Hans Christian Ostro wrote throughout his ordeal
He discarded and concealed letters, poems cryptic comments and observations, hiding them under stones, inside bottles, beneath pebbles, written on anything he could get his hands on: the back of old photos, pages pulled from magazines, bark even. Some were found by villagers, many of who did not speak English (let alone Norwegian), some of who were illiterate, but all of who recognised them as important and took the risk of getting them to the J&K police. The force later forwarded them to the Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi.
1. Fax copy of handwritten letter from HC to Norwegian Embassy, dated July 24, 1995.
‘My dear family. I am fine. I keep on believing in the good and in the good in people. My biggest concern is what you think and feel. Please be strong because I am. Love from Hans Christian. Dear Embassy. I must ask you for a favour. When I was taken hostage by the Mujahideen there was a thick xxx notebook in my tent. It is ¾ full of handwriting in Norwegian. It contains three months work of drama and poetry. I have booked the Black Box theatre in October and this book is of absolutely necessary [sic] for the play. My name and address stands on the first page and I have promised a 50 US dollar reward if lost. Please help me, contact the Indian army etc. (I don’t want anything in the book published, if found. It’s private). Please keep the pressure on the Indian government. Their officials in three tourist offices guaranteed that my trip was absolutely safe. Nobody told me the Mujahideen had been in this area for six years. Thank you very much. Hans Christian…’ last few lines including a P.S. are cut off from fax.
2. A set of kathakali photos of HC during his graduation performance, with notes written by him on the back.
They were delivered along with kidnappers pix to Srinagar press enclave.
1. HC in full makeup and costume: ‘This is from my first play in Insharavan Ganesh Temple, Sreekrishnapuram, Kerala. I am playing Bhima, the half god who is son of the wind and has 100 elephants strength. The play’s name is Shouria Gunam (Divine Anger) and I am the one keeping angry. I am the first foreigner ever to study this play, which is very difficult.
2. Close-up of HC face, made up for performance: ‘This is from kathakali training. I hope to start a theatre school with kathakali as an important ingredient. I takes totally five hours to put on all the makeup and costumes in kathakali.’
3. HC without costume in pose, looking at instructor’s hand: ‘I have bought a full costume and recorded the music in studios. I am planning to perform in Norway and Europe next year. There are so many people living in our continent that comes from the sub Indian continent. It’s time we get to know some about there culture. Our roots are related and deep. This play will be especially suitable for schools and the growing generation.’
4. HC in full makeup and costume: “It’s hard for a king to live in exile in a forest wearing leather clothes. The special importance in kathakali are the hands and the eyes. It’s a silent play, to drums, cymbals and carnatic vocal. Thank you embassy.”
Note: much was made of these photos and notes when they reached Delhi in August 1995, with kathakali specialists scanning the words for secret messages about where the hostages were being held.
3. Letter smuggled out and reached Norwegian embassy with some of HC’s photos, arriving 10 August 1995, according to Marit Hesby, HC’s mother, who arrived the same day:
‘You are a light wind of dust from gold spread down in the river which is my life. I’m in mortal danger surrendered to people without balance and to God. You are the most beautiful, concrete earthly thing in my fantasies. Your body and your soul shining out from your being. It’s my hope. I’m very awake now. I’m more awake than for a long time. I have seen so much beauty in my life it is not difficult to die in gratitude. I have seen so much beauty in people in life it’s not difficult to keep going with a strong hope for living.’
This letter came with several kathakali photos taken by HC in Kerala that he had obviously kept with him after being taken hostage.
There follow several photos probably taken by HC of Kathakali dancers, with messages on reverse:
a. Photo of green kathakali dancer:
He wrote: ‘Such birds organise you are sitting so calm and communicate without the sun. I’m dreaming to explode and be a sun. There are grey wings with every shade in, will I now be able to see? I think I can see beauty and calmness. It is silver things to imbibe. Come in, come in.’
b: photo of HC without costume, two locals:
He wrote: ‘Which wind can hold me? Which wind will stop me? Which hope shall show me little flowers in meadows? When shall the dam break?’
c. Two kathakali dancers seated with man in white veil:
He wrote: ‘On little eyes which still can look but understand little of the complicated processes which regulate human relations I am quiet. I’m Captain Jack its pain in my body’s body if I see how everything who keeps one day in fleeting how the opportunity breaks and goes away and the meanings hopelessness and meaninglessness take over which love should have been blooming. The world’s meaning and achievement I still believe but I am understanding by living the opposite. I still believe but I know the opposite at the same time as I know it’s my responsibility.’
d. A kathakali dancer:
He wrote: ‘No winter awaits to start, no summer waits to close, no mist comes with advance warning, only people only people who shut down and are slaves in time and place. Only people make stars in the snow, only people take their own lives.’
e. Blue dress photo:
He wrote: ‘I will refuse to eat and die. My mind wants to end at once but there is a beauty by the commando [sic] who says don’t forget to laugh and enjoy yourself, don’t forget to love and take care of the light of humans, don’t forget to be a human being, only then you can keep on your justice, only then you can achieve your desires. Their not eating strike was short, we moved and now I am exhausted…. 0.24 a trapped human being is a trapped person like me. Left over to other people without weapon and cannot defend themselves.’
f. Photo of wedding, flames on back:
He wrote: ‘You find what you are looking for here. It is cold stones guns and people. My searching battery is flat. I who can vibrate around the whole world. I only have a fishing spirit left (very down). Little joy left over. Little humanity. But I need to fight and I need to escape. I’m not dead, even if I can kid myself that I am. It is a fighting living home [?] in the essence of God, the life giving power. Enclosed and then pumping out blood and brain cells. I still want to be a human being. I will not fight or hurt anybody. I will escape if I can. I will not eat.’
g. Photo of kathakali figure seated with drummers around:
He wrote: ‘Like a storm of wild horses by a sick brain which was caught in a coral it is lightening and they have been running in panic. The hooves smashing against bare granite, the white is in their eyes. They pull and draw in all directions, the wheels are lifted above the ground and make flashes together with the lightening. Thunder booms like machine guns. I am tied up under the wagon. Stones and grass cover my body but the priests are laughing and sniffing cocaine. I’m cold and calm even if rats are jumping up and hanging off my skin. I can feel the infection of them etching my skin. Nearly all the horses are fallen and are drawn by the two left. One horse against the wagon is falling over. Everybody is dead. I am alive.’
h. A photo of a kathakali dancer with a swan’s beak mask:
He wrote: ‘I am Hamsa, the gold swan who threw away a wheel which has been driven down in those lives that fate wants me to meet. Good night. And when our Hamsa is going to start his family, who shall be Hamsa for Hamsa?’
4. LETTERS FOUND WITH THE BODY
Two pages of letters to HC family, written on pages ripped out of exercise book.
‘To my family: If I should die now, I have to tell you at once that there is a lot that I have not yet done. If I’m dying now I don’t die poor. I contain many worlds like this with all its reckless beauty and contrasts. You have been the essence I have built my life on. A big train of gratitude and happiness is going through Asia to Norway to come and live in the house you have built in your dreams. Think of me, think of castles, drakes, women with long hair. Think of little puppies, old skinny books, the innocent, growing seeds, rainbows, stars, the sun – and grow?’
Overleaf page one:
‘To My Family: If I should die now there will come bubbles of the tenderest love to those who are going to keep on going with this life on earth and which I have loved. The warmest hugs hidden behind something invisible which I am and as they know are and which will live as long as they live and then they are gone. It’s alright but not before. I’m not afraid to die. You should know I’m well. I have had it better but I’m not in any pain. Inside me there is lots of light.’
‘To My Family: If I should die now I have to tell you there are lots of things unfinished. My unborn children have missed an exciting childhood and my ocean of love. My family will never see me again. My best friends put a ring of flowers on the top of a tower. If I should die now I will not be satisfied. Much time will be wasted. Much suffering for me and mine without meaning. Time I cannot take in.’
Continued overleaf page two:
‘We recognise the light inside. We sleep. We forget. We postpone the time and space and limited we work inside in limited forms…. Open up lord, open up my eyes because I see my limitations and I am very silent….’
There is a break in the narrative. The rest of this page seems to be an escape plan letter written also by HC:
‘0.30 I talked with Dirk and we shared some thoughts and questions with him. We have been thinking about the same things; about the women and how to get away. If we have not escaped I think we will do it in the middle of this month if nothing happens. Inshallah, if God wills…. Light up the flame, sing and be joyful. [This letter also has a drawing of a masked face, the phrase ‘Harald??? Kathakali… soon dead’ [a reference to HC’s friend Harald Kolos from Sweden who HC had written to from India saying he wished to perform a story-telling performance with him] The letter also states ‘1. Satan, 2. No entry, 3. Bhagvadgita.’
Poem written on sheet ripped from school exercise book:
‘Free, free. Streams of mild light and your eyes are light. Free, free. You have the entire universe to breath in. Free, free. Take whatever you want of me. Free, free. I have lit the candle that floats into your dwelling. Free, free. You are not running away, we meet, we meet, and build a palace. Free, free. As caught by the wind and by the breath of a woman. Free, free. I swim to the bottom, I will be drowned at the bottom. Free, free. A mole and is a… free, free.’ On the reverse is a list of songs titles: XXXX. I think this letter was found with the body.
Page ripped from an Indian magazine, possibly found on the body?
Two thirds of the page is covered by song-lists written in hand by HC, such as the Waterboys and Rolling Stones. The bottom third consists of note dated 6/8 [August 6, 1995] and titled ‘Escape Part 2’ that appears to be intended for the other hostages. We know HC was separated from the other hostages for up to two weeks before his death.
HC writes in English:
‘I have changed a bit since I wrote the first note and I hope your chances are good. I can’t personally put my faith in these people only, that I believe it will be harder for the big Kommando [sic] to put a death order on you with me alive. You might get home before me. I am doing it because I still have some strength left. I am slowly vanishing and I am of that kind which you can’t really see if I am sick. Good luck to you all. If I should die, I am wearing a message to my family in my balls (inside my underwear). I have a big notebook of great importance left at Ringo’s Guest House [Delhi] in a large black bag. God bless you in the fight!’
NOTE: My suspicion is that HC is on hunger strike and/or only taking milk in preparation for sacrifice – an eyewitness who saw him at this time with kidnappers said he refused all food, only drinking a glass of milk. On the reverse of this sheet is a list of countries Hans Christian visited.
Poem written on strip of bark, possibly found on the body, entitled “Winning and Losing”:
‘I’m standing on a swing and grey skies become red. Suddenly it was over without warning. Broken knuckles, every organ breathing for air over the ocean waves. Then it was over. There was no screaming, no hysteria, women yelling or children crying. Only the silence of old men’s stagnation and their peace and their quietness, their stillness of knowledge. Far away the golden castle supported by four elephants, Shiva’s temple. Around, shifting horizons. Then it was over. The river’s cosmic fleeting was ended. Old men’s dry tears over material loss. Hissing snakes and self pity. So it was over, a person with black eyes, Allah and My Lord. A pistol. I was not afraid. The End.’ On the reverse is the beginning of something else but I don’t have full translation of the eight lines: ‘If you could only hear my whispering. I am dressed in new clothes….’
5. Bahai booklet, The Hidden Words of the Baha’ullah, almost certainly found on the body, family got it back in August 1996. HC own notes are written in margins and between verses, partially in Norwegian and partially in English.
Front flap of booklet: ‘Oasis, I am floating upwards and spread in 1000 pieces. Up quiet I will be taken down again and I go down against you. It is a fruit more golden than others, which I like to grow and love in the shadow of. Oasis asks me to hold you. I’m exhausted, the bath in the mind is many and I have been going lost in the desert before. The explosions to rhythm in colours and love. Air that can freely be inhaled. I am bound and can easily be hurt by old doings and flying mind. Inside me there is growing a little golden plant.’
‘Nobody is waiting to break the scab. No winter is waiting to open up. No summer is waiting to close. Nobody receives love without letting the wheel roll. Let the wheel roll into the unknown landscape and cry but don’t stop the rhythm from inside. Let it pulse along the landscape up to starry heavens and promise of morning day. The gaia land hasn’t come yet but everything has been written down. The one who can see will read more in small flowers of the mountains than in leather-bound books. Reality, the longing after the original. The enormous desire for curiosity. The big sword who only is inside yourself and which will start to grow when the two workers [??worlds] inner and outside are meeting. Then space will go away and time will stop.
Page two scribbled notes:
‘So what has the world to give today? A wet blanket, a cold, news in Urdu, good warm tea, bread without health, light from God, rain and blue heaven, light from people whom shall I serve, what shall I do? A little more ice ocean in my bubbling mind doesn’t blow out. Extinguish anything. Don’t be afraid friends tell us what you have in your heart. Friendship is not only a free stream of being agreeable and freedom, it is to accept our difficulties and to build up and support over love and suns.’
‘If you could only hear me whispering, if you could only hear me whispering. I’m dressed in new clothes and shall protect you with peacock feathers. My knights armour, I will be the new emperor.
‘White lily, how I miss your breath in my ear. Your fresh innocence mine old soul, who are slowly given hope.’
Notes on page 7:
‘Schub [Shoaib, one of the kidnappers??] he is a fighter but he is only good and kind. Here has been a fight and that was good. Now one needs to go carefully because it is a minefield.’ NOTE: is this a reference to the fight the kidnappers had with the Indian Army on July 19, 1995 in which they falsely claimed two hostages (Hutchings and Mangan) were injured?? ‘Dag 24 [August 1, 1995]: people who are locked in. Other fellows who are locked in too. They are left over to other people without weapons and they could not defend themselves.’
Notes on page 8:
‘Holy fight, the battle’s just begun. We’re melting silver bullets. To be on the run. The dogs are hungry with their tongues outside. Still we try to have fun and be a preacher in the night.’
Notes on page 9:
‘I want to dream in love. I want to love and worship the one prince is going to be born. Goddess of love in her palace. A prince shall be born, a prince will know/renew himself. A prince shall push the kingdom. This power of love on myself and my limited thinking.’
Notes on page 10:
‘I’m tired and pensive and don’t have motivation enough even to be afraid for myself. I am not active at the moment but tonight the leaves were red. OK, I have a mission. I have a fundament but there is not enough love in me to grow alone. It has transformed into fear and uncertainty and anxiety and honour without future. I don’t exactly understand if I’m going to be built down or up or how and when I can sail alone and when I shall create myself.’
Notes on page 12:
‘To all the girls I have known how big a part you are in me I don’t know but I do know that one [word illegible] from you can put me out of balance, can send me high up in heaven out of control. It doesn’t exactly function the other way. This is war people, light fighters but maybe for the king, for me! I am following your road God or do I halt or stumble in my ego? Do I do it OK God? What more can I learn without listening enough to you God?’
Notes on page 16/17:
‘So without failure we went out into the country of death. He was not afraid. He saw the walls mirroring every fear from inside. Empty. He looked into the burning and the pain. Into the inner spirit he went, and then opened it. The evil would be absolved if he hadn’t run away. The shadowy caves into a mirrored palace and the most beautiful woman, an angel that came down and said: ‘I am Balandriel, your other half”.’
Notes on page 18/19:
‘I have learned. I have experienced. To whom shall I write? There is a dream that became alive. I was bathing in the river, why didn’t my mind stay there? [possible reference to river campsite where HC was seized??] It opened up in joy and beauty. Why didn’t you sink. It was a contrast to my inner self. You really have a special plan for me. One piece here, one piece there. We are a little couple. As it has been said, I will not be given more than I can manage. I can manage a lot, I can change my heed to manage much more. I will not fail you. I will be showing that I have very good qualities, my pulse will vibrate in all the souls of human beings. I shall be the artist that takes all the colours of the palate and makes lovely openings from time and the slave of space. More than anything else, I will bring light and colour to my surroundings and start a link which will grow far beyond my perspective. The scene is the altar. The public has a right. Together we should breathe and know each other.’
Notes on page 50:
‘The scab from your beauty has absorbed. I am the rain man. The branches are broken by guilt where I have placed my footsteps. I am singing but inside my skin there are pricks because I’m hiding myself. Don’t stand by yourself. It’s turning to evening. There are so many lonely others who will fight God. They are all seeing. Don’t stand alone.’
6. Letter, handwritten in Norwegian, with note at the top, “I write this with my hands tied”.
Not sure where or how this letter was received: ‘Stone faces without responsibility, is it so in the Muslim world? One can wonder is it coming from inheritance or with religion or with growing up? Take away the pain. Listen to the fall of the autumn leaves. Cry and laugh, don’t fight and hate. If you meet Buddha so shoot him. There is a dark sorrow full of petrol. Why a people, a religion? Why such very bad people behind a prophet? Why is there no development in separating the state from the religion? The Muslim brotherhood represents pain, fear and hatefulness. Are you going to begin the next world war? [very prescient comment coming in 1995!!]. Islam against developed countries. Are we going to suffer because of their ignorance? How does one meet hatred and isolation? Don’t we have the same right to breathe and do things like they have?’
7. Letter/poem, handwritten in Norwegian, source unclear:
‘Everything that is left is my two homes, the angel’s hour is inner beauty in my mind. My scared heart. I am a catastrophe but on another level then these primitive killers we have the same fear and the same love. I must try to live, to laugh and to breathe while I am trying to see God permanent in my last home and pray, pray, pray.’
8. Letter/poem, handwritten in Norwegian not sure how came out or when:
‘I should very much like to keep hold fast in a cliff. It is rain and lightening above. All roofs and heads. So many people with fundamental scars. So many with hope like empty boxes. I have a need for strong control or the philosophy by letting everything go. The world is like a two dimensional conflict (against each other). My love, I will entice. Seduce the world to talk about my inner feelings. I will open up my insides to deal with the world. I think I will not miss. (This sentence is crossed out: I will not believe, I will not manage it). Upright with a straight back, with my heart open and without a weapon. I take all responsibility for my own actions. What is left is to tame the empty mind’s vanity not to put the top on the kettle but instead replace it with something better and more positive. What is destroyed shall re-grow and if it shall be angry I will have strength to fight it. It will want to be the centre of the world.’
‘Which end shall we start in? Now I’m tired. It will be evening, it’s so little outside that goes into me. Which song shall we now sing? The voice has been reduced and the listeners have become dust. The butt has been broken, which dream shall now be dreamed? Repetition and noisy men repeat themselves and are very boring, monotonous. One destructive hope, to escape home. Which words shall now be heard? The well is empty and the stomach is cavernous [hunger strike???] Here it won’t be fleeting for a long, long time. Which escape will my head effect? It is filled with material dreams or egoistic apathy, beauty nobody understands. Which end are we now starting in? I am tired and stop for the night. The sky is still blue but only very little from outside comes into this cell.’
‘Give the best from the ego we all have to deal with. Feel of the intelligent individual beating hearts. Share all of time, goodness, laughter, food and room/space/spirit. But why fear death? Death is as kind as life. She knows much more than I don’t and can look much more far out. When death is coming it is always the perfect time. Death is always 100% good, helping you, away to a kingdom you don’t know. For so to get a maximum start in the next life. Close the eyes, feel safe and become a friend of death which can see further out than you can.’
11. Letter to Anette, found on body:
‘Little big friend and oasis. My smiling sister my fair half part. What can I tell you? Know that you are beautiful and don’t doubt your own word. Seize the day and if I can tell you anything philosophical remember that everything is to live for. There are positive measures hidden in every shadow. Sister, you are created to bloom and live for the moment. The sorrow is there because you are going to be happier. See all the colours. Separate the colours and breathe stronger than before. I am extremely fond of you. I love you.’
12. Poem written by HC when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy entitled Little Bird:
‘Little bird, go away; little bird, the world is dangerous for you; little bird, you are carrying peace; little bird, fly away; little bird, the world is evil; little bird, you are not evil; little bird, you bring joy; little bird, they don’t deserve it down there; little bird, you are leaving us; little bird, fly to the blue; little bird, you are becoming older; little bird, you are becoming grey; little bird, did you get there? Little bird, did you go away from this country? Little bird, look how we regret; little bird, listen how we are weeping; little bird, who were you? Little bird, did you return? Little bird, are there any other little birds? Little bird, will we lose them?’
Last postcards/letters home before being kidnapped:
Card to Ane Ostro, 2/5/95, HC’s paternal grandmother:
‘I give you a big hug and am longing for home. I’m doing big jumps and have got big blisters.’
Postcard to his father showing a kathakali dancer, 6/4/95:
‘I’ve been in India exactly two months, I live a quiet life, quite stable, quiet palm trees, drums and prayers. I’m starting to see a lot. It’s now 37 degrees. I’ve bought a fan. Right now I’m in Trivandrum to get some more money. Living on Kovalum beach is beautiful. It’s a little holiday for me, two days left. Give my love to everyone.’
Letter to maternal grandfather:
‘Hi XX, here’s some photos of India. It’s cheap to develop them here. Send them around or keep them till I come home.’
Postcard to Ole Hesby, HC’s favourite grandfather, captioned ‘Mountain beauty of Pahalgam’:
‘So this card is the last one. The performance was very good. You can read about it in the family letter. Now I’m in the mountain country. Here it’s extremely fantastic. Fantastic mountains and light every day like it’s a summer day in the north of Norway. I am going to rent a guide and a pony and go for a week’s tour to the Buddhist cloister 5000 metres up [this is actually a reference to the sacred Hindu shrine at Amarnath Cave]. On the photo here I have gone without a guide, this is at 2,500 metres. I am so happy you gave me the equipment (sleeping bag etc). Please look after yourself. Give mormor [granny] a big hug. PS I’m coming home on the night of July 31, 1995 and hope to go to Movik not so long after. See you soon, HC.’
Postcard to Ole Hesby, May 2, 1995:
‘Dear grandfather, Greetings from India. This photo is a test of what I’m going to do. I hope to show you when I come back to Norway. Have you got this letter. I hope its OK with grandma that you came to Nina’s confirmation. I’m well. It’s not easy here but I learn and develop myself. Big hugs and love to you. HC’
‘Dear Murmur and Ole, it’s nice to be here, it’s a lot of really friendly people. Not too pushy and very cheap. Much exciting to look at. Much poverty and very good food. No stomach problems. Love.’
Letter to Ole dated April 10, 1995.
‘I’m writing this in the green room outside the theatre. I’ve had three hours of dressing up and makeup. Dear grandfather it’s been a privilege to have you. So much I want to show you to do together. You enrich our lives. The letter ends with a smiley face and included is a clipping from a Malayalam newspaper dated March 3, 1995 with the explanation from HC: ‘The Muslims are the second biggest group in Kerala so when they have a holy we all get free time. This photo of Muslim girls drawing on their hands, they wear Muslim veils. There are also many Christians and they all live in peace.’
‘Hello, last little Hello from India. In this city [Srinagar} I live in a houseboat with waterlilies and ducks and it costs 20 NOK per day with full board. Himalaya is fantastic. I’m going to hire a guide and a pony and go into Buddha cloister. I’m looking very much forward to enjoying the mysticism and peace in the mountains. I’m very tired after the kathakali dance and a three-week visit to Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, cities that are very chaotic. It’s good to be here with people in the mountains. I’m coming home on July 31 with SK510 from London at 20.00. Looking forward. HCO.’
Marit says: Some photos with HC writings on the back came out with pictures from the kidnappers – these are four with cryptic messages. Other nine pix of kathakali with HC notes on the reverse arrived at the Norwegian embassy on August 10, 1995, smuggled out?? Marit says she was told by the embassy not to tell the other hostage families they had received this material. Mr Naseer message on radio, each hostage had made a recording. Marit has copy of HC message. Family found many photos of HC India trip in the black bag at Ringos. There were five undeveloped films found in his tent. 10 months later Marit got back other material including the Bahai book, thought to have been recovered with the body and held by JK police. Original letters from HC body were burned in fire at HC’s father’s house in Norway. Marit says she was told by a Kashmiri journalist that one family had told how on the night before HC was killed, he had come with the kidnappers for food. He would not eat but drank milk and the party left with some rope.
According to his family and his writings, HC’s main influences were Artaud, Catharsis (Greek ritual theatre) and Tartovsky, especially his last film The Sacrifice, which HC wrote of in a letter to a friend while he was travelling to Puerto Inca in Peru. Same letter, HC writes of an Inca temple of reincarnation that he has just visited: ‘on the inner places I can say I have had some fantastic visions in connection with visualising light towards the earth. The earth has opened itself in and unto all the light and turned into a lotus of light. This vision and others of the same kind are for me a sign of grace, that everything is brilliantly well and that it will sprout and grow in the compost heap.’ He also says in another letter from South America that he’s planning to make a theatre performance out of a Tagore poem. His performance, The Storyteller, had been booked at a theatre in Oslo for Oct 21, 1995.