01 June 2016

Remembering the Royal Ladies of Nepal

Queen Aishwarya looked around the room at her extended family. Her husband the King sat at the head of the group surrounded by his children, siblings, nieces and nephews. As with all families, there were disputes and disagreements, but the ruling house always clung to this tradition of gathering together for dinner once each month. Aishwarya and King Birendra had married in a grand ceremony 30 years earlier and had led the country together for nearly 29 of those years.

The King & Queen of Nepal with their children.
Perhaps Aishwarya had been a little too influential early on, but she was respected for her beauty and her support of social programs and her interest in culture. She herself was a poet and composer. More importantly, she had ably fulfilled the role of any royal consort: producing a children. Crown Prince Dipendra arrived soon after their wedding, followed five years later by Princess Shruti, and three years after that by Prince Nirajan. All three of her children were seated around the room.

Now 24, Princess Shruti was already of mother of two herself, with her second daughter arriving just eight months ago. Shruti was beautiful like her mother and well-educated, having completed a bachelor's degree from the women's college in the capitol city of Kathmandu.

Aishwarya's younger sister, Princess Komal, was in attendance with her husband, Prince Gyanendra, one of the king's brothers. The double relationship as both sisters and sisters-in-law only strengthened their commitment to the crown and the country. The two even looked alike. Komal had added two children, a son and a daughter, to their joint dynasty.

Scanning the familiar faces, Aishwarya also saw her other royal sisters-in-law. The eldest, Princess Shanti was also university-educated and renowned for her work in social welfare, particularly for those suffering from leprosy, for which she had founded her own charity, and people with disabilities. She also took on the causes of family planning, and animal welfare, and like many princesses around the world, was actively engaged with the Red Cross. She had married very well and was now the Rani of Bajhang and mother of three.

The king's second eldest sister, Princess Sharada, had also completed a university education and taken on issues of social welfare through the Red Cross and other organizations. Her greatest areas of concern were disaster relief and children, which led her to launch the Nepal branch of the SOS Children's Villages to provide homes, care and education for orphans. She believed her mission in life was to raise social consciousness.

Their youngest sister Princess Shova had an identical education and concern for the well-being of individuals. She also devoted herself to the Red Cross and her own family, with three daughters of her own. The other royal ladies at the dinner included the king's cousin Princess Jayanti who had devoted her life to supporting research and treatment for cancer and heart disease. She had even presented papers at important conferences around the world. Jayanti's younger sister, Mrs. Ketaki Chester, who had surrendered her royal titles for love years earlier was also there.

It was an ordinary gathering except the tensions between Aishwarya's oldest son, Crown Prince Dipendra, and his father the king were reaching a boiling point. Dipendra seemed to stumbling over himself and behaving badly. Perhaps he had grown tired of fighting with his father about his own marriage. At 30, the prince's marriage was becoming incredibly urgent, but he wanted to marry a young woman of whom both his parents disapproved. But, his behavior this evening was beyond anything the family had seen before. After one too many boorish acts, the Crown Prince was sent to his room like a child, escorted their by his brother and a cousin.

Finally, the party could continue. Or so it seemed. Within minutes, Dipendra returned, now dressed in military fatigues and carrying several automatic weapons. Ketaki leaned over to her sister, Princess Jayanti and whispered, "Isn't he too old to be showing off those guns?" Unusual behavior, but no one felt threatened even as the Crown Prince approached the king. So, they thought, he's returned to show the king his weapons like a boy playing soldier? Then, one of the guns went off, wounding the king and then firing blindly into the ceiling from the massive recoil. As several family members rushed to the bleeding king's side, Dipendra fled, but then returned again to kick his father's body. His favorite uncle stepped in front of him, "you've done enough," he said, but those were his final words.

Perhaps in shock over killing his favorite uncle, Dipendra began shooting indiscriminately around the room. One cousin shoved some of the children to safety behind a sofa, but others were falling quickly. Not realizing that her own arm had been shattered, Ketaki tried to help a cousin. Across the room, she could see her sister dying. She saw the king's sister-in-law Komal bleeding profusely from the chest and Dipendra's young sister gasping to breathe in a pool of her own blood.

Queen Aishwarya's disfigured
face was covered by a china
mask at her funeral.
Image by Duvilar
via Wikimedia Commons
Barely five minutes had passed, when Dipendra rushed out of the room, with his mother and his brother in pursuit. Startled he turned and killed his brother. "You have killed your father. You have killed your brother," Aishwarya cried out. "Kill me too." He did.

Palace guards pursued him, shooting Dipendra at least six times in the back, before he shot himself. Still alive, he was taken to a hospital and declared king upon the death of the father he had murdered. His sister died at the hospital not far from him. Princess Komal struggled to recover from the wound in her chest while Ketaki never regained full use of her arm. The only survivor among the king's immediate family was Princess Shruti's husband, who was left with two young daughters to raise.

In all ten members of the royal family were massacred. Dipendra had killed his father, mother, brother, and sister, his favorite uncle, his aunts Shanti and Sharada, Sharada's husband, and his father's cousin Jayanti. The tenth victim, Dipendra himself, died a few days later.

The ultimate casualty, however, was the Nepalese crown itself. Although Dipendra's only surviving uncle, Prince Gyanendra (who had been out of the country during the massacre), became king with his recovered wife Princess Komal at his side, the monarchy lasted less than seven years. After three centuries as the rulers of Nepal, the Shah dynasty was swept away by the Nepalese Constituent Assembly in favor of a federal democratic republic.

29 April 2016

Five Years with the Cambridges

It is hard to believe that five years have already passed since the marriage of Prince William to his long-time live-in love Catherine (Kate) Middleton. It has been an eventful half decade for their family. Let's take a look back at the key moments:

1. April 29, 2011: A Bride and a Title
Not only did Prince William get a wife on this day, but he also gained a title. In previous generations, princes were granted their own territorial titles much early, but for the last several decades, they have been granted upon their marriages. There was much speculation about which title he would receive (see my post on the subject a year before the wedding). In the end, he was given a title with strong sentimental meaning for his grandmother, The Queen. Her beloved grandmother, Queen Mary, had descended from the last royal dukes of Cambridge. However, the fact that the former Miss Middleton is now styled as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge led to some confusion about what her actual rank is. To clarify (again) as the wife of a British Prince, she holds the rank of Princess, even though she is called Duchess of Cambridge. It is not, however, ever appropriate to call her Princess Kate or, even worse, Duchess Kate, as she holds that rank by right of her husband. This would make her Princess William if they had no other titles to use, just like Princess Michael of Kent. The Palace did not help things when it announced that people could call her whatever they wanted to...

2. December 3, 2012: A Baby is on the Way
I was at a conference in Washington, D.C. when my Twitter feed and email box started blowing up with messages of congratulations. I had to step outside to investigate what was happening. As it turns out, I was not having a baby, but the Cambridges were! Unfortunately, the pregnancy was announced much earlier than usual because Kate was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a serious and potentially dangerous form of morning sickness for which she had to be hospitalized. The early announcement led to an even more prolonged state of anticipation on the part of royal watchers everywhere. By the time, the big day finally arrived, royal baby mania was even greater than it had been for William's birth, and I think we were all completely exhausted.

3. July 22, 2013: It's a Boy!!
The arrival of a prince temporarily relieved anxieties over the fact that the British succession was still based on the outdated and sexist practice of male primogeniture, by which older daughters with younger brothers are displaced in the line of succession by their brothers and their brothers' descendants. (This is why Princess Anne The Princess Royal was second in line to the throne at the time of her mother's accession, but is now #12 after her brothers and their children and grandchildren.) Kate gave birth in the same hospital as Diana had and under the care of The Queen's own gynecologist. #Awkward  One day later, we got the first glimpse of the boy we would come to nickname "Cheeks" and the day after that we learned that his name would be George Alexander Louis. And, prince or not, there really is not a cuter kid on the planet. He just gets more and more impossibly cuter. The latest pics of him greeting President Obama in his pajamas and robe are almost cuter than I can tolerate!

4. May 2, 2015: (Finally) It's a Girl
At long last, the heir to Diana that the world had awaited was finally here. This is an incredible legacy for a little girl to carry, but her parents did not make it worse by naming her Princess Diana, although her late grandmother was remembered among her names: Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. (Interestingly or oddly, William's youngest first cousin is Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer.) While many believe the name Elizabeth is for The Queen (and it may be), I think it is important to remember that Elizabeth is also the middle name of both Kate and her mother Carole, as well as a fairly common name among her ancestors. Both Charlotte and Kate are unfairly compared to the late Princess of Wales, so I am thankful that so far, Charlotte is looking less and less like her much-mourned grandfather.

The Family Home
During their early marriage, William and Kate continued to reside in their pre-marital home on Anglesey to be near William's military posting at RAF Valley. Since leaving the military, the Cambridge family has at last settled into a country home, Anmer Hall, on The Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk (where Diana was born) and the apartment they renovated in Kensington Palace. They did not choose the apartment where William and his brother Harry lived with their mother. Instead, they selected the one that had belonged to The Queen's late sister, Princess Margaret.

Royal Duties
Some have whispered that the Cambridges have not taken on enough royal duties, but I think it is important that they are not the immediate heirs to the throne. Also, The Queen herself very much enjoyed a more private early marriage and likely approves of the way Kate is being eased into royal duties, especially in light of the disastrous royal introductions of The Princess of Wales and The Duchess of York in the 1980s. They have represented Her Majesty on several foreign tours including travels to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and, most recently, India and Bhutan, as well as paying visits to Continental Europe. On the home front, Kate has taken on several patronages, focusing on children, sport, the arts, and mental health advocacy. Meanwhile, William has continued his support of the armed forces, young people, and conservation. Together, with his brother, Prince Harry of Wales, the couple has a foundation that is dedicated to young people, sustainable development, and supporting the armed forces.

What's Next
It's hard to say whether there will be more children in the future, but they will almost certainly begin to take on more and more public responsibilities, especially after the eventual succession of The Prince of Wales. The next big personal event in their lives is likely to be the marriage of Prince Harry, when the happy threesome will hopefully become an even happier quartet. But, when that will happen is anyone's guess!