Sunday, June 03, 2001

The Kingdom Mourns

A friend has written from Australia : " Ok, I know the Ghoses spread mayhem in their wake, but the current carnage is really too much. Where were U guys ? " S.. had returned from a quick trip to Hetauda earlier in the evening and we were out at a Friday-night dinner with some friends in Tahachal (near the Soaltee - actually quite close to the Army Hospital at Chaoni which was to be the scene for much of the action soon afterwards). The weather was just perfect - we all preferred to sit out, braving the mosquitoes with coils of tortoise under our feet, guzzling mugs of San-Miguel and downing tiny goblets of a lovely fruity bordeux, nibbling at very succulent pieces of a baby "Bandel" (Wild Boar - the highest Newari delicacy), commenting on how this year Kats didn't even have a summer. It was nearly 10' when Sophie and Prem arrived narrating how their little Indica was nearly bumped off the road by some crazy army jeeps. Next to arrive was Rohini who also mentioned that, he had seen a lot of army vehicles on the road . Still, we had no clue of any trouble . Around, 11 - Rohini received a call on his mobile from his BK of the Rads. He talked of rumours about some "serious" developments in the city - hinting probably of a Maoist attack somewhere. Rohini teased him of paranoia - saying he shouldn't take a chance of going back home that night and should sleep instead in his hotel and we all had a hearty laugh over it.
First news trickled in closer to midnight. Sanjib's web-site editor reported the death of Princess Shanti - the King's sister. So, we thought - that was it. But, almost immediately - Sophie received a call from her daughter saying that the Princess was probably "killed" in an attack by the Maoists, the city was very tense and we should all get home fast. The next minute someone else got the information that, there was a shoot-out or explosion in the palace. No one knew the details or what to believe but that's when we all decided to disperse and scrambled for our cars.
The route back home - through Kalimati, Tripureshwor, Bir-Hospital and Jamal - was remarkably peaceful - there was absolutely no signs of any trouble. Only near the Sundhara crossing , there was a rush of taxis - clearing out, what appeared to be, a crowd from a closing discotheque ( Dance & Dinner ) Bar. We deliberately took the route via Kantipath and the West Gate of the Palace. It was absolutely quiet. As we were reaching home in Baluwater, Anil who was following behind gave a ring on the mobile to say "It was all a silly hoax - seems like we have to get used to such false scares". But, the moment we entered the house - there was M… calling to tell what even the worst doomsday prophet could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. A quick check with Tharakkan-saar of the Embassy confirmed the worst had happened.
The rest of the night we didn't sleep a wink. The phone kept ringing incessantly. It was in some ways reminiscent of the night when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. Details kept getting added on in bits. Very soon the list of casualties had enlarged from just the King, Queen and the young price (Nirajan) to include even their daughter ( Princess Sruti ), his cousin ( Princess Jayanti - daughter of Princess Helen, owner of the Annapurna ), the King's other sister and her husband. Finally, only at 4 in the morning the news broke simultaneously on CNN & BBC and also came up on Kunda's website of Nepali Times. By then, there were also speculations of a possible emergency and a curfew being declared. Shalini called from Delhi to inform that Rakesh had moved in to the hotel with the boys and suggested that we should go there too. After speaking to Samir, we decided to shift with them to the Anna, as it was closer to home and the office - thinking that would be more convenient, just in case, we get stuck there for long. Besides, we felt it would be a good idea to keep the families and the kids together.
Nepal Radio and TV officially confirmed the news only at 1 ' O Clock on Saturday afternoon - after the Raj Parishad ( the Privy Council ) met and decided on the succession. The funeral procession with the cortege was scheduled to leave at 4 from the Chaoni Military Hospital for the Aryaghat at Pashupati, where the cremation would take place. In between, there was a little time for people to go in and pay their respect to the departed Majesties. We stayed in the hotel and watched the proceedings on TV. One was moved by the spontaneous but simple expression of grief of the thousands who joined the procession. The cremation ceremony - sans regalia - had a touch of austerity that made it even more heart-rendering. Under the arc lights of the TV cameras - Pashupati looked beautifully resplendent in a somber glow.