Switzerland 1931
Denmark & Sweden 1932
Germany 1934
Istanbul 1935
Berlin 1936
Norway 1940
Berlin 1943
The Flight - Oslo
Sweden 1944
End of War


India 1953
Sarnath
Nepal 1954
Kathmandu, Swayanbhunath
and becoming a monk
Kali Gankaki 1950
Sugata accomapnied Sherchan
to take photograhs of the
Devil Dances up in Tukuche
2001 Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Goa
Sugata at 90
in Tatopani and returning to
Tukuche and Chhairo


Sugata's homeland

2005 Sugata's footsteps
1940 Norway

2007


About the Authors

Sugata, whose story this is, was born in 1911 in Germany. His long life has been an odyssey through his own and the last century's dark ages. He railed against his time and place, a protest that culminated in his war-time betrayal of Nazi Germany, when he risked his life and effectively ensured his rootlessness. His search for root as well as freedom took him to the East, first to India and then Nepal where he became a Buddhist monk. Returning to live in his adopted country, Norway, he gave lectures evangelising Buddhism, and at the same time he slowly began the process of unravelling the suffering of his past life, an unravelling that continues to this day.

Aged 93, Sugata is still travelling to the East, attending retreats, and climbing mountains; despite a parallel desire to detach himself, he is fully engaged in examining life.

Rachel Kellett was born in England in 1957, the year Sugata returned from the East to the West. She met Sugata at her first Buddhist retreat in India in 1998 and travelled with him for three years, retracing his steps, writing this book with him. She has co-written with Robert Edwards, ‘Life in Plastic’, a book about the environmental impact of the material, plastic, in India, published by the Other India Press in May 2000.

Synopsis

The short prelude is told by Rachel, who, at 41, meets Sugata, 87, at her first Buddhist retreat in Bodhgaya, northern India, 1998. Breaking the silence during the retreat, Sugata’s first words to her are: What is your nationality? It was a curious question from a man who, for the last 60 years, had adamantly and successfully avoided answering such a question himself.

Part I

(Part I told by Karl Hendrick/Sugata as the first person)

[1] Germany, 1931: Karl Hendrick, aged 20, is one of the mass unemployed in the dark climate that will give rise to Hitler as well as to Karl’s rage against him. After a futile attempt to become free as a wandervogel, a ‘bird of passage’, Karl crosses to Switzerland, where he seeks a remote mountain hut in which to remove himself from the madness around him. Despite a flicker of identification with the Götti, a hermit, amid thunderous avalanches and with no future hope, Karl is resigned to give up his young life. In his purging mind he relives images from his past that have led him to this point: while the back-cloth to his childhood – born in 1911 – was the lengthening shadow of the First World War, he countered the bitter compound of resentment and sentimental self-pity by embracing the contrary ideas of Gandhi and found friendships with fellow outcasts. As Germany fragmented into bleak uncertainty, his own ‘outsiderness’ was intensified by his parent’s announcement that they were not his parents, that he was a shameful illegitimate son.

Karl is awakened back to life by a fellow outcast, Krishna. Together with an old lover of Krishna’s, Radha, the three of them (two men and one woman), after a period of innocence, establish a deep and honest relationship in an idyllic pasture hut where they explore each other both intellectually and sexually. These feelings of belonging and happiness form the cornerstone of Karl’s life. Driven away from this ‘Garden of Eden’ by righteous, bourgeois village locals led by the priest, they are all separated: Radha lost, Krishna captured, Karl ejected back into Germany.

[2] Karl makes several more escapes from the meteoric rise of Hitler and National Socialism. First he goes to Copenhagen and Sweden, to a comfortable life of ‘cockaigne’ and contentment, taking in a new love affair, before being discharged back into Germany, a reprisal against the new Chancellor Hitler’s expulsion of foreign nationals from German soil.

[3] After a brief experience as a ‘backwanderer’ in a growing climate of fear, [4] Karl flees to Istanbul, which, in 1935, was the last escape hatch to the East. As a result of the first stages of Aryanisation made legitimate throughout Europe, Karl meets escaping refugees, mainly Eastern European Jews on their way to Palestine. But Karl himself returns to the Berlin frying pan to train in a profession in order to survive in this climate.

[5] The institution of ‘Art and Work’ in Berlin, where Karl enrolled, was an oasis for Jewish students in 1936, yet a sense of foreboding pervaded their lives as if waiting for a trap to fall. From Berlin Karl directly witnesses the period of ‘unbloody battles’ leading up to the war: seeing face on the cruel and humiliating processes of Aryanisation; driving through the night of Reichs-kristallnacht; visiting Austria two days after the Anschluss; passing through Czechoslovakia and Sudetenland as they dismally accept subjugation.

[6] With the outbreak of war in 1939, Karl is unwillingly conscripted into the German Wehrmacht. Because of his street-learned Scandinavian in wandervögel days, he is sent to recently-occupied Norway, where, employed as a telephone and radio ‘listener’, he becomes captivated by mellifluous Scandinavian voices. As his friendship with the gentle Norwegian people and love of the landscape grows, his hatred of his German army uniform festers.

[7] His growing boil of bitterness finds an outlet. In the freezing winter of 1943, Karl meets an old friend in Berlin who, after a nerve-racking conversation establishing his equal antipathy, tells Karl of his work as one of Hitler’s chief scientists developing the V1 bomb in Peenemünde. Together they agree to sabotage. Memorising important information, Karl impartes it to his Norwegian radio technician (who had always known Karl as a ‘Jössing’, friend to the Norwegians), and he in turn transmitts it to Britain. (Three months later, Peenemünde is bombed, effectively delaying the German’s V1 programme by three crucial months.)

[8] [9] [10] Being openly known as a ‘Jössing’, he feels the trap closing on him, and commences his escape in December 1943. Entrusting himself to the courageous Norwegians, his escape, prickling with fearful moments, is a journey through the different lives he encounters – a Norwegian from the Troll Fjord who had rejected his certain, secure life for Quisling’s call, the Kriegsbrichter (war correspondent) revolted by the mix of ice-cold sadism with sentimentality among the Germans in Leningrad; the nameless Norwegian loggers; Axel the Lap – as well as through Norway’s winter landscape, with the threat of death through freezing or ‘Germans round every corner’.

[11] Across the border, he quickly discovers that ‘neutral’ Sweden does not offer the expected asylum and his fate is uncertain: all German deserters prior to Leningrad were returned to the German authorities in Norway to face certain execution. After almost dying, he is sent to a Swedish prison. Here he attains, paradoxically, a kind of liberation. Secure in a no-man’s land, he paints the portraits of his fellow inmates, other misfits and deserters with various stories.

[12] He is released from prison in 1944. Hungry for food and mad for sex, with a surfeit of cream cakes and keen women, it is a time of indulgence, although, to his chagrin, he is often judged as a German Nazi. With such prejudices, he finds easier comradeship amongst refugees arriving from Europe. When peace comes in 1945 and shakes the ‘tree of refugees’, allowing many to return to their homelands, Karl by contrast has no where to go, but gives refuge to two Norwegian girl friends, so called ‘military mattresses’, who were escaping from post-war recrimination and humiliation in Norway. The survivors from Auschwitz and Buchenwald, transported on Bernadotte buses, outwardly healed in Swedish hospitals, start arriving in the bourgeois drawing rooms of Stockholm. Here Karl meets Ludmilla and gives her sanctuary that Christmas. But she, like others, opts for South America where, after a short correspondence, Karl’s last letter was returned, across it written: ‘dead’.

In the spring of 1946, adamantly refusing to apply for the renationalised German passport, Karl sets off for Paris with his refugee ‘Framlings pass’. Journeying briefly through the still smouldering ruins of a grey and downtrodden northern Germany, he feels the satisfaction of revenge, a kind of self-righteousness as well as a more pragmatic contentment of having warm, dry feet and being a stranger looking out of a bus window. Outside the complexities of defeated Germany, he experiences a resurgent hope: for the global citizen and nations without frontiers. He feels that he is that new global citizen, without a nationality, and certainly without a German nationality: if anyone had the impertinence to ask where he is from, he replies, ‘I am a fish’.

 


 

Part II

(Told by Rachel. Sugata’s post-war past and the present are interwoven: Sugata’s story is sandwiched between his and Rachels contemporary travel, often told in the form of a conversation between them. As the story and time progress, the emphasis on the present increases, and alongside the present, unfold reflections of the past.)

[Prologue] 1999 – 2001: A series of letters between Sugata and Rachel results in the birth of their working relationship. They discuss the writing the of the first part of this book and float the suggestion to include his post-war life (this part of the book). Finally a disagreement seals the deal.

[01] In February 2001, at the end of a Buddhist retreat, they are in Bodhgaya, India, preparing to follow in Sugata’s post-war footsteps. The backdrop is India and the convergence of their paths (leading to Bodhgaya in 1998).

The seeds of Sugata’s journey East already having been sown (rejection of fatherland, Hitler and anything Western; embracing of Gandhi, Theosophy, and anything Eastern), a visiting Indian artist, Kanwal Krishna, helped bring the plan to fruition. Overland they went, Karl and his Swedish wife, Ingrid, in 1953, dawning on them half-way that the Arabs travelling with them were right: ‘So you are pilgrims!’ Arriving penniless through the Gateway of India (Bombay), they were welcomed by the Sarnath Mahabodi society, where Karl ran from one Eastern ecstasy to the next, stumbling over Indian paradoxes and Buddhist ethics. Lama Govinda, the bridge between East and West, helped to unravel a few mysteries, and through him, a dog fight and a book on Lenin, Karl began nurturing the possibility of becoming a monk. Amritananda, a Therevadan monk, cleared the remaining obstacles to monastic life and Nepal and swept Karl and Ingrid away from the dusty plains and increasing heat of India to the clear mountains of Nepal.

[02] Amritananda gave no formal teaching but left Karl and Ingrid to learn through looking (and being looked at), listening (to incomprehensible three hour diatribes in Nepali) and living. But Karl did find a teacher – the Sivapuri Baba, aged 128 at the time, who immediately understood Karl’s aloneness, and his present preoccupation: his hatred of his white skin. Within six months, Karl and Ingrid became monk and nun, taking the Buddhist names Sugata and Amita. They were the first European husband and wife ever to be ordained in Nepal. With news from Amita, who had returned home, that Sweden was hungry for Buddhism, the fervent, yellow robed monk, Sugata, hastened back to the West to awaken it to the wisdom of the East.

[03] Sugata returned to Nepal in 1960. As a monk with a difference – three Leica cameras around his neck – he was invited by Sham Sherchan, a merchant from an old Tukuche salt trading family looking for a new trade in tourism, to photograph ‘Devil Dancing’ (Buddhist celebrations to reinact, with elaborate dances and masks the victory of good over evil). In April 2001, retracing his steps up the Kali Gandaki valley, Sugata is as much an object of interest, now aged 90 (his birthday us celebrated half way up the Annapurna trekking route in Tatopani hot springs) as he was in 1960 being the only white-skinned monk. He and Rachel find the once lively Gompas (temples) to be abandoned relics of their former glory: the Chhairo Gompa had been robbed and Tukuche lies in ruins. Because he took umbrage at their mercantile use, Sugata never handed the photographs over in1960, so the thousands of images of the dances, Thanka paintings (now waterlogged), and many carved Buddha statues (since stolen), lay unseen in boxes. Until now, that is. At the end of the trip Rachel and Sugata meet by chance Sashi Dhoj, the son of the Thanka painter Sugata photographed in 1960. Sashi was earnest in wanting to restore the Gompas – the photographs will be used to preserve.

[04] In Norway 2001, Rachel arrives on a June white night, visiting Sugata in his adopted country, driving up a dirt track to his isolated hut on the edge of Europe’s largest uninhabited plateau – Sugata’s protected loneliness.

Returning to the West from Nepal in 1957, Sugata, as monk in yellow robes, began giving public lectures. Crusading mostly against the West, his promotion of Buddhism had to be tempered and ‘packaged’ as travelogues to placate the local priests, fearful of heathen competition. Thus his slide show titles: ‘The Hidden Kingdom of Nepal’, ‘Pilgrimage to Mt Everest’. But Sugata was never really happy in Sweden, and in 1967 he returned to his beloved Norway. Here he continued to give lectures (disrobing after 15 years as a monk), until attendance declined with the advent of television. At the age of 60, Sugata began retraining in what is probably his final profession, Rose Painting, reawakening his life-long interest in art but, more importantly, fulfilling an ambition he has long harboured, to become more independent so that he can bask in increasing aloneness and anonymity. With savings from his lectures and a steady income for the first time in his itinerant, wandervögel life, he bought a piece of land and built his first home, a hut. He was 65 years of age.

Sugata’s and Rachel’s time together, their day to day living in the hut – writing the book, walking, sparking memories and seeing the shifts and finding reconciliations – is interrupted by two telephone calls with sad news: Rachel’s aunt had died and Sugata’s ex wife Amita was dying. They both set off to carry out their respective death rituals, Sugata reflecting, sometimes painfully, on Amita’s life and their life together. Amita died two days after Sugata’s return to her, as if she were waiting for him, and Sugata describes the final death ritual, part orderly Scandinavian and part shockingly Eastern Buddhist.

[05] Having successfully secured his independence and aloneness, what will happen to Sugata ‘when he gets old’? Discussing this and toying with the idea of living in a like-minded community, preferably Buddhist, Sugata recalls a community he visited fifteen years ago that was being established in Bordo, northern Italy. He and Rachel travel there and find a community of young ‘Aryan’ Germans with plenty of children – two groups of people Sugata has assiduously avoided throughout his later life. For the first time in 40 years, he responds honestly: #German’, to their question of what nationality he is, and his candour allows him to open up to other questions of his war time past.

[06] In the last chapter, Rachel returns to Norway in autumn 2002. Together they talk of winter in the hut; there is acceptance of Sugata’s staying on here. He is preparing for the peace of ‘nirvana’, the ‘giving up of desire’, yet at the same time he realises he is still fatefully attracted to the endless ‘samsara’ (comings and goings) of this life. He is the reluctant participator, battling to attain and protect his aloneness, yet at the same time not wanting to be left alone. Has he finally found what he wanted, first glimpsed with the Götti? One thing he is sure of (with a strong taste of the evangelist): that his longevity is finally his most effective point of influence yet, and so it is; he will continue to travel to Bodhgaya and choose to sit on an uncomfortable floor for three weeks.

Rachel Kellett October 22, 2002 / June 2003

 

 

 

 

 

Part1 in PicturesIndia 1953Nepal 1954 | Kali Gandaki 1960 | Sugata at 90 | Sugata in India 2001 | Norway 1940-2001

'Bird of Passage' | Home