Friday, December 10, 2010

The Last Gyalmo

You are two years old, and your parents are already gone from your life. Your grandparents take over, but rather reluctantly. By the time you are fifteen, they are gone too. And then, at the age of nineteen, you travel half way across the world to a remote kingdom in the mountains, and meet the prince, who is twice your age. You fall in love, marry and your life becomes the stuff National Geographic and Life like to print. But wait, this isn't really a fairytale. Your prince charming becomes king, but soon loses his kingdom. And you go back to your homeland, raise your children and become a historian giving walking tours to people visiting your vibrant city. And, you are still going strong at seventy.

No, I am not talking about a movie I saw recently. This is a true story. This is the life of Hope Cooke, the last Gyalmo (Queen) of Sikkim, wife of Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal (King) of Sikkim.

I was in Gangtok recently, it is a beautiful city in the heart of the Himalayas, and the capital of the Indian state of Sikkim. India had a lot of princely states in the past, and most of the erstwhile royal families have turned their palaces into hotels or museums. So, when I was in Gangtok, I asked every single tour guide I met if I could take a tour of the Chogyal's palace and I was told by every single one of them that the palace was off-limits to tourists like me. Entry was strictly by invitation. I was curious because I had seen a beautiful view of the palace's dance hall in Dev Anand's Jewel Thief, where the famous Hothon Mein Aise Bat Main Dabake Chali Aayi song was filmed. Since I couldn't get in, my curiosity grew, and I decided to find out more about the royal family of Sikkim. That is when I came across the story of Hope Cooke.

What I wrote above pretty much sums up her life. It seems that her marriage was not a very happy one and you can obviously read up on her life on the internet. There is so much stuff that you will probably need hours to go through it. But what I wanted to write about is the hope in the life of this lady named Hope. Losing anything is difficult. Losing your parents even before you understand what parents are, is tough. Becoming a queen and losing a kingdom is incredibly tough. But then, where do you get the strength to pick up the pieces and start over?

I don't really have an answer to where inner strength comes from. Perhaps, you go through a period of extreme depression, and then, pick up the pieces. I know many people who have done that. Perhaps, there is something more to this. I do plan to find out.

One more thing. Just last month, the Indian government lifted restrictions on Satyajit Ray's documentary called Sikkim. Apparently, it was commissioned by the last Chogyal and his Gyalmo, Hope Cooke. I am a big fan of Satyajit Ray and apparently, all prints of this documentary were destroyed except one. It was recently exhibited at the Calcutta film festival and since I missed it, I am dying to watch it. 

Someday, I will get to watch it. I hope.


  1. I guess human beings are designed like so... To push survival. Some make history while others...

  2. isn't that the unwritten rule.. start, leap, fall and then limp back.. start all over again sigh!

  3. DB first tell us about yourself! mucho impressed.

  4. Thanks Lalit. I am not related to BG. He is very kind to link to my blog. I prefer staying anonymous for a while, I will reveal my identity at a later date. You might be surprised :)

  5. Reminds me of an interview of Tuntun, the yesteryear comedienne who started her career as a singer Uma Devi. When asked about how did she manage to do what she did with so much aplomb,where did the talent come from? - she had answered without any artifice which made it so true and so awe-inspiring :( Sit on a local train without a ticket while going for a job interview, and the talent or whatever comes out of its own).
    Great post!