Nepal’s ex-princess takes up pen again

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : For more than two centuries, Nepal’s royal family endured its joy and grief in the privacy of its mansions. But now, with the tide of fortune reducing its members to commoners, one former princess is ready to break the wall of silence.

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Sheeba Shivangini Singh’s family married her off to a dashing pilot in the Nepal Army when she was only 19. Her husband, Lt Col Bikash Bikram Shah`, is a nephew of Gyanendra Shah, the last king of Nepal.

After the Maoist guerrillas began their “People’s War” in 1996 to overthrow the royal dynasty, Sheeba, whose father Paras Bahadur Shah is descended from the former royal family of Bajura in northwest Nepal, realised what it meant to be an aristocrat.

In 2001, the Maoists attacked the family home in Kailali district and beat her brother, Sanjay Bahadur Singh, to death.

“My brother had never been the horse-riding, whip-wielding landlord of popular imagination,” Sheeba told IANS.

“He was an aloof man who wanted to do good farming and cherished dreams about his village. He died because of the mistakes of the previous generations and my father is a refugee in his own country.”

The tragedy of her own family and hundreds of others who became homeless and displaced during the civil war that killed over 13,000 people will unfold before public this year as the 34-year-old completes her third novel.

The former princess debuted as an author in 2003 with “Loyals of the Crown”, a historical novel that rattles skeletons in the dynasty’s past.

In 1846, the old palace at Basantapur, which is now a prime tourist attraction, witnessed a bloodbath in which nearly 60 nobles were reportedly killed as a spurned junior queen sought to avenge the murder of her paramour.

The novel revolves round Lakshmi Devi, the junior queen of King Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah, who, neglected by the king, had an affair with a nobleman and went berserk when he was killed.

Feeling there could be family turmoil if she resurrected a royal scandal, Sheeba consulted her in-laws: Princess Sharada, king Gyanendra’s sister, and her husband, Kumar Khadka Bahadur.

“But neither objected,” she says. “Perhaps they did not take me seriously and thought I would never finish what I was contemplating.”

When the novel was published after four years, both her in-laws were dead.

It was the second tragedy in her life. Her in-laws were among the 10 members of the royal family who were gunned down in the June 2001 massacre in the royal palace in which the then king Birendra and queen Aishwarya also died.

“That whole night is a blank for me,” Sheeba says. “I rushed to hospital on hearing the news and could not find my mother-in-law. Then I saw her body on the floor. It was unbelievable.”

Sheeba’s second novel, “Beyond the Illusions”, also forays into forbidden territory. It is about Bhairavi, whose search for her missing tycoon husband leads her into the dark realm of tantra.

The startling novel opens with the transgressor tantrik priest attempting to have sex with an idol of Kali and ends with his two victims avenging themselves in an orgy of sex and violence.

“Perhaps I went over the top with sex,” Sheeba laughs. “But the book demanded it since sex is an integral part of tantric rites. What I was wary about was possible public outcry over the sex with the idol scene.”

So how did a princess turn author? It was a school teacher who made her start dreaming.

The English teacher at school – “a very pretty woman called Miss Massy” – began reading out from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, the fantasy book by C.S. Lewis that later became the hit film “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

The adventures of the children in the book, who would step inside a wardrobe and into a magical land, set her dreaming. “Since then, I have been a dreamer,” she says.

How does she feel being an author after having been a princess?

“I was saddened because I am a student of history and the crown had been a symbol of Nepal for more than two centuries,” she says. “But as a citizen, I feel the country should move on. If the abolition of monarchy was needed for peace and progress, so be it.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])