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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kathayat (Kathait) From Simla (Extract from the book Erika and King)

There was a Nepalese in Shimla Mr. Kathait, the manager of the Shimla Bank, a small, diffident man with the smooth, still face of the Nepalese. He seemed pleased that I was to visit his country. He was the only person in Shimla who could tell me anything about Nepal, but now, as I look back on it, I realize that he really told me nothing at all. His answers slid away from my questions and hid themselves behind his polite smile. "When I asked him about the King and the King's two queens that smile appeared on his face with the abrupt- ness of a slammed door. But he did agree that I should take a present for the Senior Queen, and when I asked him for letters of introduction to his friends in Katmandu he reluctantly produced one. This was to the Commander in Chief of the Nepalese Army, a man whose name, also, was like the opening crash of a military band Major General Baber Shams her Jung Bahadur Rana; and if, at that time, I was curious about the marked similarity between this name and that of the Director-General of Foreign Affairs, then the curiosity did not last long. I noticed this first when I went to the Nepalese Post Office. There were two post offices in Katmandu, one Indian and one Nepalese. I learned that to post my letters to Mother at the Nepalese office would mean an unconscionable delay, so I took them to the Indian Post Office. But her letters for me arrived at the Nepalese office. Early in my stay I went there to tell the Postmaster that he might expect letters for me daily. The office was a derelict little house crouched in a scrubby garden. Inside was a dark room, a floor of uneven stone, a wall pigeonholed for letters, a row of clerks at their desks, and, beyond, the Postmaster's room. I went to him and said, "Namaskar, Postmaster. May I please collect my letters from you every morning? They are from my mua-ji in Shimla who worries about me." "Madam, of course," he said, and bowed. On his cap I saw the same little picture frame I had seen on the cap of the official who met me at Thankot, and 'in it the same portrait of the Prime Minister, with hooped mustache and pince-nez. "Master-ji," I said, "why do you wear the Maharaja's picture in your hat?" "Because we are very proud of His Highness, madam." "But does no one wear the King's picture?" He did not answer. He smiled, just as Mr. Kathait had smiled. I had brought with me Mr. Kathait's letter of introduction to General Baber Shams her Jung Bahadur Rana, Commander in Chief of the Army, and I asked Doctor Siddhimani where the General might be found. I was told that he could be seen every morning, riding on the maidan at eight o'clock, and there, the next morning, I found him. He was a fine man, bold in carriage if stoutish, his face fierce with a bristling mustache. I namashkared him when he passed, and at this unexpected greeting from a European he halted his horse, saluting. "Good morning, madam. What are you doing in Katmandu?" "The Prime Minister?" "His Royal Highness the Maharaja Mohan Shams her Jung Bahadur Rana," said Dr. Siddhimani, as if he were reciting, and I was too surprised to realize that here was one more permutation of the name possessed by the Foreign Minister and Mr. Kathait's friend the Commander in Chief. I could think only that among all the things I had packed in Shimla, the new clothes I had brought, there was nothing that I could wear for a formal presentation to a maharaja, no hat, no gloves. I said, "Doctor Sahib! I wasn't told it would be like this. I have nothing fitting to wear. I cannot go." I knew only his name perhaps Doctor Siddhimani had told me, or Mr. Kathait, I do not remember. I knew his name (or part of it, for in full it stretched over twenty words and more). He was His Majesty the Maharajadhiraja Tribhuvana Bir Bikram Shah Deva, King of Nepal and the incarnation of Lord Vishnu the Preserver. Tribhuvana, I learned, means he who dwells in the three worlds, material and spiritual, of human existence.

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