By Sudeshna Sarkar
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Former princesses in Nepal are adopting new public identities in post-royal life. Among them is author Sheeba Shivangini Shah, whose third book, "Facing My Phantoms," about the palace massacre, comes out in April.
The latest talk of the town is former princess, Sitashma Shah, the niece of Gyanendra Shah, the deposed king, and his wife Komal.
The soft-spoken, smiling Sitashma Shah, who is in her early 30s, has opened a boutique in Kathmandu in the premises of the five-star Hotel de l'Annapurna, in which her family holds shares.
"I had worked at a call center in Scotland when I went there to study business management," she says.
Beatification, the name of boutique she has started with her cousin Rochana Shah and a school friend, Vivek Upadhya, is drawing widespread media interest in the spectacle of a former princess attending to "commoner" customers.
Sitashma Shah is the second child of Prince Dhirendra, the youngest brother of the former king. Her mother, Princess Preksha, was the youngest sister of the former queen.
In 2001, when King Birendra, her uncle, was gunned down in the palace along with nine other members of the royal family, allegedly by Birendra's son, the victims also included Sitashma Shah's father.
Less than five months later, her mother was killed in a helicopter crash in northwestern Nepal. Then, in October 2008, four months after Nepal's new parliament abolished monarchy and stripped the royals of their titles, the former princess, at the time the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, found herself widowed after her husband Avinesh Shah succumbed to an illness.
Last year, Sitashma Shah decided to start her own enterprise. She turns up for work around 10 a.m. every day when the three partners hold a quick morning meeting. Then the customers start dropping in and she shows them around. After the customers leave, she busies herself tidying up, folding the displayed garments carefully and putting them back on the racks.
The boutique sells embroidered saris and lehengas (long skirts with a stole) that are made by craftspeople in the Indian cities of New Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow.
While Sitashma Shah looks after the management of the boutique, financial management is handled by Rochana Shah, the daughter of Suraj Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, a scion of Nepal's former Rana dynasty of hereditary prime ministers and the brother of the former queen.
"I was never interested in a 9-to-5 job," says Rochana Shah. "But Sitashma got me interested in the boutique project and now here I am, staying up at work till 11 p.m. sometimes!"
Rochana Shah says her family has been very supportive. "My mother-in-law looks after household matters when I am away."
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Sudeshna Sarkar is a senior journalist based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She writes on politics, women's issues and rights.
This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org
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