The book Kai jeas, Rromale? Iubiri triste, cu parfum de șatră [Where to, Roma? Sad Love Stories with the Scent of Romani Camps] comprises two short stories: ‘Atunci i-a condamnat pe toţi la…viaţă’ [Then I condemned all of them to… life’] and ‘Șatră cu parfum de iubire’ [Romani camp with the scent of love].
Against the background of a systemic assimilation policy implemented around the 1960s by the Communist regime, this book – like many others by Romani writers from Romania – was written in the Romanian language by a Rom who does not use Romani himself but who fully and proudly identifies with his Romani roots.
The story ‘Atunci i-a condamnat pe toţi la…viaţă’ is a hard-hitting reflection on the status of Roma in the Romanian society and on the deportation of Roma to Transdniestria through the eyes of a Romani violinist who is always doing his best to please the Romanian masters but at the same time keeps his real deep Romani identity to himself and his immediate family.
The story also offers the perspective of ‘nomadic’ (itinerant) Roma who strive to keep alive the laws of Romanipen even in the context of the Holocaust as well as that of an intellectual friend of the Roma whose ethnic identity is ambiguous. He is seen as crazy by the traditional Romanian community and suspected to be a Rom himself.
The writer describes real life and the feelings of love, hate, envy, hope, pain and passion experienced in it; but, above all, he focuses on the dominant feeling during the Holocaust – namely, fear. Not the fear of dying but, paradoxically, the paralysing fear of living a life in which ‘survival at any cost’ takes the place of ‘life’ itself.
One of the most important topics addressed is that of Romani ethnic identity with all its features and all the dilemmas it poses: speaking the Romani language, playing Romani music rather the music of the gadje, following the rules and values of Romanipen, skin colour, family hierarchies and the racism of the gadje against Roma. That racism continued during the period of Communism: Roma had to be ‘integrated’, and they might have had stable jobs, a tiny flat and the classic Dacia 1300 automobile, but the Romani violinist is still the ‘Gypsy’ playing to please the master.
Racism persists under the new democracy after 1989: Roma remain black and still have only limited opportunities to take part in society. For Roma, being condemned to life means being condemned to everlasting racism.
The story ‘Șatră cu parfum de iubire’ [Romani camp with the scent of love] is a black satire on Romanian society and the Romani community during the Communist era. Ethnic and personal identities are twisted in the grey atmosphere of an anomic society. Roma are torn between the former nomadic camps and the new urban slums, between giving birth and being defeated by death. The spectre of racism is still present and sometimes is even stronger than ever. The story, however, keeps alive the hope of finding something like a Romani identity, perhaps, as the story suggests, in the Romani language, in Romani music, in Romani motherhood, in Romani childhood and through the Romani understanding of the world.
Source of text sample
Gheorghe Păun-Ialomiţeanu. 2016. Kai jeas, Rromale? Iubiri triste, cu parfum de șatră. Bucharest: National Center for Roma Culture – Romano Kher, p. 8-9; 130-133.