Poem by Satis Shroff

Poem by Satis Shroff
 
 
TALES FROM SHANGRI LA: BAGH CHAL
Subtitle: Tiger Moves
 
The man was gathering blubber around his waist
He had become strong
For he was left alone
To do what such people do:
He invented rules and standards
As he pleased.
This was a small kingdom,
A publishing house of the King.
Two dailies in English and Nepali
And a lit mag.
He had workers under him:
Journalists, reporters, editors,
Copywriters and peons who ran errands.
Perhaps he had a nephew,
Whom he wanted to give the job I had.
In Nepal we call it ‘afnu manchey,’
In Germany it’s called ‘Vitamin B,’
The ‘B stands for Beziehung’ or connexions.
And now he had someone else,
An outsider,
As Nepalese from outside Catmandu Valley are called.
What ensued was a popular Nepalese bagh-chal game,
Whereby the tiger tries to eat as many goats as possible.
He was the tiger and I was the goat.
After every article I wrote about a visiting
American or British writer or cultural artist,
I was summoned by an apologetic and haggard-faced peon,
To appear downstairs
Before the obese, moustachioed, bespectacled bureaucrat.
A Newar whom I loathed.
I was obliged to explain
Why I’d written about the said person.
He seemed to hate people from the West.
He wanted me probably to write
About the fictive wonders of communism and socialism.
I never complained but gave him a nonchalant stare,
Listened to what he had to say
And left.
No word of praise was to be expected,
Only a sarcastic smile.
He was a bureaucrat practicing black pedagogy
In a Third World publication.
I just didn’t suit his idea of a journalist
What he expected was a karmachari,
Who stoops low when greeting him,
And says: ‘dhanyavad’ and ‘hajur hunchha!’
After each of his sentences.
I wasn’t from the Valley;
I was from the hills of Eastern Nepal,
Where people learn to be smart early,
And lack the servility found in a sovereign’s hierarchy.
I’d gone to an English school with a prince from Shangri La
And saw this oaf as a bead in a long garland.
Glossary:
karmachari: civil servant
dhanyavad: thank you
hazur hunchha: yes, sir
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2 thoughts on “Poem by Satis Shroff

  1. The Moves of the Tiger (bagh chal) is a common game in Nepal and is played outside and inside by young and elderly alike. In this came the goats try to strategically contain the tiger by surrounding it from all sides. But if the goat doesn’t protect its flanks or its back, then the tiger devours it. Bagh chal is Nepalese chess. You can also play it with small stones.
    In this poem the protagonist is the goat and the Kafkaesque administrator is the tiger. What does the administrator think. What goes on in the mind of the protagonist?

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