Obituary Barbara, You’ll Soon Be A Mythical Woman!
Ritu Raj Subedi
Barbara Adams, a maverick lady, is no more. By the time she bade adieu this mortal world at the age of 84, her life reached mythical proportions. It was an emotional roller coaster. Her life contains all necessary ingredients fit for a sensational biopic- love, romance, adventure, expulsion and dispossession. She was born American and died as a Nepali. She landed in the Himalayan nation as an enthusiastic journalist to cover the visit of Queen Elizabeth II more than half a century ago. She missed the event but it was her gorgeous beauty that had smitten Prince Basundhara, the youngest brother of King Mahendra. She was a stunning figure with blonde hair and piercing blues eyes. Their rendezvous at the Yak and Yeti bar of the Royal Hotel kicked off their immortal love story that lasted for seventeen years. The prince had earned the nickname of ‘playboy’ and this bad reputation did not dissuade the bohemian woman from becoming a royal consort. He had separated from his earlier wife and had several children. She was 29 when she made Basundhara her prince of heart. With the demise of her Romeo, her difficult days began. The palace harassed her because of her foreign descent. It dispossessed her of husband’s property and expelled her from the country. She was made of sterner stuff. Undeterred, she emerged stronger and vowed to live in Nepal until she breathed her last, nourishing the fond memories of her husband.
This author’s curiosity about Barbara’s life grew even more following her demise. The information that came in dribs and drabs about her eventful life was touchy. Her long struggle to obtain the Nepali citizenship certificate, desire to keep it under the pillow while she was on the death bed and last will to be cremated at Pashupati Aryaghat as per Hindu rituals showed her deep love for and faith in the Nepalese soil. The white-haired woman always wore red sari, chura (bangles) and pote (bead of tiny pieces of glass) that made her a Hindu woman from every way. She sold her parental property in the US and spent it to build the houses for Dalits in the remote districts of Karnali. She did not only yearn for peace when the nation was rocked by the Maoist insurgency. She set up the Barbara Peace Foundation to boost peace process in the post-conflict society and was practically engaged to restore peace in the villages, earning the sobriquet ‘Santi Didi’ (elder sister of peace). The day she got the Nepali citizenship was her happiest day. If somebody called her bideshi mahila (foreign woman), it hurt her too much. So, she used to urge the people not to call her foreign woman. Barbara did not only pour her heart to Nepal and the Nepalese. She whole-heartedly devoted to the amelioration of the status of Nepalese.
When Barbara set foot in Nepal in 1961, the country was ruled under autocracy. King Mahendra, the elder brother of her beau, had seized power in a putsch by booting the democratically elected government out of power. It was quite interesting to note how Barbara, who was born to a family of democratic background in New York and raised in Washington, reconciled with the members of conservative court. Her father served as an economist in the administration of Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt. It sounded a marriage between the two incompatible values. In her interview with a US newspaper, she admitted that it was a kind of trial for her. Here comes a hypothetical question- after rolling the punches, could she act as an instrument of propaganda for the regime and spread Panchayat values to the west? Or couldn’t she stand up to the highhandedness of the authoritarian system and unmask it undemocratic face through her powerful pen? Barbara’s situation reminds us of another famous American journalist Anna Louise Strong, who is known for her reporting on the communist revolution in the former Soviet Union and China. She embraced communism and urged the west to follow suit.
Unlike Anna, Barbara chose a different path. She was an inamorata of the Prince. His demise threw her into a sea of troubles. She fell out of the palace that refused to recognise her relation with Basundhara. She had to even sell her ornaments to meet her ends meet. Here is an ironical contrast between King Mahendra and Birendra. The former had not minded his brother relationship with the US damsel. With the ascension of Birendra to the throne, queen Aishwarya put her throw the wringer. Like putty in her hands, Birendra kept silence about her act. While autocratic Mahendra had soft heart for Barabara, democratic Birendra showed inhospitable indifferent to her.
Barbara was a paramour of blue blood but had grown certain affinity with the Nepalese communists though she liked Nepali Congress supreme leader Ganesh Man Singh than any other Nepalese leader. She was very critical of the administration of Girija Prasad Koirala. She was even expelled by his government for her audacity to speak against his misrule and excesses. Her repeated pleas to get citizenship were turned down on the trot. It was only a coalition communist government led-by UCPN-Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda that listened to her grievances and granted citizenship to her in 2009. Once Barbara had talked about a political vignette of her late husband. “I remember in 1965 he told me he was amazed that the communists had not yet come to Nepal. He said we might end up hoeing the fields,” she had said, talking to a foreign journalist. With the Shah dynasty already consigned to the dustbin of history, Basundhara’s unusual comment made many decades ago was vindicated. But, the ‘magic lady’ has even surpassed her ‘clairvoyant’ husband. He could not foretell what would follow his beloved wife once he departed this world. Nonetheless, she became a living history of Nepal. She saw all upheavals spanning over a half-century. Her epic battle for recognition and great generosity to the Nepalese made her unique figure. As the time passes by, she will come into our memory as a mystical and mythical foreign woman, who had loved Nepal more than her native soil.
Ragini Upadhyay Grela is a well-known Nepali artist. A graduate in fine arts from Lucknow College of Arts, India in 1982, Upadhyay won a British...