Skip to main content

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!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

THE SATI WIVES OF JUNG BAHADUR, MAHARAJAH OF NEPAL

If only the Tudor King Henry VIII of England were as lucky as Jung Bahadur Rana, he would have had male heirs aplenty and he would not have had to behead a few of his queens in the hope of his next one presenting him with an heir. All the Maharanis would live together at Hampton Court Palace in seeming harmony at least until the death of the Maharajah. If England had the tradition of Sati, who among Henry's wives would have had the macabre honour of being buried alive with him? Would her be Catherine of Aragon his first queen? Or Anne Boleyn? Or the fair Jane Seymour, his favorite queen who gave him his only male heir, had she not died in her postnatal illness?

Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana had many wives because he did not have the Catholic Church to worry about. He had at least a dozen sons and innumerable daughters from at least 13 recorded wives. He married some for love, others for political alliances with various noble houses, including a sister of Fateh Jung Shah, one of th…

JUNG BAHADUR RANA AND THE DANCING DAMSELS - THE SOJOURN IN FRANCE

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana left England for France with a rich treasure trove of memories and an ambition his experiences in Britain had fueled for his own poor and backward nation. He was heartbroken too as he had to leave behind his paramour Laura Bell. Far from the complexities of ruling a highly destabilized country coming so soon after the tumultuous Kot and Bhandarkhal episodes, Jung had truly relaxed in England and had grown fond of the young Irish lass. He wanted to stay longer but the situation back home was unfavourable. Jung was seething with anger that his brother Bom Bahadur who he left behind as officiating prime minister had not been able to take a firm grip on the affairs of state. Even in faraway England he got reports that his enemies were again trying to rear their ugly heads, he would have to smite them with the power of his ingenuity once more. He knew he could not trust his ambitious third brother Badri Narsingh and the one after that Ranoddip was an indeci…

FEATHERS IN THE CROWN

As a kid I used to gape in wonderment at the magnificent crown my father possessed not knowing that the jewels were only for show. The dark green emerald drops were made of glass, the sparkling diamonds were probably zirconium and the pearls were not of the best sort. Every Rana general had his personal crown in those days and my father was no exception. I did not recognize the difference between this personal crown of father's and the other more valuable crown of the Nepalese Commander-in-Chief of the Army that my father was seen wearing in many a portrait displayed about the house. Little did I know that my father was the last person to put on his head the army chief's crown from the Rana era, real glittering diamonds, snow white pearls and thumb-sized emerald drops and all. The feather in the crown was the magnificent plumes of the Bird of Paradise that gave it such a majestic look.

Nepal had only three crowns that were genuinely the real stuff bedecked with expensive pear…