how to assert oneself in the Indian society, come what may. I hope this book won’t create monsters without character, integrity, ethos, and soulless humans, devoid of values and norms. From what sources are the characters drawn? The story is in the form of a letter written by the protagonist to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and is drawn from India’s history as told by a school drop-out, chauffeur, entrepreneur, a self-made man with all his charms and flaws, a man who knows his own India, and who presents his views frankly and candidly, sometimes much like P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. The author's attitude toward his characters is comical and satirical when it comes to realities of life for India’s poverty stricken underdogs, whether in the form of a rickshaw puller, tea-shop boy or the driver of a rich Indian businessman. His characters are alive and kicking, and it is a delight to go with Balram in this thrilling ride through India’s history, Bangalore, Old and New Delhi, Mumbai and its denizens. The major theme is how to get along in a sprawling country like India, and the author reveals his murderous plan brilliantly through a series of police descriptions of a man named Balram Halwai. The theme is a beaten path, traditional and familiar, for this is not the first book on Mumbai and Indian society. Other stalwarts like Kuldip Singh, Salman Rushdie, Amitabh Ghosh, VS Naipaul, Anita and Kiran Desai and a host of writers from the Raj have walked along this path, each penning their respective Zeitgeist. In this case, the theme is social, entertaining, escapist in nature, and the reader is like a voyeur in the scenarios created by Balaram. The climax is when the Chinese leader actually comes to Bangalore. So much for Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. Unlike Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss) Adiga says, “Based on my experience, Indian girls are the best. (Well second best. I tell you, Mr Jiaobao, it’s one of the most thrilling sights you can have as a man in Bangalore, to see the eyes of a pair of Nepali girls flashing out at you from the dark hood of an autorickshaw (sic). As to the intellectual qualities of the writing, I loved the simplicity and clarity that Adiga has chosen for his novel. He intersperses his text with a lot of dialogue with his characters and increases the readability score, and is dripping with satire and humour, even while describing an earnest emotional matter like the cremation of Balram’s mother, whereby the humour is entirely British---with Indian undertones. The setting is cleverly constructed. In order to have pace and action in the story Adiga sends Balram to the streets of Bangalore as a chauffeur, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a conversation and narration where a wily driver Balram tunes in. He’s learning, ever learning from the smart guys in the back seat, and in the end he’s the smartest guy in Bangalore, evoking an atmosphere of struggle for survival in the jungles of concrete in India. Indeed, blazingly savage, this book. A good buy.

Review by Satis Shroff, Germany: Getting Along in Life in Tricky Kathmandu

Bhatt, Krishna: City Women and the Ghost Writer, Olympia Publishers, London 2008, 191 pages, EUR 7,99 (ISBN 9781905513444)

Krishna Bhatt, the author, a person who was ‘educated to get a graduate degree in Biology and Chemistry,’came to Kathmandu in 1996 and has seen profound political changes. In this book he seeks to find an ‘explanation for what is happening.’ Life, it seems, to him, is tricky, while political violence has been shocking him episodically. That’s the gist of it: twenty-one short episodes that are revealed to the reader by an author, who’s trademark is honesty, clarity and simplicity---without delving too deep into the subject for the sake of straight narration. What emerges is a melange of tales about life, religion, Nepalese and Indian society packed with humour. A delightful read, a work of fiction and you can jump right into the stories anywhere you like.

Additionally, Bhatt has published ‘Humour and Last Laugh’ in October 2004, a collection of satirical articles published in newspapers in Kathmandu, which is available only in Kathmandu’s bookstores. The author emphasises that he has always written in English and adds, “Reading led me to writing.” He found his London publisher through the internet. Lol!

Did you know that people who are married wear an ‘air of sacrificial glory’ about them in Nepal? The other themes are keeping mistresses in Kathmandu, sending children abroad for education, the woes of psychotherapists in Nepal (no clients). I’ll leave it to you to find out why. Nepal is rich in glaciers and the water ought to be harnessed to produce drinking water and electricity, but in Kathmandu, as in many parts of the republic, there’s a terribly scarcity of water among the poor and wanton wastage among the Gharania---upper class dwellers of Kathmandu. The Kathmanduites fight not only against water scarcity but also a losing battle against ants and roaches. The author explains the many uses of the common condom, especially a sterilised male who uses his vasectomy for the purpose of seduction. However, his tale about the death of his father in “The Harsh Priest and Mourning” remains a poignant and excellent piece of writing, and I could feel with him. It not only describes the Hindu traditions on death and dying but also the emotions experienced by the author.

Like the Oxford educated Pico Ayer who has the ability to describe every ‘shimmy’ that he comes by when he travels, Bhatt too says that Thamel District is all ‘discotheques and massage parlours’ in the story ‘A Meeting of Cultures,’ in which the author meets two former East Germans and one of them thinks ‘people in Germany are lazy.’ Did she mean the Ossies or the Wessies? If that doesn’t get you, I’m sure the many uses of English and vernacular newspapers will certainly do. What’s even amusing is a ritual marriage ceremony of frogs to appease the rain gods. It might be mentioned that in Kathmandu Indra is the God of Rain, the God of the firmament and the personified atmosphere. In the Vedas he stands in the first Rank among the Gods. When you come to think of it, we Hindus are eternally trying to appease the Gods with our daily rituals, special pujas and homs around the sacred Agni (Ignis). Agni is one of the chief deities of the Vedas, and a great number of Sanskrit hymns are addressed to him.

Bhatt uses life and the people around him, and in the media, as his characters and his attitude towards his characters is of a reconciling nature. The characters work sometimes flat for he doesn’t develop them, but the stories he tells are about people you and I could possibly know, and seem very familiar.
Most of the stories are short and quick, good reads in this epoch of computers, laptops,DVDs, SMS, MMS, which is convenient for people with not much time at their disposal. Other themes are: writing, the muse, fellow writers (without naming names, except in the case of V.S. Naipaul), east meet west, abortion, art and pornography, colleagues and former HMG administrators. His opinions are always honest and entertaining in intent, and his tales have more narration than dialogues. Krishna Bhatt is a welcome scribe in the ranks of Kunda Dixit, Samrat Upadhya, Manjushri Thapa and is another new voice from the Himalayas who will make his presence felt in the world of fiction writing. His ‘Irreconcilable Death’ is thought-provoking, a writer who wants to change morality and fails to reconcile with death, like many writers before him. Writers may come and go, but Bhatt wants to leave his impression in his own way and time. Time will certainly tell.
I wish him well.

Review German version by:Satis Shroff Rezension:
Grünfelder, Alice (Hrsg.), Himalaya: Menschen und Mythen, Zürich Unionsverlag 2002, 314 S., EUR 19, 80 (ISBN 3-293-00298-6).

Alice Grünfelder hat Sinologie und Germanistik studiert, lebte zwei Jahre in China und arbeitet gegenwärtig als freie Lektorin und Literaturvermittlerin in Berlin. Dieses Buch ist vergleichbar mit einem Strauss zusammengestellter Blumen aus dem Himalaya, die die Herausgeberin gepflückt hat. Es handelt von den Menschen und deren Problemen im 450 km langen Himalaya Gebirge. Das Buch orientiert sich, an englischen Übersetzungen von der Literatur aus dem Himalaya.

Nepal ist literarisch gut vertreten mit dem Anthropologen Dor Bahadur Bista, dem Bergsteiger Tenzing Norgay, die in Kathmandu lebenden Journalisten Kanak Dixit and Deepak Thapa, dem Fremdenführer Shankar Lamichane, dem Dichter Pallav Ranjan und dem Entwicklungsspezialisten Harka Gurung. Manche Geschichten sind nicht neu für Nepal-Kenner, aber das Buch ist für Leser, die in Deutschland, Österreich, Südtirol und die Schweiz leben, bestimmt. Außer sieben Nepali Autoren gibt es Geschichten von sieben indischen, drei tibetischen, zwei chinesischen und zwei bhutanesischen Autoren.

Die Themen des Buches sind: Die Vorteile und Nachteile der Verwestlichung in Nepal, da Nepal erst 1950 für den Fremden sozusagen geöffnet wurde. Kanak Dixit erzählt dies deutlich in „Welchen Himalaya hätten Sie gern?“. In einer anderen liebenswerten Gesichte erzählt er über die Reise von einem Nepali Frosch namens Bhaktaprasad. K.C. Bhanja, ein umweltbewußter Bergsteiger, erzählt über das empfindliche Erbe—die Himalaya und deren spirituelle Bedeutung. Die „Himalaya-Ballade“ von der chinesischen Autorin Ma Yuan, „Die ewigen Berge“ von dem Han-Chinesen Jin Zhiguo, und der indischer Bergsteiger H. P. S. Ahluwalia in „Höher als Everest“, schließlich Swami Pranavanadas in seinem „Pilgerreise zum Kailash und der See Manasovar“ haben alle die Berge aus verschiedenen Sichten thematisiert. Tenzing Norgay, der erste Nepali, der auf dem Gipfel von Mt. Everest mit dem Neuseeländer Edmund Hillary bestiegen war, erzählt, dass er „ein glücklicher Mensch“ sei. Der Nepali Journalist Deepak Thapa beschreibt den berühmten Sherpa Bergsteiger Ang Rita als einen sozialen Aufsteiger.

Während wir in einer Geschichte von Kunzang Choden (Auf den Spuren des Migoi) erfahren, dass die Bhutanesen, als ein buddhistisches Volk, nicht einmal einen Tier Leid zufügen können, erzählt uns Kanak Dixit von 100 000 Lhotshampas (nepalstämmige Einwohner), die von der bhutanesischen Regierung vertrieben worden sind und jetzt in Flüchtlingslagern in Jhapa leben.

James Hilton hat das Wort Shangri-La für eine Geschichte, in Umlauf gebracht die sich in Tibet abspielte. Genauso ist mit dem Ausdruck „Das Dach der Welt“ die tibetische Plateau gemeint und nicht Nepal oder Bhutan. Die bewegende Geschichte, die der Kunsthändler Shanker Lamechane erzählt, handelt von einem gelähmten Jungen. Sein Karma wird in Dialogform zwischen ein Nepali Reiseleiter und einem überschwenglichen Tourist erzählt. Das hilflose Kind bringt uns dazu, über die Freude in Alltag nachzudenken, was wir meistens nicht tun können, weil wir mit dem Alltag so beschäftigt sind. Während Harka Gurung „Fakten und Fiktionen über den Schneemensch“ zusammenstellt, schildert uns Kunzang Choden, eine Psychologin aus Bhutan, über „Yaks, Yakhirten und der Yeti“. Wir erfahren von einem alten Yakhirt namens Mimi Khandola, wie das freundliche Wesen Migoi, gennant Yeti, von einem Rudel Wildhunden erlegt wurde. In „Nicht einmal ein Leichnam zum Einäschern“ lernen wir von dem tragischen Schicksal eines Mädchens namens Pem Doikar, die von einem Migoi entführt wurde.

Diese Anthologie versucht nicht die Himalaya Literatur als ganzes zu repräsentieren, aber betont bestimmte Themen, die im Alltagsleben der Bergbewohner auftauchen. Die Welt, die die Dichter und Schriftsteller aus dem Himalaya beschreiben und kreieren, ist ganz anders im Vergleich zur westlichen Literatur über die Himalaya Bewohner. Es ist wahr, dass der Trekking-Tourismus, moderne Technologie, die Entwicklungshilfeindustrie, die NGOs, Aids und Globalisation die Himalayas erreicht haben, aber die Gebiete die vom Tourismus unberührt sind, sind immer noch ursprünglich, gebunden an Traditionen, Kultur und Religion.

Auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse gibt es kaum Bücher die von Schriftstellern und Dichtern aus dem Himalaya stammen. Es sind immer die reisenden Touristen, Geologen, Geographen, Biologen, Bergsteiger und Ethnologen, die über Nepal, Tibet, Zanskar, Mustang, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh und seine Leute, Religion, Kultur und Umwelt schreiben. Die Bewohner des Himalaya sind immer Statisten im eigenen Land gewesen in den Szenarios, die im Himalaya inszeniert worden sind, und die in New York, Paris, München and Sydney veröffentlicht werden. Sie werden durch westliche Augen beschrieben.

Dennoch gab es Generationen von denkenden und schreibenden Nepalis, Inder, Bhutanesen und Tibeter, die Hunderte von Schriftstücken, Zeitschriften und Bücher geschrieben und veröffentlicht haben, in ihren eigenen Sprachen. Allein in Patans Madan Puraskar Bibliothek, die Kamal Mani Dixit, Patan's Man of Letters, beschreibt als „der Tempel der Nepali Sprache,“ gibt es 15,000 Nepali Bücher und 3500 verschiedene Zeitschriften wovon die westliche Welt noch nie gehört oder gelesen hat.

Der englische Professor Michael Hutt machte einen Anfang. Er übersetzte zeitgenössische Nepali Prosa und Gedichte in „Himalayan Voices“ und „Modern Nepali Literature“. Die erste Fremdsprache wird weiterhin Englisch bleiben, weil die East India Company dort zuerst ankam.

Dieses Buch von Alice Grünfelder erzeugt Sympathie und Verständnis für die nepali, indische, bhutanesische, tibetische, chinesische Psyche, Kultur, Religion. Es beschreibt die Lebensbedingungen und menschlichen Probleme in den dörflichen und städtischen Himalayagebieten und ist eine willkommene Ergänzung zu der langsam wachsenden Sammlung von literarische Übersetzungen aus dem Himalaya, die von den einheimischen Autoren geschrieben worden sind. Ich wünsche Frau Grünfelder Erfolg in Ihre Aufgabe als Vermittlerin zwischen den literarischen Welten von Asien und Europa.

© Review: Satis Shroff, Freiburg

The Inheritance of Loss and Intercultural Competence (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)

‘My characters are purely fictional,’ says Kiran Desai. In her book (The Inheritance of Loss) she has tried to do exactly that, namely to capture her own knowledge about what it means to travel between East and West, and to examine the lives of migrants who are forced to hypocrisy, angst of being nabbed, and have biographies that have gaps, and whose lives are constructed with lies, where trust and faith in someone is impossible, as in the case of Sai and Gyan.

Migration is a sword with sharp blades on both sides. The feeling of loss when one leaves one’s matribhumi is just as intensive and dreadful as having to leave a foreign home, due to deportation, when one doesn’t have the green-card or Aufenthaltserlaubnis. Everyone copes with such situations differently. Some don’t have coping solutions and it becomes a traumatic experience for the rest of one’s life. Some pull up their socks, keep a stiff upper-lip and begin elsewhere.

The problem of illegal migration hasn’t been solved in the USA, Britain, France, Germany and other European countries. It is an open secret that the illegal migrants are used as cheap labourers according to the hire-and-fire principle, for these people belong to the underclass. In the USA it’s chic to have Hispanics as baby-sitters, just as Eastern Bloc women are used by German families to do the household chores. Nepalis work under miserable conditions in India as darwans, chowkidars, cheap security personnel and the Indians have the same arrogance as the British colonialists. The judge, Lola and Noni are stereotypes, but such people do exist. It’s not all fantasy. I’m sure the Gurkhas looking after photo-model Claudia Schiffer and singer Seal’s house and guarding the palace of the Sultan of Brunei are well paid and contented, in comparison to other people in Nepal and the Indian sub-continent.

What does a person feel and think when he or she goes from a rich western country to the East? And what happens when a poor Indian comes to the USA (land of plenty) or Germany (Schlaraffenland)? Is there always a feeling of loss? I’ve been living thirty years in Germany and I have met and seen and worked with migrants with biographies from Irak, Iran, Turkey, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Kosovo, Albania, Croatia and East Bloc countries. The worst part of it is that the Germans ignored the fact that it had already become, what they call ‘ein Einwanderungsland.’ They thought they’d invited only guest workers after World War II, with limited stay-permits, not realising that they’d encouraged human beings with families and emotional ties, hopes and desires of a better future in the new Heimat with for their children and their grand-children.

Kiran Desai flashes back and forth, between Kalimpong and New York, and she uses typical clichés and Indian stereotypes that have also been promoted by Bollywood. She’s just as cynical and hilarious with her descriptions of fellow Indians in the diaspora, as she is when she describes the Gorkhalis in Darjeeling. Her portrait of the Nepalis in Darjeeling is rather biased, but what can one expect from a thirty-six year old Indian woman who has been pampered in India, England and the USA? Her knowledge of Kalimpong and Darjeeling sounds theoretical and her characters don’t speak Nepali. She lets them speak Hindi, because she herself didn’t bother to learn Nepali during her stay in Kalimpong. The depiction of a Gorkhali world might be true, as far as poverty is concerned, but she has no idea of the rich Nepali literature (Indra Bahadur Rai, Shiva Kumar Rai, Banira Giri to name a few), and folks music in the diaspora.

Gyan’s role was overdone, especially when Sai demands that he should feel ashamed of his and his family’s poverty and so-called low descent. What is Gyan? Is he a Chettri, Bahun, Rai Tamang, or even a Newar? Describing a country, landscape is one thing, but creeping into the skins of the characters is another. The Gorkha characters remain shallow, like caricatures in Bollywood films, and she overdoes it with the dialogue between Sai and Gyan.

For someone like me, who also went to school in Darjeeling, Kiran Desai’s book was a pleasant journey into the past, where I still have fond memories of the Darjeeling Nepalis, their struggle for recognition and dignity among the peoples of the vast Indian subcontinent. I’m glad that peace prevails in the Darjeeling district, although I wish Subash Ghising had negotiated more funds from the central Indian government, and a university in Darjeeling. Gangtok (Sikkim) also does not have a university. The recognition of Nepali was a positive factor, but a university each for Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong would have given more Nepalis (pardon, Gorkhalis) the opportunity for higher education and better jobs, if not in the country, then abroad. To eat dal-bhat-tarkari at home and acquire MAs and PhDs within one’s familiar confines would have immensely helped the Gorkhali men and women, even more than the recognition of Nepali. We can regard it as a small step towards progress.

The description of Gyan’s visit to Kathmandu was extremely superficial. Kathmandu is a world, a cosmos in itself, with its exquisite temples and pagodas and stupas and the culturally rich Newaris families from Lalitpur, Bhadgaon and Kathmandu.

Kiran is, and remains, a supercilious brown-memsahib, like the made-over English characters of Varindra Tarzie Vittachi’s fiercely satirical book ‘The Brown Sahibs’ in her attitude towards Gorkhalis and the downtrodden of her own country. I can imagine that the Nepali author D.B. Gurung is piqued about Desai’s portrayal of the Nepalis in Kalimpong as ‘crook, dupe, cheat and lesser humans’ and his own emotional rejoinder regarding the Bengalis as ‘the hungry jackals from the plains of Calcutta.’ Since D.B. Gurung is known for his poetic vein, perhaps he can treat the long standing problems between Indians and Nepalis, or as Desai puts it, Bengis and Neps, in his lyrical verses. But please, less of the vitriol and more of tolerance, because even a poet and novelist can make or break human relations. I, for my part, am for living together, despite our differences, for variety is the spice of life in these days of globanisation. Vive la difference.

The story is served like a MacDonald’s Big Mac for the modern reader, who has not much time, and there are multi-media distractions craving for his or her attention. As small morsels of information, like in a sit-com. I found the story-pace well timed and interesting, and she has a broad palette of problems that migrants face when they leave their homes, and when they return home. You can feel with Bijhu when he embraces his Papa in the end. A foreign-returned son, stripped of all his belongings. It was a terrific metaphor. I’m glad that there are women like Kiran Desai and Monica Ali (Brick Lane) who’ve travelled and experienced what it is like to be in the diaspora and try to capture the emotional and historical patterns in their lives as migrants.

When you read the last page of the Desai’s book you feel a bit dissatisfied because you wish that the unequal love affair between Gyan and Sai will go on and take a positive turn. There are so many Nepali-Indian couples who live happy conjugal lives with their families. I know at least three cases of Nepali women who’re married to Bengalis. The Nepali women speak perfect Bengali, but their husbands don’t speak Nepali, even though they live in Gorkhaland. They are proud that they can speak English instead. Nepali (Gorkhali or Khas Kura) is such a colourful and melodious language and we ought to listen to Sir Ralph Turner’s when he says: “Do not let your lovely language become the pale reflexion of a sanskritised Hindi.”

Dinesh Kafle calls Desai ‘schizophrenic.’ Well, when you talk with an Indian he always praises the achievements of India in terms of the second Silicon Valley (Bangalore), the Agni and Prithvi missiles, the increasing nuclear arsenal, the expanding armed forces etcetera. But, Gott sei dank, there are Indians, who like Gandhi, are humble, religious, practice humility, are poor, deprived, castless, untouchables and, nevertheless, human and full of empathy, clean in their souls and hearts, and regard this world as merely a maya, an illusion, an earthly spectacle
to be seen and felt---without being attached. D. B. Gurung is wrong when he assumes that Desai seems “unable to acclimatise herself to either the western milieu or her own home.” But where is her home? She’s a rootless, creative jet-set gypsy, who calls India, England and USA her home. The gypsies (Sintis and Romas) were originally from India (Rajasthan), weren’t they?

Even V.S.Naipaul (Half a Life, The Mimic Men), J. M. Croatzee (Youth), Isabel Allende (The Stories of Eva Luna) and Prafulla Mohanti (Through Brown Eyes) haven’t gone so far in their description of a race or nation the way Desai has in her book. What is missing in her writing is the intercultural competence. Instead of taking the trouble to learn Nepali and acquiring background knowledge about the tradition, religion, norms and values, culture and living style of the Gorkhalis in Darjeeling and the Nepalese in Nepal, and comparing it with her own Indian culture, and trying to seek what is common between the two cultures and moving towards peace, tolerance, reconciliation---she just remains adamant , like her protagonist Sai. She does not make an ethnic reflection, but goes on and on, with a jaundiced view, till the bitter end. The dialogue between Neps and Bengis, between Neps and other Indians (Beharis and Marwaris and others from the plains) or between the British and Indians cannot be described as successful intercultural dialogues. The dialogues are carried out the way it should not, because there’s always a fear that one is different in terms of social and ethnic status, even between her two main protagonists: Sai and Gyan. There is no attempt to reveal the facts behind an alien in a new cultural environment, no accepting of the problems of identity and no engagement for equality and against discrimination.

If you’re looking for frustrations-tolerance, empathy and solidarity with the Gorkhalis in the book, it’s just not there. The characters necessary for intercultural interaction are joy in interaction with foreign cultures (not arrogance and egoism), consciousness of one’s own culture, stress tolerance, tolerance of ambiguity, and bucketfuls of empathy. Had she shown empathy towards the Nepalis from Darjeeling and Kalimpong and made a happy-end love story between Gyan and Sai, the Nepalese would have greeted her with khadas and marigold malas. The way it is, she has only stirred a hornet’s nest. Kiran just doesn’t have empathy for Neps, despite the Booker Prize. Great women are judged by the way they treat the underprivileged and downtrodden. With 36 years, it’s time for meditation and self-searching in Rishikesh, like the Beatles, I suppose.

Book-review English Version by: satisshroff, freiburg
Grünfelder, Alice (Editor), Himalaya: Menschen und Mythen, Zürich Unionsverlag 2002, 314 pages, EURO 19, 80 (ISBN 3-293-00298-6).

Alice Grünfelder has studied Sinology and German literature, lived two years in China and works in the publishing branch in Berlin. This book is comparable to a bouquet of the choicest Himalayan flowers picked by the editor and deals with the trials and tribulations of a cross-section of the people in the 450 km long Abode of the Snows--Himalayas. The book orients, as expected, on the English translations of Himalayan literature. The chances of having Nepali literature translated into foreign languages depends upon the Nepalis themselves, because foreigners mostly loath to learn Nepali. If a translation is published in English the success of the book is used as a yardstick to decide whether it is going to be profitable to bring it out in European or in other languages.

Nepal is conspicuous with contributions by the anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista, the climber Tenzing Norgay, the Kathmandu-based journalists Kanak Dixit and Deepak Thapa, the tourist-guide Shankar Lamichane, the poet Pallav Ranjan and the development-specialist Harka Gurung. For regular readers of Himal Asia, The Rising Nepal and GEO some of these stories are perhaps not new but this book is aimed at the German speaking readers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In addition to the seven Nepali authors, there are also stories by seven Indian, three Tibetan, two Chinese authors and two Bhutanese authors.

Some of the themes that have been dealt with in this collection are: the pros and cons of westernisation as told by Kanak Dixit in “Which Himalaya would you like?” and an endearing story of a journey through Nepal as a Nepali frog named Bhaktaprasad. K.C. Bhanja, the ecology-conscious climber writes about the spiritual meaning of our fragile heritage—the Himalayas. “The Himalayan Ballads” by the Chinese author Ma Yuan, “The Eternal Mountains” by the Han-Chinese Jin Zhiguo, the Indian climber H. P. S. Ahluwalia in “Higher than Everest” und Swami Pranavanadas in his Pilgrim journey to Kailash and the Manasovar Lake” have presented the mountains from different perspectives. Tenzing Norgay, the first Nepali who reached the top of Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary, says that he was a happy person.

The Nepali journalist Deepak Thapa portrays the famous Sherpa climber Ang Rita as a social “Upwardly Mobile” person. Whereas in Kunzang Choden’s story (In the Tracks of the Migoi) we learn that the Bhutanese, as a Buddhist folk, are not capable of harming even a small animal, in another story Kanak Dixit tells us about the 100 000 Lhotshampas (Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin) who were thrown out by the Bhutanese government and live in refugee-camps in Jhapa. The curio art-trader Shanker Lamichane’s “The Half Closed Eyes of the Buddha and the Slowly Setting Sun” is a poignant tale of a paralysed boy’s karma, related as a dialogue between a Nepali guide and a tourist. The helpless child makes us think in his mute way about the joys in everyday life that we don’t see and feel, because the world is too much with us. Whereas Harka Gurung has gathered facts and fiction“ and tells us about the different aspects of the Snowman, another author who is a psychologist from Bhutan, tells us about yaks, yak-keepers and the Yeti and we come to know through an old yak-keeper named Mimi Khandola, how the friendly creature called the Migoi, alias Yeti, gets chased and killed by a group of wild-dogs. In “Not Even a Corpse to Cremate” we learn about the traumatic shock and tragic fate of a girl named Pem Doikar, who was kidnapped by a Migoi.

This anthology does not profess to represent Himalayan literature as a whole, but lays emphasis on the people and myths centred around the Himalayas. For instance, the Nepali world that the poets and writers describe and create is a different one, compared to the western one. It is true that trekking-tourism, modern technology, the aid-industry, NGOs, aids and globalisation have reached Nepal, Bhutan, India, but the areas not frequented by the trekking and climbing tourists still remain rural, tradition-bound and untouched by modernity.

There are hardly any books written by writers from the Himalayas at the Frankfurter Book Fair. It's always the travelling tourist, geologist, geographer, biologist, climber and ethnologist who writes about Nepal, Tibet, Zanskar, Mustang, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh and its people, culture, religion, environment, flora and fauna. The Himalayan people have always been statists in the visit-the-Himalaya-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, Indians, Bhutanese and Tibetans who have written and published hundreds of books and magazines in their own languages. 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. It took him eight years to write his book and he took the trouble to meet most of the Nepali authors in Nepal and Darjeeling. The readers in the western world will know more about Himalayan literature as more and more original literary works are translated from Nepali, Tibetan, Hindi, Bhutanese, Lepcha, Bengali into English, German, French and other languages of the EU. The first foreign language, however, will remain English because the East India Company got there first.

This book compiled by Alice Grünfelder creates sympathy and understanding for the Nepali, Indian, Bhutanese, Tibetan, Chinese psyche, culture, religion, living conditions and human problems in the urban and rural Himalayan environment, and is a welcome addition to the slowly growing translated collection of Himalayan literature penned by writers living in the Himalayas. I wish her well in her function as a mediator between the literary worlds of Asia and Europe.

Reviewed by: Satis Shroff, Freiburg

About the Reviewer:

Satis Shroff is a prolific writer and teaches Creative Writing at the elite Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. He is a lecturer, poet and writer and the published author of three books: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. He is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer.

Satis Shroff is based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) and also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (University of Freiburg where he is a Lehrbeauftragter for Creative Writing). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.

What others have said about the author:
„Die Schilderungen von Satis Shroff in ‘Through Nepalese Eyes’ sind faszinierend und geben uns die Möglichkeit, unsere Welt mit neuen Augen zu sehen.“ (Alice Grünfelder von Unionsverlag / Limmat Verlag, Zürich).

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

‘Satis Shroff writes political poetry, about the war in Nepal, the sad fate of the Nepalese people, the emergence of neo-fascism in Germany. His bicultural perspective makes his poems rich, full of awe and at the same time heartbreakingly sad. I writing ‘home,’ he not only returns to his country of origin time and again, he also carries the fate of his people to readers in the West, and his task of writing thus is also a very important one in political terms. His true gift is to invent Nepalese metaphors and make them accessible to the West through his poetry.’ (Sandra Sigel, Writer, Germany).

“I was extremely delighted with Satis Shroff’s work. Many people write poetry for years and never obtain the level of artistry that is present in his work. He is an elite poet with an undying passion for poetry.” Nigel Hillary, Publisher, Poetry Division - Noble House UK.

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