Prosepoem: SONGS OF LOVE & SORROW (Satis Shroff)



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This time Satis Shroff tells you in his prosepoem about Nepal’s Wandering Minstrels called Gaineys, who go from village to village throughout the country and beyong Northern India with their crude versions of the violin and sing about kings, princesses, love-stories..

Prosepoem: A Minstrel’s Songs of Love and Sorrow (Satis Shroff)

Go away, you maya. Disappear. Haunt me not in my dreams.. What has become of my country? My grandpa said: “In Nepal even a child Can walk the countryside alone.” It’s just not true, not for a Nepalese, born with a sarangi in his hand. I’m a musician, one of the lower caste in the Hindu hierarchy. I bring delight to my listeners, hope to touch the hearts of my spectators.

I sing about love, hate and evil, kings and queens, princes and princesses, The poor and the rich, and the fight for existence, in the craggy foothills and the towering heights of the Himalayas, the Abode of the Snows, where Buddhist and Hindu Gods and Goddesses reside, and look over mankind and his folly. I was born in Tanhau, a nondescript hamlet in Nepal, were it not for Bhanu Bhakta Acharya who was born here, the Nepalese poet who translated the Ramayana, from high-flown Sanskrit into simple Nepali for all to read.

I remember the first day my father handed me a sarangi. He taught me how to hold and swing the bow. I was delighted with the first squeaks it made, as I moved the bow on the taught horsetail strings. It was as though my small sarangi was talking with me in its baby-talk. I was so happy, I and my sarangi, my sarangi and me. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks. I was so thankful. I touched my Papa’s feet, as is the custom in the Himalayas. I could embrace the whole world. My father taught me the tones, and the songs to go with them, for we gaineys are minstrels who wander from place to place, like gypsies, like butterflies in Spring. We are a restless folk to be seen everywhere, where people dwell, for we live from their charity and our trade.

The voice of the gainey, the sad melody of the sarangi. A boon to those who love the lyrics, a nuisance to those who hate it. Many a time, we’ve been kicked and beaten by young people who prefer canned music, from their ghetto-blasters. Outlandish melodies, electronic beats you can’t catch up with. Spinning on their heads, hip-hopping like robots, not humans. It’s the techno, ecstasy generation. Where have all the old melodies gone? The Nepalese folksongs of yore? The song of the Gainey?

“This is globanisation,” they told me.

The grey-eyed visitors from abroad, ‘Quirays’ as we call them in Nepal. Or ‘gora-sahibs’ in Hindustan. The quirays took countless pictures of me, with their cameras, gave handsome tips. A grey-haired elderly didi with spectacles, and teeth in like a horse’s mouth, even gave me a polaroid-picture of me with my sarangi, my mountain violin. Sometimes, I look at my fading picture and wonder how fast time flows. My smile is disappearing, grey hair at the sides, the beginning of baldness. I’ve lost a lot of my molars, at the hands of the Barbier from Muzzafapur in the Indian lowlands; he gave me clove oil to ease my pain, as he pulled out my fouled teeth in an open-air-surgical salon, right near the Tribhuvan Highway.

I still have my voice and my sarangi, and love to sing my repertoire, even though many people sneer and jeer at me, and prefer Bollywood texts from my voice-box. To please their whims, I learned even Bollywood songs, against my will, eavesdropping behind cinema curtains, to please the western tourists and my country’s modern youth, I even learned some English songs.

Oh money, dear money. I’ve become a cultural prostitute. I’ve done my zunft, my trade, an injustice, but I did it to survive. I had to integrate myself and to assimilate in my changing society. Time has not stood still under the shadow of the Himalayas.

One day when I was much younger, I was resting under a Pipal tree which the tourists call Ficus religiosa, when I saw one beautiful tourist girl. I looked and smiled at her. She caressed her hair, And smiled back. For me it was love at first sight. All the while gazing at her, I took out my small sarangi, with bells on my fiddle bow and played a sad Nepali melody composed by Ambar Gurung, which I’d learned in my wanderings from Ilam to Darjeeling. I am the sky and you are the soil; even though we yearn a thousand times, we cannot come together. I was sentimental at that moment. Had tears in my eyes.

When I finished my song, the blonde woman sauntered up to me, and said in a smooth voice, ‘Thank you for the lovely song. Can you tell me what it means?’

I felt a lump on my throat and couldn’t speak for a while. Then, with a sigh, I said, ‘We have this caste system in Nepal. When I first saw you, I imagined you were a fair bahun girl. We aren’t allowed to fall in love with bahunis. It is a forbidden love, a love that can never come true. I love you but I can’t have you.’

‘But you haven’t even tried,’ said the blonde girl coyly.

‘I like your golden hair, Your blue eyes. It’s like watching the sky.’

‘Oh, thank you. Danyabad. She asked: ‘But why do you say: ‘We cannot be together?’

‘We are together now,’ I replied, ‘But the society does not like us gaineys from the lower caste. The bahuns, chettris castes are above us. They look down upon us.’

‘Why do they do that?’ asked the blonde girl.

I spat out: ‘Because they are high-born. We, kamis, damais and sarkis, are dalits. We are the downtrodden, the underdogs of this society in the foothills of the Himalayas.’

‘Who made you what you are?’ she asked.

I told her: ‘The Hindu society is formed this way: once upon a time there was a bahun, and from him came the Varnas. The Vernas are a division of society into four parts. Brahma created the bahuns from his mouth. The chettris, who are warriers came from his shoulder, the traders from his thigh and the servants from the sole of his feet.’

‘What about the poor dalits?’ quipped the blonde foreigner.

‘The dalits fell deeper in the Hindu society, And were not regarded as full members of the human race. We had to do the errands and menial jobs that were forbidden for the higher castes.’

‘Like what?’ she asked.

‘Like disposing dead animals, making leather by skinning hides of dead animals, cleaning toilets and latrines, clearing the sewage canals of the rich, high born Hindus. I am not allowed to touch a bahun, even with my shadow, you know.’

‘What a mean, ugly system,’ she commented, and shook her head. ‘May I touch you?’ she asked impulsively. She was daring and wanted to see how I’d react.

‘You may,’ I replied. She touched my hand, Then my cheeks with her two hands. I found it pleasant and a great honour.

I joined my hands and said sincerely, ‘Dhanyabad.’ I, a dalit, a no-name, a no-human, has been touched by a young, beautiful woman, a quiray tourist, from across the Black Waters we call the Kalapani.’

A wave of happiness and joy swept over me. A miracle had happened. Like a princess kissing a toad, in fairy tales I’d heard. Perhaps Gandhi was right: I was a Child of God, a harijan, and this fair lady an apsara.

She, in her European mind, thought she’d brought the idea of human rights at least to the gainey, this wonderful wandering minstrel, with his quaint fiddle called sarangi.

She said in her melodious voice, ‘In my country all people are free and equal, have the same rights and dignity. All humans have common sense, a conscience, and we ought to meet each other as brothers and sisters.’

I tucked my sarangi in my armpit, Clapped my hands and said:

‘Namaste! That’s nice. Noble thoughts. It works for you here, perhaps. But it won’t work for me,’ Feeling a sense of remorse and nausea sweep over me.
© satisshroff, germany 3/3/2010

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thelma zaracostas (australia): Hi Satis! Strong discriptive writing Satis, great poem.Nice to see you here at voices, once again great poem hope you stay awhile!

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Eguisheim in France


Alsace is a region of lovely countryside, much like the Schwarzwald where we come from. I was in a Hinterhalter bus from Oberried driven by a fellow singer named Bernd of our men’s choir (Kappel). We’d decided to spend a morning in Breisach near the French border and the rest of the afternoon at Eguisheim.

It was a lovely day and there were lots of clouds on the vast sky, as the bus sped from Freiburg, past the vineyards of Kaiserstuhl.

Our first stop was the restaurant-am-Rhine in Breisach. Once you cross the Rhine you’re in France. There were benches below the trees along the bank of the Rhine. We were served champagne, or the German version thereof which is called ‘Sekt’ because of copyright laws, after which we had a hearty brunch.

The restaurant staff were friendly and there was a big choice of dishes. The after-brunch promenade along the Rhine was good for the soul.

We crossed the Rhine barrage over to Alsace (France) in a bus full of singers and their partners. A motley crowd in casual wear this time and not in the usual blue-and-black uniforms. Due to the fact that France and Germany are both leading nations in the EU the customs posts have been done away, and you can drive to France with nothing to declare. It works the same way when you’re coming from France. This is one of the advantages of being in the EU. When a Brit comes across the chunnel he or she might be obliged to undergo the passport and other formalities. When the British pound goes down in value, why, the Britishers will not be ordering 8 litres of beer as usual.

Ah, the blue Vosges mountains and the vineyards appear after crossing the Rhine. Yes, that’s us waiting for the others to arrive at Eguisheim and posing for a group pic.

After that we headed for Eguisheim, where we strolled along the cobbled streets and admired the small town decorated, almost everywhere, with seasonal flowers.

Eguisheim is a lovely town with ancient walls and statues dating back to the 13th century and  was the capital of Habsburg’s Vorderösterreich before the governmental instances moved to Freiburg following the Westphalian Treaty.

 There are also modern part like this shop selling dried and candied fruits: mangoes, papayas, cranberries, coconut, melons and a host of other leckerlies, as they say in Switzerland. If you’ve got diabetes and tumors stay away from such seductive shops. You can stroll around the cobbled streets, lick your ice or try out all those edibles from the local bakeries, sit under the many trees and fountains and watch the world go by. There windows are all decorated with geraniums and the fountains and streets lined with summer flowers. The aroma of the bakeries, coffee and Assam or Darjeeling teas mingle with fragrance of the flowers.

On the church top you see a pair of storks on their flat nests, busy cleaning their feathers or feeding the younger ones. Every village has its church in the middle and a marketplace around it, and the houses are built around the church in concentric circles with the streets leading to different cardinal directions. We even went to a parish church (St. Peter and Paul) built in the 13th century-1810. Outside the church you peer at the elegantly gabled belfry, the only surviving element from the earlier Romanesque church, which was built in the basilica-form in anno 1220.

Inside, the carved lintel illustrates the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The stained glass windows of the 19th century go back to 1954, and they retrace the life of Bruno of Eguisheim (1002-1054) who became the Pope in 1049 with the name Leo IX. A copy of the painting ‘Madonna of the Rose Bower’ by Michael Schongauer is displayed to the left of the altar. The original can be seen in the church of the Dominicans in Colmar.

The church organ is interesting as it comprises 2214 pipes of Callinet origin, constructed by the Callinet brothers of Rouffach in 1839. It was Alfred Kern of Strasbourg who restored the organ.

In Eguisheim you see miles of vineyards for it is the cradle of viticulture in Alsace (France). In the earlier days, the bishop of Strasbourg and other abbeys owned extensive vineyards in the area. Bruno d’ Eguisheim, who later became Pope Leo IX, was born in the residence flanking the main square. The present buildings around Eguisheim date back to the 19th century. There was a castle on this site 1100 years ago.

When you take a walk around the olde town you see the 12th century walls surrounding this small town, with its winding, narrow lanes and really quaint half-timbered small houses. The exquisitely old houses display a date and coat-of-arms. The people of Eguisheim love to show their collection of traditional vineyard tools for pressing the grapes, as well as old agricultural implements in front of their houses.

The others who are waiting for the stragglers to arrive, all smiles after a lovely walk in the small wine town of Eguisheim. Suddenly it started raining and we decided to take shelter in a nearby church, where we sang songs: Evening Rose, Heaven is a Wonderful Place and Irish Blessing. Petrus must have liked the songs. The resonance was good and it has stopped raining. Songs work miracles,eh? There were so many wine shops and cellars where you could try out the different wines from the local vineyards. When it comes to wine testing, the vendors in Alsace are a bit miserly–but in Southern France and elsewhere the French are generous. Anyway, we tried a cellar where they had sylvaner, muskat and gewürztraminer. I bought a bottle of gewürztraminer after the testing because it has a lovely, sweet and spicy taste. That’s my favourite.

During my university days I come out to Alsace with a friend named Wolfgang Mangler and we’d buy a lot of bottles of wine, which we’d drink over the warm summer days to the music of Moustaki, Zorba the Greek or the French singers of yore.

The wine was good and it was afternoon and most of us settled down in the cafe to enjoy the eclaire, tortes, brioche, ice-cream, and lots of goodies. Right near a local fountain there was a memorial erected to remember the fallen French soldiers in World War II, which had brought a lot of misery and the French and the Germans were at their throats in World War I and II. You could read the names of the French soldiers.

In Freiburg we also had a memorial of a battle at Belfort but the statue has been removed because the Siegesdenkmal area is being reconstructed. Freiburg has been receiving a lot of money for such projects from Stuttgart and also the refugees, and now it has a deficit in its treasury. Oh, la-la.

Caveau d’ Eguisheim is known for its superb collection of wines. The caveau is an old patrician’s house with a genuine 18th century wine press. You go to a cellar in the premises and see three outsized wooden kegs, which were formerly used to store wine from the region.

A wine festival in Alsace is a classic event complete with brass bands, folklore and, of course, the traditional Flammkuchen. There are 30 Sylvaner wines and 150 different wines in Alsace, half o which are known to be of bio-quality.

Eguisheim even has a monument to Alsatian wine with the ode:


Ode au vin
Mon Dieu donnez moi la vie pour longtemps
de l’Amour de temps en temps
du Boulot pas trop souvent
mais du Vin d’Alsace tout le temps.

 Ode to wine
My God give me life for a long time
Love from time to time
Work not too often
But Alsatian Wine all the time

The Gewurztraminer can be taken as an aperitif, with cheese and with desserts. Then there’s the Pinot noire, which is suitable for fish dishes, grilled cuisine, curry and cheese. Cremant d’ Alsace is ideal as a vin de cocktail, a refined aperitif, and also to accompany a dessert.

Some houses date back to the 15th century and when you look at the old walls you notice that that the facades have been well-kept and the cement holds longer. In the 18th century home-owners were allowed to do whatever they wanted with their home and there was no uniformity. The old church was reconstructed with the money earned from the vineyards. Even though the Catholic priests were obliged to practice zolibat, the female cooks and the cleaning women were often the girl-friends of the priests, and as a result they became occasionally pregnant.

The road of the five castles: the castles are Pflixbourg, Hohenlandsburg and the three ruined castles of Eguisheim, depicted by Yours Truly. They were built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The towers of Eguisheim stand amidst woodland on top of a hill with a fantastic view of Colmar, the Rhine Valley and the Schwarzwald.

Himalaya Micropoems by Satis Shroff at presents: Himalaya Micropoems written by Satis Shroff, who is based in Freiburg and is a poet, humanist, lecturer and artist.

Source: Himalaya Micropoems by Satis Shroff at

Himalaya Micropoems

written by: Satis Shroff



Lights flicker in Mahabharat mountains
The air smells of rhododendrons
The splendour of the Himalayas.

* * *

I stay in my tent
Dream of cherry blossoms
And a blonde in kimono.

* * *

The fishtailed one appears
Gleaming in silvery moonshine
Mirrored on placid Phewa lake.

* * *

Winter is here
The magic of snowy landscape
Out with the snowboots.

* * *

Snowflakes falling from Heaven
Frau Holle is dusting blankets
Gott sei Dank my heater works

* * *

Clouds waltz in the sky
Men are out to conquer
The holy Himalayan peaks.

* * *

Sudden monsoon rain
Soaks the mountainside
A landslide causes screams of agony.

* * *

Baptism of monsoon
A landslide washed the road away
Groping and cursing uphill as a child.

* * *

The large ice chunks leap
Crash upon the fragile tents
The base camp’s a crevice.

* * *

Snow in my tent
Tremor in my heart

* * *

It’s April
The air is getting thinner
Avalanche growls.

* * *

The Alsatian’s muzzle
Sniffs and buries deep
A hand is uncovered.

* * *

The black cat prowls at night
A long day of napping
Lied ahead in Namchebazaar.

* * *

Beneath my tree’s canopy
I sit and sip
My cuppa Darjeeling