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Love In The Time of Empire

February 17, 2014 , by Subodh Rana, Leave your thoughts
Love In The Time of Empire » My Dreams Mag
During his historic visit to England in 1850, Jung Bahadur Rana, the athletic, dark and handsome Oriental prince, captured the imagination of the people and the royalty alike. Among them was a courtesan called Laura Bell. This is the story of a little-known tryst that Jung had with the captivating Irish beauty, a love story that transcended time, social mores, and cultural barriers, a love story forgotten by history but revived by DREAMS. 


The journey from Nepal to England was physically arduous for the mountain prince, having to navigate many days and nights the treacherous seas. It was mentally strenuous as well, as the trip was heretical from the religious point of view. Jung was also missing his two wives. For high caste Hindus, crossing the ocean meant denigrating one’s status in society. Jung had taken with him huge casks full of holy water from the Ganges River for daily ablutions to expunge his sins. Jung took a quick shower and sprinkled himself with the water from the Ganges. He dressed himself in Oriental splendour: the chestful of military decorations, the bejewelled sword, the 
baju armband containing holy mantra prayers from the Veda and the sarpech, the headgear adorned with expensive pearls and diamonds.

 

A six-horse carriage was waiting for him. He drove with his entourage consisting of his two younger brothers Jagat Shumsher and Dhir Shumsher, his personal attendants, and a retinue of bodyguards to London Tavern for a banquet hosted by the Court of Directors of East India Company. He wanted to quickly end the formalities and return home as early as possible. The hosts introduced Jung to yet another adoring group of London high society. The Kingdom of Nepaul (an early spelling of Nepal used by several foreign historians) was a friend of Great Britain and the supplier of the hardy Gurkha soldiers the Raj relied upon in those turbulent days of anarchy and mutiny in India. Jung expertly worked the crowd; slightly bowing to a Lord here, tipping his crown to a Lady there. He suddenly stopped. His sixth sense told him he was being closely watched, and he turned around slowly to see the loveliest pair of big blue eyes he had ever beholden. Jung was bewitched. The host introduced Jung to the most arrestingly beautiful woman he had laid his eyes upon. She had long, flowing golden locks and strawberry complexion. Her name was Laura Bell.

A Nepali artist’s rendition of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana wooing Laura Bell

A scandalous love affair ensued that would have far-reaching consequences for Nepal-Britain relations and Jung’s own political future back home. Jung Bahadur was captivated by the youthful Irish lass, barely out of her teens but a courtesan of first order. Laura in turn was smitten by the aura of Oriental opulence and power personified by Jung Bahadur Rana. British India had lavished on his visit vast sums of money, which he in turn lavished upon Laura. Jung put her up in a fitting residence at Wilton Crescent in the very heart of Belgravia. It is documented that Jung spent £ 250,000.00 on his demimonde, the sum of which was later underwritten by Governor General Lord Canning as a sign of further goodwill.

 

Jung spent his days in Britain reviewing march-pasts, inspecting armouries, visiting factories and getting a close glimpse of the masters of India he so admired. He knew that to preserve Nepal’s sovereignty, an alliance with Britain was not only necessary but absolutely essential. He had first-hand experience of the travails of his maternal grand uncle Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa after the Anglo-Nepalese War was terminated by the humiliating Treaty of Sugauly in 1816. Jung now had another reason to stay longer in England, his paramour Laura Bell.

 

Jung Bahadur stayed a total of three months in England, mostly in London, but also visited Coventry and Edinburgh. All the while his fondness for Laura Bell grew and he lavished one expensive gift after another on her. As the date of departure drew near, Jung expressed his desire to stay longer in England. But his brothers were successful in persuading him to return to Nepal fearing a political accident back home as Jung had many enemies at the Nepalese court. Leaving Laura Bell behind was heart-breaking. It is said that Jung’s parting gift was an expensive diamond ring with a promise to fulfill her every wish.

Laura Bell 1

From the Book  “Laura Bell: Courtesan and Lay Preacher” by Anthony S. Drennan

 

Epilogue

 

The East India Company had started the British Raj exactly one hundred years earlier by defeating the Bengal Army at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 A.D. The British commander Robert Clive became the Governor of Bengal. The historic opportunity to kick the British out of India exactly one hundred years later fueled the determination of soldiers and kings alike. Forces of Nana Sahib took Kanpur, one of the military strongholds of the British in North India. Lucknow was liberated by an army put together by the determined Begum Hazrat Mahal. She promptly installed her minor son Birjis Qadr as the ruler of Avadh and got recognition from the Mughal emperor. The erstwhile Rani of Jhansi recaptured Jhansi and Gwalior. The mutinous soldiers from Meerut overran British garrisons and laid siege to Delhi.

 JUNGART

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana had witnessed first-hand the might of Imperial Britain during his visit in 1850 A.D. He did not want to be on the losing side like his grand-uncle. Of course, if the British asked for his military assistance, it would be a difficult decision to make. Nepal had historical ties with all the important princely states of India, both Hindu and Muslim. Jung knew that the policy of divide and rule perfected by the British had given them sway over large swathes of territory as big as Europe in just a hundred years since Plassey. But those Indian rulers had betrayed Bhimsen Thapa. Jung’s mind was in turmoil, and the fact that the Nepalese court was equally divided over the issue did not help.

 

The British Resident in Nepal Lt. Colonel G. Ramsay wanted to see the prime minister post-haste. He had a missive from the Governor General of India Lord Canning. Jung was a pious man and he did not like to hurry in the morning. He had his early morning rituals to perform, hear the hymns from the Brahmins and offer his worship to the Sun God, giver of all life. Above all he did not like kowtow-ing to the British resident. On purpose he took longer than he normally did to get ready that morning. Let the colonel wait, Jung murmured to himself. He was also worried about the tidings he suspected the resident was bringing.

 

Colonel Ramsay was finally let in to meet Jung standing ramrod straight attired in his usual military fatigue, the French medal awarded by the French president prominently displayed on his chest to tweak the British resident’s pride. Jung’s posture made him look taller than his actual height. He had learnt a thing or two about Napoleon Bonaparte during his sojourn in France. Colonel Ramsay handed over a kharita, the royal pouch used traditionally for such missive. It contained a letter from Lord Canning to the effect that the British wanted Nepalese military assistance as Lucknow was falling to the rebels and the rest of Avadh would follow soon. The British troops by themselves would not be able to hold much longer. The worst fears of Jung Bahadur had been realized. He knew the decision he would have to take could decide the fate of his own country.

Laura Bell 2

From the Book  “Laura Bell: Courtesan and Lay Preacher” by Anthony S. Drennan

Accompanying the letter was a note with the very ring Jung Bahadur had once gifted Laura Bell as a sign of his love. It reminded Jung of his promise to deliver on any request she would make. The Nepalese court was divided over whether to help the British or stay neutral. But he could not deny the final request of his paramour. Jung personally led his troops to the gates of Lucknow and helped quash the Indian Mutiny.

 

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Text By: Subodh Rana

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Categorised in: Retro Chic

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