This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Saturday, 24 November 2012
Love and Death in Kathmandu: Review
Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker
What can one say about a massacre that ended a kingdom? I still remember the morning of Saturday, June 2, 2001 – a patient of mine, since deceased, told me in a state of high excitement – “Do you know – the Nepal prince shot everyone dead because his mother wouldn’t let him marry his girlfriend?” It was only next morning that the news was plastered all over the papers…and since it was Sunday, a couple of friends and I went picnicking after my morning’s work and I read the news sitting on grass with the newspaper open on my lap and a thunderstorm (I remember it perfectly well) brewing. Those early accounts were sort of …confused…and I remember responding caustically to one highly coloured account in Outlook magazine somewhat along these lines – “Anyone who has ever fired an automatic weapon will wonder how Prince Dipendra managed to aim and fire, let alone handle the recoil of two of the heavy weapons, one in each hand, and that too while drunk and stoned. Add to that the fact that he managed to shoot only members of his own family, sparing Gyanendra’s, and you have a ready-made episode of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” This year, when I was in Kathmandu, I came across a couple of books on the subject of the royal massacre at Narayanhiti palace – and, since I had been interested in the subject of regicide in general and this particular bout of bloodletting in particular, I chose one of them – that was the book I’m reviewing here. Part travelogue, part narrative history, written throughout in a racy style with constant references to the historical past and to the present, this is quite a piece of work. I’m sure my personal response to it was conditioned by the fact that I know, having visited them, at first hand most of the places the authors mention. I know the Nepali people (there are many in this city as well) – maybe someone else would respond differently to it. I may be too close to the events in question. Briefly, anyway, here’s what happened. Intrigued by the newspaper reports of the massacre, the present authors – a husband-and-wife pair from Australia – chucked their jobs (am I envious or what?), went off to Kathmandu, stayed there (well, technically it was in the “separate” city of Patan across the Baghmati river that they stayed) for five months, interviewed a variety of people, and finally produced this work. I suppose you could call it a labour of love. So what is it about? Ignoring the filler background, much of it irrelevant to the point at hand but entertaining to read, this is what happened: On the evening of Friday, June 1, 2001, the Crown Prince of Nepal, Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, was hosting a family get-together at his own residence inside the Narayanhiti palace complex in Kathmandu. Dipendra had long wanted to marry the love of his life, one Devyani Rana, but for reasons difficult for any normal human brain to comprehend (the young woman’s bloodline wasn’t pure enough to suit her) the queen, Aishwarya, had forbidden the wedding. At some point during the evening, Dipendra spoke to Devyani Rana on the phone. Nobody knows what they talked of, but he then began smoking marijuana on top of Scotch whisky, collapsed (it was suspected by most who saw him that he was faking), and was literally carried to his room. Once there he made some kind of miraculous recovery, and was back within 20 minutes, dressed in military fatigues and carrying four firearms. He then proceeded to shoot dead his father and sister, not to mention at least five other royals, injured plenty more, and then finally cornered his brother and mother in the garden and shot them to pieces too. He was then found with a pistol bullet through his head, allegedly self-inflicted (odd though that the bullet entered on the left side of his head while he was right handed!). All this while the royal aides-de-camp were conspicuous by their absence. In any case, even if they had been at hand, protocol forbade them from taking out the prince – even if he were a homicidal maniac, he was a prince. (I wonder what the guards of the British monarchy would have done in case Charles Windsor had reacted similarly when forced to choose Diana Spencer over Camilla Parker Bowles! Entertaining to speculate, huh?) Although in a terminal coma, Dipendra was proclaimed king the next day, and in the three days he took to die he held the status of a living god. When he finally did die, he was succeeded by his father’s conniving younger brother, Gyanendra, a character so despised by the Nepali people that his accession to the throne made inevitable the end of Nepal’s 238-year-old monarchy. And good riddance too. Well, that’s what the book is about, though it does talk a lot about Nepali history and a lot of stuff to put the authors in the scene. As I said, much of that is extraneous – it does make the book more suited to shorter attention spans and light reading, which I guess makes it more saleable. Towards the end the book also falls back on the overused American technique of breathless two-paragraph chapter parts, shifting back and forth between characters, so that it reads as if written for a movie script. Pity, really. A massacre that ended an empire and put in place an elected Maoist government that might yet prove South Asia’s answer to Hugo Chavez deserves better. I might have given it five stars.