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CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH KING BIRENDRA

King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev was a perfect gentleman. Brought up in the cloistered environment of the Royal Palace since his birth during the Rana regime, his early education took place under the supervision of private tutors. After the advent of democracy in 1951 fortunes changed when his grandfather came back from a brief Delhi asylum and became a sovereign king of Nepal. The family decided to send him and his younger brothers to the hill station of Darjeeling in India for quality education. Later he would also take a brief Harvard course and another one in Japan.


He was a democratic king quickly declaring a national referendum on the Panchayat system of one-party governance, his father's brainchild, soon after assuming power. Having won a close victory for the Panchayat system he proceeded to democratize the body politic. However, it was not quick enough or sufficient enough in the heady days following the demolition of the Berlin Wall that reverberated across the globe. When People's Movement of 1990 hit a crescendo he bowed down to the people's wish and declared a multi-party system of governance for Nepal. I remember my principal at St. Xavier's Godavari School when I was a boy, Reverend Fr. Eugene Watrin saying King Birendra could never get over the hurt he felt by the peoples' revolt; not anger, shock, humiliation but hurt. He was a simple man.


It was in one of the dinner parties in Prabal Dai's residence when the king and Queen Aishworya graciously attended that I saw first-hand how endearing and simple he really was. This was during the post 1990 period when he was a constitutional monarch and Parliament had seized executive power, yet his own status resonated with the title of the world's only reigning Hindu monarch. He was still a god-king. My wife cannot forget the fact that he wanted a second helping of the Polish style cheese-cake she had baked for the occasion. When a king climbs down from the pedestal and appears as an ordinary human does he become more endearing. When my daughter Monica was introduced to King Birendra by Prabal dai the king shook her hand western-style as a daughter of a foreign lady. Queen Aishworya quickly reminded the king that she is Nepali. But the handshake was completed! In Eastern societies like in Nepal and Thailand protocol does not allow any physical contact with the monarch. Perhaps my daughter is the only Nepalese subject to have shaken King Birendra' s hand after he was crowned. This one is for the history books!

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