Pratap Malla was already a fascinating subject for Chazot who first arrived in Nepal in 1973. A contemporary of Shah Jahan in Mughal India and Louis XIV in Bourbon France, he too showed fierce love for the arts and philosophy, sometimes with a dash of decadence. Chazot finished the first draft of what would be Le Seigneur de Katmandou in 1979, but it was 600 pages long, he recalls, “and very complicated”.
So, he began to rewrite. “I wasn’t writing every day,” he says. “Sometimes I would write a few pages, take a break for a couple years, and then return to it.” The published version is the fourth draft of the work.
He had previously planned a series of novels focusing on one figure from each dynasty of rulers of Nepal, the Malla, the Shah and the Rana, but decided to abandon that for the time being to focus on the story of Pratap Malla.
“I really wanted to write a good novel,” he says. “It could not be a little book you read once, enjoy and then forget about it. It had to be concrete and well-written with historical facts integrated with the legends of Pratap Malla so that people find it believable.”
Chazot could not remove the legends, such as Pratap Malla entering the mythical caverns of Shantipur temple in Swayambhu during a drought to recover a paubha drawn in the Naga’s blood to bring back rain. Or the story of how Jamana Gubhaju once turned himself into an eagle and carried away the heart of a young boy one foreign sorcerer had cut up and promised to bring back to life through Tantra.
“I could not say that because I am a historian, none of that could have happened,” he adds. Instead, Chazot built the book as a first-person narration by Pratap Malla, giving us a direct look into the mind and impressions of the king.
Sometimes the king himself appears to be an unreliable narrator, which then prompts us to try and sift, and wonder if separating facts and fiction truly matters after all, because would Pratap Malla be the character he is without the legends and stories?
A devout and ambitious king, it had been his great wish to unite the three kingdoms of Nepal Mandala fractured by King Jayayakshya Malla some 200 years before, for which he was constantly at war with Yala (Patan) and Khwopa (Bhaktapur).
But it was also during this time that Yen (Kantipur, or Kathmandu) saw unprecedented economic growth, fuelled largely by a treaty with Tibet which allowed the Newa merchants of the city a virtual monopoly over trade with India and Tibet.
The history of heritage, Ashish Dhakal
Losing loose change in Nepal, Ashish Dhakal