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THE AGE OF INNOCENCE




Crown Prince Dipendra is said to have kept several guns in his room, he was always shooting crows or bats in the palace grounds, he was ambidextrous concerning firearms, and these were the character traits cited for shooting up his entire family! I don't want to sound like a spokesperson for The U.S. National Rifle Association or its Nepalese counterpart, if any, but it is true that guns do not kill people, only people do. We grew up with guns all over the house; Dipendra did not enjoy monopoly on this score.

When I was young my favorite pastime was to check all the guns my father had, dismantle them, rebuild them again, take aim and click the trigger. There was an assortment of handguns and rifles. There was the German 9 mm Luger Pistol dating back to Hitler's Third Reich with an attachable butt to make it into a rifle. There was also the American Colt .45 caliber automatic U.S. army issue pistol, the one my father killed a tiger with. It was heavy; I could hardly hold it in my hand. My favorite was the Vest Pocket Colt .25 pistol, diminutive but reassuring even in my tiny hands.

Then there were the hunting rifles: I associated the rifles with the persons who had killed game animals with them, the .465-500 Westley Richard double-barreled elephant gun too heavy for me to aim with, it was for shooting elephants in Africa, but my father shot rhinoceros with it. Legend has it that if the African elephant charged you, you had to drop it quickly with two shots of maximum firepower or else it would trample you to death. There was the brand new .375 Holland and Holland Magnum gifted by Prince Basundhara which was always inside its case, all sparkling. The .318 Westley Richard was my father's favorite for hunting tigers with. Eldest brother Prasiddha had shot his tiger with it. Then there were the smaller guns, the American .351 carbine used by Prabal Dai when he was young to shoot his tiger with. Another American army issue was the .30 caliber rifle used by Pappu Dai to shoot his tiger with when he was just 12 or 13! These guns were gifted to father when he visited British Malaya in the official capacity of Commander-in-chief of the Nepalese Army.

We started shooting with the BB gun or air gun as it was known to us then. The hapless sparrows were our prey. From air guns we graduated to the .22 rifles. We had an old one in the house, single action and not always zeroed in. You had to be a good shot to hit the target. My first hunting instructor was a cousin, Kancha Dai, tall, handsome, debonair like Dev Anand, when he was not drunk. He had this uncanny knack of getting drunk quickly, just as quickly as Clark Kent turned into Superman. But he was a good instructor: he taught me how to aim, hold the breath before pulling the trigger, how to shoot flying birds with a .410 shotgun. I will never forget the incident at the Bagmati River when he inadvertently dropped the .410 cartridge into the water. Wildly searching for it in his stupor he came up with a finger followed by the hand of a dead sadhu perhaps floating to his final resting place!

Talking about rivers they had plenty of water then, even in winter when we hunted myriad of varieties of ducks and teals in Bagmati, in Manahara, in Vishnumati. The Arniko Highway had just been completed and we parked the car next to the Manahara bridge and walked upstream to shoot ducks and snipes, my father's favorite game bird. I learnt the trick quickly, how to shoot the snipes flying, across you, away from you, towards you; I could even drop them with the .410 shotgun while my father always used the bigger .12 gauge. Ducks were a different matter; they needed larger pellets, No. 4's, especially as they flew very high.

Then there were pigeons and doves aplenty. There must have been well over several hundred trees in Kiran Bhawan, my father's residence where I grew up. Doves nested on these trees. Outside the walled compound were paddy fields as far as the eye could see - down below to Kupondole, east all the way to Pulchowk, west to the dirt road from Bagmati Bridge - with adobe bricked farmers' houses dotting the landscape. Early mornings were when flocks of pigeons flew in to feed themselves. The occasional and unfortunate peafowl flew in from Shanker Mahal where they were bred by the owners. I ambushed birds aplenty and the sudden sound of loud gunshots must have ambushed the household too.

Upon retirement from the army all the army issue handguns and rifles were handed over to the government, for what reason I could not fathom. Perhaps the Panchayat polity was afraid of an insurgency and so they decreed all those prized collector's item handguns be given up to rust in some dank cellar somewhere, where nobody knows by now. Nepalese Maoists have proven that you don't need German Lugers to start a revolt; a ragtag army with muskets and vengeful hearts for injustices real or imagined was more than enough for the Nepalese army to tackle.

The age of my innocence quickly drifted by and before long I was a teenager. Hunting always had a special place in my life but now the distractions were plentiful; from college to movies to cafes. We left behind the guns in the cupboard except to go shoot the big games in the Terai; perhaps this is what Dipendra did not do, he did not grow up to be a man like most of us.

Comments

  1. Please post your comments, dear readers! Subodh

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  2. Nice read Subodh but I feel a bit concerned that you were allowed you to handle the hunting rifles at such a young age! Accidents could have happened while cleaning or handling the weapons.
    But I guess you knew what you were doing.
    Govind

    ReplyDelete
  3. well written & said ,sir. the comment on u handling rifles at such a young age just dropped me? i guess the comment is from a person who seems aware that to become profficient u have to be trained or self trained at a very young age. but the who else could get this marvellous oppurtunity?.

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