All posts tagged Hanumandhoka Palace

  • कलिला राजकुमार, गहन षोज

     

    बिक्रम सम्बत १९२१ आश्विन्  वदी ३

    हनुमानढोका राजदरवार, नेपाल

     

    गुरुज्यु मा दर्शन् टक्रायाँ ।

    दर्शन वलेट महाराज। हजुर का गाथमा सदा सुख, शान्ती र समृद्धी रहोस् । हजुर आफ्ना पुर्षासरी चक्रवर्ती राजा बनिबक्सनु हवस् । अत महाराज, कालिदासको रघुवंश पाठ कंठ गरिबक्सन भया ?

    गर्याँ, गुरुज्यू । तर… आज अर्कै कुरा जान्ना मन् थिया ।

    बिजयराज बुढा को पुरानो बानि, सोधने कुरा सोधी पाठको तम्तयारी तिर लागि सक्या थिया ।  आसनी मा पलेटी मारी पाण्डुलिपिका डोरी फुकालिकन पाताहरु फैलाया । आफ्ना अगाडी आधा चन्द्राकार रुपमा सजाया । सिलायेका ग्रन्थ हरु पोकाबाट फुकाल्या । अनि आफ्ना लुगाका  कुनाहरु पलेटिमनी कोच्या … एसरि पाठको तयारी मा लागेका बिजयराज लाई सदा अदपमा  बसने, पाठ पढने वलेट महाराज त्रैलोक्य बिक्रम शाहको नौलो जवाफले अलमल पार्या । अनि टक्क रोकि कन राजकुमार लाई गमेर हेर्या र बोल्या ।

    हुकुम् महाराज ।

    आज गौतम बुद्ध का बारे जान्न मन् गर्याँ ।

    गौतम बुद्ध… हवस्  महाराज । तर पहिले रघुवंश सकाऔं । महराजले बीस पाता पनि कंठ गरीबक्सेको छैन। प्राचीन संस्कृत काब्य शैलीको बढिया नमुना हो यो… अनि यसपछि कौटिल्य को अर्थशास्त्र । नजर हवस्, ऊ ताहाँ टुलु टुलु हामी लाई हेरेर बस्या छ ।

    तर पैले गौतम बुद्ध का जिवनी जानिबक्सने हुकुम् भया ।

    बिजयराजले राजकुमारको बोलिमा अडान देष्या । गुरुलाई “हुकुम्” जस्ता कडा लबज् चलायाका किं अर्थ लागछ  बिजयराजले सहजै बुझ्या । कहिल्यै अफूलाई “बक्सने” नभन्ने राजकुमार ले अहिले भन्या को भेद पनि बुझ्या ।  

    लौ त भनी बिजयराज ले आफ्नो बानि अनुसार पाठ पढाउनु अघी तान्ने लेघ्रो तान्या र षुरु गर्या…

     …अँ∫∫∫अँ सिद्धार्थ गौतम कपिलवस्तु राजघराना मा जन्मेका हुन् । इन्ले भारत राज्य को गया मा पिपलको रुख मनि निर्वाण प्राप्त गरेका हुन् । यसपछी इनि गौतम बुद्ध कहलिए । षासमा चाहिं इनि श्री विष्णु भगवान का रूप हुन्। आगौं साल विष्णुपुराण औ भगवतपुराणका पाठ पढता इनका बारे महाराजले धेरै जानी बक्सने छ । अहिलेलाइ यति भनौँ, इनि विष्णु भगवान का अवतार हुन्… वामन, परशुराम, राम, कृष्ण, अनि इ गौतम बुद्ध, त्यस् पछि कल्की।

    तर गुरुज्यू… सिद्धार्थ गौतम को जिवनमा के के भया ? उनले के के सोच्या ? हिजो म सिम्बु डाँडा गएथेँ । ताहाँ एक बौद्ध भिक्षु भेट भया । बहुतै ज्ञानी भिक्षु रहेछन ति, पंडित गुणानंद नाम का । गुरुज्यू ले नाम सुन्न भा छ ?

    अहँ, छैन ।

    उही अमृतानंद पन्डित… रजिडन्ट हज्सनका हितैषी… का छोरा रहेछन । जे होस्, इ पन्डितले भन्या, सिद्धार्थलाई सबै पुगिकइ थिया ।  जमान स्वास्नी । घर परियार । काषको वालष छोरो । भविषेको पाकेको राजगद्दी । तर एक दिन इ सबै छाडी बन पस्या । फकीर भया । शिर मुडाया ।

     हो। एस्तै गर्या थ्या, इनले।

    तर क्यान गुरुज्यू … क्यान एस्तो गर्या ?

    खै… इनि बालष काल देषी बैरागी पाराका थिया होला । कसइको एस्तै हुनछ राषी मा, ललाटे लिषितं । भाग्येमा लेखे अनुसार इन्ले एक दिन बेरामी मानिष देष्या । अनि बूढी आइमाई देष्या । अनि मरेको मानिष…

    इ सबै हिजो मलाई पंडित ले सुनाया । तर क्यान गुरुज्यू, क्यान त्यागे सब? उनी ता म जस्तै थिया । राजकुमार । म ता इ सबै त्यागेर जाने सोचन पनि सकन । उन्ले छाडे ।  क्यान?  कसरि?  रातको भरमा दर्बार त्यागदा उनले क्या सोचे ? उनको मनमा क्या कुरा षेल्या?

    विजयराज जवाफ दिनु अघि निकै बेर गमे ।

    वलेट महाराज, इ सबै गहन सवाल हुन् । सबैको जवाफ, सबैको भेद श्रीमद्भागवत गीतामा षुलेको छ। गीतामा सबै कुराको सार छ । महाराजलाई गीता अठार बर्ष नाघिबक्से पछि , आगौं साल सुरु गरुँला सोच्या थ्या। तर अब एसो गर्न्या । रघुवंश बिचैमा टुंग्याई एक साता…

    बिजयाराज का बचन बिचमई टक्क रोकन्या गरि युवराज त्रैलोक्य ले आफ्नो हात उठाया । हत्केला  बिजयाराज का मुष तिरै पर्न्या गरि राष्या ।

    पुराना गुरुषलकका, दिक्षा गुरु मानिराष्या लाई एसरी अपमान गर्या बिजयाराजलाई पचन ता नपच्या। तर बिजयाराजले आजसम्म इ सतिले सरापेको दर्बार भित्र  धेरै नाटक देष्या, धेरै कुरा सिष्या । आफना रीस राग आफई मा राषन सिक्या ।  तेसईले अहिले इ कलिला राजुमार का माथि नषनिया। मुष बंद राषी बस्या ।

    यता युवराजले फेरि भन्या…

    हन गुरुज्यू ।  मलाई गीता पढ़न्या मन् छैन ।  मलाई सिद्धार्थ गौतमले किन घर परियार दर्बार छाड्या बुझन मन छ ।  दुधे बालष छोरो छाडेर कसरि जान सक्या? श्रीमान् का जिमिवारी कसरि चटक छाड्या? गद्दी, राजकजका जिमिवारी, पुर्षाले जितेका जोडेका ढुंगा लाइ कसरि त्यागन सक्या?  त्यागदा कसरि मुटु दरो बनाया? … कि उन्को मुटुनै थियेन ?  उनले अफनो जिमिवारी लत्याएका हुन् त ? क्या सिद्धार्थ गौतम इ जगतका सबैभन्दा लुच्चा अहंकारी बुद्धि मक्किएका कम्जोर …

    युवराज त्रैलोक्य बिचमा एकाएक रोक्या । उनको दम बढेका थिया । स्वा सवा गर्या । कान हरु रात राता बनाया । इ सब विजयराजले नजिकबाट हेर्या । राजकुमारका  हविगत उनलाई अनौठो लाग्या । तर अलि अलि माञाँ पनि लाग्या ।

    रिसानी माफ़ गुरुज्यू , अब आजको पाठ बन्द गरन्या । 

    एति भनी युवराज आफनो रघुवंश पुस्तक का पाताहरु बटुल्न थाल्या । बटुल्दा उनका हात थर्थर कापेका थिया। अनि उठेर बिजयराज लाइ हतार्ले दर्शन् गर्या, फनक्क फिर्या  । गम्भिर अनुहार लिई, जति बाकी रह्याको राजसी ठाँट थिया जमा गरी कोठाबाट हिन्या ।

    फनक्क फिर्नू अघि बिजयाराजले राजकुमारको मुषमा धेरै ठुलो दुष देष्या ।

    बिजयराज सोचमा डुब्या । सुस्तरी पाठका पुस्तक पाण्डुलिपि बटुल्न थाल्या । सबई डोरीले बाँधी थन्को लगाया । अनि लोहन चोक माथि दोस्रो तलामा रहेको इ कोठा का झ्यालबाट बाहिर हेर्या ।

    क्यान सबै त्यगिकन गया?

    क्या जटिल सवाल । हुन त विजयराज लाइ एस्को मामुली जवाफ थाहा नभयाको हन ।  तर विजयराज को सूक्ष्म तर्क गर्न सकन्या, शास्त्रार्थ गर्न रमाउन्या बुद्धि ले यो सवाल जब जब गहिरो  सँग पहल गर्न षोज्या, तब तब उन्ले केहि नभेट्या ।  वेद वेदान्त उपनिषद पुराण काहीँ पनि इ कुरा कोटयाका नपाया ।  कतै कतै बुद्ध लाइ विष्णु अवतार मानिएको पाया ।  काशी मा फेला परेको एक पाण्डुलिपि मा ता ञाहाँसंम भनेको पाया कि बुद्ध मानिष लाइ वेदको पथ बाट भड्काउने बदमाष हो रे । तर उनले क्यान सबै त्यगिकन गया?… इ कुराका भेद काहिँ नपाया ।

    येका येक विजयराज इ सवाल-जवाफ बाट थाक्या । षास कुरो गरउ भन्या लहरो तान्दा पहरो जान्छ भनेजस्तइ कलिला राजकुमारका इ गहन षोज हरु ले कोट्याउँदा विजयराज गर्ल्याम् गुर्लुम् भया । कुनै कुरामा हार्याको जस्तो देषिया । सत्र बर्ष देषि यो अभागी दर्बार भित्र जंगबहादुर का छायाँ मा बसी राजगुरु बन्ने ढोंग गर्न्या बाट पनि उनी थाक्या ।

    बिजयराज अझ झ्यालबाट बाहिर हेर्या हेर्यै थिया । बुढाको कूप्रो ढाड, अहिले झन् कूप्रो भया ।

    बाहिर भंगेरा र परेवा हरु दर्बारका टुँडाल र खोपा हरु मा भुर्भुर गर्दै थिया ।  ईन्का मसिना कपास सरी भित्रि प्वाँखहरु बेला बेलामा झ्याल भित्र उडी सुस्तरी बिजयराज अगाडि भइँ को फारसी गलैंचामा षस्या ।  बाहिर आकाशमा ससाना गोला बादलका भुवाहरु दशैँताका को डुब्दो घाम को रंगले बलेर हलका सुनौलो देषिया ।  इ सब मन् हर्ने दृष्य देषी नरमाउन्या नेपाली मन् काहाँ होला र ?  बिजयराज पनि रमाउन्या थिया।  तर आज इ देषीकन उनका मन नियास्रो नै रह्या ।

    केहि पछि विजयराज पाठको आसनीबाट बिस्तार उठ्या ।  उनका मुषमा नयाँ इरादा देषिया ।

    जंगबहादुर मरोस् बाँचोस, मलाइ मतलब छइन । यो पापले कमायाको राज्ये आफइ सम्हालोस् ।

    ∫∫∫

    पण्डित विजयराज पाण्डे आफना राजगुरु र धर्माधिकार मान पदवी जागीर षानगी इ सबई त्यागी करिब दुइ मैन्हा पछि बिक्रम सम्बत १९२१ मार्ग वदी ११ का दिन श्री काशी बास चल्या ।

    ∫∫∫

    तस्बिर: बिक्रम सम्बत १७६२-१७६३ मा काठमान्डुमा बनाइएको, गौतम बुद्धका जिवनका प्रमुख दृश्यहरु झल्काइएको, बहा-बही हरुमा बिशेष चाड पर्व हरुमा प्रदर्शन गरिने बिलन्पौ को एक सानो भाग।
    समर्पित साथी कुल थापामा: २४ बर्ष अघि पाटनको अक्ष्येश्वर महाबिहारको प्रांगणमा लेखकलाई बौद्धमार्ग चिनाए वापत ।

    यो कथा को अंग्रेजी संस्करण यहाँ पाइन्छ ।

  • The Profound Quest of the Young Prince

    October 3, 1864

    Hanumandhoka Royal Palace, Nepal

     

    Darshan Gurujyu.

     May health, peace and tranquility always be preserved in your गाथ. May you become a true chakrawarti ruler like your forefathers. So tell me, Walet Maharaj, did you memorize the sections of Kalidas’s Raghuvamsha that I had assigned?

    Yes, I did, Gurujyu. But… I wanted to ask you about something else first.

    Bijayaraj had already started settling into his longformed ritual of preparing for a teaching session. He untied and unbundled his manuscripts, arranged them in a half-arc on the ground, his reach to the manuscripts determined by the likelihood of having to quote a line from the specific manuscript during the lesson. He folded the edges of his robe and shawl under himself. He optimized his position on the comfortable cushion so as to minimize discomfort and strain on the back. He was in the middle of this habitual bustle when he was caught off-guard by Prince Trailokya’s unusual response.

    He paused and looked up with mild curiosity at the Prince.

    Yes?

    I want to learn more about Gautam Buddha.

    Ahem… Gautam Buddha… Of course, Walet Maharaj! But first we need to finish the Raghuvamsha. You have hardly memorized an eighth of this crowning example of Sanskrit poetry. After that, Kautilya’s Arthashasthra… see, it is just sitting there, looking at us…

    But I want to learn about Gautam Buddha first.

    Bijayaraj sensed the firmness in the Prince’s voice.

    Well, then. Let’s see. Siddhartha Gautam was a Prince born into the Royal Palace of Kapilvastu. He attained enlightenment under a bodhi tree in Gaya, and started being called Gautam Buddha. He is in fact the ninth reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. When we cover Vishnu Puran and Bhagwat Puran next year, we will go into ample details about this. But for now, it is enough to note that he was a reincarnation of Vishnu. Vaman, Parshuram, Ram, Krishna, Gautam Buddha, Kalki.

    I want to know the details of Siddhartha’s life and thinking before he attained enlightenment. Yesterday I went to Swayambhu Nath, and there met a Buddhist banda who was very learned… Pandit Gunananda. Do you know him?

    No.

    He told me he was the son of the famous Amritananda, close friend of old Resident Hodgson. At any rate, this Pandit told me that Siddhartha had everything that he could have wished for. A young wife. A newborn son. A future as a king. But one day he just left it all and went to the jungle. Became a fakir. Shaved his locks off.

    Yes, that is accurate.

    Buy why, Gurujyu? Why did he do that?

    Umm… perhaps he was of a बैरागी nature from birth. Some people are like that… their temperament fixed by their birth Rashi. Once, during the course of his usual walks about town, and over several days, he encountered individuals in different stages of human misery: a sick man, and old woman, a dead man…

    Yes, yes, the Pandit told me all this already yesterday. But why, Gurujyu? Why did he leave it all behind? He was just like me… a Prince. I cannot even entertain the notion of leaving all of what I have behind. But he did it. How? What was going through his mind as he walked out that palace door under cover of darkness that fateful night?

    Bijayaraj thought for a bit before responding.

    Walet Maharaj, those are very deep questions. And the answers to them are in the Gita, which holds the answer to all questions. My plan was to introduce the Gita to you in a few years, when you would be eighteen. But perhaps I will put the Raghuvamsha aside and start with the Gita immediately…

    The Prince raised his right arm and placed the palm out in front, facing Bijayaraj.

    Bijayaraj was immediately offended by this rude gesture. But he had learned not to betray his emotions too easily in this wretched Darbar. Especially at this naïve child. He remained silent.

    No Gurujyu. I do not want to read the Gita. I want to know why he left. What of his responsibilities as a father? As a husband? What of his duties as a future King? How could he disregard all this and simply leave? Did it not break his heart? Or was he callous? Maybe Siddhartha Gautam was the most selfish, wretched weakling who…

    The Prince trailed off. By now he had worked himself up so much that he was quite severely out of breath. His ears had turned red. Bijayaraj looked inquisitively at the Prince, but also with a tinge of sympathy. He could not think of a ready answer to the Prince’s queries.

    I am sorry, but we will need to end today’s lesson now.

    With that, the Prince swiftly collected the leaves of his Raghuvamsha manuscript with trembling hands, raised himself and left the room, with as much dignity as he could muster. Bijayaraj noticed that there was real anguish in his face.

    Slowly and absently Bijayaraj collected the scattered manuscripts, tied them up and packed them away. He looked out the palace window.

    Why did he leave?

    What a question! Of course, he had the inkling of an answer. But every time his hungry analytical mind had wanted to investigate the question deeply, he had been stymied by lack of material. He never found any text among the trove of Vedic and Puranic manuscripts that addressed the nature of Siddhartha Gautam’s quest. There was a lot of ambivalent material about him being a Vishnu avatar. An obscure manuscript he had unearthed while at Banaras even stated that Buddha was a deluder of men who led people away from the path of the Vedas. But there was no material describing his motives.

    Suddenly, Bijayaraj was too tired to even think about this question. In fact, with a sudden caving-in of self-confidence triggered by the Prince’s seemingly childish questions, Bijayaraj realized that he was too tired to carry on with this seventeen-year old charade of playing the Raj Guru in the shadows of Jung Bahadur’s empire.

    He kept looking out the window. His shoulders had hunched up more than usual. Absently, he noticed the pigeons and the sparrows flutter across the window, occasionally depositing small underfeathers which wafted dustily onto the richly carpeted palace floor. He noticed the fluffy clouds over yonder, and the late afternoon sky, turning that subtle golden hue typical of Dashai season. But all this did not warm his heart like it used to do before.

    Bijayaraj got up slowly. A new look of resolve was upon his face. Jung Bahadur could go to hell.

    ∫∫∫

    Pandit Bijayaraj Pandey resigned from his positions as Rajguru and Dharmadhikar on  BS 1921, Marga Badi 11 (January 22, 1865 CE) and moved permanently to Banaras.

    ∫∫∫

    Dedicated to Kul Thapa, who introduced the writer to the magic of Buddhism twenty-four years ago on the grounds of Aksheswor Mahavihar in Patan.

    Image: Detail of a Bilanpau (long painted scroll) depicting scenes from the live of Gautam Buddha, created in Kathmandu 1705- 1706 CE. 

    An English version of this story is available here.

  • A Little Bit of Blood

    रोउँ त भने को सित रुने
    नरोउँ भने मन भरी पिर हुने
    चिन्ता बढ्यो झन्
    रोएको रोऐछ खुसी छैन मन
    रोएको रोऐछ खुसी छैन मन

    ∫∫∫

    [Laccho, a young girl plucked from her home in Dharza Gurwa, a small town near Gorakhpur in India, is being groomed as a future wife to the Crown Prince of Nepal.  Crown Prince Surendra, a petulant, vicious, mentally unstable young man physically tortures everyone in the Nepal Darbar, Laccho included. Ajima, an aged menial, has been assigned as Laccho’s caretaker. She is Laccho’s one source of solace in an otherwise hostile, foreign environment. In this episode, three months after Laccho’s introduction to the Darbar, Ajima walks a fine line as she tries to determine exactly what has happened to Laccho, while being careful not to expose Laccho prematurely to the inevitable grim realities of a young girl’s life at the Darbar.]

    August 10, 1840

    Hanumandhoka Royal Palace

    Ajima Ajima Ajima….

    Laccho came screaming towards Ajima. Ajima cupped Laccho’s little face on her palms, looked into her eyes, said tenderly:

    Yes, Maicha? What happened?

    Laccho’s face was full of fear. Her pupils darted back and forth. They failed to make some meaningful contact with Ajima’s eyes.

    Yes, my love?

    Th…there was some blood…

    Where? Show me quick…show me!

    Ajima suddenly turned serious… a frown had developed on her usually kind face.

    D….down….there.

    Where? Where?

    Ajima was frantic.

    There.

    There?

    Yes.

    Maicha, how much blood was there?

    Laccho looked up. Hints of tears appeared around her eyes.

    I don’t know… Maybe this much?

    Laccho made a little O with her fingers.

    Show me!

    I threw it away!

    Laccho realized she might have made a mistake. Perhaps Ajima would not be able to help her at all without looking at it. Deep sobs welled up within her, and came out in long wailing bursts that wracked her body.

    It’s OK, Maicha. Of course, you had to throw it away… And did you…did he…I mean did the Yuwarajdhiraj… was the Yuwarajdhiraj with you last night?

    Yes.

    Did he… touch you?

    Ajima was now downright stern. Laccho wished she would change back to the usual kind Ajima she knew. She whimpered hesitantly, full of fear of having definitely done something wrong:

    I don’t remember! Maybe… yes. He was screaming like a madman as usual.

    Maicha, think carefully and answer me… did he touch you?

    Through her sobs and tears,  Laccho thought hard for some time.

    Yes.

    Show me where, exactly!

    Laccho had given up all hope. She knew instinctively that this was all very bad, and that it was all her fault. Slowly, she touched her wrists, her left shoulder, and finally the right side of her face:

    Here, here, and then he hit me here.

    That’s it? …… Where else?

    Laccho did not understand why Ajima continued to be so harsh. Timidly she said:

    Nowhere else.

    So he did not… You and…

    Ajima struggled to complete her sentence.

    What? Ajima… I don’t know what you are trying to ask!

    Laccho burst out into another bout of crying. She wanted to answer Ajima’s questions. She knew Ajima was trying to help. But her fear of not knowing what was wrong added to her frustration with Ajima’s questions, and she sank into a deep state of helplessness.

    Why is all this happening to me?

    Suddenly, for some reason, Ajima’s face softened. Her eyes resumed their usual kind gaze. She caressed Laccho’s cheeks. Tears welled up in her eyes, and fell freely down her wrinkled ragged familiar face. Softly she asked:

    Is this the first time you have found blood, there?

    Yes.

    Laccho still did not understand. She did not want to understand. She just wanted to cuddle within the manyfolds of Ajima’s bosom and be enveloped by her eternal smell of sweat mustard hay oil baby-vomit chiura smoke and yesterday’s garlic. Sniffing, Laccho wiped her nose like any other eight-year old would, and settled deeper into Ajima’s bosom.

    Ajima curled herself around Laccho. She made a warm cocoon for this precious child, her dark-skinned child from far away. She smelled Laccho’s hair. She rested her cheeks on the curve of Laccho’s forehead. Her tears fell in slow solitary drops, made Laccho’s hair wet. Laccho did not mind.

    ∫∫∫

    Nepali lyrics from a song by Tiki Maya Gandharba, featured in the documentary The Mountain Music Project.

  • 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.

  • 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.