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RETURN OF A PRINCESS

There was this slim beauty standing her ground meeting a variety of guests at a foreign legation as if planted there by some grand design. At closer look, required due to Nepal's transformation to a republic thereby erasing from our collective memories familiar royal visages, I realized that my wife had just shaken hands with Princess Himani, the last crown princess of Nepal following an introduction by the French Ambassador.

I could only wonder why such a scene did not take place more often when royalties were gracing the erstwhile Kingdom of Nepal. Ordinary Nepalese did not get the opportunity to be up close and personal with their sovereign king and his family zealously guarded and isolated by privileged courtiers. Too, the family members all but shied away during most occasions preferring isolation to high visibility, a bad and ultimately costly decision in image building. More than for reasons of security perhaps it was acts of lèse-majesté the inner circle feared most but in the world's only Hindu kingdom where most revered the king as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, such fears were unfounded. And it wasn't always so.

I have seen this epochal photograph of the political leaders of the time following the Delhi agreement of 1951 between the Rana regime and the new political forces in Nepal. King Tibhuvan is sitting in an ordinary tinny chair with outgoing last Rana prime minister Mohan Shumsher and new home minister B. P. Koirala, all equal in the task of building a new Nepal. The body language did not betray subservience to the king, only respect. The king was a commoner then with a vision just like the rest of them. I have found in my father's collection another photograph of King Mahendra sitting cozily with Prime Minister B. P. Koirala on a sofa, an impossible sight to behold after the Panchayat polity changed prime ministers to servants of the palace secretariat.

Where and when did this bonhomie start to unravel? Was it during King Mahendra's time after the 1960 banning of political parties or was it during the time of King Birendra? When the king was already a Vishnu in peoples' hearts, why did he have to be enshrined in a golden serpent throne mile high like some mythological avatar floating in the heavens in Hindi films? Without the people there can be no king. Winston Churchill once introspected, "The Monarchy is so extraordinarily useful. When Britain wins a battle she shouts, 'God save the Queen'; when she loses, she votes down the prime minister."

Observing her closely and exchanging pleasantries with her at that reception I felt that Princess Himani is now the true proponent of royal rectitude; after all she is the mother of the only future possible "baby" king of Nepal. Is she taking the reigns of revival firmly in her slender hands as did some earlier regent queens of Nepal? Was there a grand design behind her conspicuous presence at the embassy reception? If so, I like this grand design more than most of those regurgitated by our chaotic republic. If and when the time comes, will she be able to win the peoples' hearts as she has mine?

Comments

  1. Incidentally in that party there were some useful idiots (to quote the famous Russian communist)that helped effect this "regurgitated chaotic republic" These idiots were looking the worse for their dubious accomplishments,I thought!Probably having second thoughts?

    But in terms of winning your heart by the royalty in question, I saw you help yourself ( twice?) to that delicious desert wine they served which must have really helped this thought process.

    Great writing. You dont miss a beat! Maharaj we are waiting for your next piece, ha ha!!!

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  2. Absolutely agree with you that the monarchy cannot win the hearts and minds of the people shielded behind flanks of "privileged courtiers". A pity that Princess Himani could win your heart only after she became a "commoner", albeit her (as well as the entire Royal Family's) status as a commoner was shoved down docile Nepali throats by a trio of power-crazed politicians.

    Incidentally, King Tribhuvan can hardly be called a commoner in 1951, no matter what the body language of BP and Mohan was.

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  3. When did this bonhomie between King and public start to unravel?
    Unlike King Tribhuvan, Mahendra was a stern introvert type personality.So from his time the monarchy kept a strict distance from the common man and Birendra just followed the line.
    I would advise Himani to attend parties at embassies that matter more, though the food and wine may be better at the French embassy!

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  4. Attending diplomatic or 'high-profile' parties is one tactic. In addition, and more substantively, the Crown Princess needs to get involved in a social cause and be active in it and let the people see that she is constructively active, i.e. substance and PR.

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  5. it is amazing how softpower is important in a constituitional monarchy for any royal. it is not by organizing a coup d'etat that one wins hearts, it is by being smart-looking, slim and sublime, you are apparently a testimony to that ! another superb read !

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  6. Who is Himani? Is she the wife of the abominable Paras? And how can you judge by good looks alone the quality of the person. The royals had ample time to do something positive for the people of Nepal and failed miserably. They only served their own interests. I think that Birhrendra was at fault as far as cutting ties with the rest of the country and the world. He was a drunk and an Hindu bigot, advised by Hindus (not a good thing) and his wife took the advice of her own father to advise the King. She was not a pleasant person and was extremely greedy. Prince Basundhara was the only one to see the situation clearly. He mixed with people, he was intelligent and politically aware but he was kept away from any function because he was too popular. He would have made a great King. The situation in Nepal is not brilliant today, but I am not sorry for the royal family, they exploited their people long enough.

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  7. The anonymous comment from March 6 is one of the best comments in the entire site. The reason why monarchy failed is because they were too much monarchs in themselves. Instead of attending to some elitist reception at an elitist club for a gossip that none of them remembers after five minutes, did anyone of the royal family graced the premises of department of passport to see the queue of the real builders of Nepal? No- because Their Majesties were too divine, how can they indulge themselves in the petty matters of petty people, when their are divine matters in the hand like wine tasting, some seminars in five star hotels that aims to abolish poverty in the remote parts of Karnali or a seminar in women violence in Madhesh that is attended by middle aged posh housewives clad in saris and jewellery expensive enough to feed a Tharu village in Kanchanpur for an entire year. They toured the country among the sycophantic loyalists who made sure that the king's eye saw only development, and we all know what kind of development it really was. Instead of being patron of industry, we know the 50-50 policy the Palace had with the industrialists, the reason industries continued in the Panchayat era was because it directly prospered the Palace, not the people. The royal family preached that they were beyond the ordinary men, were the incarnation of god, instead of mixing with people, so the people never thought the royal family were one of them. When people were uneducated they believed the royal family were divine and supreme, but with the advent of democracy and knowledge, people began realising, "Ah, wait, how can they be one of us, if they are so hesitant to be one of us? Who is greater in a country, its people or its royal family? Why is a member from the royal family immune to all law?" The political leaders today aren't down to earth, they are a bunch of crooks, but in no way the royal family were better; as the earlier comment correctly says, they exploited their people long enough.

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