Monday, 17 January, 2022

The Eccentric General


Gautam Banerjee

Dittha Ghana Nath was a Brahmin priest and his duty was to bring the tika from Pashupatinath and apply it on the forehead of all Rana family members in the Durbar. On a fateful day as usual he entered the room for this ritual and the first thing that caught his eye was a huge stuffed tiger used as a prop for palace dramas, placed in the centre of the room. With a scream, he turned and was trying to flee when General Dambar Sumshere 's voice rang out. "Catch him and bring him here".

Two strong male servants grabbed hold of the priest as he was running out, screaming in terror, and carried him and put him in front of the General. " Put him on the back of the tiger" was his next command, which was followed immediately. The servants forcibly lifted him and put him on the back of the stuffed tiger.
By this time Ghana Nath was semi-conscious. He had lost his voice and control of his body. Eyes closed and uttering a throaty gurgling sound, he would have rolled off the Tiger's back, if not for the two servants who held him on each side.

General Dambar Sumshere was laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were flowing from his eyes and he was literally rolling on the sofa holding his belly. A bevvy of his maidservants, or Susares as they were called in Nepal, were witnessing the scene in utter silence. While everyone was sympathetic towards the priest they were also surprised at someone who could be so scared of a stuffed dummy tiger.

A while later the General's laughter subsided and he ordered the servants to bring Ghana Nath down. He went crying to the Senior Rani of Dambar Sumshere, asking to be relieved of his service. " I thought I would serve you and Jarsaap till my death but it seems I will die much earlier if I continue in this Durbar ". Dambar 's Rani was sympathetic. She gave him some money and relieved him from his service.
It was later found that Ghana Nath was a spy planted by Chandra Sumshere and Dambar Sumshere knew it. He purposely played on his weakness and had him removed without Chandra Sumshere suspecting anything.

Dambar Sumshere Rana was born after Bir Sumshere and was nicknamed Sano Maila. However, his mother was of unwed status and as such he was not given any roll despite his age seniority. He was selected as one of the assassins of their uncle Ranauddip during the 1885 coup and was designated to fire first. Khadga Sumshere fired the first bullet when Dambar wasted critical time before firing.

After the takeover by the Sumshere clan, Dambar Sumshere was promoted to General and though he was not in the roll he was promoted to the rank of Hajuria General of Bir Sumshere for some time. He was one of the key person during the coup against Khadga Sumshere. Bir Sumshere had him removed from the post since he expressed his disfavour on children of Tope Kumari, Bir's younger consort being elevated to the roll of hierarchy.
To keep his brother out of mischief Bir and subsequent prime ministers gave him unlimited freedom. Chandra Sumshere accepted the first tika of Dasain from Sano maila Dai. He was treated with high respect and this made General Dambar Sumshere an eccentric.

General Dambar Sumshere loved humiliating lesser people. There was an old woman in his Durbar kitchen. She was a widow and his prime target. Sometimes he ordered her to be stripped naked in public or getting her playfully married to teenage male servants, all in full view of his maids and other servants. His boisterous laughter rang on all corners of his durbar while she wept at her humiliation.

Sometimes the General organised picnics and instead of going to Godavari where it was originally arranged, he would change it halfway and order the team to head for Balaju instead.
Dambar Sumshere loved wrestling matches between his susares, which sometimes became very violent due to the real-life enmity between the girls. The girls ferociously attacked each other mouthing abuses and trying to tear the clothes and hair of each other. It was a source of great fun and joy for the General and helped elevate his mood.

Husna Pari Affair
Her name was Juhi, changed to Husna Pari and she became Dambar Sumshere's new mistress. The girl in her early twenties had a hypnotic effect on the General who then was then in his early sixties.
To keep her in good mood, The General appointed a manservant Bahadur as her carrier. Commonly called Chate, these servants had a saddle on their back and Husna used to be carried by Bahadur for a stroll in the garden. She used to steer Bahadur by pulling his ears. For the left turn, she used to pull her left ear, for the right turn, his right ear and so on. Watching a giggling Husna steering Bahadur was a great joy for the General who enjoyed the scene from his balcony.

The affair with Husna slowly started to take its toll on the General. He became an alcoholic and his financial status headed towards bankruptcy. He bought innumerable presents from Bhadrakali house, which was the departmental store of those days to keep his mistress happy.

Dambar's Maharani was extremely worried at the way things were going and one fine day she came down from her side of the wing to discuss this with her husband. The first thing she saw as he entered his room was a near-naked Husna lying on the bed and Dambar Sumshere caressing her thighs. This scene shocked her so much that she turned back and locked herself in her wing.
Thereafter the proud woman that she was, Indra Rajya Laxmi stopped meeting her husband. General Dambar Sumshere would beg her to open the door so that he could just see her once but she refused. Dambar Sumshere was torn between the love of his wife and mistress and he could discard neither.

One morning a big piece of a beam resting against the wall of the Durbar was discovered. It was presumed that some women servant may have attempted to escape and an immediate attendance was called. When all were found present, the servants were given a choice of whether they would like to stay or leave the Durbar. Everyone wanted to stay except Husna. A hurt Dambar Sumshere had Husna tied to the pillar and whipped her on the same legs which he caressed once.

Husna was locked up in the attic and Dambar Sumshere ordered her room to be searched. A search of the room revealed Bahadur hiding in a huge chest. It was discovered that Husna and Bahadur were in love with each other and an additional duty of Bahadur, was to press Husna's feet before she went to sleep.
Bahadur was whipped mercilessly and sentenced to a prison term of a year. Dambar Sumshere still wanted Husna to stay but had to succumb to pressure from his wife and senior women servants who were all in favour of throwing her out of the durbar. The General by then had become semi-paralyzed. His speech could be understood with difficulty, he was held by two women on either side to help him walk and he would drool badly.

A sad Husna finally walked out of the durbar without even meeting her paramour. The paralyzed General watched her departure with tears rolling down his cheeks, through the shutters of his window. Husna did not turn back. She too was weeping silently and did not want to show her tears either.

Post Script
Dambar Sumshere was the first photographer of Nepal and was succeeded by his son Samar Sumshere. They trained a lot of local people in photography reducing the dominance of British photographers.
Bal Krishna and Pushkar Sumsheres were his grandsons. Bal Krishna Sumshere (later Sama) was a famous dramatist and poet, while Pushkar Sumshere was a short story writer. He was not as famous as his brother but had his admirers.
Bal Krishna Sama immortalised his grandfather's love for Husna in his book Prem Pinda which was later made into a movie.
Dambar Sumshere died in 1922 at the age of 64.

(A travel trade entrepreneur, Banerjee is a history buff)