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A TALE OF TWO CITIES IN JUNG BAHADUR'S LIFE & TIME


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities.

I have always been curious to find out what Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal might have seen and heard during his storied visit to London and Paris in 1850 A.D. The European powers, especially Great Britain, were at the zenith of their expansionist adventures overseas. The sun never set over the British Empire under Queen Victoria. France had overcome the debacle of Napoleon Bonaparte's misadventures in Europe and was content in expanding its foreign holdings and sending her colonists to Algeria.

Paddle Steamer Indus (L) and Ripon (R)
The paddle steamer Ripon chartered from Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company at Alexandria carrying Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal and his entourage docked at the port of Southampton on 25th of May 1850. News had already spread of the cholera epidemic that rocked the city killing 240 people the previous year and Jung had warned his Nepalese contingent to be very careful of what they ate and drank. He was safe in the thought that for himself he had brought with him huge barrels of Ganga Jal holy water from the Ganges for drinking and for his ablutions. For upper class Hindus taking water from overseas was anathema. The port was a transit point only as the railway that had come to Southampton just two decades earlier was going to take them to London their final destination.

Almost immediately Jung Bahadur met his first challenge: British Customs wanted to check all the personal effects of Jung and his brothers. Jung was furious. On whose authority did the British dare to rifle through his personal effects, after all wasn't he the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the monarch of the independent Kingdom of Nepal invited by the British Queen? The authorities soon relented and gave his entourage a waiver in light of the diplomatic faux pas a stand-off might have generated: Jung had threatened to turn around and head for France!

Richmond Terrace circa 1850 A.D.
Arriving in London Jung was met at Victoria Terminus and he rode in a carriage to Richmond Terrace his abode during his sojourn. The mansion was befitting a royal guest with a beautiful garden overlooking the River Thames. Maharajah Jung was duly impressed by the imposing buildings central London already boasted in 1850: Buckingham Palace, Nelson's Column, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. It reminded him of his earlier visit to Calcutta, the city British rule had slowly transformed from Mughal heritage to the mirror image of the British capital. However he was appalled to see the grime and filth in the byways and alleyways and the desperation of beggars and urchins in abundance. Amidst all the splendour Jung brooded that the society he wanted to study at close hand and emulate for his mountain kingdom was neither free nor fair.

Jung and his brothers
On one of his horseback ride through Green Park he saw a group of people in animated discussion. He found out they were members of a trade union agitating for better pay. This bemused Jung to the point of sadness. He empathized with the downtrodden as his own life had seen its depths of deprivation following the ouster of his maternal grand-uncle Prime Minister Bhimshen Thapa. He wanted to find out more as his curiosity always got the better of him whenever an intellectual challenge posed itself. He had read to him translation of the Manifesto of The Communist Party propounded by two Germans by the names of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in 1847 just 3 years earlier. Jung could not fully comprehend what this was all about but it gave him further determination to create the Muluki Ain Civil Code for Nepal as soon as he returned home. Without it he knew that these strange, nonsensical ideas would pervade his land too.

Buckingham Palace had just been completed and Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live there. Jung was discomfited by the news that the queen had just delivered a son and she was going to spend a few more weeks resting before giving an audience to the Nepalese prime minister. Jung was impatient to meet the famous monarch who reigned over half the world.

Queen Victoria and Prince Arthur in a painting
Queen Victoria gave her first audience to Jung Bahadur Rana on the 19th of June at St. James' Palace at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Jung Bahadur's joy knew no bounds as he was heralded into the parlour along with his two brothers Jagat Shumsher and Dhir Shumsher where the queen and the Prince Consort were waiting. Jung bowed and presented the credentials from the King of Nepal to the queen. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries,"wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar. Only a few years back Jung's career was going nowhere but he had taken fate in his own hands during the Kot Massacre and now he felt like he was in a dream.

Napoleon Bonaparte was the man most admired by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana. If the British back-stabbed him, he could always seek support of the French as he knew that there was no love lost between the two empire builders. That is the reason why from the inception of his grand voyage he had kept France in his itinerary. France had lost its hero, Jung reflected, just as Nepal had lost another - Bhimsen Thapa his maternal grand-uncle. Now he was being hosted by the hero's  own nephew Louis Bonaparte, the president of France. The proximity to Bonaparte thrilled Jung to the core of his being.

Louis Napoleon as President
The revolution of 1848 A.D. had overthrown the rule of the Orleans monarchy and the Second Republic had been established under the presidency of Louis Napoleon. Jung reflected on the state of affairs back home, on how he had foiled the ambition of the Junior Queen and made sure King Surendra remained on the throne. He knew that the weak king needed his guidance and protection.  In France the conservative nephew of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had gained ascendancy within the revolutionary movement by marginalizing the working classes. After returning to Nepal Jung would get the news just a year later in 1851 that the president had dissolved the National Assembly and crowned himself Emperor Napoleon III of France. Jung was astonished to find the so called enlightened Europe embracing monarchy once again as the revolutionaries could not find a common ground to move politics ahead. He had sent his missives of hearty congratulations to Paris to the person who had presented him with the Sword of Napoleon, the jewel in the crown of his European souvenirs.

Emperor Napoleon III 
Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana regaled in the military history of France. The Tuileries, Hotel des Invalides and the mausoleum of Napoleon, Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe were the obligatory landmarks and Louis Napoleon himself guided Jung Bahadur in his visits. He visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame where Napoleon was crowned in 1804. Jung Bahadur witnessed military parades the pomp and splendour of which he could not have ever imagined! The grand palace at Versailles was breathtaking to behold. Jung Bahadur was convinced that he would have to take the Raj as his ally as the European colonizers were simply too powerful to oppose. This was in the best interest of Nepal. He had to move the country forward by promulgating the much needed Civil Code. He was going to abolish the centuries old practices of slavery and Sati, the burning of widows. He was going to fight against the belief in superstitions and promote science and logic. He had to build a strong military to protect Nepal's sovereignty. He had learnt these lessons from the tale of two cities.

Jung Bahadur being welcomed by the French President


   

Comments

  1. Times change and places change in this case for the worse the Richmond I stayed in well less noble than all the depictions and the strange that Green Park was venue Muluki Ain Civil Code.
    Truly travel and reading about it widens the mind. Thanks Subodh.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you very very much for the great work about nepali history!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you so much for uncovering a secret chapter of Jung Bahadur's life and of Nepalese history as well.

    ReplyDelete

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