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JUNG BAHADUR RANA AND THE DANCING DAMSELS - THE SOJOURN IN FRANCE

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana left England for France with a rich treasure trove of memories and an ambition his experiences in Britain had fueled for his own poor and backward nation. He was heartbroken too as he had to leave behind his paramour Laura Bell. Far from the complexities of ruling a highly destabilized country coming so soon after the tumultuous Kot and Bhandarkhal episodes, Jung had truly relaxed in England and had grown fond of the young Irish lass. He wanted to stay longer but the situation back home was unfavourable. Jung was seething with anger that his brother Bom Bahadur who he left behind as officiating prime minister had not been able to take a firm grip on the affairs of state. Even in faraway England he got reports that his enemies were again trying to rear their ugly heads, he would have to smite them with the power of his ingenuity once more. He knew he could not trust his ambitious third brother Badri Narsingh and the one after that Ranoddip was an indecisive weakling. How he wished his youngest brother Dhir, now a colonel in charge of his retinue, was older. Dhir was Jung's favorite brother.


Jung Bahadur had decided to cut short his European sojourn by leaving Germany and Imperial Russia for a second visit. France was all that he would be able to manage for now. He was an ardent fan of Napoleon Bonaparte who Jung believed forged a great nation out of the quagmire of the French Revolution. Jung Bahadur Rana had started to model himself after the great conqueror to make Nepal united and strong. He also knew that he might have to forge a stronger relationship with the French should the British back stab him and break the treaty signed at Sugauly in 1816 AD. Jung was born a year later. As a small wide-eyed lad Jung had sat on his maternal grand uncle Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa's laps and listened to stories of the Anglo-Nepal Wars with tears of frustration and humiliation streaming down the old man's face. Jung had taken a solemn oath that he would never allow Nepal to be further drawn and quartered during his watch. Jung was thus delighted that he would be meeting the nephew of the great man himself to forge ties! Prince Louis Bonaparte had been elected the first President of France in 1848 A.D. and now, two years later, Jung was being feted with state honours by such an historic personality.

Jung Bahadur being welcomed by the French President
Jung Bahadur Rana crossed the English Channel and landed at Calais and took a train to Paris. He was received with pomp and splendour. The French government had prepared Hotel Le Senat for the prime minister and his retinue to stay while they were in France. Jung was a man in a hurry: he knew France had a lot in store for him and he went about soaking in the sights and sounds with unmitigated zeal; from the Tuileries to Versailles, from the mausoleum of Napoleon at Hotel des Invalids to the Arc de Triumph commemorating his victories. Many times he was accompanied by the president's cousin Joseph Charles Bonaparte. Nothing was too elaborate or too contrived for Jung. He wished to take a salute from an army of one hundred thousand soldiers marching past in their finest regalia, a wish that was put off for the time being as the French President was afraid of amassing such an army in Paris fearing an accident.

Jardin Mabille was the place gentlemen discreetly went to see the courtesans and the dancing girls. It was the center of fashion and a garden of pleasure. Gorgeously dressed high society ladies bedecked in fine jewellery were seen promenading. There was music, gaiety and a circus. Jung Bahadur did not demur when his kind hosts suggested that he visit this place with such a wild reputation. It was a matter of "noblesse oblige" for the eastern potentate whose reputation of profligacy had crossed the English Channel before him. What Jung did not anticipate was that there might be a few more Laura Bell wannabes waiting in ambush.

Lola Montez
Here we take off on another trajectory to introduce Lola Montez. She was the lover of King Ludwig I of Bavaria whose relationship had attributed to the king's fall from grace and exile. Lola Montez was the self-styled Spanish dancer who had bewitched the Continent by her scintillating "spider" dance. Little did people know that she was actually an Irish lass born Eliza Gilbert. Wherever she went people fell for her beauty and charm. She was at the Jardin Mabille that afternoon when Jung Bahadur arrived as she was performing at the Bal Mabille, an institute of dance founded in 1831 AD. She coquettishly approached Jung Bahadur while he was practicing his shooting at a range. The chivalrous Jung saw the young beauty and offered her his gun to shoot. Lola took the gun and accidentally pulled the trigger, the bullet hitting the thigh of Colonel Dhir Shumsher. The wound was not a serious one and Jung laughed out loud in a guffaw, the accident was considered a minor episode in the larger design of things to follow. Jung Bahadur was smitten by the twenty nine year old Lola.

An affair followed to the chagrin of Jung's retinue including his brothers Jagat and Dhir who thought it best to hush it. Henceforth, wherever Jung visited Lola was not far behind. In a short while she was already a part of Jung's Nepalese contingent. It was rumored that Lola spoke broken Hindi, perhaps her parents had served in India, which made Jung's conversation with her less tiring than with Laura Bell. Jung had a lighter step henceforth.

Ballerina Fanny Cerrito
Jung Bahadur was invited to the famous ballet running at the time, "Le Violon du Diable". The dancing star was the famous Fanny Cerrito, the Italian ballerina much sought after by ballet aficionados of the period. She had started her career in Naples in 1832 and then danced from the Russian Imperial court at St. Petersburg to a command performance of Queen Victoria in London. To the delight of the dancer and surprise of the hosts, Jung Bahadur presented a baju bracelet studded with expensive jewels to the star dancer. Tongues started wagging.

But all good things had to come to an end and after spending two delightful months of August and September 1850 A.D. in France, Jung finally set sail from Marseilles to Alexandria. From his historic visit he brought back European manners and mores, their architecture, the Civil Code (Muluki Ain), and a conviction that Nepal must look outward and transform itself into a great regional powerhouse. Or else Jung concluded, watching the Egyptian coastline slowly appear over the horizon, the Gorkhalis would be history just as the Pharaohs of Egypt had become.

Jung Bahadur Rana in a French newspaper of the time.


Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Rana,
    As usual this has been brilliantly written and researched. However please allow me to add on a snippet which is unrelated to this post but pertains to Jung Bahadur's French Sojourn.

    On 2nd October 1850, as the Nepali delegation is ready to depart Paris for Marsseiles to connect their onward ship to Alexandria, they are surrounded by a horde of French shopkeepers
    who lock the hotel door from inside preventing the delegation from departing. The reason being unpaid biils.

    With situation getting out of hand Sir Jung himself intervened and tried to explain fruitlessly in sign language and failed.

    Then with the display of Sir Jung's famous temper he hit the first man in front, who also retaliated and the whole thing developed into a fist fight. The British liason officers intervened and things were amicably settled.

    In a hurry the delegation departed in different coaches without heed to protocol among jeering French men.

    The bills were largely for groceries which the delegation cook purchased everyday. He would take a coach to the market, load the stuff and bring it to the hotel to cook in their special kitchen. As the Nepali delegation ate privately without any French eye witness, rumors went rife in Paris that the `Hindoo', `Blagamore' `Prince of Nepaul' ate the raw meat of a calf everyday.

    As stated later this confusion was the result of a total incompetency of the French interpreter who just did not translate properly.

    No one to this day would ever believe that a person like Jung Bahadur would depart without paying his dues and that also in a foreign country.

    Viva La France.
    Cheers
    Gautam

    ReplyDelete
  2. I may be going off on a tangent here. But is the architecture of the "mahals" and "bhawans" from the Rana period, now being used in miserable conditions by the Government, a result of Jung Bahadur's England and France sojourns? Or perhaps they resulted from the fascination of subsequent Ranas with that style of architecture? Finally, was not a uniquely Nepali style of architecture set back 104 years due to this foreign fascination?

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  3. Apparently the architecture of the valley changed with the times. Firstly by the influence of Mughal India, with minarets and domes - Jung Bahadur's Thapathali Durbar was one such, clearly influenced by Awadh. European architecture seems to have come here by way of India during the time of Bir Shumsher. Let us not forget the British had already started to build their way in India from which the Ranas took the inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://wn.com/Jung_Bahadur_Rana

    See this video and advocate the cause the family we oppressed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. ne vivent pas le français, mais vivre le NEPAL!
    जय नेपाल!

    ReplyDelete
  6. not viva la France but viva la NEPAL!
    जय नेपाल!
    merci

    ReplyDelete
  7. Could you please shed some light on Dal Mardan Thapa, brother in-law of Jung Bdr. Rana, who was also a member of entourage to Britain and France. (my great grand father)

    ReplyDelete

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