All posts tagged Laccho

  • 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.


    Where? Where?

    Ajima was frantic.




    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?


    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.


    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?


    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…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    बिटिया, तोहर नाव कि बा ?

    He knows my language!

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

    The old man smiles.

    How old are you, बिटिया?


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

    What is the red stuff on you neck?

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

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

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

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

    Sure, she says kindly.

    Thank you!

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

    Wait! Laccho cries out. What is your name?

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

    My name is Bhimsen Thapa.

  • 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 …


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


    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.

  • They Come for Laccho

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


    B. Hodgson Esqr.

                                                                                           Resident at



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

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

    Zh. Gorruckpoor

    Magistrate’s OFfice

    The 2nd April 1840

    I have the honor to be


    Your Most obedient Servant





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



    My dear Hodgson

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

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

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

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


    Yrs. Very faithfully


    April 2d, 1840




    Part III: They Come for Laccho

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Amma stepped forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Not even some water…what is this?

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

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

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

    The old woman kept going…

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


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

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

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

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

    Let us proceed, Paapu said.

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Some time passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The stern man spoke again:

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

    Yes,  Upadhyaya Ji, it is.

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

    It is decided, then, the stern man said.

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


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

  • 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.




    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



    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.