Nepal king’s 90-yr-old concubine in royal distress

August 13th, 2008 - 3:12 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 13 (IANS) A 90-year-old royal concubine, who is one of the few survivors of Nepal’s omnipotent monarchist past, is in sore distress as the new Himalayan republic seeks to eradicate all vestiges of the crown. Sarala Tamang, now 90, caught the eye of King Tribhuvan, deposed king Gyanendra’s grandfather, more than seven decades ago and became the concubine of the king who already had two wives and other mistresses.

Though she comes from a community that is regarded as being low in Nepal’s social hierarchy and is one of the main victims of traffickers, Sarala was brought by the king to live in the Narayanhity royal palace. There, she is said to have won over her rivals for the king’s affection, the two queens, Kanti and Ishwari.

She was also said to be one of the people present at the death bed of King Tribhuvan when the dying king asked her in a moment of lucidity if she wanted anything.

After King Tribhuvan’s death, she continued to live in the palace and witnessed the reign of three of his successors - Tribhuvan’s son Mahendra as well as his grandsons Birendra and Gyanendra.

After a sea change began engulfing Nepal during Gyanendra’s reign resulting in newly elected lawmakers this year asking the disgraced king to hand over his crown and vacate the palace, Sarala, along with Mahendra’s widow Ratna, were, however, allowed by the new government to stay on in their old quarters in the palace in view of their age.

But now, though she has a roof over her head, the proclamation of Nepal into a republic has snatched away the bread from the old concubine’s lips.

During the rule of kings, she was given a monthly allowance of Nepali Rs.50,000 that went to pay for her food, clothes, medicines as well as salaries of her household staff.

The old mistress’s one luxury was visiting Kathmandu’s old temples to offer regular worship.

Since King Gyanendra’s ouster in May and the conversion of the royal palace into a national museum, the government has decided to stop paying allowances to all members of the royal family, ranging from the deposed monarch to the old concubine.

But while Gyanendra and other royals have their business ventures to help them lead a life of comfort, the 90-year-old is facing an uncertain future, Nepal’s tabloid press reported.

About a month ago, the frail old woman, who is said to still have snatches of lucidity when she recollects the past vividly, fell in the bathroom and sustained head injuries.

As the rare witness of Nepal’s turbulent history counts her last days in Bombai Chowk, her mansion inside the palace, Sarala is also racked by fears of what would happen if Maoist chief Prachanda is elected prime minister Friday.

The former revolutionary has said he would not allow Gyanendra to stay on in the Nagarjuna summer palace where Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala allowed the ousted king to shift from Narayanhity till he found appropriate accommodation.

Now it remains to be seen if Sarala and the former queen mother, who is in her 80s, would also have to look for new accommodation if the Maoists come to power.

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