Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Gentle Prince

OBITUARY: Denjong Gyalsey Kushon Jigdal Tsewang Namgyal

Denjong Gyalsey Kushon (Younger Sikkimese Prince) Jigdal Tsewang Namgyal was born on August 23, 1928 at the Palace, Gangtok. He was the youngest son of Their Highnesses, the 11th Denjong Chogyal Tashi Namgyal and Maharani Kunzang Dechhen Tshomo Namgyal. With his demise on October 30, 2014, at the age of 86, a genteel era of Sikkim’s history has drawn to a close.
Gyalsey JT Namgyal was affectionately known as “Gyalsey Georgela”. Sikkim was a British protectorate at the time of his birth, and the royal family had cordial relations with the British Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet who was based in Gangtok. The strong British influence - P.O. Charles Bell personally groomed his father, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, to take over the reins of the administration of the kingdom- explained why the royal children had British nicknames.
Gyalsey Georgela received a fine western education at the most prestigious of educational institutions in India and abroad: St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling; Bishop Cotton School, Shimla; St. Stephen’s College, Delhi; and Christ Church College, University of Oxford. He was a brilliant student and proved his academic genius by consistently topping his class. He topped St. Stephens where he majored in History Honours. He was only 17 years when he graduated from college. He earned further laurels by making it to the elite Christ Church College at the University of Oxford.
It is from his letters sent home from Bishop Cotton School to his father that much of his innate goodness of nature emerges. These are still carefully preserved in the Palace files. He was a conscientious child, always applying himself diligently to his school work; this discipline, coupled with his natural intelligence, always resulted in high marks and glowing testimonials from his tutors. The young prince always made it a point to reassure his father that he was working hard and topping the class and hoped it pleased him. His many report cards show that he was adept at all the many subjects he studied.
He was also a talented artist, much like Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, and always signed off every letter home with a pencil sketch as varied as two boxers or a horse. Additionally, he was a fine equestrian and enjoyed horse-riding; there is a yellowed clipping from a Shimla newspaper tucked away in the Palace files announcing that the Prince of Sikkim had won an award for his excellent horsemanship.
Although his elder brothers, Crown Prince Kunzang Cholay Namgyal aka Paljor Namgyal and Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal were also studying at Bishop’s concurrently, they were seven and five years older to him respectively. Like typical elder brothers, they seem to have considered their younger sibling with something of an impatience and were glad, they wrote, that every weekend, ‘George has again been invited to his friend’s home, and we have not even seen his face.’ On his part, the young Georgela, shy and academically inclined, apparently ran away when he saw his older and more physical brothers. Interestingly, while the two older Princes routinely wrote home to their father asking him to send more money for festivals and birthdays, it was young Georgela who stoically averred that he still had money left over and would not need more to be sent. This, despite getting a princely sum of five rupees to his brothers’ fifteen or twenty.
Following the untimely demise of Crown Prince Paljor in WWII in 1941, Palden Thondup Namgyal became the heir apparent and Georgela was being groomed to assist him in the administration of the kingdom. Upon completing his studies in England and returning home, Georgela became the first Development Commissioner of Sikkim. Mr. KC Pradhan, former Chief Secretary of Sikkim, reminisces, ‘My immediate reflection of him was Dewan Rustomji in his grey bakhu standing on top of the stairs of lower Secretariat waiting for Georgela and the latter walking briskly up the stairs. Dewan Rustomji had made it a point to give him a lift to go to the Palace for lunch every working day. He was Development Commissioner then and his office was located in the same floor along with Forest and Agriculture. He was brilliant and we were often told his grasp of subjects and notations in files were superb, besides which he was a voracious reader. Dewan Rustomji loved him and was keen he should get fully involved in Sikkim administration.’
Indifferent health issues cut short Gyalsey Georgela’s career in the administration. His mother decided it was time he married. She threw a garden party at ‘Arunachal’, the Kalimpong house of his sister, Princess Pema Tsedeun Yabshi-Pheunkhang, where she had invited about 10-12 prospective brides for him. Gyalsey Georgela dutifully checked out all the young ladies but made no comment. It was only when they had returned home to Sikkim that he announced his choice, the beautiful young daughter, Sonam Yangchenla aka Soyangla, of the aristocratic Tibetan family of Namseling.
The Maharani was a little puzzled that he had chosen someone so young, 18 years his junior. But such is what we Sikkimese call ‘thamzi.’ After getting engaged in 1960, Gyalsey Georgela and Lhacham Soyangla were married in 1961. They had two children in quick succession, son Jigmela in 1962 and daughter Gawala in 1964. Gyalsey Georgela was plagued by health issues for much of his subsequent life. It was thamzi that he chose Lhacham Soyangla as she is the true embodiment of the title ‘Lhacham’ which means heavenly consort. Her infinite patience, unwavering commitment and lifelong dedication to her late husband is the stuff legends are made of. It was only because of her steadfast presence and staunch devotion that the Prince lived so long and defeated so many bouts of illness that required hospitalisation.
Due to his health issues, Gyalsey Georgela was often confined to bed rest and hence led a quiet retired life in his Development Area residence, Tashi Gartsel. Lhacham Kusho recollects, ‘He was such a nice, kind man. He never harmed anyone. He never spoke ill of anyone.’ His daughter Gawa Yangchenla avers that he was a kind and compassionate father and much loved and adored by his grandchildren. When he was well, he used to joke with them. Even when ill, he was affectionate and caring. Those that knew the departed Prince vouch that he was always unfailingly courteous and large-hearted.
In true Buddhist tradition, Gyalsey Georgela thus left behind this lasting legacy of kindness and compassion. He touched the hearts of all who knew him and loved him.
Wednesday, November 5, was the day of his funeral. The Government of Sikkim declared it a state holiday. His mortal remains were consigned to the flames on the slopes of the Lukshyama royal crematorium above Gangtok where all the members of the Namgyal dynasty have traditionally been cremated since Gangtok became the capital of Sikkim. His gentle legacy will reverberate through every Sikkimese heart that beats there and waft into collective consciousness.
Om mani padme hung!

[The writer is Senior Researcher, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Readers are invited to comment on, criticise, run down, even appreciate if they like something in this blog. Comments carrying abusive/ indecorous language and personal attacks, except when against the people working on this blog, will be deleted. It will be exciting for all to enjoy some earnest debates on this blog...