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TABLE MANNERS

The former Bahadur Bhawan, the palatial residence of General Bahadur Shumsher J. B. Rana, was renamed the Royal Hotel. Even earlier it was known as the Char Burja named for the four towers on each corner of the rectangular building, an unlikely Mughal-era appendage on an otherwise neo-classical building. Boris Lissanovich had been invited by King Tribhuvan to come to Nepal from his Club 55 nightclub in Calcutta to open a modern hotel to complement the opening of Nepal. Motley groups of anthropologists, journalists, development gurus, adventurers and Christian missionaries had started pouring into the once forbidden kingdom, a veritable Shangri-La. Hotel rooms with sound plumbing and reasonable western cuisine were expected by all these visitors.

My first memories of this magnificent place goes back to the early sixties. The gardens were meticulously tended to. The restaurant tables looked impeccable in white starch and glittering silverware. The odour was omelet and ketchup, our favorite snack when I accompanied Nicholas my classmate, the youngest son of Boris, from school. Next door was the International Club with its own Ping Pong tables, Billiard room and a swimming pool. After a long playtime with Nicholas I would return home in the evening.

One particular story demonstrates how Nepal came of age with the opening of this hotel. After the advent of democracy in 1951 the first high level delegation from a foreign country was soon visiting Nepal. Rooms at the Royal Hotel were made ready, china was imported, Boris trained his Nepali helpers to serve and wait. The state was giving a fabulous banquet to the visiting delegation.

My father General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana was the Commander-in-chief of the Nepalese Army and a trusted confidant of King Tribhuvan. A ruling cabinet was in place comprising many political activists who had spent years of their lives in jails or in exile but were now suddenly thrust into the limelight. Would they know the western manners and mores of dining at the elegant Royal Hotel? The first state banquet of the new Nepal could not become a comedy of errors. But who was to bell the cat?

General Kiran in one of his informal audiences broached this subject with the king. The king was in deep thought, yes he knew that many of his cabinet ministers would not know how to sit western-style at the table and dine with forks and knives. Surely this was a protocol worth looking into. The chief opined that a rehearsal would have to take place with Boris preparing the elaborate state menu beforehand not to chance anything. The king nodded but where was the budget going to come from? After every upheaval the state is left bankrupt by the predecessors and Nepal was no exception. Reading the king's mind General Kiran offered," Your Majesty, I will bear the expense of this mock-up dinner."

Thus invitations were sent out to all members of the cabinet, Boris prepared a full state banquet and the first Nepalese cabinet had a lesson in table manners!

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