Cell phones, with a dark past, ring again in Nepal (Feature)

December 7th, 2008 - 1:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 7 (IANS) On June 1, 2001 a shocking massacre in Nepal’s tightly guarded royal palace wiped off the entire royal family and paved the way for the abolition of the crown seven years later. Two mobile phone numbers that were used just before the killings have started ringing again.Minutes before the carnage that killed king Birendra, queen Aishwarya and eight more royals, including the alleged perpetrator, crown prince Dipendra, the 29-year-old had several conversations on his mobile phone with the girl he wanted to marry, Devyani Rana.

After the tragedy, when a high-level committee was formed to probe the killings, it referred to the critical phone conversations that began at 8.12 p.m. and left Devyani increasingly worried because the prince’s voice began to slur rapidly, making her fear that he was unwell.

For several years, the two mobile phone numbers - that became an integral part of Nepal’s national tragedy - lay unused.

But now, after a series of momentous changes resulting in the abolition of Nepal’s 239-year-old Shah dynasty of kings and the transformation of the palace into a national museum, the discontinued numbers have started ringing again.

Dipendra’s phone number is now in the possession of a retired police superintendent, Naresh Lama. The 59-year-old, who retired four years ago, says he applied to Nepal Doorsanchar Company Ltd, the state-run telecom service provider, three years ago for his first mobile phone and was given the number.

Lama had no idea it was the dead prince’s earlier phone number. He says he received the first inkling after receiving a couple of strange telephone calls that alerted him that the earlier user of the number was someone of status.

“The callers would be taken by surprise to hear my voice,” he says. “But those strange calls soon stopped.”

The number used by Devyani Rana is now the official telephone of Ramesh Raj Bhattarai, executive director of Nepal’s Insurance Regulatory Authority.

Before IANS rang him up to ask about his phone number’s past, Bhattarai had no clue about its dark history.

“In the beginning, I used to get calls from strangers who seemed to be stunned to get a reply,” the official said.

“I could make out they were looking for some member of the aristocracy since they used deferential expressions. However, I got tired of the strange callers and stopped answering calls from numbers I could not identify.”

How strong the change that overtook Nepal since the palace massacre has been can be gauged from the two men’s reaction to the tale about their phones.

In 2001, after the king’s assassination, it was believed that the nation was tarnished with the sin of regicide and a Bharman (Brahmin) had to be gifted an elephant in order to take the sin on his shoulders and cleanse the country. He then had to leave the country with his burden of guilt.

But now, after a communist insurrection and an election that for the first time put Nepal’s king to vote, both Lama and Bhattarai say their phones’ dark past is not going to make any difference.

While Lama says he is not superstitious, Bhattarai says he is a god-fearing man who puts his trust in his maker. “Whatever god does, he does for good,” Bhattarai told IANS. “He gave me this number and something good will come out of it.”

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