The palace story, take it or leave it
Missing massacre links
PM loses touch with the ground
Cell solution for organ rebirth
Calcutta Weather

Kathmandu, June 7: 
It was to be one great historic moment — for Nepal, its grief-stricken people and journalists from all parts of the world. In moments, the true story of one of modern history’s worst royal massacres would unfold.

The narrator: Captain (Dr) Rajiv Shahi, son-in-law of Dhirendra, brother of King Birendra, who was one of the survivors of the tragedy. His story: the first eyewitness account to come on record.

The venue: the military hospital at Chhauni, where the dead royals and the injured were brought that bloody night.

“You all know what happened on Friday night (at the palace). I’m here to inform you what happened.”

That was how he began his story. Soon the journalists learnt it was to be a very different news conference, called by word of mouth, but at which questions were not to be asked. In course of the news conference, first 20 minutes for foreign scribes and another 15 minutes for local journalists, he walked away to a room, escorted by aides.

Here is the story, as told by the Captain, who demonstrated the movements of the royal family members and the happenings on a map sketched on a board .

“I reached the palace around 7.45 (on Friday evening). About 8.15, His Majesty the late King Birendra walked into the hall. The late Crown Prince Dipendra entered very intoxicated. He told me he wanted to talk to his parents. He couldn’t walk properly and he stammered. Prince Nirajan, myself and Paras escorted him to the garden. After that we all came into the hall.

“His Majesty was standing here (he points to the sketch). Round about 9 o’clock, I heard a burst of gunfire. First I thought it was some crackers bursting. ‘His Majesty is shot, call the doctor,’ I heard people shouting. I rushed. His Majesty told me ‘I’ve been shot’. He said ‘I’ve been shot in the stomach as well’. But I didn’t see him (Dipendra) shooting.” After the first shot, Dipendra “went out”.

Captain Shahi said he “being a doctor” rushed to “His Majesty”, took off his “clothes” and tried to stop the bleeding from his neck where the king was first shot. He told the king not to “worry”.

“All of a sudden” Dipendra returned to the room. Shahi’s father-in-law and the king’s brother Dhirendra “decided to intervene but was shot in the chest”. At this stage, Shahi said he won’t be able to show how “everybody was shot”. But he went on, pointing to one corner of the hall, “Princess Sharada and her husband Kumar Bikram were shot here”. Next to be shot in the chest was Kumar Gaurav, husband of Shruti and son-in-law of the late King Birendra. “He told me he was shot and I asked him to lie down.”

Dipendra, who was carrying two “assault rifles”, according to Shahi, went out again. Next time he came back into the hall, he allegedly shot dead his sister (Shruti), brother-in-law, uncle and aunt. This time, Captain Shahi claimed to have jumped out of the window to save himself.

Dipendra was said to have gone out again and shot the Queen and his younger brother Nirajan in the garden. It was at this stage at the garden that Paras, son of the new King Gyanendra, implored Dipendra “with folded hands” not to shoot him or the others still living.

Dipendra then shot himself. Shahi denied Dipendra had been shot in the back. “Had it not been for Paras, there would not have been so many survivors.”

Shahi said he was still in a “state of shock” and couldn’t count the dead or the survivors right then. He then prepared to take the dead and the wounded to the hospital.

“Dipendra was a murderer and it was cold-blooded murder,” he ended his story, leaving the scribes to swallow their questions in the confusion.


Kathmandu, June 7: 
Was there an African diplomat present at the dinner, who apparently gave an eyewitness account to an American paper? No, said Captain Rajiv Shahi, it was a private family dinner and there were no outsiders.

Next moment, one of the Shahi’s aides, later identified as a former journalist and now a businessman friend of his, confronted me: “Please identify yourself.” When I did, he didn’t seem too pleased that a foreign journalist had stayed on at the press conference meant for local scribes. He immediately nudged Shahi to end the session and took him away to the hospital ward meant for “trauma cases”.

At the session meant for local scribes, he gave a clear answer to just one question. Did Prince Dipendra discuss his marriage proposal with the late King Birendra or the Queen before he shot them?

No, Shahi said.

That was all. Shahi didn’t take any questions at all.

So, here are the questions Shahi did not allow foreign journalists to raise or, if these were indirectly raised by local scribes, did not answer:

What were the ADCs and the palace guards doing when the shooting was taking place?

He said Dipendra walked in and out of the hall of murders “three or four times”. How long did Dipendra take to kill all those he allegedly killed? Shahi gave different durations of the shooting. “Maximum a few minutes”, “15 minutes” and “I’m not too sure. I was too shaken”. Why didn’t those present try to run away while they had all these chances to save themselves? Were they locked in? How could Shahi then “jump out of a back window”?

If Dipendra could not “walk properly” because he was “very intoxicated” and had to be “escorted by me, Paras and Nirajan”, how could he come back all by himself, carrying “two assault rifles” 45 minutes later?

Assuming Dipendra did manage to come down on his own and begin the shooting, why did he shoot King Birendra only, sparing Queen Aishwarya for the time, although he was said to have been angry with his mother for opposing his marriage proposal?

Even though he could barely stand erect, how come he killed his immediate family and spared some others? Shahi said Dipendra stopped when Paras “prayed for his life with folded hands”. Which suggests Dipendra could still listen to the voice of reason and prayer. But what about the others who were completely unscathed? It’s not that they were saved because they ran away. Nobody did, Shahi confirmed, raising the question why they didn’t.

According to Shahi, next to fall to Dipendra’s bullets after King Birendra was his uncle and the late king’s brother Dhirendra who was “shot in the chest from point-blank range”. From this account, one would assume Dhirendra, too, was dead immediately. But why was he declared dead three days later?

Above all, why did Shahi decide to tell his story a day after the probe committee officially began its work?


Mumbai, June 7: 
Rajghat is out; so are party meetings where he is required to sit on the floor cross-legged.

Surgeon Chittaranjan Ranawat declared squatting and cross-legged sitting are a no-no for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had his right knee joint replaced today in a “successful” operation at the Breach Candy Hospital here.

“Squatting and sitting cross-legged is not advisable for the Prime Minister,” the New York-based surgeon said after operating on Vajpayee’s knee, worn down by osteoarthritis, a degenerative bone disease.

Ranawat said Vajpayee was comfortable after the operation and would “stand on his feet” in a day or two, helped by physical therapy, starting tomorrow. After that he would walk “step-by-step” with a walker, in the same way he did last October after Ranawat had replaced his troubled left knee joint at the same hospital.

After today’s operation on his second knee, doctors said squatting would put his fragile limbs at greater risk.

Dr Nandu Laud, a leading Mumbai orthopaedician who assisted Ranawat in both operations on Vajpayee, said many people in the country suffered knee problems from prolonged squatting and sitting on the floor which, he said, put heavy pressure and wear them down. “Politicians, especially, come down with knee problems because they often have to sit too long on the floor cross-legged,” he said.

For the Prime Minister, staying away from places like Rajghat is tough as it is an annual ritual for all leaders.

Ashok Tandon, one of Vajpayee’s personal assistants camping in Mumbai, said the political tradition of sitting on the floor during party meetings was changing. “I don’t remember how many times the Prime Minister had to sit on the floor at rallies or meetings in the last one year,” he said.

Unlike the Congress, the BJP prefers to have their leaders sitting on chairs at party meetings, a leader said. “Only places or functions like Rajghat can create problems for the Prime Minister.”

Vajpayee spoke to President K.R. Narayanan this evening returning the call he had made when the leader was being operated on. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who did not wish Vajpayee well during his October hospitalisation, sent him a “Get Well” card this time.

Ranawat, who had silenced reporters last time with curt replies, had a hard time today, explaining the Padma Bhushan he received after setting the Prime Minister’s left knee right. “I hope I get it,” he said, when asked if he was going to get the Bharat Ratna for setting the Prime Minister’s right knee right.


New Delhi, June 7: 
An Indian surgeon has acquired a US patent on a novel surgical technique that coaxes new organs and tissues to grow in the place of damaged ones.

Dr Balkrishna Matapurkar of Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, says the technique is intended to ultimately eliminate the need for organ transplants.

India’s departments of science and technology and biotechnology could provide funds to take this research ahead, minister for science and technology Murli Manohar Joshi said at a news conference to announce the acquisition of the US patent.

“This may have far-reaching implications,” Joshi said. The department of science and technology’s patent-facilitating cell had helped Matapurkar acquire what may be India’s first patent on a surgical technique.

Matapurkar has successfully used the technique to regenerate the fallopian tubes, the uterus and the ureters in mongrel dogs. In humans, he has used it to regenerate abdominal wall sections in 60 patients with incisional hernia.

The technique cannot be used to regenerate hearts, kidneys, or livers — the three organs that are on the top of the transplantation demand list. “However, in principle, we may be able to extend this technique to other organs as well,” Matapurkar said. “We’re pursuing the regeneration of other tissues, but a lot more research is required.”

The organ regeneration technique relies on a set of cells called “stem cells” that have the potential to turn into different kinds of tissues in the body.

Matapurkar extracted stem cells from an abdominal section called the peritoneum and implanted them at the site where the new organ is required. “The peritoneum is a wonder membrane,” Matapurkar said. “It has a layer of stem cells at its base that are potential sources of new organs.”

The surgeon first demonstrated regeneration of ureters — the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder — in dogs and rhesus monkeys. In another set of experiments on dogs, he showed regeneration of fallopian tubes — the channels that carry the ovum to the uterus.

The stem-cell implantation procedure has also helped regenerate a uterus in a dog, Matapurkar said. Investigations show that these regenerated “neo-organs” are identical to the original ones and function normally, he claimed.

Researchers abroad have conducted similar experiments since the fifties, but no technique has been known to adequately regenerate any of these organs.

However, experts cautioned that the stem cells that Matapurkar used have only limited potential to turn into different tissues.

“The fact that these cells turn into only specific tissues of the reproductive and excretory systems suggests that they are not truly pluripotent stem-cells that can differentiate into a wider set of tissues,” says Krishnamurthy Kannan, dean of biotechnology at Delhi’s Indraprastha University.

Science ministry officials said the patent was intended to help India stake a claim on what may become a major medical procedure in the future.

“The patent is designed to show that an Indian got here first,” says V.S. Ramamurthy, secretary in the department of science and technology.

Matapurkar says though he holds the patent, he would have no objections to other doctors using the procedure. In fact, the technique finds mention in a recent textbook on abdominal operations.




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A few spells of light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder.
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Sunset: 6.16 pm

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