Fiction Park

Kot Parba: The Prelude

  • Kot Parba looms large in the history of Nepal as an epoch-making series of events. Here then, is a prelude to the fateful night, which attempts to infuse some humanity into the cast of characters
- Dipesh Risal
Below her is the courtyard of the Kot, shrouded in a sinister darkness. Every year, the blood of two hundred buffaloes flow freely here during Maha Nawami. And blood shall flow today, she mumbles to herself as the bugle calls sound loud and clear from the top of Dharahara

Sep 10, 2017-Attack, Battle Fury, stronger than strong. With Fervor as yokemate smite away our rivals.

Foe-smiting, obstacle-smiting, and Dasyu-smiting, bring wealth and treasures here to us.

Go forth on attack: be on my right side. Then we shall keep smiting obstacles in abundance.

I offer to you the foundation and the top of the honey. We two shall both first drink silently.

 

 Vanquish hostility for us, Battle Fury. Breaking, slaying, crushing down, advance on our rivals. 

 Formidable is your dimension: they have never confined it. Exerting your will, you lead at will, you who are born alone.

 

 You alone are reverently invoked by many, Battle Fury. Hone every clan for battle.

 O one of unbroken brilliance, with you as yokemate we raise our heavenly cry for victory.

 

 Born with power, you mace, you missile, you bear highest victorious might, O overwhelming one.

 Born with resolve, share the fat with us, Battle Fury, at the pouring in of great spoils, O much-invoked one.

 

 Flaring like fire, O Battle Fury, be victorious. Be our army-leader, victorious one, when you are invoked.

On smiting our rivals, share out their possessions. Showing the measure of your vigor, shove aside the scorners.

 

The spoils, both those that have poured in and those that have been collected, let Battle Fury and Varu?a give to us.

Let our rivals, overwhelmed with terror, slink away defeated.

                                                            ∫∫∫

September 14, 1846

Gagan Singh’s Attic

Lagan Tol, Nepal Valley

The house itself is rather squeezed-in, the way most Newar houses in the valley are, but the owner of the house is planning to expand the wings soon onto land recently wrested off of some pesky Jha Brahmans. The ground floor accommodates four well-fed cows, a latrine and the slave quarters. The first floor boasts three affluent bedrooms, one for each of the owner’s wives. The third floor is the kitchen. A steep crude stairway leads through a square hole on the roof of the kitchen to the kausi, which is mostly open to the sky except for one corner where sits a small boxy room, the puja kotha, from whence a dirty red trickle of liquid wiggles its way once a day to the kausi via a groove on the floor, and onto a bamboo pipe sticking out over the eaves which guides the dirty red liquid as it falls three floors down to some exposed earth at ground level, thus performing automatic bisarjan of the effluents of ritual sacrifice for this busy household... sacrifice which is periodically mandated by our Shastras.

On this particular night which is well into the second prahar, Gagan Singh Bhandari, owner of the house and owner of much more within the Nepal Darbar (of which it is probably best not to speak at present), is sitting at evening puja in front of a slightly raised dais, on which sits a little Krishna on a silver swing set, which Gagan Singh had custom-ordered from Kashi. Gagan Singh is lulling Krishna with small, measured tugs of a tiny, finely made chain, also made of pure silver. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. Hare Ram... Around the swinging Krishna are laid out in a neat semi-circle a small painted image of Shiva, the Ishta Deuta of the Bhandari clan, a tiny Shiva linga, and a shaligram from Kagbeni. In front of this semi-circle of gods is a collection of powders, petals and lamps... the usual evening puja saamaan. The room is filled with distinct plumes of dense smoke rising like writhing serpents from incense sticks shedding off their perfumes of sandalwood, lavender and Rajnigandha. In the middle of all this sits Gagan Singh, unsuccessfully trying to clear away the debris of his mind so that he can begin contemplating how his Inner Soul could be connected to the Cosmic Soul, the way the pandits were always yapping to him about.

Suddenly, a neat little line disturbs the distinct plumes of smoke. The line begins at the window, travels through the room and ends at the back of Gagan Singh, between his shoulders. Alas, the bullet goes further, as bullets usually do, and pierces Gagan Singh’s skin, his spinal cord, his heart, and sticks with a thud on the wall in front, just above the gods. Gagan Singh falls face down, tracing a not so neat path through the stilldense smoke and plops rather crudely on top of the raised dais, disturbing the swinging Krishna and actually toppling the shaligram.

The dirty red trickle of liquid now slowly seeping everywhere would look quite harmonious in the surroundings, if only it were not Gagan Singh’s own warm blood, oozing quietly from the hole in his heart where the bullet had pierced him.

Soon, the usual commotion ensues. Gagan’s wives scramble up the stairs frantic and wailing lau na... lau na... They try to wake the unmoving body now on their laps. But Gagan Singh is quite dead. Wazir Singh peers into the puja kotha from the narrow door, freezes in horror for about ten pals at the sight of his father, immediately turn around and runs the half ghadi’s distance to Hanuman Dhoka. She must be told the news immediately.

Hanumandhoka Palace and environs

Nepal Valley

 

Sri Sri Sri Sri Sri Kanchi Maharani Rajyalaxmi Devi Shah receives the news with utter calm. But as Wazir Singh recites the details, her eyebrows arch higher and higher. At thirty, she has still retained much of the ravishing beauty of her youth, when her eyebrows used to be her secret weapon, capable of untold destruction when deployed against hapless men... be they husband, paramour or courtier. But today’s arch of the eyebrows is not ravishing. It is instead ghastly and intense, a sign that a fierce goddess is swirling within, yearning to break out.

Rising slowly, Rajyalaxmi Devi walks back to her private puja kotha and collects from various corners some Ganga Jal some Tulsi leaves and a few small foils of gold.

Fetch the Sword of State. Light some torches.

 

Her voice is strong but steady.

Her chief female minders rapidly oblige her wishes, and as she strides purposefully out of her quarters, they scamper behind her, down the palace stairs and onto the streets towards Lagan Tol, one wielding the bare sword, and the other three desperately trying to keep the torches steady so as to illuminate the dark alleyways of Maru and Lagan.

The second prahar of night has almost ended. All is quiet except the purposeful rustle of the saris from the female troupe, the muted jangle of jewelry, and the chirping of crickets. The torches cast furtive shadows against the crowded corners of Newar houses. The sweet satisfying smell of freshly cut rice is heavy everywhere, it being harvest season, but Rajyalaxmi Devi does not notice. She is too busy crying large silent tears of grief under the safe cover of darkness.

At Gagan Singh’s house, she is quickly escorted to the puja kotha. Nobody raises an eyebrow at the sight of the reigning Queen of Nepal appearing at the door of a courtier, in theory her servant, that too in the middle of the night, without a palanquin, without even a horse, but simply on foot. Nobody acknowledges the awkwardness of Rajyalaxmi Devi being escorted respectfully up the stairs by the widow wives of Gagan Singh. No, not even when Rajyalaxmi Devi flops down to the floor of the puja kotha and cradles Gagan Singh’s head lovingly on her lap. 

Rajyalaxmi Devi had already stopped her tears upon approaching Gagan Singh’s house, but alas she can’t suppress the tender look with which she now gazes at Gagan Singh’s handsome face. The medium-length curly hair peppered with streaks of noble silver. The perfect Chettri nose. The handsome moustache, trimmed just so. Just the way she liked it. Just the way she had asked him to trim it so long ago.  

I was so young and helpless. You taught me so much.  

All Rajyalaxmi Devi wants to do at this moment is break down and cry bitter tears over Gagan Singh’s body. But no, not today. So she maintains her composure, and feeds all her sadness and rage to the goddess swirling within. Gently she opens Gagan Singh’s mouth and places the Ganga jal, the Tulsi leaves, the gold foils inside. A final gaze at Gagan Singh’s kind face, a furtive running of her fingers through his hair, and she is up, facing his three wives. The grief all around helps cover the awkwardness of the situation as Rajyalaxmi Devi quietly commands the wives not to commit Sati, for they have to look after their sons, two of whom are still children.

Turning to the sons now, she hugs them in turn, surprising everyone present. Wazir Singh she already knows but she crouches down and softly asks the other two what their names are... Sher Singh... Khadga Bir Singh... come the respectful responses from the frightened boys, who really have no idea what anything happening tonight is all about. Such is their cruel, violent introduction to the ways of the Nepal Darbar.

Rajyalaxmi Devi rises and speaks to Wazir Singh: take care of your mothers, all three of them. Attend to your father’s funeral rites, spare no detail. The Kaushi Toshakhana shall cover all expenses.

Now she stands tall in the middle of the puja kotha and takes stock of the situation... she takes stock of everything that had happened in her life so far. The initial abuse of being forced into the Darbar against her will when she was a mere child, the fecklessness of her husband, the constant theatrics of her sautaa the Senior Queen, the psychotic debauchery of Surendra, entirely unfit to be Crown Prince, the betrayal by that useless paaji Mathabar Singh, and finally this... Her one source of solace in the Darbar, her loyal courtier ... her lover...killed like a dog like everyone else in this godforsaken Darbar is destined to be.

 

Something inside of Rajyalaxmi Devi finally cracks.

No more. This ends today.

 

Aloud she says:

 

My sword...

 

Her voice is deep and hoarse. She starts to shake violently. She had not put any makeup on before leaving the Darbar. Her hair is disheveled. Her eyebrows are hideously arched again. She exudes a feral intensity nobody has seen in her before. She is Rajyalaxmi Devi no more. She is Nara Devi. Only the sacrifice of warm human blood will propitiate her now.  

Thus aroused, shaking with fury, brandishing the Royal Sword of the House of Shah in her right hand, she storms towards the Kot. Her sheer rage guides her along, for it is still pitch dark outside. Her female minders again scramble behind her with their torches. Again the ominous rustle of saris and jewelry. Again the scandalous behavior of the Queen of Nepal on foot. It is now almost the third prahar of night. The only witnesses are the dogs and the shadows of the torches flitting against the houses. Even the khyah:s of Maru and Lagan have taken fright at the spectacle and have run away to the shores of Teku for shelter.

At the gate of the Kot Rajyalaxmi Devi rasps out a quick order to the soldiers of the Kampu: Run to the house of General Abhiman Singh and command him to sound the bugle from Dharahara. Send messengers to all courtiers. They are hereby summoned to the Kot. Now!

Blindly she storms inside the Kot, enters the Sheesh Mahal, fumbles her way up the dark, narrow stairs, flings open the trap door, and sits herself down near the window on the second floor. She is still shaking violently. Below her is the courtyard of the Kot, shrouded in a sinister darkness. Every year, the blood of two hundred buffaloes flow freely here during Maha Nawami. And blood shall flow today, she mumbles to herself as the bugle calls sound loud and clear from the top of Dharahara.

The dogs are now barking. All through Kathmandu, pale yellow lights start lighting up grudgingly in the windows of courtiers and army officers. The summons has come. It is something big. Perhaps a death in the royal family. But most likely the murder of another courtier. With their heads full of these thoughts, sullen at being disturbed at the ungodly hour, the chief courtiers and officers of the army dress themselves up and rush towards the Kot.

One of the first to arrive at the scene is Kaji Jung Bahadur Kunwar. He stations his three regiments around the Kot, commands them to be on guard, leaves his brothers at the courtyard, exchanges a quick word up close with his old friend and now Dharmadhikar Bijayaraj Pandey, who has also just arrived, and rushes upstairs to Rajyalaxmi Devi.

Eh Jangey, you came fast. You did good. But... (glancing outside the courtyard) you came with all your regiments?  And... they seen fully armed.

 

Still shaking, still very much 

Nara Devi, she looks at him straight in the eye.

What is the meaning of this?

A chan-chuney person would have simply crumbled under Rajyalaxmi Devi’s demonic gaze. But Jung Bahadur is no chan-chuney person. He is ready.  

 

                                        Your Majesty. Everyone in the Darbar knows how close I was to General Gagan Singh. When I received the devastating news today, I thought: those responsible for taking the life of the loyal General must have connections very high up in the Darbar. They will surely come after me next. But then I thought:  What if they come after Her Majesty...or god forbid, her two sons. I better run to the Kot fully prepared, not for my sake, but for the sake of Her Majesty and her boys.

                                         I beg forgiveness for acting without explicit orders, Your Majesty, but I was bold enough to assume that Your Majesty’s personal safety took precedence over rules of protocol. I can now guarantee that my regiments will faithfully protect you to our last breaths.

 

Thus speaks Jung Bahadur, meekly and with an honest face. He stands with arms folded in Namaskar, body bowed slightly forward.

Rajyalaxmi Devi looks sharply at Jung Bahadur again. In her frenzied state, Nara Devi still coursing through her blood, she cannot entirely reason straight. But she is collected enough to recall that Jung Bahadur is the wiliest of all the foxes in the Nepal Darbar. After all, it was only last year that he was running around professing undying loyalty to Surendra. But Rajyalaxmi Devi is also collected enough to realize that tonight her options are limited. If she is going to find her murderer, she would need a cunning go-to person. She looks intently at Jung Bahadur and says:

I don’t get you, Jangey. But OK, Be on my right side today. I will not drink water, let alone touch food, until you find the killer of my dear... of General Gagan Singh. Find the chandaal and slay him with your sword. Unleash the battle fury of Manyu if needed.

                                                                                 ∫∫∫

- English excerpts of the Rig Ved X.83 and X.84 primarily based on The Rigveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. An English Translation by S. W. Jamison and J. P. Brereton, Oxford University Press, 2014.

Watercolor drawing of the Kot by H. A. Oldfield from the British Library collection.

Excerpts from the writer’s forthcoming novel Jung Bahadur’s Nepal can be sampled at JungBahadur.com

Published: 10-09-2017 09:52

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