It was midday when my flight landed at Tribhuban International Airport exactly one year ago. After a 45 minute wait for my luggage, I skipped through the customs into the bright sunshine but felt no warmth. It was winter in Nepal. My first winter.
I had come to be a photojournalist intern. Like all lucky Singaporeans who take our utilities for granted, I discovered a whole new lifestyle of ice-cold showers and total darkness. Naturally (and immediately) I fell in love with the country.
Despite being armed with a first-world education, my impression of Nepal then never extended beyond the text-book knowledge of the Himalaya and the Maoists. As a photojournalist, nothing excites me more than bloodthirsty jungle-romping guerillas. This excitement was heightened by the fact that Singapore has a political scene as quiet as Bagmati after midnight.
But the Maoists were neither bloodthirsty nor jungle-romping. They didn't even look like guerrillas. The first PLA fighter I met did an unthinkable thing: he fed me a half-boiled egg. Granted I was part of a self-administered media entourage following a Baburam rally around Gorkha and we had stopped for a mid-morning tea break. But how can you not love someone who peels an egg for you?
In months to come, I would become fast friends with many Maoists who had in more ways than one treated me with extreme generosity. Thank you Raja-dai for offering me a seat on an incredibly crowded Rolpa-bound bus. And thank you Mohan-ji for serving me the largest portion of buff in the small hotel at Tila. No thank you, Jitendra for offering to give me a PLA haircut.
And I thought to myself: "With enemies like these, who needs friends?" When my Mao-buddies captured the most votes on 10 April, I was hopeful for Nepal because they seemed to display a strong conviction towards positive change for fellow-Nepalis.
But six months later, instead of a strong conviction, my Mao-buddies are behaving like strong convicts. They gave a few of my former newsroom colleagues a thrashing right where I used to share stories of Maoist samaritans. Have my Mao-buddies become Mao-baddies?
Dear Mao-baddies, let me give you some pointers: "To stop the press from writing bad reviews, give them nothing to write about."
By resorting to violence, you have just single-handedly (pardon the irony here because it was actually many fists and an occasional kick) done the opposite. Media CEOs thank you for gifting them something to play and replay over the next five months. Editors thank you for a one-day break from coming up with a publishable editorial. Hurray, no editorial to write and yet a message to sell.
It really wasn't the cold showers and dark nights that made me adore Nepal more than the modern city state I came from. It was the gentleness of the people and how they find a working solution to manage every adversity thrown at them: petrol shortages, power failures included. But I don't see the same tolerance from the perpetrators of violence.
If investigative articles or biting editorials don't work for Nepal's leaders, then maybe a journalist's flying leather shoe
Sam Kang Li interned at Nepali Times in 2008 as a photographer and visited many parts of Nepal during this period, during which he introduced himself as Shyam Bahadur Tamang.