October 1, 1865
The slopes of Shivapuri
Prince Trailokya stopped at a bend halfway up Shivapuri hill, exhausted. He had left his horse outside Budhanilkantha temple almost two ghadis ago and had climbed continuously, determined to make it to the top. He fished out a silk handkerchief embroidered with his initials in Angreji… T. B. B. S. … took off his hunting cap, dabbed his forehead gently. A princely aroma of subtle perfume wafted in the air.
Refreshed, Trailokya looked back to check on his bodyguard Chandrey, in reality Jung Bahadur’s spy who never lost sight of him, ever. The wretch had stopped with Trailokya, was leaning against his walking stick for momentary respite, and now looked back himself to check the progress of the porter, who now appeared over the bend of the hill laden with an enormous burden. Shifting his gaze to the porter, Trailokya watched as he slowly made his way to the clearing where he stood, put his enormous burden – comprising Trailokya’s tiffin and picnic luxuries – down, and started wiping his own, profuse sweat with his tattercap, in long arcs and circles, reaching into every corner of his neck and head.
My sweat… born of futile attempts at breaking the monotony of my gilded prison… a rare commodity, always well hidden behind handkerchiefs and perfume. His sweat… the shame signature of a mule… excessive, offensive, a mean of surviving an entirely different kind of prison. And yet, it is the same sweat. We are the same creature.
I don’t even know his name.
The porter had by now lodged the cap roughly back on his head and had started to squat onto the ground, probably exhausted. But as he did so, he looked up, caught Trailokya’s gaze. Trailokya, of course, was still standing. Quickly, with a stricken look on him, the porter pulled up his enormous burden, straightened himself, and stood frozen, eyes to ground, aghast at his own egregious breach of conduct. Chandrey, picking up on the situation, became suddenly offended at the porter, and blurted out loudly enough for Trailokya to hear:
Trailokya turned away and resumed walking up the hill. Chandrey, sensing that the crisis had resolved itself, followed, a respectable distance away. A few moments later, the porter.
After struggling through a particularly steep hump of hill, a wide open vista sprang up on Trailokya. Struck by the beauty of what he saw, he stood still, gazing at the vast panorama. Below him lay Nepal valley… resplendent in all its mysterious, manifold glory. Over there the clump of buildings comprising his current home and Darbar… walls of soothing ochres and reds with the glint of golden gajurs interspersed. Nearby, the turquoise serenity of Rani Pokhari. Then the large arena of Tudikhel where all the jatras of Nepal, political and religious, had been played out for many centuries… Here, almost touching the base of Shivapuri, Boudhanath, curiously looking like one of Pandit Gunananda’s tantric mandals from his high vantage point, and not at all like the dome he knew it to be. And all across the valley rice fields swaying yellow, yearning for Dashain, layered in heaps upon heaps of terraces contoured like folds of human skin before merging into the folds of the nearby hills with effortless harmony. Humble houses bunched up into loving human clusters. And interspersed in between, dense patches of forest… Kakani, Hattiban and… there! Godavari. Everything just looked right. It was as if the entire panorama – buildings, temples and all – had been created by an inspired god in one majestic flourish of love at the beginning of time.
The utter beauty of the scene below overwhelmed Trailokya. His chest knotted up with melancholic pangs of longing for something vague and undefined.
Argh… these tears! A sign of weakness, I have been told all my life.
He sensed that the Newars had designed the entire valley based on a single deep artistic principle. But alas, he would never know what it was. For the Newars were now entirely subjugated and reviled as uncivilized drunkards by his Shah and Rana brethren. So, like many things in Prince Trailokya’s life, everything below him seemed dearly familiar, yet entirely alien.
His eyes drifted on, and tracing the riverrun separating Kathmandu from Patan he located the grandiose palace of Praim Minister Jung Bahadur, shining like a guilty diamond amidst the natural pigments of the valley. Jung Bahadur, now his father-in-law, ostensibly still his royal subject but in reality…
Drifting further towards the south, he spotted Swayambhu sitting atop his own private hill. Swayambhu’s mysterious eyes pierced through the valley and burned him with their gaze… they always had. They were asking him a question, but he knew not what. At that moment memories of his past sins came flooding into his consciousness… the Darbar excesses… the concubines… that young girl… the bloodstains… So much debauchery, so much pleasure, and so little happiness retained afterwards. Now his childhood memories of Bagewa ki Rani. Every time he used to walked past Bhandarkhal garden, she would be in her tiny kausi, her little babe on her hip, her pallu wound round her head and clenched between her teeth, beckoning at him with her free hand…
Come Yuwaraaj, come…
Sometimes he would go to her quarters, would eat the haluwa she had prepared lovingly with her own hands. But most times he would remember his mother’s whispers that she was a mere Under-the-Stairs Rani of his father, or that she was trying to put a spell on him because she was incapable of having a son of her own. And her madhesi accent embarrassed him. So most times he would look straight, pretend not to see her, and head to his own princely quarters. She used to massage his hair with perfumed oils from Calcutta. She would wrap her warm dark hands around his cheeks and call him her “Babuwa”. Now Bagewa ki Rani was dead. And her Babuwa would never be able to tell her how dearly he missed her tender touch and her haluwa.
Where does the naked viciousness of children come from?
He refocused his gaze. Sure enough, they were still there, those searing tranquil eyes of Swayambhu burning with infinite compassion, burning with infinite query from the top of his hill.
Feeling unsettled, Trailokya spun around and beckoned to Chandrey, who beckoned to the porter. The porter scrambled up, laid his enormous burden down, pulled out and spread on the ground a rich Persian rug, and scurried away. Trailokya settled down, grateful for a chance at real respite from the genuine physical labour of climbing Shivapuri hill.
Again he took out his T. B. B. S. handkerchief and dabbed his face gently. Again his mind wandered. He started sliding into that familiar thought pattern so precious and painful at the same time. The same thought pattern which made his family mock him mercilessly every time he confided in them about it.
Somewhere in the middle of the infinite cycles of creation and destruction of the universe, somehow at the centre of the cosmos, I most definitely exist, in this breath of space and this heartbeat of time, as does everything around me, arranged just so, to allow that eagle to soar high above Nagarjun hill… to make possible that gentle breeze blowing from the north, bringing with it faint memories of the mysterious white mountains over yonder, to orchestrate the whirly-dervish dancing of swallows and swifts above me, and to allow that babe fawn to come shy out of the woods, tail quivering tentatively, legs unstable, eyes too delicate for this world, on its first foray into the wide open world at the top of Shivapuri. I exist, here, able to perceive and enjoy all this, this intricate dance of nature, and all the man-made beauty of the valley below, impossibly structured by the right placement and interaction between minuscule particles dancing in unison to create that gentle breeze on top of Shivapuri which allows that eagle to soar high above Nagarjun hill… How is all of this tender lyrical reality possible?
You believe you exist, but that is an illusion. An illusion fed by your ego. Which leads to दु:ख.
Pandit Gunananda had said that to him almost a year ago. What did he mean by that? How could that babe fawn, this breeze, those temples be an illusion? Am I delusional in thinking they are real? Or is Gunananda delusional in thinking they are illusions? Is this the beginning of insanity… the curse of the Shah bloodline? Or is this something quite the opposite of insanity? He could sense a dim flicker of light in his thoughts, but it was shrouded over by denseconfused layers of insecurity, conflict and guilt. Trailokya looked up at the deep blue sky.
The sky was beautiful, peaceful, motionless. It always was. It always would be. This comforted Trailokya at a deep level. He gazed on, focusing on the soothing calmness of blue. He began to surrender, quietly. Suddenly he saw hundreds of small bright white dots dancing among themselves in the middle of the azure sky. The dots seemed childish, impulsive. Then the entire sky fizzled. The white dots burst into a billion bubbles of light. Out, out and away from his vision. Away from his realm of cognizance.
All was bright light. All was chaos. All was calm. The intense thought pattern that had burdened him just a moment ago was washed away. As with the thoughts, so with the pain. All the sadness, the guilt, the burden of existence. Washed away. He felt light, relieved… And yet a feeling lingered on in him: a tender feeling. It hurt him deep inside in a poignant way. Actually no… that was not pain… So it must be pleasure, his mind quickly tried to reason with him.
Prince Trailokya realized at that moment that he was arguing with himself.
I am going crazy. The taint of Rana Bahadur’s blood has touched me after all.
But he pulled himself together. No… There is no argument. There is something deeper guiding my thoughts now. He did not resist the deeper guiding light. I am feeling something entirely new, beyond these easy ideas of pleasure and pain supplied by my brain. But who, then, is this “I” now refusing to listen to my brain? And who is it that decided that both suggestions were wrong? And why is my own brain trying to delude me? He did not know, but all these questions did not bother him. He felt calm… somehow above these petty concerns.
He continued floating in the all-encompassing brightness. Now there were no conflicts no insecurities within. There was no debauchery… no hunger for sex. There just was… Awareness. A hum resonated through his entire body… an eternal, divine, restful hum. He felt connected to everything in the universe, every insect every animal every leaf rock and star up above. Now there was no space within him for lust or love. No space for happiness or sadness. Just the tweeting of birds and that babe fawn still jumping up and down on its shaky new legs in spasms of childish joy within the small open space beside the jungle atop the hill overlooking this beautiful valley, in the middle of creation.
Where did this feeling… this Oneness come from?
Another idea now entered him. It seemed not to arise from his mind, but from that deeper space, where the eternal hum was pulsating.
Perhaps it was…
The thunderbolt of enlightenment hit Trailokya at that instant.
But alas, his ego-body was not ready for it. He had not primed himself for the transition.
And so, his nose itched. He became thirsty. He felt the numbness in his legs from having stayed cross-legged too long. Turning back, he saw Chandrey staring openly at him, mouth slightly agape: silently judging him, potentially mocking him.
These earthly trappings rudely pulled Trailokya back to reality. Back to the now scorching heat on top of Shivapuri. Back to the ugly crows cawing loudly around him. Back to the eternal pain inside his chest that
New, profuse beads of sweat developed around his temples. He was naked again. They could could see through him. He scowled at Chandrey and blurted out:
Ass! Fetch me an umbrella.
October 2, 1865
Hanumandhoka Royal Palace
Jung Bahadur, his usual jovial self, breezed into Trailokya’s baithak, bowed low and said with a flourish:
Jwai Saheb, I offer my Darshan. Hail to Sri 5 Walet Maharaj! Forgive the impudence but I had authorized only a three-hour daytime sojourn for yesterday, and you graced us with your return only after sunset. It is inadvisable and unsafe to be out of the Darbar for such extended hours. Samdhi jyu kept asking me about you all day long. What would I say to him if, God forbid, something had happened to you?
Trailokya was eager to tell Jung Bahadur about yesterday’s experiences. Perhaps his shrewd father-in-law could explain it all. So he waved away Jung Bahadur’s affected concerns, and gushed. He talked about the strenuous hike up Shivapuri, the beauty of the view from the top. Then he mentioned the memories of Bagewa Ki Rani …
Jung Bahadur twitched his torso. Trailokya’s weak mind and soft disposition irked him: these were not the traits of a strong future king. It also irked him that Trailokya always seemed to trigger his embarrassing twitch, an old habit from youth which he had not been able to shake off, despite otherwise looking convincingly like the Sri 3 Maharaj that he now was to the world.
It is no good talking of dead people…
Jung Bahadur mumbled almost to himself.
Trailokya ignored the tone and missed the unintended irony of what Jung Bahadur had just said. He continued on in his enthusiasm:
…Then in the middle of it all, when my head was heavy with thought, I saw the sky fizzle white. The entire sky exploded into a million bright points of light. They blinded all my senses. I was without feeling or thought for quite a long time after that. When I came to, almost three ghadis had passed! I was wondering if you…
Jung Bahadur twitched his torso again.
Ahem! Walet Maharaj, it is your eyesight. It is simply failing you. I have just the thing for you in my dispensary: I will have it sent over tonight. Drink one spoonful of the powder with your evening milk for a week and you will be as good as new. And please, for your own sake, for the sake of the Shah Dynasty, and for the sake of the Rock of Nepal, clear your head of useless thoughts. And stay safe!
Before Trailokya could put in a word, his father-in-law, the Supreme Overlord of Nepal, executed a quick bow and stormed out of the room.