Departures.

PALACE

The view of the palace as I leave.

I’m at the airport in Delhi and I’ll be coming into Heathrow tomorrow morning. Home. My little leopard print suitcase is checked. I have most of what I came with and the rest doesn’t matter. I have my notes and my recordings. I’m exhausted, mentally and physically, but I’m nearly there now.

This morning, I awoke to tea and breakfast, brought to me by one of the same servers who attended my dinner. My luggage was packed by the door. Resting on top of it, by the handle, was my passport, and tucked neatly inside that was a plane ticket.

I wept. Out of stress, I suppose, or out of happiness, or out of fear that this was a trick. But I ran my hands over the embossed cover of the passport, revelled in the mundane comfort of an assigned seat (first class), and stepped out the door.

“Are you ready?” A soldier in a smart beret asked. He had been standing at my door, for who knows how long. He reached for my suitcase.

I looked back at the guest room I had been given. At the opulence and the wealth and the beauty of it. And I said “Yes.”

The palace is elegantly labyrinthine and every hall and room more perfectly designed than the last. Possibly it is a gilded cage for a man whose mind is on the future and whose heart is in the past. Probably it is a relic from a time when Kyrat had more hope than current circumstance allows. I don’t know anymore. Or I never did.

I was almost at the front doors when:

“Good morning!”

The sun poured in the windows and I saw Pagan Min standing some ways away, all but beaming. He wore a crisp white dress shirt and was adjusting a diamond cufflink. His hair was, as ever, immaculate, and he stood taller than I thought he was. I would say that my heart stopped at the sight of him, but it didn’t. I took a breath and brushed my passport with my thumb.

“Good morning,” I said. “Thank you for the tickets.”

“I like your accent,” he said. “It’s very…”

“English?”

He almost laughed, but mostly smiled. “‘English’. I shouldn’t blame you, I didn’t know what I was going to say either. It’s been nice to meet you, Divya. Have you decided how you’re going to write your article?”

“I haven’t decided if I’ll write it at all.”

“For what it’s worth…” he began. He checked his phone and grinned confidentially at whatever message he was receiving. “I hope you do.”

I nodded.

“Well!” He clapped me on the arm and then offered his hand. I shook it. “I would take you to the border myself, but I’ve got business to attend to elsewhere, you understand. King.”

“Of course.”

“Goodbye then, Divya.”

I said goodbye and he waved and walked away texting, disappearing behind a curtained doorway. Just like that it was over. After everything we had discussed, everything I learned, and everything I now keep secret, it ended with a King walking away. Texting.

I got in the truck and two soldiers took me to the border. I transferred to a waiting car that brought me to the airport. One flight later, here I am.

I want to thank you all for reading. I doubt I’ll update again; it’s not much of a “Kyrat Travel Blog” if I’m nestled in a windowsill in my flat. If you have any comments, though, feel free to leave them and I’ll get them when I’m back home and settled.

I went into Kyrat expecting some of what I got and being blindsided by the rest. At the end of it, I feel I learned so much and simultaneously learned how little I understood. I don’t understand it now.

After Pavitra, after Madhuri, after Utkarsh and Shanath, my final discussion did not change my mind on Kyrat, per se. But it gave me a different perspective and I feel there is so much value in that. I appreciate that he took the time, though if his aim was to help me with quote for my future article, I feel that I might have failed us both.

My dinner with Pagan Min lasted three hours. Once he turned the recorder off, I didn’t turn it back on.

Conversation with the King : Part Two

Continued from here.

IMG_4549

The portrait of Pagan Min looms over his table.

Pagan Min sits across from me at dinner and tells me he wishes to help. In the same moment, he as asked “Why would I ever kill you?” and the emphasis is not on ‘kill’, but on ‘why’. It’s believable to both of us that he would have me murdered. He’s questioning where I’ve given him reason. Conversation feels like a minefield.

“You want to help me.”

“I want to help your story. Obviously you’re free to take the rah-rah, youth-in-revolt, palatable to the weepy armchair activists approach. But I invited you here, to my table, because I think you’re better than that.”

He sounds almost genuine. Or rather, he sounds perfectly genuine and it is because I think I know him that I hear deception and danger in every word. I feel

it is a trap being set for me. I try to sip the wine, to remedy my dry-mouth, and I watch for any sign that he’s waiting for me to fall to the ground convulsing.

“Thank you,” I say. It’s the least I’ve ever meant it. “I didn’t set out to write anything one-sided; I want you to know that, sir, and–”

“Just Pagan, please.” When I stop, he shrugs slightly and goes for a plate of something fried. “It’s fine. What I’m trying to say, Divya, is that you’re good at what you do. You have conviction. I like the way you write. I like your taste in luggage; your mother has no idea what she’s talking about. All you need is someone–me–to tell you the truth. Specifically the truth about what the Golden Path has done to this country. Everything you wrote reeks of pseudo-populist bullshit because that’s exactly what it is.”

The image of a man seated before his own portrait, sipping wine older than himself, eating the finest from golden platters, and scoffing at ‘populism’ brings to mind the royalty of Versailles again. But he pauses. He sighs. He runs a hand through hair I imagined would be hard as enamel, but moves between his fingers and back into place.

“All I want,” he says more quietly, as if to his wine, “is to give the people the country they deserve. All I want is peace.”

The silence in the room is heavy. I can hear him breathing and I wonder what’s going through his mind. Is this an act I’m meant to buy into now, or has be gone somewhere else entirely?

“That is a headline,” I tell him after a moment, “that will be very difficult to sell. To call the Golden Path terrorists is to suggest that they aren’t oppressed people. I’ve seen a man beaten, I told you, for tearing down a poster. People disappear in Kyrat and they end up in prison. There is death and violence everywhere. For fun? For fun, they go to Shanath Arena and watch their own being torn apart by animals. Shot by one another! As entertainment! You’re– you’re on Twitter! You’re a style maven. You’re a modern man and I don’t–I am trying to understand how you reconcile what’s happening in this country with what you know the rest of the world is doing. You must know this is brutality.”

“Do you know what I hate?”

‘Hate’ is a choked sound, sharp and guttural, and I am instantly reduced to a cowering child. I’ve spoken out of turn and I’m about to be punished. I can predict the end of the sentence: ‘impudence’, ‘rudeness’, ‘journalists who don’t know their place’. He continues before I can offer a stream of apologies.

“I hate that intelligent, rational people just like yourself can be just as swayed by their propaganda as the stupid monkeys who go out and die for them. Let me tell you, Divya, about the Golden Path. You bring up the Arena, let’s start there. Blood begets blood. When I came in, I established a government. I created an army. I didn’t enslave these people, I freed them from a self-serving inbred who would have run Kyrat into the ground. And how do they thank me? Violence. They go for blood. The blood of people whose only crime was taking a paycheque for protecting their new King. At every turn, it’s torching trucks bringing supplies to the people, murdering my soldiers in the streets–firing mortars into buildings filled with people. In the name of what? Freedom? They have freedom. No, it’s in the name of hurt pride. Look at the casualties. That isn’t my war. My war was won twenty years ago. This is a vendetta.”

“But–” I attempt.

“And do you know what that does to a country? It beats it down. And like a dog, violence changes its nature. The Arena could burn down tomorrow–totally plausible–and my Army would have one less beat to walk. But the Golden Path? They would lose the sport that enures their people to the sight of human beings reduced to ground meat. And they’d lose another blight they like to blame on my leadership. The Arena exists because of the Golden Path and it exists for the Golden Path. Look into it, Divya. You like research.”

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The dining room.

“I was told you controlled it. I was told Noore worked for you.”

“You were told I would kill you.” He grins. “And now we’re having dinner.”

“But you must see the signs. The banners. ‘Pagan Min our saviour’. Smiling Kyrati families looking up at your shining image.”

A moment of consideration. “The design’s a little dated, I’ll admit. This is about Utkarsh, isn’t it?”

“It’s about everywhere.”

“But Utkarsh is what you saw. It’s funny, Divya, because you said it yourself in your blog: ‘Utkarsh is the dream. Utkarsh is the model city’. You’re exactly right and I’m proud of you for seeing it. I am! Utkarsh is what I want for Kyrat: prosperous, happy, and clean. It’s the dream I have for the people that the Golden Path doesn’t want you to see. And you, an idealist, walk into that and see a man full of conviction, running down the road to make a political statement and tear down a poster. Do you know what I want my Army to see?”

“A threat to your influence.”

He sighs. “A threat to my people. Are my men meant to know that he doesn’t have a weapon? A bomb strapped to his chest? Are they meant to trust in a group of terrorists who have only proven themselves crueler and crueler with every act? It begins at posters and it ends in death. This is the way the Golden Path operates. They say they want peace, but they don’t know what peace is. They never have.”

“So you feel it was the same, then…” I begin. I tell myself that he has seen my blog and he knows what I know. “Under Mohan Ghale.”

It is as though I rob him of breath, but at the tale end of an exhalation, he tries to make it look like a laugh. His mouth is closed tightly as his tongue passes over his teeth, as if he holding something back, whether bile or violence. Once more, he doesn’t look at me, black eyes dull and aimed at the tabletop, where his hand reaches for the wine, but, as it passes, lingers too long on a steak knife. His fingers brush against handle and I hear my heartbeat in my ears.

“I read–I’m asking because of–” I am fumbling. “I read some journals–Yuma’s journals. I’m only asking. I thought–I thought it would help me understand. I’m sorry.”

He picks up the wine. The knife remains on the table.

He stands.

“You thought,” he hisses, “it would help you understand.”

As he looks down the table at me, his eyes are those of a predator whose prey is cornered, and he walks towards me slowly; after all, he doesn’t have to be quick about it. I have nowhere to run. Every step in my direction is deliberate and he caresses the back of every chair on his way.

“Oh, Divya…Divya, Divya, Divya.”

When he gets too near to me, I flinch. It is a twitching reflex ready to propel me out of my seat into a futile attempt at escape but:

“Don’t” is a bark. “Move” is a purr.

I stay still.

When he gets to me, he pulls out the chair to my right and sits beside me, close enough for me to smell the depth of his cologne, see where the bleaching in his eyebrows ends.

He sets his wineglass down.

And without a word, he reaches across me and takes my phone, slides it slowly across the table to himself and clicks its screen to show the steady line of the voice recorder. He enters the passcode–my passcode–and taps the recorder off.

“King Min–Pagan,” I beg. “I’m sorry. I meant–I wanted context. I read them because I wanted context.”

He puts his hand on my wrist; the metal of his rings is warmer than my blanching skin. His grasp is gentle, non-threatening, friendly. He turns to me.

“We’re off the record now, Divya.”

“Please.”

He releases me. “Let me give you context.”

Conversation with the King: Part One.

15

On my way to the table.

Last night, I had dinner with Pagan Min and it is precisely as surreal as you might imagine. It is too fresh to properly write about it, but I recorded much of it on my phone (With his express permission) and I’ll try to paint a picture of the evening. This is part one of two. The second will come tomorrow.

It is unsurprising that the first thing one sees when sitting down to dinner with Pagan Min is Pagan Min. Not the man himself, but a large portrait whose rich colours and smooth lines initially make it unclear whether it’s a very fine oil painting or a heavily altered photograph. Whatever it is, it looms large behind him and gives one the sense that he is watching even before he enters the room.

It resonates with me–chills me–because I know he is. I am only here because he has seen what I thought he couldn’t and dug me out of the burrow I thought I had made. As I sit waiting for him, I spin my phone around on the table and scribble in my notebook; little nervous actions that feel obvious and clumsy under his eyes.

Then, the voice. The voice is new at first, but slowly I realise I’ve heard it before, though I don’t know where. A propaganda video? Grainy YouTube footage? A foreign chat show? The words I know very well.

“Kyrat is elegant taxidermy. Meticulous work and its own natural beauty create something reminiscent of its former self. But make no mistake: this nation has been gutted. Where once it was possessed of freedom, direction and agency, it has been reduced a shell; to a rich man’s ornament.”

They’re mine.

He enters in reading from his phone, a jarring white light on the taut canvas of his face. He is immaculate. Tonight he wears perfectly tailored double-breasted jacket black and metallic gold brocade, a far cry from the inviting pink in the portrait he passes by. His hair is brighter than the pattern on his suit and the trousers are jet black, or so they seem in the ambience of candles and oil lamps. I miss the shoes.

He smiles at me as the phone clicks off, looking at me over its screen with eyes that are intelligent and playful. It’s the playfulness that scares me.

No, everything scares me. I say nothing.

“Don’t worry,” he says as he sets his phone on a placemat. “This isn’t a highlight reel. I just like that part, it’s…”

I remain silent.

“Artful? Evocative? You’re a writer…” He seems to wait for a suggestion I don’t dare make. “I’m being rude, aren’t I? Hello, Miss Kandala. I’m Pagan Min, a rich man. Welcome to my ornament.”

He sits in his chair, with the portrait over his shoulder.

“I’m sorry!” he laughs insistently, as though we’re old friends, and then sighs and looks at me evenly. “So you’re Divya Kandala. It really is nice to meet you. We don’t get a lot of journalists through here, as you can imagine, and the ones we invite are usually so boring. No convictions. They want the free tour, the photo op. The freak show. You seem a little more…high-minded. Tell me about yourself. I’m listening.”

“May I record this?”

“Of course; I assumed you already were. You aren’t allergic to shellfish or anything, are you?”

I begin.

Pagan_Thangka

A portion of a Kyrati thangka, depicting a monstrous Pagan Min. It is a common perception among certain groups in the country.

“I’m not, no. And I don’t know where to start.”

“Start with…” He waves his hand thoughtfully, but it’s a false pause: he knows how he’s finishing. He is a fiercely intelligent man and he is quicker than he lets on. “Why you’re here.”

“No disrespect, but you’ve read my blog. It’s all true. I haven’t lied about anything and I know they asked me, your men, if I was here to join the Golden Path. I’m not. I’m here to see Kyrat. That’s all. I want to be able to tell the story of the country. I felt that the things I’ve written before were–”

“One-sided.”

“Under-researched,” I correct. My heart sinks. I worry I’ve upset him.

When Pagan Min is smiling, he is mischievous, charming. When the smile falls away, it leadens the heart. You realise suddenly that for all the political cartoons, the wildness we ascribe to him, he is power personified and he can read you with a withering glare, order you killed with a whisper. When he is not smiling, his age shows in the lines on his face and you remember how long he has played the game and won.

“Under-researched,” I repeat, more gently. “Because I’ve never been before. And I’m trying to be more authentic in my writing. I’m twenty-eight and I’m beginning to realize I can’t be this idealist who reads Wikipedia and a few articles and thinks she knows about the world. I’m–my family’s from India. And this part of the world, it’s…I wanted to know the real story and it’s the best assignment I’ve ever had. I only came in to learn.”

“From the Golden Path.”

“No. I only–I only visited with them because I wanted to know more. If I could have spoken with soldiers from your Army, I would have, but I didn’t feel safe.”

“It’s interesting to me that you go to the Golden Path and feel safe. Safety among terrorists. And before you say anything, Divya, I know this is one of those endless cases of he-said/she-said, but the Golden Path are terrorists far moreso than I’m a ‘monster’. Did you ask them about the wounded in Utkarsh? Did you ask them about torture? Did you ask them about whether they even have the teeny-tiniest hint of a plan? Amita and Sabal can’t stop snapping at each other like fighting dogs and they want to rule a country. The Golden Path is a joke that stopped being funny a long time ago; Kyrat needs new material.”

“Is that what you’ve–Is that…”

“Hm?” is an urging sound, vaguely challenging.

“I’m trying to understand, Mister–Sorry–”

“Pagan. We’re well on our way to becoming friends, don’t you think? What are you trying to understand?”

“You’ve been in power for over twenty years now. Twenty years and I mean no disrespect, again, but I am trying to understand what you are trying to achieve. From my perspective and I feel from the perspective of the world, Kyrat is in ruins. There is no freedom. People can’t go in and out as they please, people are–I saw a man beaten half to death because he tore down a poster! A poster your men put up! Are you going to kill me?”

“Thank you.”

He says this last to the well-dressed servants who come in and bestow our table with golden platters of incredible-looking dishes and four bottles of vintage wine. His eyes don’t leave me even as I look at the spread; I feel them on me and I realise he hasn’t answered my question. He murmurs a few things to the staff and they nod in acquiescence before they pour us some wine and leave us again.

“Bon appétit.”

He raises his glass and I don’t touch mine. My heart is pounding and I worry I won’t ever leave this place. He sets his drink down and laughs lightly.

“I know you’re nervous, Divya, but relax! Have a drink! Try the crab rangoon! I invited you to dinner, so let’s have dinner,” he says.

“Please,” I beg.

“Divya…” He pantomimes hurt. “Why would I ever kill you? If anything, I want to help.”

Safe.

ERROR

The message received by anyone trying to access the blog this weekend. I’m safe, now, and I appreciate the outpouring of concern.

I’m alive and I’m safe. I was told my blog was taken down and when my phone was released to me I had hundreds of calls and texts, some of which I could return, asking for an update. I’m here. I can update you now. And I want to state that I am not writing any of this under duress, but of my own free will. I have been granted permission to use this space to report on these happenings.

On Friday evening, after I found my home had been invaded, I arranged with Raj to leave Kyrat. He was due to collect me at two in the morning. Just before midnight, I received a knock at my door and yells from outside that they were coming in. “They” being members of the Royal Army, who kicked the door in.

I immediately thought to the weight of the pistol Raj had given me, and how the gun sat there on my desk. How I could take it in-hand and surprise them. Raise the barrel to them and tell them to stay away, that I was British citizen, that I had rights and powers and that I wasn’t afraid of them.

I never touched the gun. Instead I raised my hands and trembled and began to apologise, over and over again and bleated my name when they asked me for it. They put a bag over my head and told me to drop to the ground before they dragged me, stumbling to their car. The drive was hours and felt endless. THey only took off the bag when they were inside, and I was caged.

That night, I half-slept on a hard floor, within stone walls.

There were no windows, but I know now that it was Sunday afternoon when I was brought into an interrogation room and sat across from a man at a table bearing two folders of documents about me and the Golden Path. It had my entire history. The names of my parents. Silly comments I posted when I was nineteen. Old stories I wrote online. A photograph of my ex. I understood these were only threats and shows of power, because all their questions were about my connections to the rebels.

I was interrogated for four hours before the man in front of me left and took all the papers with him. When he came back, he was accompanied by two others.

“This way,” he said, opening a door through which the sun was suddenly blinding.

I followed them out and stared at the ground. Suddenly I knew where I was and I began to quake again. Every word I’ve written–every word he read back to me–echoed in my ears.

And then they took my inside. Up flights of stairs, down corridors, to a room with a pair of massive, carved doors that, when opened, revealed opulence the likes of which my Indian hotel could only dream. A great bed covered in silks. Ornate furniture in dark wood, inlaid with gold. Thick carpets and walls adorned with ancient art. On one nighttable, beside the incense, was my phone–charging. Beneath, my garish leopard suitase. On the bed, my laptop, closed, with cord coiled neatly beside.

On its case, a note.

Miss Kandala,

Apologies for the welcome; dealing with some business in Utkarsh or I would have met you myself. Please make yourself at home in my absence. I’ve been reading some of your articles and I think an interview might be in order. Could clear up a few misconceptions.

Assuming you’re free tomorrow, let’s have dinner?

Yours,
Pagan Min.

What happens now?

Break-In.

I came home to this. I left my desk in perfect order. I had everything sorted. Only a few valuables.

MY_DESK

I want to believe this was an attempted robbery and nothing else, though  they didn’t take the television, only my tablet. My remaining translations are gone. My notebook is gone. Some of my photos are gone. The memory card in my camera is gone. They’ve left the pistol.  I’m afraid they might know I’m here. I went to ask Pavitra if she had seen anything and she didn’t answer the door. I’m nervous.

I’ve called Raj. He is coming to collect me late tonight. He suggested we relocate me, or else that I leave the country first thing in the morning. We are going to discuss this when he gets here.

I’ll update as soon as I can, when I know I’m safe. I won’t leave the house.

 

Amita, Sabal and the Golden Path.

I’ve taken more notes today and more recordings than I ever have before.

So many believed that the movement died with Mohan Ghale, but Ghale’s legacy kept it alive, if broken, and inspired a new leadership to rise. I spoke with a member of the Golden Path who wishes to go unnamed, and though it is evident that there is a schism in the Path, it is evident that Ghale’s belief in freedom from oppression is alive and well in the hearts of his followers.

Before you read this, if you are unfamiliar with the history of the Golden Path, I suggest you read this entry to learn more. For the purposes of this write-up, I will refer to my interviewee as Madhuri. The translations are as faithful as I could make them.

GOLDEN_PATH

The world as it is.

“We want freedom. All we do is hide from people who have come here decades ago and claimed the land for themselves. Pagan Min is served by lunatics. Monsters. They come and they tear our people apart. If we couldn’t work for them and their drugs and their armies, it would be genocide. They don’t care about our lives. We are animals to them.”

I ask who the important figures are, but Madhuri admits that the true powers are unclear. She names a man called Depleur, says he is a torturer, that he half-governs a nearby area. I take notes on him as she speaks and I ask her the state of King Min today.

“I sometimes wonder if he knows,” she muses. “Sometimes I think he is so far away from the people that he doesn’t know what happens to us. He stays in his palace and he is lost in himself and his [delusions] and I wonder if he even knows.”

I say that’s optimistic. It gives him the benefit of the doubt in a way I never could.

“It is easier to say that sometimes,” she says, “then think that we allowed into power a man who could watch our suffering and not care for us.”

I am only an outsider and so who am I to comment on this panacea she creates for herself? I move on, then, to avoid saying something I will regret.

Amita & Sabal

AMITA

Amita, as rendered by a visiting artist. Many of these are found throughout the towns and villages, depicting various figures.

“Yes, it is like two heads,” Madhuri said when I quoted what Pavitra told me of the Golden Path’s leaders. “But it is a two-headed snake. One day it might poison itself.”

She goes on, “Sabal believes he follows in Mohan Ghale’s footsteps; he idolises Mohan, he wants to be him. Sabal wants to return to the past, where we were. He values the culture of our people. And he is dedicated to Kyra [the goddess for which the country is named]. If we take power again, he wants to bring the old ways back. And the Tarun Matara.”

The Tarun Matara is an antiquated matriarch, generally a young woman. It is the belief of some (Sabal included, it seems), that the land’s prosperity is linked to the fate of a chosen Tarun Matara. What, then, does Amita believe?

“She never looks back. She believes that we must look forward and use what Pagan Min has done against him and I think she would be happier to throw away what Sabal believes. She is sometimes brash, but she wants our girls to go to school. She thinks he is [old-fashioned] and he thinks she is reckless. I think they are disagreeing needlessly.”

Madhuri goes on:

“They both want liberation. They want what is best for us. Divya, please don’t take me to mean we are all so divided. We want our people to live. We want to own our land again. I’m sorry you came here now, because Kyrat is a beautiful country when it is free. All of us, all we need, is to be given a chance.”

The Golden Path : A Brief History

I can’t tell you where I am, lest it compromise the position of the rebels. I cannot say who I have spoken with; the only names I can give are Amita and Sabal’s, whose identities are public. The idea of journalistic integrity requires a certain amount of objectivity, but I’ve made clear my feelings on Pagan Min’s dominion versus the rebellion of the Golden Path. That and this is my blog, reflecting nothing about my employers.

Let me begin with a history lesson. I am putting most of this behind a cut for those of you who might be more interested in the NOW, but I feel it’s important to know the background of the movement.

1825 – Offering money and arms in exchange for the use of their army, the British attempt an invasion of India with Kyrati soldiers on the front lines. When this fails, the Kyrati people turn on the monarchy that sold them out to a foreign power.

1900-1984 – Though it was slow in beginning, civil war erupts and it is even slower in ending. For eighty years, various factions fight amongst one another, each seeking to become the defacto replacement to the monarchy, whose eventual fall feels guaranteed.

1984 – A group of extremists grows tired of the slow burn of the war. They storm the palace and capture the Royal family . Over a pirate broadcast, they seem ready to list their demands, but instead execute their hostages. In a single violent moment, Kyrat ceases to be a monarchy.
And suddenly, Royalists emerge. Horrified by the public murders and the chaos they set off, the Royalists become desperate for a stability. In the days that follow, they search high and low for a distant heir to the throne, some cousin twice removed, and make him a figurehead of their movement. All they need is the money to fund their campaign.

They find it in a Chinese philanthropist who values Kyrat’s wealth, stability and supports a return to the beloved traditions and vibrant, peaceful culture that once defined the nation. He will prop up this Royal heir and help Kyrat flourish.

His name is Pagan Min and he helps the Royalists to victory.

On the day of the heir’s coronation, Pagan Min betrays the cause. He has the would-be King assassinated and takes the throne himself. Against everything he promised, Kyrat now sees mass executions of the opposition, the installation of brutal Royal Guards and the violent oppression of any who seek to collude.
The Golden Path is born in the shadow of this new despot, led by Kyrati freedom fighter Mohan Ghale. The people have a clear villain and the movement grows exponentially, creating a force capable of resisting even the cruel power of Pagan Min’s army.

In a few short years, Mogan is dead. For nearly two decades, The Golden Path is no more. It is only in recent years that Amita and Sabal have taken their place as leaders of this new incarnation. And though it is volatile, even occasionally self-destructive, the Golden Path is growing stronger and I have no doubt in my mind that Pagan Min’s reckoning is short months away. In a nation whose last centuries have seen such terrible bloodshed, the promise of peace is more beautiful to these people than I could ever express.

Tea with Pavitra

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Home again.

I went to see Pavitra again this morning and I asked whether she might know anyone to whom I might speak about the Golden Path, or if she might know more about Amita and Sabal than we’d spoken about. She didn’t, she said, but I wondered if I might ask Raj to take me somewhere—somewhere I could learn more.

“I know where you could go,” Pavitra offered. “But it’s dangerous. If you go, you should stay there. They can protect you, maybe, but if you leave…”

She shrugged. She was preparing us some Kyratea (It may be Kyra Tea, after the goddess, but when said it sounds more like a play on ‘Kyrati’; I haven’t seen the packaging, but I’m told that the factory is not far) and she poured as her words trailed off.

“I only want to talk to them. I have to come back, I don’t want to join them.”

“Then you shouldn’t go, Divya,” she told me with sternness that would have made my mother proud. “There are King Min’s men everywhere, he has spies. The Golden Path is dangerous. Amita and Sabal, they’re young. They’re impatient.”

I smiled for the first time since Utkarsh. “Like me.”

We shared tea and conversation for the rest of the hour and it was lighter than I thought it could be; Pavitra is not happy with the government and the shadow of Pagan Min is cast over her as well, but she has stepped out of combat. She is not Golden Path anymore. She is free of the violence and the civil war that plagues the nation and I remember again that I mustn’t simplify a country to its basest politics and a series of tragedies. These are normal people, like you or I, and not everything is terrible here, nor is it good.

Still, before I left, I asked once more, if she would tell me where I could find members of the Golden Path.

She told me.

Witness.

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I kept these. I don’t know whether it was the right or the respectful thing to do, but I felt I should.

I’m safe. I want you to know I’m safe. But today, in Utkarsh, I saw what I came to see and I’m heartbroken and angry and I can’t sleep. I don’t want to sleep.

Raj and I were coming along the main road when we saw a man run frantically toward one of the shops, as if chased. He was yelling and I didn’t understand what he was saying, but he would look over his shoulder every few seconds. Then I saw the guardsmen.

The crazed man lunged for the wall and only then did I see what he was doing, and what scraps he held in his hand: he was taking down the propaganda. He was tearing at whatever banners he could reach, and ripping the posters off the wall, shouting back at the men who chased him. I can only imagine he was taunting them.

He turned around, then, holding yet another poster. And as the guards neared and raised their weapons, he tore it to pieces and tossed it all aside to blow away in the wind.

They shot him. In the legs. He fell to the ground, screaming, crying, but defiant, and they beat him. They beat him with the butts of their rifles, mercilessly, over and over until he was reduced to gasps and whimpers and his face was unrecognisable for the blood and swelling and then they took him. Legs bleeding and broken. They dragged him away as people came out of their houses and shops and covered the eyes of their children. The dragged him down the path again and disappeared over a hill and I watched their truck as they took him away to somewhere, or else brought his body to rest where the townspeople could not see it. Only blood remained, in the grass.

When it happened, I was silent. Raj held me back, as though I had some courage to intervene, but I only held on to his arm until it was over. No one moved until the car was gone and then it was eerie.

You expect someone to call the police when something like this happens. But these are the police. And thus there is no recourse, nothing to do but watch and know why it happened and against every belief you hold, return to life as though it never occurred. People walked back into their homes. They returned to their shopping.

Raj said we ought to go and of course we did. I asked him for a moment, that I might talk to someone, ask them questions, do what a journalist does. But I stopped myself: why endanger them by asking my questions? Why be the Western intruder, prioritizing my story over their lives and privacy?

I couldn’t do anything today.

And I will never forget it.

The False City

UTKAR2

A King, A God, A Liar.

There is something eerie about Utkarsh, like visiting theme park late at night. It’s calm and peaceful, but feels artificial. The presence of heavily armed guards and various propaganda posters doesn’t play well against the clean roads and polished homes.

Not that the rest of Kyrat is dirty. I’m not saying that—or I’m trying not to say that, despite what stays with me about the grounds of Shanath Arena. But I remember when I was looking for a flat on my own and there was something cosy about going to see someone’s home and seeing that it was lived in…versus walking into a place I knew had been staged.

I suppose it makes sense, though, doesn’t it? It’s very Pagan Min.

Have any of you been to Versailles? It’s a kind of bizarre experience because you suddenly understand the French Revolution in a different way. It’s beautiful, that palace, as is the Louvre and the Tuileries, but if you imagine for a moment what it would have been like to storm the gates and witness firsthand the excess of the upper classes, and suddenly feel in your gut the depths of your own lack… Why wouldn’t you feel resentment? Why wouldn’t you seek equality?

The Anti-Golden Path sentiment is as prevalent here as the Banners praising Min as a god.

It would have to be; otherwise, this would all fall away.

UTKAR

Down the main road.



 

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