All posts tagged Bajai

  • Kaliyaadaman

    Hanumandhoka Palace, Kathmandu

    May 18, 1840 

    Laccho tiptoes down the many stairs of the tall tower that is quickly becoming her favorite place in the vast palace complex. Her new Banarasi saree chafes at her waist and neck as she walks. But she is quickly getting used to the pain. Now at the ground floor she peeks out from behind the large carved door into the enormous courtyard standing between her and her destination. Instinctively she reaches into her mouth and feels the loose front tooth that has been wiggling for many months now. Three weeks ago when she left Dharza Gurwa, Amma had told her to keep working the tooth. Otherwise a new one would grow behind it deformed and yellow, and she would no longer be a fit bride for the darbar.  So she pushes and pulls at the tooth.

    It has just stopped raining, after an unrelenting downpour that had lasted two days. She can hear the collected water trickle down from the thousand roofs into the hundred courtyards that surround her on all sides. It is not an unpleasant sound:

    कल कल कल कल

    From the safe hidingspot behind the door, the courtyard looks empty. No Bajai in sight. No guards. No old men with long noses and large tikas on their foreheads looking down sternly at her. Good.

    She breaks into a run… lookstraightdonteventhinkandnobodywillseeyou… quickly enters the second smaller courtyard through a low door darts through the courtyard to arrive at the smallest courtyard yet which contains the object of her fascination.

    Her chest heaves from the quick sprint. Her heart pounds. There it is… the giant scary serpent at the back end of the courtyard. Two weeks ago she had seen it for the first time when Bajai had given her a rather hurried tour of the palace complex. Bajai had breezed passed this courtyard, pointing absently towards the serpent and mumbling something about a very old sculpture and the name Kaliyaa. Back then, Laccho had noticed the mound of snake coils but nothing more: in fact she did not remember if there was one snake or a whole pile of them. Now she advances slowly toward the sculpture taking in every detail while trying to make her breathing as quiet as possible.  She traces the contours. The wave of coils vanishes over here… reappears here… it is indeed a single enormous serpent. The slippery slimy skin the distinct scales the many many coils wound up every which way below the strong body and finally the head, almost Godlike in appearance. But she notices now that a man is trying desperately to break free of the snake’s coils on the left and on the right a woman is buried deep in the many hideous coils wound around her. With folded hands, the woman pleads: someone, anyone: please rescue me!

    Laccho makes up her mind: this is an evil snake ….. She follows the contours of the snake’s chest… head… crown… and finally the 1 2 3 4 five hoods spread out impressively behind its head. The undersides of the hoods, usually hidden from view, are now exposed completely in the fully unfurled state. They are decorated with beautiful faint lines like the folds of a human palm but much more patterned. Despite her fear she reaches out to touch the mesmerizing patterns…


    With a terrifying hiss the snake shrinks away. Rolls and waves of skin crawl past each other, become more tightly wound, more threatening. Laccho springs back in fright arm on chest mouth agape. But she cannot run away altogether. Frozen in fear she looks  at the snake’s eyes… They are completely still. In fact quite calm. In awe she looks down at the rolls of coils the glistening skin. Every part of the snake is unmoved. It is a stone sculpture after all she says to herself, and immediately feels silly about having to remind herself of this. And yet she could have sworn…

    The sudden shock not entirely out of her she draws close again. Hesitating she touches the skin delicately: on first contact it is surprisingly cold. The recent rain mixed with the green moss makes the snake’s body more slithery, more real. Below the slipperiness she can feel the firmness of the sharply cut scales. They feel brittle and yet fold beautifully into the skin, following every curve of the snake’s coil without sticking out at awkward angles. A part of her still expects the snake to rise up and sink all five fangs into her arm. Slowly she moves her hand through the coiled mass, runs her fingers through the majestic body, up to the intricately carved crown on the serpent’s head, feels the delicate lines and tiny bumps of the hoods’ undersides, and finally rests her fingers at the tiny foot of the little boy who is standing lightly but with supreme confidence above all the snake.

    The little boy smiles gently. His foot which Laccho had just touched rests upon the snake’s head. The other is balanced gracefully on the snakes broad shoulder. With one hand the boy grasps a hood. He is not worried about being bitten. Laccho feels like he is trying to discipline the snake with a flick of a small towel, which he holds in his other hand. He is a chubby boy. Almost naked, playful, mischievous. After he is done with the snake, he might very well go into his mother’s kitchen and steal some butter.

    Laccho’s face becomes serious. She has made up her mind: this is Krishna. Her Krishna from home. Krishna in his Bal Gopal form. Krishna causing all sorts of trouble and stealing the hearts of everyone around him. Gazing at his supremely confident face, she knows that the snake is going to be subdued.

    Laccho closes her eyes, brings her palms together in a namaskaar. Hey Krishna. Hey Basudev. Please rescue this poor man and woman from the coils of the snake. Please take care of Amma and Baapu and everyone else in Dharza Gurwa. Then please rescue… please stay with me at all times. You are all I have in this strange country. She furrows her brows, bows down a bit more. Small hints of tears well up below her closed eyelids. After a few moments, she opens her eyes and gazes again at Krishna’s tranquil face. She feels a little better inside.

    Laccho turns away slowly to make her way back to the ladies quarters where she shared the smallest darkest room with Ramkali ever since arriving at this palace together with her.  On the way is a long, dark hallway that always smelled of dust and wetness. She enters this windowless passage with her mind still full of Krishna. Before today, whenever she thought of the small courtyard she had just left, the snake would come to her mind. But now all she can remember is Krishna’s tranquil face. The snake seems irrelevant somehow.

    Suddenly, she notices at the far end of the long hallway, against the backdrop of complete black, a shape in pure white floating slowly toward her. As it draws near she can make out that it is an old man floating lightly in the air, his feet dangling several arm’s lengths above the ground. He is wrapped in an unblemished white shawl. He wears no hat or turban, and his head is full of untidy gray hair. Now he looks down and asks:

    बिटिया, तोहर नाव कि बा ?

    He knows my language!

    Although taken aback at suddenly encountering Bhojpuri, she answers obediently: Laccho.

    The old man smiles.

    How old are you, बिटिया?


    The old man frowns softly, floats down a little, reaches out and caresses her gently on her head.

    What is the red stuff on you neck?

    The old man seems to not know what Laccho is talking about. Stretching his neck and making a longish face he feels around his neck with one hand, locates the rather nasty gash, and gets a flash of recognition in his eyes.

    Oh, this? Don’t worry. It’s just a small keepsake from the time I worked for this darbar.

    OK, Laccho says slowly. The hideous cut she can now clearly see does not look like a small thing. And she definitely knows what dried blood looks like. She can see many trails of it running from the cut well into his chest and body. His white shawl however is spotless. At least the old man is not bleeding any more, she consoles herself.
    Well, it was an honor and a pleasure to meet you बिटिया. I hope we can become friends?

    Laccho looks up. The old man had kind eyes. He is still smiling, but Laccho imagines that if she says No, he will immediately burst into a fit of crying.

    Sure, she says kindly.

    Thank you!

    With that, the old man bows low in Namaskar, turns around, and starts floating away.

    Wait! Laccho cries out. What is your name?

    The old man pauses. Turning only his head around, he whispers his name softly before floating away into darkness:

    My name is Bhimsen Thapa.

  • They Come for Laccho

    Part I: Official Letter from Magistrate of Gorakhpur to Brian Hodgson, East India Company Government Resident in Kathmandu, concerning the search party sent to procure brides for the Nepal Durbar


    B. Hodgson Esqr.

                                                                                           Resident at



    I have the honor to inform you that Oomakanth Upadhya and Kol Kesree Pundit with the other members of the mission having completed their arrangement for procuring brides for the family of the Rajah of Nepaul, have applied to me for leave to return to their country with the two brides who have been selected[,] one of whom will be accompanied by her father Down Singh a Zemindar Simeyt of Mougul Tighra and the other it is proposed shall be attended by Kishon Kishore Chand[,] Rajah of Gopalpur.

    I have assented to their application pending your sanction, and no objection whatever existing, I trust you will sanction their proceeding.

    Zh. Gorruckpoor

    Magistrate’s OFfice

    The 2nd April 1840

    I have the honor to be


    Your Most obedient Servant





    Part II: Unofficial Letter from Magistrate of Gorakhpur to Brian Hodgson concerning the same



    My dear Hodgson

    I am at last able to give you some specific information respecting the party sent from Nepaul into this district to provide brides for the Royal Family. During the months they have been here, they have engaged with more than a score of the reputable local families and with signally bad success. Oomakanth Upadhyaya and Kol Kesree imagined that they could have several to court them, instead of they having to propitiate the opposite parties. And with all their shrewdness they have been cruelly told. The hostility shewn by our zemindars  to the  mission, and the narrow escape we have had more than once from recourse to blows by either party, have made it very apparent that alliance with the Goorkha is not coveted. In fact  it is looked upon as disgraceful in point of caste, and a matter of ruin in its after consequences. However at last after endless changings one young lady has been obtained, a Simeytin, a daughter of Dowon Singh of Tighra – a douceur  of 8000 Rs. I understand settled this matter – but not before one of the family averse to the match had run off with the young lady some 50 miles. The other bride was to be got through the intervention of Kishon Kishore Chand, Rajah of Gopalpur. This person is a fine looking man with good broad shoulders who has run through all his property and with the reputation of being a capital shot has the reality of being irretrievably  involved – Perbhoo Chand is a mean kinsmen of the Rajah who is inferior in pedigree to the other Rajahs of the district. Having no family. He [“The Rajah?” in pencil mark] nominated his brother’s daughter, and I believe shewed his musalchees daughter, a pretty girl of 10, instead of his niece a confounded old spinster of 25, and got four thousand Rs out of the Upudya at starting. This came out and since then he (the Rajah) has been beating up amongst his relations for a  substitute. One was chosen from Mebur Rai’s house at Benee, who walked across the Gopur, another at Beesar Rai’s house, who has shut his doors entirely, and now one at Durj Gurwa, which may turn out acceptable though I doubt it.

    Oomakanth forever worn thin with his “search after brides” declares that this is the last attempt, and he applied formally for leave to proceed with the one Dolah, if the other fails or else with both. You will get my official letter by this post. Respecting the Gopalpoor Rajah’s going (provided a bride be got) to the hills, there is not that I am aware of any ground of objection whatever. Perhaps it may help him to get his head above water. With the Tighra Dolah the young lady’s papa will go.

    I am sorry I have not been able to get you any information from the late Souba about Bootwol. He promised to give me a[?] very full and interesting detail in reply to my (or rather your) questions. But his factotum which he sent with his elephants and a lot of money to Fyzabad, took himself and his charge quietly off and  the Souba has been not of his mind every since.

    I hope yet to see you keep your post. This Chinese outbreak  if our ministers could have been a little smarter would have been settled by this time. I apprehend lapse of time in preparation will do more to excite the Nepaulese to ideas of our weakness than a temporary repulse – Oomakanth was curious to know what was going on, and let me learn that the hill men were watching the prospect  of events. He was rather disappointed when I told him the history of teas  cured in the Alecste taking their Bogue, and bringing their batteries about their ears, and seemed to acquire new ideas altogether from an exhibition of our relative commercial positions. He had no idea of tea drinking being a matter of national interest and like many perhaps most others for the first time learnt that it was not a case of Lord Auckland & the Company & Governor Lin, but of Great Britain & British India & China.


    Yrs. Very faithfully


    April 2d, 1840




    Part III: They Come for Laccho

    March 29, 1840
    Dharza Gurwa, A small town near Gorakhpur

    लछ्छो…ओ लछ्छो…घरे आव बिटिया। मिहमान आगल बा।

    Laccho paused in her play with Ramkali around the bel tree, and handed over the two baby goats she was carrying in her arms to Ramkali.

    Here, you keep on teaching Tutar and Butar how to speak our language. Amma is calling me.

    Laccho ran towards the house. As she turned the corner, she stopped dead on her tracks. An ELEPHANT was resting quietly in front of her house! It was slowly munching on some straw that had been placed on the ground. It’s impossibly large ears were moving slowly but constantly, back and forth, back and forth. She also noticed three men lazily sprawled under the banyan tree…probably caretakers of the elephant.

    Afraid of startling the elephant, she walked slowly on tiptoes towards the house, carefully pivoted around and entered the front door, and bolted again to be as far away from the elephant as possible. In the courtyard, she ran straight into a stern man with a very serious face. He had on a very funny black hat. His moustache was rigid and quivering. It scared her.

    Amma stepped forward.

    Laccho, why are you fooling around like a little girl? Cover your head properly, and arrange your sari. These are the guests from the palace of Nepal.

    Amma motioned politely towards the rest of the party that were behind the stern man. There was one other man, wearing a similar black hat, and with a forehead filled with lots and lots of tika, both yellow and red. Then there was a woman, old and frowning. She had an enormous bulge at her belly, around which there was a tightly wrapped white cloth. Must be some disease that made her stomach swell.

    Paapu was also present, sitting on the corner chair, looking dignified.

    Please sit, sit, it is an honor… but a humble abode… Amma bustled and fussed over the guests.

    The party settled into chairs arranged around the courtyard that morning for the visit.

    The stern man took out a pouch of leather. Here is the…um, gift.

    Paapu got up and took the pouch. He started to look inside, but then decided against it. He carefully put it on the nearby table, and did not look at it for the rest of the conversation.

    The old woman started talking. Very loudly and in a raspy voice like a croaking frog. She did not look happy.

    Why so hot here in the plains? We been to every honorable Rajput house in Gorakhpur in last month… in this intolerable heat. I have an old ailment of baath in this leg, walking is very difficult as it is, and with the heat… And the mosquitos…THIS big…How do you peoples survive here?

    The old woman was speaking Hindustani, but Laccho noticed that she sometimes used the wrong words and she spoke funny too. They probably speak another language where they come from, Laccho thought.

    The old woman paused to take a deep breath. She put her hand inside the white cloth around her belly and dug around quite freely through her bulge.

    …so that is not a diseased swelling after all…a traveling bag!

    The old woman fished out a towel from her bulge. She started wiping her forehead and neck. She turned to the man with the tika full of forehead. She mumbled in her own language, trying to be as quiet as possible:

    Not even some water…what is this?

    Laccho could make out the word water. Amma bustled again. It looked like Amma also figured it out.

    Where are my manners? In this excitement I forgot all about….I will be right back.

    The old woman turned a knowing eye to the stern man. The stern man did not respond.

    The old woman kept going…

    We used to have many good luck with brides in Gorakhpur in the past. Even Her Majesties the Senior Queen and Junior Queen, as you probably know, were from here. In fact, the Senior Queen is your own relative, or so I have been communicated. Even this time, we were expecting many good candidates. Many promises were made to us by the reputable peoples of Gorakhpur. But we was disappointed…so disappointed. And the humiliations we had to go through in some reputable houses!


    With that, the stern man straightened himself in his chair, and shot a look at the old woman. The old woman stopped talking, flatted her lips in a sulking grimace, and looked down sideways.

    So, Chand Ji…the stern man continued, looking towards Paapu.

    …as you know, we have been sent here by Kishan Kishore Raja Ji. Yes, we have had many misunderstandings with him until now, and many false starts, some rather… disappointing, but he is Rajput Royalty and as emissaries of another Rajput Royal family, we continue to have complete faith in his judgements. We have been led to believe that your girl will be an ideal bride for His Royal Highness, Sri 5 Crown Prince Surendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. If the …um, arrangements are satisfactory to you, let us proceed to the inspection so that we can take the conversation further.

    Laccho noticed that Paapu touched the leather pouch just for a moment, without looking at it, as the stern man was speaking. She also noticed that the stern make spoke Hindustani much better than the old woman.

    Let us proceed, Paapu said.

    Laccho noticed that Paapu had said very little today. That was unusual.

    The stern man looked towards the old woman, and nodded.

    The old woman got up, smiled quickly, returned to her frown, and advanced towards Laccho.

    Come, my child, let me look at you closely. What number is your age, dear?


    Very good. Come inside for a little moment with me.

    The old woman placed both hands on Laccho’s shoulders and guided her out of the courtyard and into the house. Amma was ahead of them, and once inside, she pointed out where the woman’s room was for the old woman.

    Some time passed.

    The old woman appeared from within the house, and brought Laccho into the courtyard. She announced to the small gathering, smiling ear to ear:

    We are very happy to have such a beautiful and healthy girl as the future Queen of Nepal. She is without any blemish whatsoever! The girl is now our Dola!

    Both of the men seemed relieved. The stern man twirled his moustache. The quieter man with the forehead full of tika even smiled a little bit. The old woman had even stopped frowning.

    The stern man said to the tika forehead, who was poring over several documents sprawled on his lap:

    So, Pandit Ji, what does the Dola’s birth chart say about an auspicious day for the wedding?

    Sambat 1898, Jyestha Shukla Pakshya, Dwitiya is the best day …that is, just about a year and two months from this day.

    Wonderful! That will give us enough time to train the Dola, said the old woman.

    The stern man spoke again:

    Chand Ji, it appears we can settle matters. Is our proposal agreeable to you?

    Yes,  Upadhyaya Ji, it is.

    As Paapu said this, he now finally looked at the leather pouch sitting on the table, for quite a long time, and then looked down towards the mud floor of the courtyard.

    It is decided, then, the stern man said.

    We will come in a week to take the Dola away. Please prepare for the long journey appropriately. Of course, we will let Kishan Kishore Raja Ji accompany the Dola to Nepal. There might be an opportunity for him to stay on in Nepal with the girl if the Nepal palace decrees so. Congratulations, Chand Ji, and welcome to the hallowed inner circle of the brave and legendary Rajputana Nepal royal family!


    Letters from the British Library, London. India Office Records: Kathmandu Residency Records, Nepal. Misc. Letters Received Apr-Dec 1840 Pt. 1. FF. 1-243. R/5/100