The Sunset

SANTOSH SUBBA

Chagdor desperately floundered under water, gasping for breath. He was flailing his hands and legs about but a sturdy hand prevented him from popping his head out of the water to breathe. His struggle forced him out of breath. The veins on his neck swelled as if earthworms were slithering on his neck. He gulped down a huge swig of water and along with it a breath of oxygen, too. He fought to take his head out of water but the hand was too strong. 

After countless swigs of water, Chagdor grew tired. He then noticed that the water had started turning reddish, and he heard a strange sound as if the entire water was now preparing to enter his ear. He gave up struggling. 

Chagdor woke up violently. He was bathed in cold sweat. His heart was racing. He got off his bed and strode toward the window. Drawing the curtain aside, he looked out. It was early dawn. Despite chilly December morning, Chagdor stepped out, scarcely clad. The horrifying nightmare had turned him numb. As he reached the palace garden, he heard birds joyfully singing their first songs of the day. The dew-laded grass produced soft, squelching sound as he trampled upon them. 

He sat on a tree stub fashioned into a stool, and mused. Chagdor was frequented by nightmares after his return from two-and-half months sabbatical in the Sangacholing monastery where he had dedicated himself to devotional exercises, trying to restore his failing health. The feeble morning rays of December sun fell upon his face. His face looked pallid. The serene morning environment calmed him. Muttering prayers under his breath, he rose, thinking about the preparations for journey to Ralang hot spring the next day.

~~~

“Good news is just a couple of days away!”, thought Pedi Wangmo and smiled mysteriously. Baffled Ngadak Lama looked at her inquisitively, and blurted, “I’ve been noticing you smiling to yourself quite often and your countenance sometimes immediately becomes grave for no apparent reason. Is there something you’re not telling me?” Pedi Wangmo gave a start at this question, and composing herself, she said, “I think I’m given to imagining much, and my imaginations fuel my ambition. It is between these imaginations that I feel happy, sad, troubled. I hope it is alright if I keep my imaginations to myself.” 

Noticing sarcasm in her voice, Ngadak Lama grew a bit grave, and said, “Never let your imaginations fog your judgement. Ambitions fuelled by  nothing but wild imaginations are sand castles. Such ambitions are often divorced from reality and lead either to bitter disappointments or disastrous consequences.” “Well, disappointment appears far more appealing to me than this uneventful life crushed under heaps of injustice.”, Pedi Wangmo said bitterly, and flew out of the room.

~~~

“Your Holiness, I’ve been meaning to speak to you about something that has been gnawing at my heart. I thought today’s the right time.”, Chagdor said gravely. “Please do, Your Highness.”, said Jigme Pao humbly, growing attentive. “My health, as you can see, is only deteriorating with each passing day. I’ve been having incessant nightmares. I’m awash with foreboding. I’ve a feeling that I may not return from Ralang alive.”, Chagdor said. Jigme Pao noticed Chagdor’s serene face not perturbed in the least by the gravity of what he said. “Your Highness, if you’re feeling so, please cancel your visit to Ralang.”, Jigme Pao pleaded. “No, Your Holiness, I must go. If the one entrusted to protect the people changes his plan just because of mere foreboding, which is to say, fear, he is not fit to lead.”, Chagdor said calmly, and added, “Your Holiness, the invaluable guidance you provided in resolving our misunderstanding with Tibet few years back has convinced me that apart from your devotion and leadership in service of the Dharma, you could also guide prince Gyurmed when I’m not around.” Jigme Pao was shocked to notice how resigned Chagdor looked, given that he was only thirty years old. “Your Highness,”, Jigme Pao said pleadingly, “you will be around for a long time, to guide Gyurmed, to guide and protect Sikkim.” Chagdor sat motionless for a while, and then rising from his chair, he said, “Your Holiness, I leave you in charge of the palace affairs till I’m back from Ralang.” Before Jigme Pao could say anything, Chagdor respectfully nodded, indicating Jigme Pao to retire.

~~~

Doctor paced about his room. He looked agitated. He threw a glance at his hide bag that he had filled with pouches and vials that he had readied to carry to Ralang hot spring. He then went to his table and picked up his lancet, and gingerly tucked it under his silk waistband. “There is no graver a crime than regicide. However, if I manage to come out of it alive, I’ll not only be rid of Pedi Wangmo’s vile grip but I’ll also have enough gold to launch my career in Tibet.”, Doctor said to himself, and smiled. His smile had a tinge of uncertainty.

~~~

The royal entourage set out for Ralang in the early morning. As per Chagdor’s wish, it had been kept a private affair and the entourage was not elaborate. Few sentries, the Chogyal’s personal guards, royal cooks and a Tibetan doctor were part of the entourage. 

Sentries galloped ahead, closely tailed by the Chogyal, astride the decked up royal steed, flanked by royal bodyguards. 

As the entourage journeyed through the verdant forest teeming with varied birds, the forest reverberated with the birds singing with abandon. Chagdor was overcome with emotion. “I’m blessed to have been born in this paradise, and to lead this kingdom and its people. Countless brave Sikkimese have fallen to keep this paradise safe from marauders. I shall rather die than let these greedy marauders defile…”

“Your Highness,”, Chagdor’s train of thought was broken by a guard addressing him. Doctor stood beside him. They had reached *Lyukshep. The pristine Rangit’s bluish waters and the sound it produced filled Chagdor with peace. Doctor bowed low and stepped forward. He offered Chagdor a glass with greenish potion. Chagdor took the glass from him and emptied it in one swig. The entourage crossed the river over a shaky wooden bridge, and started negotiating up a narrow track.

~~~

It was late afternoon when the entourage reached Ralang hot spring. The encampment had been arranged days prior. Chagdor’s tent was built around a pond so that he could soak in private. Two sentries were posted at the entrance to Chagdor’s tent. As soon as Chagdor entered his tent, he lay on his bed. He was feeling fatigued. As he lay on his bed, a violent coughing fit seized him. He covered his mouth with his silk scarf. One of the guards rushed in to check on him. Chagdor signalled the guard to leave him alone who immediately rushed out.

There were big clots of blood on Chagdor’s kerchief. He ordered the guards to not let in any visitor, and lay down to sleep.

~~~

Doctor restlessly paced about in his tent. “Why hasn’t the potion started showing result yet?”, he thought and trembled when Pedi Wangmo’s wrathful face flashed into his mind. “No, my formula has never failed me. The potion will certainly work, even if it takes a bit longer to unleash its impact.” With his trembling hand, he felt for the lancet he had tucked under his waistband, took it out and placed it on his bed, and waited to be sent for by the Chogyal.

~~~

Chagdor woke up it. It was late dusk. He body was burning and he was sweating profusely. He dabbed his forehead with his kerchief. His face, despite the illness assailing him, was serene and radiant. He changed into his night gown and walked towards the pond. He said his prayer and stepped into the pond. The lukewarm water greeted his ailing body. Chagdor lay reclined against the pond wall, chest deep in water. Though he felt immense relief, his temperature, however, kept soaring. “Guards!”, he shouted. One of the sentries rushed in, with his head bowed low. “Send for the doctor.”, Chagdor commanded.

Doctor walked with his bag of hide hanging from one of his shoulders. “My temperature has suddenly soared, Doctor. Breathing has become tad difficult.”, Chagdor said calmly. Doctor was slightly trembling, and Chagdor’s smile made him more nervous. Doctor hunkered down and felt Chagdor’s pulse. “Your Highness, you’re running a high fever with increased pulse. You need to let some blood out immediately.”, pleaded Doctor.

Chagdor held out his right hand, gazing deeply at Doctor. For a moment, doctor felt like confessing everything to Chagdor but he held back. He would certainly be executed even if he confessed. However, Doctor thought, if he could execute his plan and escape unnoticed, there was a thin chance of avoiding execution and starting his career in Tibet. Beads of perspiration emerged on Doctor’s forehead. “Do what you are supposed to do, now.”, Chagdor’s gentle command gave Doctor a fright. Shaking, he fished out the lancet from his bag and swiftly cut Chagdor’s main artery, and blood spurted out as if from a water gun. 

Doctor, having executed the final act of his mission, wanted to pull out the lancet in order slip out unnoticed, but Chagdor’s hand kept the lancet pressed. Doctor panicked and tried to pull his hand away. Refusing to let go of Doctor’s hand, Chagdor smiled, and said, “I knew it was your potions that worsened my health. I realised it only a little too late. I forgive you. Run!” Chagdor let go of Doctor’s hand and with his left hand, pressed the artery to stop the blood flow. Doctor picked up his bag, and turned towards Chagdor. Chagdor was reclining against the pond wall as before, pressing his sliced artery with his left had. Doctor was overcome with guilt. He reverentially folded his hands, as if asking for forgiveness, bowed low, and rushed out of the tent.

~~~

Pedi Wangmo was roused by violent knocks at the door. It was well past midnight. She was surprised to find Doctor at the door, trembling. His face was white with fear. She let him in and told him to sit. She knew that Doctor had accomplished his mission. “Is it done?”, Pedi Wangmo enquired. Doctor sat, trembling, and didn’t answer. “Is it done, Doctor?”, she raised her voice. “Yes, Your Highness. I cut His Highness’ main artery. There’s no way he could survive now.” Blurted Doctor in one breath. 

“Which means,”, growled Pedi Wangmo, “that his death isn’t yet confirmed.” “Consider the mission accomplished, Your Highness. I plan on going to Tibet immediately.”, Doctor said timidly, not daring to ask Pedi Wangmo for the “handsome reward” he was promised. Pedi Wangmo sensed it and said, “You’ll receive your reward only upon confirmation. Till then, be my guest. As soon as the Chogyal is pronounced dead, I shall claim the throne. It’s just a matter of days now.”, Pedi Wangmo said and laughed thunderously, shaking Doctor further.

~~~

When the messenger informed Jigme Pao of the incident, he immediately rushed to the stable, mounted his horse and spurred it to a full gallop. When he reached Ralang hot spring, it was late afternoon. Jigme Pao entered Chagdor’s tent and bowed reverentially. Chagdor, having lost substantial amount of blood, lay in his bed, pale. He could not even bring his hands together to fold them in response to Jigme Pao’s bow. As Jigme Pao knelt before Chagdor, he signalled Jigme Pao to lean closer. “Take care of Gyurmed and bless Sikkim with your guidance till Gyurmed comes of age, Your Holiness.”, Chagdor struggled to say this, then he lay still. Tears streamed down Jigme Pao’s cheeks. He wept bitterly, holding Chagdor’s pale hands in his. After dusk, he commanded the guards to immediately prepare for departure. He was seething with rage that he didn’t know he was capable of experiencing.

~~~

Pedi Wangmo was growing restless. It had been more than a week since Chagdor’s main artery was cut open by Doctor yet there was no announcement of the Chogyal’s death. She paced about her room, throwing wrathful glance at Doctor who stood rooted at the far end of the room. Suddenly, there were loud knocks at the door. Doctor gave a start, and he stealthily rushed towards the other end of the room. Pedi Wangmo calmly walked to the door and flung it open. Ten royal guards stormed inside. They bolt the door shut. “So Chagdor survived. I’ll skin this useless Doctor alive!”, Pedi Wangmo thought and glanced towards Doctor. He wasn’t there. “The coward has fled. He’ll die a coward.”, she smiled. The guards were flummoxed seeing Pedi Wangmo smile even as she was staring at her execution. 

“So you’re here to kill me at Chagdor’s command, eh!”, Pedi Wangmo sniggered, and added, “I prefer death over this life of monumental injustice. Yes, I conspired to put Chagdor away because the throne belongs to me. I’m the first born and I’m in no way lacking in anything.” “You lack compassion, Your Highness.”, said one of the guards and he stepped forward. Pedi Wangmo opened her mouth to reprimand the guard for his audacity when suddenly the other guards restrained her while the one who replied to Pedi Wangmo stuffed a bunch of silk scarves into her mouth and forced it down her throat, choking her. Pedi Wangmo struggled, desperately flailed her hands and legs, her eyes popped out and turned bloodshot. In few minutes, she lay motionless, dead. Soon, other guards returned with the head of Doctor. “He thought he could get away so easily after murdering our Chogyal.”, one of the guards said mockingly, holding Doctor’s decapitated head.

~~~

Jigme Pao and Gyurmed sat silently on a wooden bench in the palace garden at Rabdentse. “Your father was very noble, prince Gyurmed.” Jigme Pao said. He gazed at Gyurmed and noticed criss-cross lines made by dried up tears on his cheeks. “He shall be remembered in this kingdom as the most noble and pious Chogyal who endeavoured and succeeded to turn Sikkim into the land of Dharma.” 

Gyurmed held Jigme Pao’s hand as they rose to stroll in the garden. “The young prince will face tremendous obstacles ahead. Some of the Lepchas have already started hatching a conspiracy to destabilise the kingdom, and the turmoil in Tibet will only make the matter worse. Bhutan and Gorkha are looking for an opportunity to invade Sikkim again.”, Jigme Pao thought gravely. “I shall honour the promise I gave to His Highness. I shall guide the young prince till he comes of age. I must make preparations for young prince’s coronation before another problem crops up to stall it.”, Jigme Pao thought. He looked at Gyurmed who looked up at him and smiled. They both strolled inside the palace – Gyurmed holding Jigme Pao’s hand.

*Lyukshep: Legship

Santosh Subba is a bibliophile to the core with an eye for politics. He loves staring at the incoming call till it disconnects.

Author’s Note: Sikkim’s history is very interesting – with all the intrigues inevitable in monarchy or any form of government for that matter. History told as-a-matter-of-factly appears quite bland unless one is interested in the subject. There are also gaps in history about which we can only hypothesise for want of written records and other evidences. 

How about “fictionalising” history, retelling them, filling gaps and adding meat to the bare bones, but without actually distorting it?  Well, I just tried ‘fictionalising’ a section of Sikkim’s history about conflict between the third Chogyal Chagdor Namgyal and his half sister, Pedi Wangmo. 

This is NOT reinterpretation of Sikkim’s history and must not be treated as such. I’ve tried filling the historical gaps with my own imagination which must not be construed as my attempt to distort history. Anyone who’s read Sikkim’s history will be able to tell where history ends and fiction begins. I’d be happy to answer questions regarding why I imagined the historical figures the way I did.

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