As it turns out, some of the recent Nepalese royal history has a bit of a Shakespearean feel to it, and the literature lover in me couldn’t resist relaying this tale to you, as it was told to me by our new landlord Deepak over our celebratory dinner/drinks after moving in (Editorial Warning: very real potential of personal bias here in the telling of the story, though I have checked the facts).
In 1950 a child was declared King of Nepal – 3-year-old Gyanendra. Upon his birth he was sent to live with his grandmother after a royal astrologer told his father, the crown-prince, that looking upon his second son would bring him bad luck. For this reason, amid a political plot that saw his father, grandfather and most other royals fleeing the country for India, Gyanendra was the sole remaining male member of the royal family in Nepal. His reign as King of Nepal ended a mere two months later, when his grandfather returned to the country and re-assumed the throne. Now, this is where the theories come into play. There are some who claim that Gyanendra was very ambitious and wanted the throne back – meet our Macbeth. Many years later, in June of 2001, when King Birendra (Gyanendra’s older brother) was monarch of Nepal, his young son, crown-prince Dipendra, became upset with his family for refusing to allow him to marry his choice of bride, a woman from a clan with which his family had a historic animosity – enter Romeo. On June 1st Prince Dipendra, in an alleged state of intoxication, stormed into a royal feast and murdered nine of his family members, including his mother, father, brother and sister, before turning the gun on himself – effectively eliminating every heir to the throne from his father’s line. Gyanendra happened to be away in a nearby city at the time of the massacre; however, his son and daughter came out of the event unscathed, and while his wife was seriously wounded, she too survived. Three days later, King Gyanendra was back on the throne.
However, there are also questions with respect to Dipendra’s true role in the massacre. For instance, his self-inflicted gunshot wound was apparently inflicted from behind. One guard has claimed that Prince Dipendra was, in fact, killed before the massacre even began, and a piece of historical fiction that recounts the events of June 1st from the perspective of the Queen’s personal maid claims that two men masked as the prince were the true perpetrators of the massacre.
These are officially listed as conspiracy theories, and quite possibly can be attributed to the popularity of King Birendra and Prince Dipendra, and the widespread dislike of Gyanendra, and his son Paras, amongst Nepali people at the time. However, if for nothing else than an interesting example in my mom’s English class next time she teaches one of the great tragedies, I wanted to share this tale.
**Note: King Gyanendra’s effective reign ended for a second time in June 2006 when, amid the final days of a ten year long civil war, Parliament officially scrapped all the major powers of the monarchy and reduced him to a figurehead. Two years later the interim constitution of Nepal officially transformed the state into a republic, and the role of King was no more.
Like any new democracy, Nepal’s republic is still finding its feet. Today the political government has been suspended and a caretaker government of public servants, with the mandate of bringing the country to elections, is at the helm. The most senior public servants are currently occupy the most senior political roles – the Chief Justice is the Prime Minister of Nepal. The election date has now been set for November 19th of this year; however, tens of Nepalese parties oppose this date, claiming that only three parties were consulted in setting the election timeline. Many people believe the November election will be postponed, and we are sure to see increasing civil disobedience and more frequent bandhs (city-wide protests called by political parties that restrict vehicles from driving and shops from opening by threatening retribution, meant to cripple the city) in the coming months. It is definitely an interesting time to be living in Nepal.