All posts tagged Bhimsen Thapa

  • 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…

    हिस्स्स्स्स्

    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?

    Seven.

    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.

  • Daaphe Chari

    हिमचुली त नाकमा फुली
    हिमचुली नाकमा फुली
    र ठम् ठमै डुली माया मा भुली
    लेखाको डुनि र एकबारे जुनी
    लाएको कली र ओठमा नली
    सासु कि छोरी नि भोखले मरी
    कठै नि बरि नि एस्तै चाल परी
    कर्नाली भेरी सम्झाउदा खेरि
    मन आम्छ कोरि कस्कि यो छोरी
    मुरली चरी भोकले मरिछ
    को देख्छ बेदना हो चरा
    मीरा चरी हो मेरा डाफो
    को देख्छ बेदना हो

    ∫∫∫

    September 22, 1840
    Basantapur Darbar, Nepal

    Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight. Laccho counted the victory over each floor as she climbed her way up. She paused at the  bottom of the stairs that lead up to the  buईँgal. She looked at the small opening cut into the ceiling, undecided. She could already hear the sound of rain hitting the rooftops. She did not like the dark shadows up there.  But it was always quiet and nobody bothered her. So she climbed the stairs, swinging both arms to make sure the cobwebs criss-crossing did not touch her face and itch afterwards.

    The last bent plank on the stairs squealed like a hurt animal when she stepped on it: CREEEEEEEEAAAAAAK. She looked up quickly into the corners of the buईँgal to make sure she had not startled the ghost of Bhimsen Thapa.  But there was no movement in the shadows. The dark thick curtains lining all windows were also still. Bhimsen Thapa was somewhere else today. The buईँgal smelled a little bit like incense, a little bit like firewood, a little bit like old dust. But all mixed together.  She crossed the room, set aside the curtains that covered the south window, sat on the nearby bench, looked out the window that Ajima called ga jhya. It had been four months since she came to this strange country and strange palace. That is …. sixteen weeks. Being this high up still made her feel very strange, as if she was flying but would fall at any minute straight down to the stone pavements nine floors below. The scenes of madness on those streets over the last few days still haunted her. What she remembered made the little pain in her heart come back. She did not know how to make it go away, so she looked up into the sky.

    The rain fell on and on and on, so hard it came down slanted, and made very loud noises on the roof above like someone was throwing small stones. The wind blew in often but it passed through her softly at the very last moment. The air was not too warm. The air was not too cold. It brought in a mysterious sweet smell of oil incense wet metal cowdung from the city around her. In faint waves through the rain, she heard someone singing a miserable song, accompanied by a sad wailing sound that reminded her suddenly of the sarangis from her childhood. She jumped up, walked to the window, leaned a bit onto the latticework, but not too much because she did not trust the windows yet. She looked down and saw, along the porch of the elephant stables, a beggar. He was holding a little instrument that looked like a squished-in sarangi, and was singing the sad song with his eyes closed, looking up.  He was not in the rain, but because of the wind, he was surely getting gusts of rain every time the wind passed by. How long would it take before he was completely wet? As she listened, she realized that the song was not  sad, but was making her sad on the inside because it reminded her of home and the village singers who used to sing around the large pipal tree. There was nobody around in the rain to give the beggar any rice or coins. Laccho watched him for some time, got up, walked slowly towards the east window. Looking out, she saw that the field they called Tudikhel was completely empty of the usual crowds and full of big dirty puddles of rain.

    A wave of loud thunder rolled through the sky. She felt its power inside her chest. The impossibly deep rumbles came down to  earth, and were now rolling through the valley, getting louder as they came towards her. Laccho clutched tightly at the wooden bar of the window so that the thunder did not sweep her away as it crashed through the palace …BOOM…she felt it pass through her heart and onto the chowks behind, towards the newar town and now growing quieter it climbed the hills in the distance and finally left Nepal far to the west. She waited for another wave of thunder, but it was just the rain now. She cast her eyes down towards the palace garden. Jalashaya Narayan was sleeping calmly in his pokhari and did not mind the raindrops hitting him hard and splashing off in bursts around him. But the goman guarding over Basuki Naag Pokhari  was as fearful today as he was four months ago, when she first saw him.The goman looked real enough to suddenly lunge at her and swallow her whole without any warning.  He stood tall, his large hood full of real bumps of fearful skin, too scary for her to even go near the pond. At night, she often looked at the crack under the door of her room to make sure he did not crawl in when he thought everyone was sleeping.

    Laccho looked up towards the thickgray clouds. They looked like enormous solid slabs of rock. Maybe she could climb up on them, maybe from the top of Bhimsen Tower, and walk and walk for many days to the south. Maybe the clouds were connected all the way over, and she could walk to her house in Dharza Gurwa. I would skimp all the way home, watching the rain fall below me all around, but I would be dry because I would be above the clouds. Laccho decided this was a silly idea, and glided softly back down towards the buईँgal, then lower onto the streets lining the elephant stables, then flew towards Kumari Temple. That is where She lived. She hovered outside the window of the temple hoping to see Kumari again. Laccho had seen glimpses of her in between the chaos and confusion of the last few days: the three eyes, the red dress. But Kumari had always looked calm as they carried here here and there in a palki, surrounded by devils and monsters swirling and screaming around her. What did she eat? The red tika and abir that people offered her? Maybe that is why she is so red all over. Laccho thought of blood, lots of blood. Did Kumari ever think of blood? Did she get afraid?

    Not finding Kumari, Laccho continued on down the street towards Ajima’s Maru tol. Behind her the beggar was still singing, scraping on the strange, dirty sarangi and making it cry all the while. He did not seem to care that it was raining so hard. Perhaps he is completely wet by now. Perhaps he is a madman. She wondered what he was singing about. Probably Ramayan or Mahabharat, since he had been singing for so long and only Ramayan and Mahabharat are that long. She walked a bit further. The enormous temple ahead of her impressed her as it had every time she had floated by here before. It looked like a giant hen sitting down, with her wings spread over Maru and guarding it like a mother. The vegetable shops around the temple had packed up and gone home because of the rain. But the jogis with their strange ears were huddled together in between the giant beams of the temple.

    She stared at the jogis and the jogis stared back at her. Frightened, she weaved her way back and floated back up to the buईँgal. Buईँgal. Buईँईँईँईँgal. She liked the word Ajima used for the attic. She looked towards the sky again through the lattice window, her forehead pressed against the bumpy wood.  The rain fell on and on and on. She wondered how those floating dark clouds could hold so much rain. How much longer would it last? Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed along the corner of the roof eight pigeons pressed tightly together, their neck feathers spiky and wet because the rain made them clump together. They looked back at her with scared round eyes. Nearby, from the corners and edges of the roof, the collected rain was falling in long drops all the way down, nine floors down to the street level. She wanted to follow the drops on their long journey with her eyes. She pulled her head away from the lattice window. A soft pain hovered on her forehead. Running her fingers through, she noticed that her forehead had inherited the patterns of the window, probably in light scars of red. She did not want to follow the drops on their long journey any more.

    Down below, the beggar was still singing his sad song.  Three dogs were now gathered around him in a circle, and pretending to sleep, heads tucked under their hind legs, but otherwise also not bothered by the rain that kept falling on and on. I wonder why …

    CREEEEEEEEAAAAAAK.

    Laccho startled.  But even before she turned, she knew who was at the top of the stairs.

    Ajima!

    Hail to Sri 5 Maharani Punya Kumari Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, Ajima said solemnly, then broke into a wide smile, showing all five black teeth. Her wrinkles even hid most of her smallpox marks. The tuki dangling from her ears danced in the dark light of the buईँgal.

    She raised her arms towards Laccho ready for embrace. Laccho ran and disappeared into Ajima’s bosom. Ajima’s familiar smells of sweat mustard hay oil baby-vomit chiura smoke and yesterday’s garlic enveloped her.

    How is your Nepali coming along, Maicha?

    Little, little, it exists.

    Ajima smiled. Make sure  you don’t miss your lessons.

    Why didn’t you come for so many days? And why didn’t you bring Maiya today?

    Maiya has been touched by Cold. And we never bring sick children into this darbar, ever since the time of…anyway…you asked why I didn’t come. Remember, I told you before leaving: we would all be busy with Yenyaa for five days. So much work, so much merriment!

    But I thought it was horrible. There were elephants and fierce looking monsters down there in the chowk. Thousands of people screaming and swaying for days like mad-men, and loud music that gave me a headache. They were even drinking daaru from a demon’s mouth, right over there near the palace door! Why don’t they worship Ram, Shiva and Guru Gorakhnath like we do back home?

    Ajima chuckled.

    One day, I will tell you all about it. But listen, Maicha. I heard that your wedding day has been fixed for Jeth Shuklapanchami next year! You will be a real Maharani after that… By the way, who is older, you or the other girl?

    I don’t know.

    The wrinkles on Ajima’s forehead deepened for some reason. She held Laccho tighter in her bosom, ran blacknail fingers gently across Laccho’s hair, lingering the most around her temples. Laccho was happy.

    After your wedding, you must make the Maharajkumar bring your father here. Jethi Badamaharani did the same many years ago when she got married. Did you know she is from Gorakhpur, near your home town?

    ∫∫∫

    Nepali excerpt from the folk song Daaphe Chari, word and music by Jhalak Man Gandharva.