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Showing posts from February, 2009

RED FLAG OVER KENSINGTON

The last time I went to the embassy at the famous address of 12A, Kensington Palace Gardens I witnessed with trepidation the metal sign at the gate with "Royal" crudely chiseled out. It was just the "Nepalese Embassy" now - a stark reminder of home and a hideously profane epitaph for a historical building located amidst regal surroundings. Half-expecting embassy officials in Mao tunics I entered the reception hall to an indifferent reception hosted by uninterested diplomats. The beer was not even chilled. The occasion was the first anniversary of the success of the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists in reinstating the Parliament in Nepal.

When General Bahadur Shumsher J. B. Rana selected the building for the Nepalese embassy in 1934 A.D. he was representing the King of Nepal as its first resident ambassador and plenipotentiary and his father Maharajah Juddha was the prime minister of Nepal. His choice of the embassy building did justice to the long association of…

POWER OF PROPHESY

It is but natural to recall events surrounding the Pashupatinath temple on the auspicious occasion of the Maha Shiva Ratri, the night of Lord Shiva. I read a news report that three hundred thousand devotees from the sub-continent thronged at the temple gates. Though Nepalese voters may have voted for the godless Maoist credo in the Constituent Assembly Elections in droves thereby precipitating an existential crisis for the Hindu kingdom, faith in the divine still reigns supreme. The dichotomy of the masses auguring in a secular republic and at the same time celebrating Hindutva does make this country, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

When I was young my father used to take me to the Pashupatinath temple for religious discourses given by Resunga Maha Prabhu, the ascetic from the mid-western hill town of Nepal. He was old already, his long white hair and flowing beards nearly covering a pale visage, a tall slightly stooped body strain…

AN ILL-ADVISED DECISION

The first college strike I knew caused a sensation as a few of our friends got arrested. Politics was not our concern then. Subjects ranging from the first man on the moon to the comeback of Ali, from the latest filmi gossip to the music of Santana and Deep Purple were in vogue. We treated ourselves to Time Magazine and Newsweek hitherto forbidden during the cloistered days at our missionary school. Hollywood movies courtesy the American Club in Phora Durbar was probably the highlight of the week.

King Mahendra's Panchayat system of governance did not leave much public debate to the streets. A rubber stamp parliament elected through political patronage approved laws created by the rulers. The axiom rulers could do no wrong permeated through society. Lack of exposure to the outside world made the common person lead a life of blissful ignorance. China's periodic upheavals and the havoc created by the Cultural Revolution made Panchayat polity safe and predictable. A few muted voi…

RED HOT CHILLI PEPPER

No identical dish cooked in Nepalese homes tastes the same. It could be mutton curry, chicken curry, fish curry; curry powder ingredients are the same - coriander, cumin, fenugreek and turmeric - added to a rich mix of deep fried onions, garlic, tomatoes. Meat is cooked in it and seasoned with ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mustard, fennel and black pepper. But the taste invariably is different from house to house. The X factor making the difference might be the magic hands of the hostess (or host in a few cases), perhaps the source of the heat, or the make of the pot. But there is one home I particularly know that makes the difference with a vengeance - by throwing in a full dollop of red hot chilli powder!


Field Marshall Rudra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana was exiled to Palpa, a consequence of court intrigue in Machiavellian Kathmandu of the Ranas. His mother was the second wife - Kanchi Maharani Tope Kumari - of his father Maharajah Bir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, prime minister of Nepal, 18…

THE BEAUTIFUL EXILELAND

Thick fog was still covering the ramparts of Tansen Durbar. Twilight had just broken and the first rays of the sun would soon dissipate the fog and unveil the magnificent massifs of the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu and Gaurishanker Himal. The people of Tansen were slowly stirring from their hiding places and venturing forth to an uncertain daybreak. This morning they would not go about their daily chores of weaving the Dhaka cloth, or tilling the fields, or gathering at tea-shops for the latest gossip. No, this morning was different as the whole night they had heard heavy fighting between the Maoist insurgents and the army posted nearby.

Since around 10 PM the previous evening the Maoists had attacked Tansen full strength. Instead of going to bed the residents were cowering behind closed doors, underneath the beds, children were inside closets. Guns had fallen silent only towards daybreak. People slowly came out of their houses with fear hanging as thick as the fog still surrounding…

IN COLD BLOOD

Cold November nights in Kathmandu are for warming the house and cuddling together. Certainly in 1885 A.D. only the few privileged had gas lights, the rest had candle lights or the tuki, burning wick lamps. Charcoal burners or makals were used to heat the houses. Perhaps that is the reason why the Rana regime had slapped on a curfew from 11 at night until 4 the next morning. Nobody who ventured forth in the cold and dark had good intentions: it was better to get them off the street with shoot-on-sight order.

But this gang of youngsters stealthily approaching the Narayan Hiti Palace the residence of Prime Minister Ranoddip Singh Rana were no ordinary folks. Their purpose was not to rob a rich home. It was much more sinister. They were a confident looking lot, all huddled up together in their great-coats, collars upturned, woollen caps blocking their faces as they approached the “Bijli Garat” royal sentries at the gates. They knew the password to break the curfew. They were presently le…

FUTURE PERFECT

Can a picture foretell its own story? Can characters leap out of the picture frame and enact a future scene just like in a fairytale movie? Does a clairvoyant's instinct pick up these tales even before they are enacted? Or does he transport himself back to the future to glimpse a destiny already fulfilled in a co-relationship between time and space we are yet to comprehend?


We heard stories of how the family deity of the Shah Kings, Gorakhnath, appeared in person to King Prithivi Narayan Shah to prepare him for the unification of the many hill principalities of Nepal. Had he consumed in faith the prashad regurgitated by the saint as a test and not spilled it on his feet in disbelief and disgust, Prithivi might have been an emperor. The saint instead blessed him for conquests of lands where his feet touched.

People also talk of this gift lasting for 12 generations. We heard this when we were kids, when the reigning king was Prithivi Narayan Shah's 10th descendant. After the infam…

BREAKING TABOO

The high and the mighty have closer proximity to the Almighty than ordinary folks. They can jump the queues to temples, mosques, churches. As a small boy I used to watch in wonderment how a hundred Rupees note proffered between the fingers quickly caught the attention of the bhattas, the priests, at the inner sanctum of Pashupatinath - fragrant frangipani garland suddenly appeared around the neck of the benefactor, a big chandan (sandalwood) tika was pressed on the forehead. Then suddenly business got back to usual with people shoving and pushing for a glimpse of the shiva lingam. Just as suddenly the bhattas got too busy to pay any attention to the devotees. Perhaps the hundred Rupee note has been replaced by a thousand, nay several thousand by now to account for the inflation and the burgeoning wealth of the neighbours from the south.

I too wonder how the Sai Baba manages miracle gifts for the important people coming for a darshan, a diamond ring appears out of nowhere for the mini…