All posts tagged Brian Hodgson

  • A Gift of Gaajal

    April 19, 1843
    Thapathali, Nepal

    Ganesh Kumari came into the room slowly, balancing the large nanglo so that it would not topple over and spill all of what goes into making gaajal. She positioned herself directly in the path of the slanted rectangle of sun flooding the room, crouched down, gingerly placed the nanglo on the floor, and crouching further, eased herself onto the sukul, palm of left hand pivoting her movements. A soft thasssa escaped from her throat as she settled into a paleti. The sun was directly on her back. It was unclear whether the small victories up to that point annoyed her or satisfied her. With the same spirit, she arranged around her the spices and assortment from the nanglo, picked from different nooks of the kitchen. Directly in front of her she placed the large copper diyo.

    Searching within the folds of her infinitely spacious patukaa she fished out a tear of white muslin and spreading it across her palm, deposited upon it one spoon fenugreek one spoon carom seeds one spoon Bhimsen camphor. Next a dribble of mustard oil to the point where it smothered the mixed concoction, but did not drip down through the muslin onto her hand. A gentle massage of the oilyglob with her fingers to ensure consistency. A gathering of the four ends of the muslin to form an imperfect turgid tube, a twirlywhirl of the cloth ends on the muslin-heavy side so it resembled a lamp wick, a placing of the entire lump onto the copper diyo so the tiwrlywick faced out, like the suffering end of a regular oil lamp. She is fully engrossed in her work. She transitions to the present.

    Tongs fetch a glowing ember from the makal in the center of the room. The wick carefully touches the ember and encouraged with soft blows of air, catches fire. Excess oil already dripping from the wick now falls straight down in tiny blobs of flame and oil that end their lives as black splotches in the already dirty sukul.

    Then comes another diyo, which when turned upside down and tilted almost completely covers the first one, but for a small opening away from the flame,  for obvious purposes.

    The flame burns long, stilldrippingoil, but then grows quiet, and soon starts beating a subtle rhythm to the slow seeping supply of oil from the masala mixture forming the body of the turgid tube. The flame with each gentle waving deposits a waft of soot onto the overturned diyo, fed by flame, lifted by heat, a magical transformation from ethereal flame to dark smoke to black soot, floating gently into existence. The softest whiffs of something created out of nothing. The strands of soot grow. At least one ghadi passes.

    Ganesh Kumari realizes that the salty warmth of the sun has slipped away from her back and is now gracing the sukul several hands away. She leans forward slightly, finds a pivot and twists her buttocks once, twice, thrice. Her back is in the sun again. What’s happening this year? Early Baisakh and the mornings have still not warmed up.

    If she lets the soot collect unattended for long, it will come crashing down under its own weight and smother the flame. Every once in awhile, then, Ganesh Kumari gently lifts the top diyo, looks at its underbelly. When there is enough of the tangled mesh to collect, she scoops it out gently with her fingers and transferred it to a brass plate, careful not to let whiffs fly away in waste. 

    When a sizeable pile of soot has collected in front of her, she quashes the flame, fishes out some butter and adds a dollop to the pile. She picks up a conch shell and with the smooth side rubs the mixture patiently into a fine black gaajal that occasionally shines like silver powder.

    Someone is here. Her concentration broken, she slips out of the present.

    She looked up as Jung Bahadur entered.

    You’re here already, Babu.

    I’m coming straight from the Resident’s. Mama took me and Kulman sasura along. We wanted to feel out the Resident.

    So?

    It’s hard to read the Resident. He gave his standard answer of staying out of darbar affairs. But I know he is pleased to see Mama return.

    What does Mathabar say? How is he?

    Mama has already grown out his moustache to Prime-Minister-size. He gives out expensive gifts to just about anyone who comes by to visit. But he’s still living out of the hut in Kalanki…insists that he won’t move into Nepal proper until the Thapa name is cleared.

    Mathabar said the right thing. Otherwise how is Bhimsen Bua’s troubled soul going to find peace? But when will all this end? When will Nepal go back to normal? Have they cleaned up Baag Darbar for him?

    No. Mama can only occupy Baag Darbar after his property has been officially restored. He will live here with us in the meantime…that is, when he is ready to leave the hut. I am trying to work through Surendra to commit the Raja into making assurances for Mama.

    The Pandes are shit scared. They will likely be all cut. Debi Bahadur is going to be cut with them. I will try to save him but it is too early to broach the topic with Mama.

    That Debi Bahadur…Who had asked that idiot to open his mouth against Kanchi Rani? The backing of Jethi Rani made him careless then, and he will surely pay. Abhaagi mora…Do you best to save him.

    Ganesh Kumari was layering fingerfuls of the gaajal into a small surmadani that Jung Bahadur’s father had bought in Kashi.

    Here, give this to Mathabar tomorrow. Tell him it is for his newborn. Will cure eye sores and reduce chipra.

    Why hurry? I will give it when all is settled. It’s not like Mama’s household is starving for gaajal.

    Ganesh Kumari wiped away the gaajal in her hands. Her son’s rude responses to ordinary questions. The instinctive twitching of his torso when annoyed. Signatures of her first-born, so dear to her since his childhood for its innocent impatience and bristling bravado. She noted with sadness that they were now increasingly tinged with arrogance and a little bit of cynicism.

    Look Babu. You are already a Kaji. You are manager of Kumari Adda! …

    Ganesh Kumari realized that a tone of admiration was suddenly creeping into her voice despite herself. She dialed it back.

    …You know how to play power a lot better than this old woman. But listen. Money your Mama has lots of from his timber contracts. Followers he has lots of as you saw already. What he needs is afno maanche. In good times and bad. Never forget his goon to you. Let him call you Jangey if it pleases him. It is only a name…he says it with love. Always make sure he sees that you are his blood. If you do that, he will never betray you. And you can rise with him. This gaajal is not chakari. It is a gift for family. Blood, after all, is blood.

    ∫∫∫

    Epilogue: Exactly two years and one month later, Mathabar Singh Thapa was shot dead by his nephew Jung Bahadur, under orders from King Rajendra.

  • 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

    Katmandhu

    Sir,

    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

    Sir

    Your Most obedient Servant

    [signed]

    Magistrate

    ∫∫∫

     

    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

    [signed]

    April 2d, 1840

    Gorruckpoor

    ∫∫∫

     

    Part III: They Come for Laccho

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

    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!

    Ahem!

    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?

    Eight.

    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

  • Rain

    रजितसुगतमुकुटमणिचरणं निर्जितनिखिलविबुधनशरणं।
    . . .
    इति श्रीमहाराजाधिराजराजेन्द्र श्री २ कवीन्द्र-जयप्रताप मल्ल देव विरचितं वृष्टिचिन्तामणिर्नाम स्तोत्रं सम्पूर्ण।।

    ∫∫∫

     

    June 16, 1841

    Nepal Valley

    It started yonder, over the slopes of Chandragiri. Our Chandragiri, whose central bulk resembles a majestic elephant head when seen from parts of our valley. Pluffywite clouds, scattered about but only yesterday, colluded over the elephant head of Chandragiri, doing कानेखुसि in a language we did not understand. Soon they gathered into large imposing masses. The wind picked up. The clouds swirled northward. They gathered moisture, gathered purpose, darkened in color, became a single impenetrable slab by the time they arrived over Thapathali. In time, the mass stretched outward, reaching for the surrounding hills and beyond. Soon it loomed densemysterious over all of Nepal, in shades of blueblack,fringed in deep gray. A pregnant promise. A hint of malice. It was only midday, but the dense cover made us think it was two ghadis after sunset. If we had aspired, we could have easily touched the thick molasses swirling over the valley with our bare hands.  But we never did. 

    The soul-scorching bare heat of the direct sun was gone, but a sweltering stickiness still lay heavy in the air. Our perennial crows and sparrows were unusually quiet. The galli dogs roamed restless, also in silence. Indeed the entire valley was quiet. A tense quiet, as if the animals the trees the hills the gods were waiting.

    Then

    मिलिक्…मिलिक्…

    झिलिक्क

    Angry slivers of lightning flared over Mangal Bazaar, Tudikhel, then Kirtipur. The light rushed off to the hills, made the peripheries of Nepal glow incandescent for fleeting moments: now Phulchoki, now Nagarjun and now Kakani lit up in turn with an unnatural light, penetrating the otherwise all-encompassing darkness. 

    The briefest of silences ensued. Followed by

    ढड्याङ्…ढड्याङ्…

    ढड्याङ्ङ्ङ्ङ्ङ्ङ

    Suddenly, no human or animal was in sight. All of us yielded the valley to Nature, for this was a time for Nature to assert herself – her Peacock Dance – and us mortals stepped aside in stupefied awe. We huddled inside our brickhouses. The dogs and cows found shelter in the nooks of our temples and paatis. The birds snuck deep inside the temples and trees. The majestic fury of lightning and thunder continue for many pals. A celestial game of tag: the lightning flash darts, the thunder catches up, the lightning flash swerves, the thunder responds, having echoed back from the hills. 

    Then another silence. This time a more relieved silence, like the silence at the end of a fierce war. But still pregnant if that is possible. The theatrics of Nature had not satiated us. Having shaken us, it had somehow increased our anticipation.

    In utter silence, then, the dark gray clouds scurried hither. The deep blue clouds slithered yon. The silence made the performance more intimidating…almost demonic.

    The third and final act started slowly. The first few tentative drollops landed randomly on the vegetation behind our houses, causing a loud haphazard clatter that had no rhythm to it. The pitter patter bent the long corn leaves in unnatural angles. The fragile soybean leaves shook occasionally on contact. It was a reunion dance, but the plants seemed to be offended that the initial steps were so awkward.  The twirlyswirls of the lahare cucumber clinging to the garden walls mostly stayed out of it and just swayed in the breeze. In front of our houses, the large splats broke up into a hundred small droplets on hitting the parched tiles and bricks of our chowks and temple squares. The droplets created temporary scars where they fell, but warmed by the stored heat of the brickwork, evaporated quickly into nothingness. This first contact of water and earth did leave behind a more lasting gift: a subtle organic smell of soil roused by the moisture, the smell of dust not yet turned to mud, permeated the air. A smell dearly familiar to all of us.

    In time the pitter-patter grew louder, more frequent, and picikingupspeed quickly reached a crescendo as Indra appeared, soared swiftly across the sky, and slit the clouds open with his vajra. And lo, the heavens poured down upon us. Nourishing rain fell in massive diagonal sheets of gray onto Nepal. The Purna Kalashas had been overturned, spilling the contained Soma freely. Now even mortals could partake of it. Soma, replenisher of the dry, parched earth. Soma, agency of sustenance, nourisher of grain, ensurer of harvest. Soma, elixir of the heavens, shared without reserve with mortals for but a precious few months of the year. 

    The unrelenting downpour washed away the sweltering moist heat smothering all of Nepal. In its place came a gentle breeze. It was not exactly cold, but the steady wind and permeating wetness somehow got to our bones. It even caused the more fastidious of our bent elders to pull out siraks and blankets from storage, and cocoon themselves within.

    The rain fell on the vegetation. The initial hesitancy on first contact exhibited earlier by the leaves was gone. Now the leaves the branches the flowers all swayed in abandon in unison to the swooshing chorus of pitter-patter:

    झुम झुम झुम झुम 

    झम झम झम झम

    The rain fell on our galli dogs, who meandered around the streets, before curling up into balls anywhere it took their fancy, heads tucked snug under flanks, soon sound asleep, as unmoved by the drenching rain as they were earlier moved into hiding by the thunder.

    The rain fell on our pigeons. They stirred, flew about desultory among the temples and squares, got drenched. Changing their minds, they returned to the temple struts, rafters and eaves, shook their bodies violently, succeeded partially in warding off the water, then stared vacant from their perches with frazzled feathers and spiky necks. The crows and sparrows remained in hiding.

    The rain fell on Singu hill, where the eternal eyes of Swayambhu gazed serene. Swayambhu, the self-existent, of flame, of crystal, who had seen so much and had forgiven us all, with utter, utter compassion.

    The rain fell, too, on our rain gods,whom we had beseeched to send us rain. It fell on Pashupati, whom we had lustrated with holy water last month so he would cause rain. It fell on Matsyendranath’s chariot, which we had pulled into Jawalakhel just last week. It fell on all the subterranean serpents and their king, Karkotak, to whom we had already paid the proper homage. It fell too on the statues of Indra, original ancient god of rain. We might have ignored him somewhat in the last few centuries, but we would for sure worship him in a few months time – with a festive entirely to his name, we would like to point out.

    The rain fell on the courtyards of our bahas and bahis, our tols and gallis, our sattals and patis. The rain washed away the accumulated dust the feces the cow droppings the rotting rice from our rachhans. We were grateful for this. 

    But along with these the rain also washed away, little by little, the silay that joined the bricks of our temples and houses. It washed away the rich nurturing soil from our terraced fields. Little by little, it clawed on our statues and temples, sculpted miracles in wood metal stone. And little by little, it washed away a bit of ourselves, in rivulets and streams trickling through our gallis first, then collecting in our chowks, pouring off into Manohara and Tukucha and Nakkhu, before gathering momentum in the unified torrents of Bagmati and Bishnumati at Teku. The willing swirling waters then carried it all, all away to Balkhu, to Chobar, and finally out of the valley through the swirling waters past Karyabinayak and through the hills towards Ganga, towards Kashi, and for better or for worse, as it always has and as it perhaps always will,  always, always, towards India.

     

    ∫∫∫

     

    Jung Bahadur looked up at the rain. When was this useless downpour going to let up? He was itching to get some exercise out in the open but the rain had kept him indoors for days. He looked sideways at Putali Nani, who lay languid upon his chest, exhausted. Damn, her face was bewitchingly pretty… it got him every time.  But now she lay sound asleep, mouth slightly open, her foulish warm breath hitting him repeatedly on the neck and assaulting his nose… hints of garlic and onions. Jung Bahadur twitched his shoulders instinctively. This caused Putali Nanu to slide off his chest and slump clumsily onto the carpet. He let her be. Instead, he thought about the Darbar gossip she had shared earlier. He did not give a damn about feminine gossip, but it often contained nuggets of information, some of them useful. The Senior Rani’s recent tantrums, running off to Pashupati one day and to Hetauda the next… perpetual threats and constant ultimatums, perhaps she has truly gone mad. And Surendra, such barbarism, such lunacy at eleven years of age. He makes my life living hell when I am in service, but I can handle it and I will make sure I get something out of it. But now he is turning on his newlywed wife. How could he throw her, a child of eight years, into the pond?… and that too for the second time? And that spineless Rajendra allows all this to happen under his nose… maybe even encourages it. How can a country run like this? To hell with the whole lot of them! The next Bhimsen Thapa is coming soon, to wrest control from this weak Darbar and rule with an iron fist. I just need to find him, align myself to him, and rise as he rises…

    Surendra looked up at the rain. From his balcony above Mohan Chowk, the evil dark clouds appeared very low in the sky. The rain fell down in fearful dark torrents. Surendra slowly shifted his eyes towards the top of Basantapur tower. Vulture be gone… vulture be gone… Sonofawhore! The vulture was still there, perched menacingly above the gajur. Now, sensing Surendra’s presence, the vulture slowly turned its neck and stared with sunken evil eyes directly at him. It would soon stretch its naked pink neck, spread its ugly wings, and scoop down through the courtyard to pick out his eyes. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. Up above, the entire celestial weight of the sky was coming down on him, lower and lower, unrelenting, pressing down upon his head, shoulders, chest… The pressure was becoming unbearable. He tried to move, but was gripped by fear. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. Beside him, someone was standing with folded arms, pleading with him about something. Vaguely he caught a few words: nightfall… Her Royal Highness… pneumonia… forgive and forget… Was that a real person speaking? Was it an apparition? But he had no time to decide. He was going to be crushed under the weight of the entire sky soon,  crushed like a bug, blood splattered everywhere. Or the vulture would pick at his eyes and his brains through the holes in his skull. Or Bhimsen Thapa’s ghost would come and try to “talk some sense” into him again. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.

    Brian Hodgson looked up at the rain. The reading room at the Residency was a perfect roost to take in the sweet melancholy of these Monsoon rains. He was worried about the Nepal Durbar. News of our recent losses in China seemed to have rekindled the dormant Goorkha Spirit. The Rajah talks openly about alliancing with Punjab and the Persians against us.  For all his feebleness, the Rajah does have a handsome grasp of Asian affairs and of the most fitting chess move that places his Durbar at the next position of optimal advantage… If only he would put his domestic affairs in order and control the Senior Rani and Heir Apparent. The Rajah believes he is playing a sound game of chess in the domestic front too, but he fools himself. Ere long, some knight will leap out unexpected and checkmate him at his own game. Has be forgotten already the hard-earned lessons of the Bhimsen Thapa tragedy?

    Laccho looked up at the rain. The raindrops hit her directly on the eyes and it hurt, so she looked down again. The water in the pond lapped dangerously around her shoulders. She had to stand fully straight so that it did not get to her chin or into her ears. At the same time, she was trying very hard not to lose her foothold on the slippery bricks underneath: the bricks were smooth, and the soles of her feel could feel a layer of moss along the surface, which made the bricks even more slippery. One false step and I will slip, and drown. The water had wrinkled the tips of her fingers a long time ago. It was not exactly cold, but she was beginning to shiver. हे दइब! I don’t understand why this is happening. They told me everything would be better after the wedding. They said I was going to be a queen of this awful country someday. So why is he treating me like this? And why does Ajima not come to rescue me? Why does the Senior Queen not come? Isn’t she from Gorakhpur too? How could she stand by and let that beast do this to me? Someone, please come in through that courtyard and save me before night comes. The darkness is sure to confuse my balance and kill me… she looked up cowering towards the dreaded Basuki Naag on top of the massive pole in the middle of the pond…Or maybe that serpent will… They say it sometimes leaps out of the pole and swallows small children under cover of night…

    Dhan Sundar looked up at the rain. Very good. He smiled. If it continues like this for a few days, the fields will be ready for transplantation exactly on Ashar 15. He thought of the merry march to the fields, his brothers sisters uncles cousins neighbors in-laws shouting laughing all the way, the terraced fields lying serene, brimming with water, the sky reflected clearly on the undisturbed surface of each terrace, the soothing feeling of wet mud squeezing in between his toes, the croaking frogs and chirping crickets, the drinking,  the open flirting among young and old. He thought of the song his father-in-law was sure to sing during sinaajya.  In anticipation, he started humming it himself:

    भा पिल झाय ला जि बोना याने ला
    मन जा चिव लिसे ओल ह्नम
    आयाले भाजु हाय सिःनाज्या नि ओने
    ज्यामियात बजि नके मा नि ह्नम…

    ∫∫∫

    Opening Sanskrit text: The first and last lines of  Vrishti-Chintamani, a charm of rain in 34 stanzas by King Pratap Malla, from a copy in the Cambridge University Library collection.

    Closing Newari text: Excerpt from a sihnajya (rice transplantation) song, published in Songs of Nepal: An Anthology of Nevar Folksongs and Hymns by Siegfried Lienhard.