The Rana Ruse

It’s not often that one comes in contact with a member of a real dynasty, one that does not include Joan Collins. Perhaps you shook the hand of a Kennedy or a Bush, or a Yankee. In my case, I met and broke biscuits with members of the Rana dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Nepal from 1846 to 1951 when the Shah monarchy was restored. The Ranas are very wealthy, well educated and still engaged in governing the country as I soon found out at the beginning of my two-year service in Peace Corps/Nepal. Dron Shumsher Rana ruled the District where I lived for a year. He lived in a country palace whose fireplace was large enough to roast a whole goat and whose Bengal tiger skin rested comfortably on the hearth while staring at me with hungry eyes. The Rana dynasty included prime ministers and maharajas and autocrats known for their iron-fisted rule. My Rana was domineering, arrogant, and authoritarian. He owned a dozen servants; he owned a Russian jeep; he owned several elephants and their mahouts; and he made life-altering decisions every week when presented with petitions from supplicant villagers. His authority was recognized as final.

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Nearing the end of my service, I spent my last week wandering around Kathmandu visiting familiar sites, Peace Corps friends, and Nepali families. During one such visit, I was introduced to Chandra Bahadur Rana who, after a friendly talk, invited me for afternoon tea at the main Rana palace. Confident that their digs were resplendant, I readily accepted.

I arrived on time, looking sharp in my Nepali cap and sporting a pin featuring King Mahendra. The palace façade is grandiose and makes an immediate impression of opulence and elegance. Its architecture was meant to duplicate both the look and the furnishings of the Palace of Versailles. Landscaped grounds and manicured gardens surround the elegant edifice. I was made welcome and, palms together, replied in the best formal Nepali I could muster (Namaskar Hajur!) and engaged in small talk with the three aristocratic gentlemen who greeted me. While waiting for chai and biscuits, I asked if I might admire the details of the drawing room like the heavy silk drapery, the tiger skin and large Kashmiri rugs on marble floors, the overstuffed leather armchairs featuring elegantly embroidered antimacassars. Rana knicknacks included enormous elephant tusks, Venetian glass, Japanese vases, gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and, “Oh! Aren’t these Dutch oil paintings!?” 

“Yes, and the portraits are of Ranas who ruled the kingdom for over a hundred years. That one is Fakht Siṃha Rāṇā who had a son named Rāma Siṃha Rāṇā…” They were all uniformed, carrying swords and bearing rows of medals, stern epaulets overseen by plumed crowns, bordered by guilded frames.

At that moment, the Nepali chai (hidden beneath a tea cozy), bickies, and various condiments arrived on Chinese china borne by impeccable servants. There were smiles all around. The chitchat paused long enough to savor the curried pumpkin, mango pickle, and perfect tea. Just as the plates were being cleared, a door I hadn’t noticed opened and a vision appeared. She was the loveliest young woman I had seen during my two years in Nepal. Lustrous black hair cascaded down her pure white sari. She came to me and introduced herself with a gentle voice and angel’s face.

“I am Prithi Narayan Rana. And you have a Nepali name my uncle tells me:  Makur Bahadur Thapa. Brave Jupiter of the same caste as the Rana’s: Thapa.”

So smitten with her grace and beauty, I didn’t notice that the three gentlemen had quietly disappeared from the drawing room leaving Prithi and me alone. She took my hand and bade me follow her through a small door that led to a dark spiral staircase. We ascended the narrow stairwell in close contact, her perfume an Oriental garden. Midway, she stopped, embraced me, and planted a charming kiss on my welcoming lips. But just as heaven was opening its gates, her hand grasped mine and guided it to her crotch. Therein, taking up space was a turgid member not of her sex. He moaned, I fled, and boarded the next plane home. The Rana Ruse was up.

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Mark Sconce
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