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Showing posts from May, 2009

MY TRYST WITH COMMUNISM

Communism has been a bogeyman of sorts in my life since my childhood. "If the Communists win in the elections, they will pack us old women off as we cannot perform to their expectation", Nimbu Didi would wail giving me pangs of anxiety. I could never fathom where the communists would send her but I was sure it would be to an unpleasant outpost in the kingdom to grow vegetables or worse, and I would miss her. This was during the first general election held in Nepal in 1959 and which the Congress Party of Nepal won handily. I was not going to lose my Didi who nurtured me from my birth after all.

Then came our school days. I was the first person in the family who was able to get a good education inside the country instead of being packed off to an Indian hill station. The Jesuits had got a special permission from the last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher to open a school and Father Moran, S. J. had come here from Bettiah in Bihar and set up a school at Godavari in the summer…

THE CHANGING TABLE FORTUNES

When the Catholic priests at my school told us kids not to waste food, I knew exactly where they were coming from: my father General Kiran was a stickler for the family being served a small first helping. "You serve a second helping, if they want more", he would admonish the servants prone to heap the thali at the first go. My grandfather Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana was not a man of great means before he became the prime minister of Nepal. He was one of the youngest sons of his father Commander-in-chief Dhir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana and he did not inherit any substantial fortune. Too, he had a very large family. With seventeen sons and twelve daughters, innumerable maharanis, ranis and paramours, Juddha was always short of cash. I remember the stories during his earlier years when he was living in his Jawalakhel Durbar. The noble lifestyle was rather frugal behind closed doors; meat was served just once a week when my father and his siblings were growing up.

Cheura, the beat…

THE REGENT QUEENS OF NEPAL - PART III

At the Kot Massacre of 1846 A.D. Jung Bahadur Rana was the last man standing. He quickly consolidated his power by getting Regent Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi to appoint him the new prime minister of Nepal. A hereditary prime ministership of his family was started that lasted for 104 years. The royal family of the Shah dynasty was marginalized and reigned as mere figure heads.

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana quickly set out to consolidate his power base. He rewarded his brothers-in-arm by making the prime ministership hereditary, going from elder brother to younger brother, a masterful scheme refuting the accepted norm of primogeniture that firmly aligned his younger brothers as loyal followers. Named Bir Narsingh Kunwar at birth, Jung Bahadur changed his surname to "Rana", a pretentious move to establish familial ties with the famous Rajput warriors of Rajputana. His family's social come-uppance was established by the marriage of his two elder sons to daughters of King Suren…

THE REGENT QUEENS OF NEPAL - PART II

When King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah was a mere 8 year old boy, Nepal went to war with the British East India Company. Regent Lalit Tripura Sundari had to take this momentous decision on behalf of the king as the encroaching British Indian army knocked at the gates of hard-won territories, a legacy of King Prithivi Narayan Shah and his heirs the queen was duty bound to protect and bestow upon her ward. She was fully confident of her uncle Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and the illustrious general commanding the western armies, Amar Singh Thapa in checking British impunity. There was also hope that Ranjit Singh of the Punjab and the Nawab of Oudh would join battle for a common cause.

The British were masters in the art of dividing and ruling. Earlier Gorkha conquests of the Terai territories of Palpa allied to Oudh and Kangra allied to the Punjab proved to be stumbling blocks in the formation of an anti-British alliance. Nepal had to bear the brunt of the assaults all alone. With supply an…

THE REGENT QUEENS OF NEPAL - PART I

Vishwamitra the famous sage was deep into his meditation when he must have heard the tinkling of the “ghungroo”, the anklets with chiming bells worn by classical dancers. He must have uneasily woken up from his trance, perhaps he opened an eye a little to see the bewitching ankle of Menaka, one of the "apsara" or heavenly nymph sent by Indra to disturb the great sage lest he attain the powers equal to the Gods. His meditation broken, the sage sired a daughter, Shakuntala, who was to become the mother of King Bharat from whom the subcontinent got its Sanskrit name. How could men resist the temptations of the dancing damsels of history if sages could not?

Women have exerted inordinate power in history, over men and over nations. We remember the last Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra and her guile in wooing successive Roman rulers to protect her kingdom from ruin. Elizabeth I presided over the formation of a nascent empire where soon the sun would never set. How the German queen of th…