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Deeper Than Still Waters

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By: Ganesh Saili

Last weekend found me walking past Fairlawn Palace’s baluster-crowned walkways in Jhids. A memory, lighter than a butterfly flitted across, bringing alive the life and times of the last of the Ranas who lived here. It was home to the most unpretentious Dhawal Shumsher Rana and Pratima. He was from Nepal. She from Tripura. They happened to be studying at the college, where I taught. The two had met, fallen in love, and this is where he brought his blushing bride to Madelessa House. How I wish I had some inkling of the depth of daughter-in-law and daughter bonds that tied our northern neighbour Nepal and us! For generations, the erstwhile royal houses, had met and mingled.

More proof was in Lodge Dalhousie (estd. 1845), where an electric meter has a plaque: ‘Gifted by His Highness, Dev Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana Junior to commemorate the wedding of Princess Madalessa to the Crown Prince of Nahan in March 1910.’

H.H. Dev S.J.B. Rana was a man way ahead of his times. As a progressive Prime Minister for three months, he was ousted in a coup by his brother. On escaping to India, the East India Company would not let him settle in Darjeeling. It was too temptingly close to the Nepalese border. Instead he was offered either land in Delhi (what was later Connaught Place) or a place in the hills or Jharipani. He loved Jhids because it reminded him of the hill-and-mountain country he had left behind.

Years later, the estranged brothers – Dev and Chandra – met in Calcutta, the following exchange took place:
‘Your Highness,’ complained Chandra, ‘you escaped and tricked me of your person.’

‘Your Highness tricked me of my rightful kingdom!’ came Dev Shamsher’s tit-for-tat.

Close to a century, the Ranas were prime ministers, having reduced the King to a figurehead. Their rule ended on a winter’s morning of 6th November 1950. As King Tribhuvan’s motorcade set out with his family on what was ostensibly to be a picnic in Kathmandu. Approaching the gates of the Indian Embassy, the king glanced anxiously. To his immense relief, he saw what he desperately hoped for – a predetermined signal from inside the compound. Suddenly, the vehicles veered through the gates which were instantly slammed shut, leaving the surprised guards stranded outside.

Granted asylum by Delhi, the king flew there as the movement of national liberation, meticulously planned by the Nepali Congress and others began to end the Rana’s rule. On 18th February 1951 King Tribhuvan ‘abrogated the 1846 treaty with Jung Bahadur Rana and declared that a republican constitution would be drafted by a constituent assembly.’

During their years in power, the Ranas married their daughters into India’s leading ruling princely families: Kashmir, Baroda, Jaisalmer, Gwalior and Kathiawar. This trend continued up until 1947, when the last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher SJB Rana, whose granddaughters were married to the ruling families of Kashmir, Jaisalmer and Jamnagar.

Of course, the Rana men did marry into mainline Indian royalty, but rarely. Instead they preferred marital bonds among families in the Western Himalaya. Whilst they ruled, the Ranas encouraged the deposed Shah’s family to marry into the smaller princely families. For example, Tribhuvan’s Shah’s second daughter was married to Mayurbhanj in Orissa while another daughter married the Raja of Poonch.

How can any tale on the royals of Nepal and erstwhile royals of India be complete without reference to Devyani Rana, the second daughter of Pashupati Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana and Rani Usha Raje Scindia, daughter of Jivajirao Scindia, the last Maharaja of Gwalior. Rumours at the beginning of the millennium flew thick and fast implying that Nepalese Crown Prince Dipendra had fallen in love with Devyani, who he had met as a student in England. Parental opposition led to the unfortunate shoot-out. In 2007 Devyani married Kunwar Aishwarya Singh of Singrauli.

And whatever happened to Dhawal Rana and his glowing bride? You may well wonder! He was elected Mayor of Nepalganj with Pratima always by his side. That is where they live, a living tribute that deeper than still waters are the bahu-beti bonds that yoke us with Nepal.

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.