[Marxism] Where Maoists Still Matter (NY Times Magazine)

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Sat Oct 29 19:39:41 MDT 2005


Where Maoists Still Matter 
           
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Published: October 30, 2005
The boy wore an M-16 bullet on a thin gold chain around his neck and was
unusually talkative to strangers. Around his wrist was an ammunition belt
that he twirled like a bracelet. He said these were souvenirs from the
battlefield at nearby Khara, after a celebrated clash a few months
earlier between the People's Liberation Army and the Royal Nepalese Army.
 
Maoist strongholds thrive in the foothills of the Himalayas. A slogan
urges voters to choose "the hammer and sickle." 
Mani Kendra Gharti was his name. He was 17. And he offered two reasons
for having joined the Maoists earlier this year: curiosity and peer
pressure. He was a student when his uncle, a party worker recently
released from prison, pressed him into service. Mani was better suited to
carry a tune than a rifle, and so he signed up for the party's cultural
wing, took on a nom de guerre - Comrade Prabhat - and went around singing
and dancing revolutionary songs from village to village, usually at
schools. This is one way the party spreads its gospel and draws new
members. Comrade Prabhat's decision seems to have been prompted mainly by
boredom, and by this afternoon he seemed no longer convinced he had made
the right move. 

"It would have been better to stay in school," he said, playing with his
ammunition belt. "Once you join, you can't leave."

My Maoist minder for the day, Ratna Mahara, overheard this and
intervened. There was no peer pressure, Ratna said; Comrade Prabhat had
been keen to join. Ratna didn't yell, but there was no hiding his
displeasure. 

Prabhat admitted he had been curious. But he stood his ground. There was
also peer pressure, he said. 

Silence. Then Ratna took him aside, whispered something that neither I
nor my interpreter could hear and sent the boy into the jumble of houses
across a thin spit of river. The next time I saw Comrade Prabhat it was
pitch dark and he was wearing a forest green uniform, a red tie knotted
loosely around his neck. A fluorescent light had been hooked up to a car
battery. Prabhat and his comrades - boys in red ties, girls in red
sashes, Miss Universe-style - had been persuaded to treat us to a revue,
a practice run of what they would perform at an indoctrination session
later that week. The dances were a hybrid of Nepali tradition and
global-guerrilla pantomime. The songs fused the romanticism of Keats with
the sloganeering of the Gang of Four. One song went something like this:


The proletariat's fortress grows stronger. 
Like clouds that part and reveal the red sky, like daylight after
darkness, 
There is great happiness and greenery in the forest. 
That is how happy my heart is.

Built of small fighters with flip-flops for combat boots, suffused with
rage against a long legacy of oppression based on caste and ethnicity,
the Maoists' guerrilla war began nearly a decade ago in these villages of
Rolpa District, in the midwestern foothills of the Himalayas. Since then,
it has spread a peculiar mixture of terror and desire across the
countryside, cost more than 12,000 lives and come to be arguably the most
resilient and ruinous Communist insurgency in the world today.

Nepal is a landlocked nation, slightly larger than Arkansas, pressed up
against the Himalayas. Its nearly 28 million citizens are among the
poorest in the world. Its system of government - after more than a decade
of tumultuous semi-democracy - is, in effect, an absolute monarchy, ruled
by the world's only Hindu king, Gyanendra Bikram Bir Shah Dev, a chain
smoker with perpetually downturned lips. Some of his followers regard him
as a direct descendant of the god Vishnu. 

Our journey from King Gyanendra's capital in Katmandu to the Maoists'
capital in Rolpa took an hour by plane, nine hours by car, and nine days
on foot, up and down the hills, through clouds and forest and one
red-flag hamlet after another. "Any goal short of capturing the state is
revisionism," screamed the red-ink graffiti on the side of one house. At
each stop, Maoist cadres greeted us with an upraised fist and a lal
salaam - "red salute" in Nepali. At most stops there was also a Hindu
tradition of hospitality - a dash of vermilion smeared on our foreheads -
and once, a rousing send-off by a marching band of barefoot Dalits, or
those considered "untouchable" in the Hindu caste system. A tag team of
Maoist minders accompanied us through the hills, with a promise to let us
see for ourselves the fruits of their revolution. At the end of the road,
on a hill above the revolutionary capital Thabang, they said, was a model
Maoist school, a tiny but vital building block for the new society they
sought to erect. Each of the comrades in turn urged us onward to this
Xanadu. 

To most observers, it is obvious that the Maoists cannot win the war and
cannot rule Nepal. But a young and infirm democracy and an increasingly
discredited monarchy have together rewarded the Maoists with newfound
leverage. The Nepali newspaper columnist C. K. Lal described them as
"political entrepreneurs," able to exploit the cracks in the system. I
asked him, Isn't a Maoist insurgency a bit retro? He told me to consider
medieval Katmandu and the strange and bloody misadventures of its royal
court: "We are living in a time warp. An absolute monarchy belongs to the
14th, 15th century. One anachronism invites another anachronism." Nepal
has struggled to find a more viable politics than this contest between
the 15th century and one of the most absurd ideological innovations of
the 20th. But the circumstances of Nepal have conspired against reform -
to such a degree that the Maoists may be gaining the upper hand. 


Nepal's own Tiananmen Square came in April 1990, when, in response to
street protests, Gyanendra's predecessor, King Birendra, opened the doors
for parliamentary elections, a new constitution and a free press. With an
elected government came roads, private radio stations, aid money and
ambitions among ordinary Nepalis to improve their lot. Perhaps most
important, the proliferation of schools in the countryside after 1990
taught a generation of young men and women how to read and write - and
become political. 

What 1990 failed to deliver was perhaps more significant for the
political entrepreneurs of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The new
constitution paid lip service to Nepal's diversity, but Hinduism remained
the state religion, and calls for more local autonomy, to reflect the
country's true demographic mix, were ignored. The upper-caste Brahmins
and Kshatriyas - priests and warriors, respectively, in the Hindu pecking
order - continued to run everything. There was no meaningful land reform.
The army remained beholden to the king rather than to Parliament.
Politicians, local and national, indulged in corrupt dealings. For most
enterprising Nepalis, the best prospects required leaving Nepal. 

These were the considerable shortcomings that the Maoist political
entrepreneurs sought to exploit. By 1994, Nepal's Communists had split.
One faction, led by Prachanda - what would become the Communist Party of
Nepal (Maoist) - was kept out of the elections. Many Nepalis regard that
as the crucial moment in the political history of Communism in Nepal. Had
the C.P.N. (M) been allowed to contest for power, it might never have
resorted to war. By the time this was clear, however, it was too late.

No sooner had democracy arrived in 1990 than Ratna (our party minder in
the Rolpa hills) learned from his father that war was imminent. His
father was a Communist old-timer and is today a member of the Prachanda
faction's Central Committee. Weapons had been procured over the border in
India. And even as the Communist Party of Nepal engaged the democratic
system - once winning the second largest bloc of seats in Parliament -
preparations for an armed confrontation were under way. In February 1996,
the Maoists launched a series of coordinated attacks, starting in the
midwest. In a village called Holeri, on the road from Nepalgunj to Maoist
country, a gutted police post still stands as a monument to that first
strike. 

Ratna remembered exactly where he was when the revolution began. He and
his friends ran around their village shouting revolutionary slogans. Then
some of his friends went to the next village and broke the kneecaps of
some young men they considered thugs. Ratna was 14 at the time.

For the first five years of the war, it was local police officers who
fought the guerrillas and their suspected sympathizers. Then, on June 1,
2001, came the nocturnal massacre inside Narayanhiti Palace in Katmandu.
King Birendra and his son, the crown prince, Dipendra, were killed. The
king's brother, Gyanendra, and his family survived. Three days later,
with a nation in mourning and conspiracy theories swirling under the rain
clouds, Gyanendra took the throne. At his order, the Royal Nepalese Army
was unleashed against the Nepalese people for the first time in history. 

In 2002, King Gyanendra dissolved Parliament. This February he imposed
emergency rule, jailed some of Nepal's most prominent elected officials
and vowed to crush the Maoists. But the Maoists haven't been crushed.
Since emergency rule was imposed in February, 1,334 people have been
killed, an average of more than five each day, according to a human
rights group called Informal Sector Service Center in Katmandu. The
Maoists, for their part, carried out assaults across the countryside; at
the same time, they started cozying up to the sort of politicians they
had once regarded as "class enemies" and often butchered. They began
reaching out to Nepal's most powerful allies too - yesterday's
"imperialists," from India, Britain and the United States. In early
September came the Maoists' biggest surprise: a temporary cease-fire. It
was a deft move designed to further isolate the king at home and abroad.
By some measures, it worked; the king canceled a scheduled appearance at
a summit meeting of world leaders in New York. 

Meanwhile, Katmandu witnessed a kind of Prague Spring after the
suspension of emergency rule and the passing of the summer monsoons. In
late August and September, street protests echoed with cries for the
ouster of Gyanendra, making it increasingly apparent that, if nothing
else, the king's February clampdown gave a fillip to the Maoists'
principal war aim: it began to turn the nation against monarchy.

Three weeks after the Maoists' cease-fire pledge, King Gyanendra
announced that local elections would be held early in 2006 and
parliamentary polls a year after that. Most of the country's largest
political parties - having lost patience with, and even respect for, the
monarchy - agreed to boycott, and a seven-party alliance called for new
talks with the Maoists. 


Initially, the Maoists' best opportunity for driving a wedge between
Nepalese and the monarchy was to pay respect to those castes that a Hindu
monarchy was bound to trample on. "We Dalits, we weren't even considered
human beings," said an old man named Irkha Bahadur Pariyar, a tailor by
birth, in Thabang, the Maoists' run-down capital. "Dogs were considered
more human." 

Dalits couldn't fetch water at the upstream village tap, the old man
said. They had to go to the one downstream, so as not to pollute the
water for those higher up the caste ladder. Pariyar had been a tailor
since age 9. His father was a tailor, too. His grandfather the same.
Today, two of his three sons are migrant workers in the Persian Gulf. He
doesn't know what they do, only that they left because it became
impossible to stay, thanks to the constant police harassment of young men
and women. A third son works for the party - as a tailor, stitching
uniforms. 

Was Pariyar pleased with the party's accomplishments in Thabang? "Well,
the party could have done more," he said. "They could have done better.
But this is the beginning." He looked at his nephew, a member of the
party's Dalit committee, and smiled. His wiry fingers returned to a pair
of blue pleated trousers under his sewing machine. He complained of a
backache and refused to say any more. 

The stated Maoist plan for Nepal was always a mix of leveling social
relations, addressing serious grievances, imposing far-left Puritanism
and promoting economic growth, if there was to be any, through either
revolutionary enthusiasm or, if necessary, revolutionary violence. The
party's first list of demands, presented in February 1996, was typical: a
call for a new constitution and an army accountable to the government
rather than the palace; calls to ban "vulgar" Hindi films from India; an
end to the recruitment for foreign armies of Gurkha soldiers, most of
whom hailed from the midwestern hill districts. The government ignored
these demands entirely.

In their own territory, the Maoists have instituted a raft of new laws.
Untouchability is proscribed, in theory and practice. Alcohol and child
marriage are banned. New polygamous marriages are not tolerated,
although, depending on the local leadership, existing ones are left
alone. Migrating to India in search of work is frowned upon. Legal
disputes are adjudicated by a roving people's court that Nepali human
rights advocates consider a travesty of justice. Policing is done by a
people's militia, members of which also appeared to run Thabang's main
tea shop.

Red flags mark the gates of this guerrilla capital. Olive-colored
Chairman Mao caps are sold at the People's Liberation Army cooperative,
along with ammunition belts and hemp soap. Morning drills for new
recruits begin with the rooster's first crow. The nearest police station
or military post or post office - or indeed any sign of the authority of
the Royal Kingdom of Nepal, within whose boundaries this hamlet
officially sits - is a three-day hike through the hills. Chickens cross
the road, back and forth. The smoke of cooking fires hangs low in the
air, making everything sooty, making it hard to breathe. There is not a
single child without a runny nose, and it's not even winter. Medicines
are extremely difficult to ferry into these parts, thanks to military and
guerrilla checkpoints along the way. The nearest doctor is a couple of
days' walk.

Up and down the jagged Rolpa hills, small girls in plastic flip-flops
haul bushels of fodder and firewood on their backs. A man lugs a manual
sewing machine on his shoulders across a fast-moving river, swollen from
rain. As always in the weeks before the monsoon, the hills are terraced
with seedlings of rice; if the sky is generous, it will be sufficient to
yield enough food for maybe half the year. If they are lucky, people will
eat two meals, identical, day after day: rice, lentils and maybe a side
of marijuana-leaf chutney. Among the few name-brand goods you can buy at
the village shops are instant noodle packets with improbably giddy names
like Yum Yum and Shakalaka Boom. There is no electricity here. In one
village, Ghartigaun, on the road to Thabang, there was once a telephone
tower, the villagers said, but the Maoists destroyed it years ago.
Outside their so-called base areas like this one in the midwestern hills,
the Maoists don't hold territory for long. But for all practical purposes
rural Nepal, apart from the district capitals, is theirs to rule. 


On the way to Maoist country, I stopped to see the district education
office in Nepalgunj. In the last 18 months, it had been bombed "only
eight times," the education officer, Vishnu Prasad Thaiba, gamely said.
Of 220 instruction days in the official school calendar, classes had
actually been in session for 150 days. Two teachers had disappeared.
(Last year, according to the United Nations, Nepal had the largest number
of new disappearance cases in the world.) 

A little farther up into the hills, the principal of a primary school
said that all his teachers recently had been whisked off to a weeklong
Maoist training program. In the neighboring district of Dang, a teacher's
corpse was found beheaded this summer; the Maoists evidently suspected
him of spying. 

Routinely, the Maoists' student wing - Ratna was among its leaders - sent
Thaiba a list of demands: hire more teachers, install toilets and gyms,
ban the singing of the national anthem. Thaiba refused to be engaged in a
conversation about the merits of their education agenda. "I take
information only," Thaiba said dryly. "I don't have any opinions, any
ideas." 

Why? I asked.

"I will be lost," he said. "I will be disappeared. My family will not see
my corpse." 

The portraits of 13 successive kings of Nepal hung on his wall. Thaiba
was a cheerful man, with the short-sleeved gray safari suit of a lifelong
civil servant and, considering his surroundings, a wry sense of humor.
Earlier that week, bombs had been hurled at three public schools - there
were only explosions and no damage, he said - and he nimbly led us
downstairs and onto the parking lot to point out the private school
across the road. It had been bombed a few weeks earlier. 

Why this intense revolutionary focus on schools? For the Maoists, schools
represent a vital source of both revenue and recruits. Teachers, often
the most influential elites in rural communities, can either be roped in
as allies or eliminated as enemies. (Tulsi Kumari Dangi, a Nepali
language teacher we met along the road, said it was routine practice for
all teachers to give 5 percent of their salaries every month, plus the
entirety of their annual bonus.) Public schools are also the last vestige
of His Majesty's government across the Nepali countryside. And, of
course, schools in an almost media-free rural society are the best place
to assert control over the public mind.

The Maoists have shut down many schools, particularly the fee-paying
private schools that have mushroomed in recent years. They have ferried
away students and teachers for indoctrination and forced labor. They have
brought their Communist song-and-dance shows to schoolyards. They have
made children dig trenches around schools in preparation for what they
regard to be an imminent, final military onslaught. A Unicef survey of
one war-torn district found that the number of children who showed up for
year-end exams had dropped by nearly half. To Unicef officials, this
signaled that children were either not coming to school at all, or that
their instruction days had shrunk so much that they no longer bothered to
sit for the year-end exams. The gains made in the last decade to get
children into schools, they concluded, were at risk of being lost. I
learned in Thabang that no one in the last two years had passed the
national 10th-grade matriculation exam, a benchmark recognized as the
completion of formal schooling.

Maoists will tell you that the "feudal" education system of the "old
regime" is not worth saving anyway. They are preparing for a new day.
Sanskrit will be outlawed. Royal history will be replaced with people's
history. Teachers will impart practical training and revolutionary
values: patriotism, selflessness and the principles of "scientific
Communism." A Katmandu-based television journalist, Kishore Nepal, was
shown a copy of the model curriculum on one of his trips into Maoist
country. The fourth-grade syllabus contained an introduction to
dialectical materialism, poetry about Maoist martyrs and an introduction
to homemade guns. Fifth graders would learn about the Spartacus revolt
and receive a primer on "explosives, grenades and booby traps." 

On our second morning in Thabang, we trudged an hour uphill for a look at
the model school that our Maoist minders had promised to show us. Its
doors were bolted. Benches and cots were piled hurly-burly inside
classrooms. The outhouse had never been used. The teachers, I was told,
were elsewhere, receiving training; where, they couldn't say. The books
were being printed; where, they couldn't say either. Conveniently enough,
the students had already gone home for summer holiday. As an
afterthought, the chief of Rolpa District produced two orphans, ages 7
and 12, who nervously nodded when asked if they were studying at the
Maoist school. They did not recall when they had last been in class.


In the early 1970's, when I was a child in Calcutta, Maoism was sweeping
through our part of India - and through parts of my family. The uncles I
knew from that time lived with peasants in the countryside, and when,
occasionally, they turned up to visit us in the city, smoking cheap
cigarettes and carrying hand-woven shoulder bags, they taught me not
nursery rhymes but marching songs for the revolution. Once, while sitting
with my mother in a sari shop in Calcutta, I broke out into one such
song. My mother thinks the lyrics had something to do with a red sun
rising. Whatever it was, it was not safe for a 3-year-old to be singing
in a sari shop in Calcutta. Terrified, she scooped me off the counter,
ran from the shop and jumped onto the nearest rickshaw. My singing uncles
went underground and some were soon dead. In 1975, as emergency rule was
declared in India, my family left the country.

In the 30 years since, vast changes have swept through South Asian life
and politics, but the Maoists, with their songs, their hubris and their
grungy hand-woven shoulder bags, have held on, even flourished. Amid the
economic boom in India, Maoist guerrillas thrive across a vast crescent
of forest and countryside stretching from Andhra Pradesh in the center of
the subcontinent northeast to Bihar and Bengal. Their advance is slow,
but they have endured, and they will kill those who seem to oppose them -
usually local policemen. Meanwhile, in the years since the Berlin Wall
fell and Communism was declared dead, Nepal's Maoist insurgency has
blossomed.

I met Comrade Huri on one of my last days in Maoist country, on the
morning that she and her fellow soldiers of the People's Liberation Army
had stationed themselves in a village called Tila, for the landmark
inauguration of the first completed stretch of the road the party was
building through Rolpa. Her real name was Tika Gharti Magar, and she was
24. 

She said she was a teenager when the police came around her village, not
far from here, and singled out Communists and their sympathizers for
harassment. The first time they arrested her, she was accused of writing
Maoist slogans on the village wall and threatened with life imprisonment.
Once, when she and some local kids defeated some officers in an impromptu
volleyball contest, the police cursed and searched their schoolbags. If
the police hadn't harassed her people like that, she told me, perhaps her
life would have taken a different turn. "The only alternative was to join
the Maoists," she said. 

In eighth grade, Tika Gharti Magar dropped out of school. By the time
police officers came to arrest her a second time, she had left home. She
joined the party's student wing, then the women's wing; then, at age 18,
she became a full-fledged fighter. "As it is, there is so much
suppression, and on top of that, I am a woman," she said, dressed in
fatigues and a pair of cheery lilac-colored plastic sandals. "I thought I
must go for real war for women's liberation, for class struggle. I am
young. I understand my country's problems. I needed some military
experience." 

What's it like being a woman in the P.L.A.? First, she said, "our party
has a policy of total equality." Then she said that sometimes, young male
recruits had a bit of trouble following orders from a woman. She also
told me how radically her own life had changed since she stepped into
uniform. Before, in her village, if she wanted to go out somewhere, she
would have to be escorted by a friend or one of her brothers. Today, she
is a platoon commander, with 25 soldiers under her authority. At dawn
this morning, she was on a ridge, keeping watch over these hills, in case
of an enemy attack. 

I asked her about her ambitions for the future. She looked bewildered, as
if despite her training and her confidence she hadn't bothered to think
about who she would be after the revolution. "Whatever the party decides"
was her final answer. 

Not everyone would make her choice, even if the alternative consisted of
flight, immiseration and fear. Lal Chandra Jaisi's story was typical. A
formerly well-to-do farmer and a supporter of the Nepali Congress Party,
Jaisi said he had for years been friends with the local Maoists in his
village, Dhayankot. They stayed in one of his homes. His daughters-in-law
cooked for them. They debated politics with his family, and Jaisi was on
their side on many issues. The idea of equality, he said, still appeals
to him. 

"It's the violence I don't like, all this destruction of infrastructure,
the coercion, the attacks against political workers - all this I don't
like," he told me in a refugee camp made of poles and blue tarps. 

He experienced coercion up close one night when his Maoist friends
suddenly asked that he turn over his three sons to the party. His sons
fled to India. The Maoists retaliated, beating him up and seizing his
house, his shop, his apple trees and his beehives. That's when he fled,
too, with his wife, three daughters-in-law and two grandchildren. He had
no intention of staying in this swampy camp. But he has no other place to
go.


The Maoists have climbed down from their original demand of a "people's
democracy." They have invited political parties to resume working in
their base areas and, as one of the party's Central Committee members put
it, they have promised not to look at the politicians against whom they
once waged war "with yesterday's eyes." Informal talks between the
parties and Maoist emissaries have already begun. 

The guerrillas' commander in chief, Prachanda, does not come out of
hiding to talk to journalists. But in an e-mail interview, he insisted
that while the ultimate aim of his movement remained the ushering in of
Communism, adjustments would be made to suit the times. "Right now we are
fighting against the remnant of medieval feudalism represented by an
autocratic monarchy," an e-mail message read. "So, our immediate aim is
to liberate the masses from the yoke of feudal autocracy." 

Born Pushpa Kamal Dahal and trained in agricultural science, Prachanda
had once been employed on a U.S.A.I.D.-financed rural-development project
in these midwestern hills. Today his insurgency, combined with the
growing protests against the king, has placed Prachanda and his movement
in a particularly advantaged position. He is not inclined to be cast into
the dustbin of failed revolutions. He is willing, he says, to work within
the confines of what the Maoists call "bourgeois democracy." 

"We are quite serious to develop our ideology so as to face the
challenges posed by the situation of 21st century," Prachanda wrote. 

Prachanda's friend from college days, Prasanta - a Central Committee
member I met on my way to Thabang - told me there was no need for anyone
to fear their party. "We have said what we mean by people's democracy,"
he said. "It is a multiparty people's democracy." Nepali politicians
ought to trust the revolutionaries, he added; they ought to know by now
they have no choice. "We have emerged as a big force," he said flatly. 

It was hard to imagine how and why the Maoists would give up the control
they had won, especially the total hold over these hills they call their
base areas, and more important, how they will persuade the thoroughly
indoctrinated rank-and-file fighters to abandon war before a total
takeover of the state. The hubris of a young cadre, Comrade Azad, was
typical: Nepal, he told me, would be "the base area" for worldwide Maoist
revolution. 

Moreover, whether the Maoists will actually share power in a democratic
system, or take up the gun again if they lose at the polls, remains a
critical subject of dispute. "I don't know if they know what they will
settle for," said one senior diplomat involved in talks with all sides in
the conflict. "In private, they can be quite candid. They understand
their own limits. They understand the need for a political way out." 

They also need to show they can build as well as destroy. The Nepalese
state has decayed so far that it, too, needs to prove that it is good for
something other than retaining military power. And so the Maoists and the
state are engaged in a contest to see who can build a better road. The
Royal Nepalese Army has also been building one just northwest of Maoist
country. A German aid group was working on a road in Rolpa District until
harassment from local Maoist leaders prompted it to pull out. The party's
own Martyrs' Road is slated to connect Nuwagaon, the southernmost village
under Maoist control, 56 miles up to Thabang. The Maoists have used some
of their precious explosives to blast through the toughest stretches of
mountain, but the rest is done by conscripted labor crews. They are
cutting a road through the Himalayas with their bare hands. 

One morning, not far from Nuwagaon, I watched a man with a hammerhead
drill disembowel the side of a mountain. The underside of the rock shone
with specks of silver and mauve. On another stretch of road, close to
Tila, I watched small boys and hunch-backed old women erecting a
reinforcement wall under the gravel trail, one stone at a time. 

The construction crew was not unlike a chain gang. Each family in Maoist
territory was required to send one person for a 15-day shift. They were
responsible for their own food and lodging, which meant hauling their own
rice on their backs and sleeping under a tree. Several road workers said
this was already their second shift of the year. For this crew, who had
walked two days from their home village, the Martyrs' Road would bring no
direct benefit: they used another gravel road, only two hours' walk from
their village.

Aiber Pun, 54, a farmer like the rest of his crewmates, said he had sent
his 17-year-old daughter on the last work call. He didn't have the heart
to send her a second time, he said. 

Are you happy about the road project? I asked. 

He cracked a slight smile and fetched another rock."What can I say? They
said to come and do a development project. So we come."

On inauguration morning, Comrade Huri and her fellow P.L.A. soldiers were
posted around the hills surrounding Tila. New gates had been erected,
streamers hung and the portraits of the party gods (Marx, Engels, Lenin,
Stalin, Mao) had been placed on the table set aside for V.I.P.'s. There
was some anxiety about the prospect of an air attack, but a thick cloud
cover, Comrade Huri told me, meant the chance was slim. 

Soon, the first official bus, groaning with comrades, came barreling up
the road, followed by a long train of children, hollering in delirious
joy. They had never before seen such a vehicle.


Somini Sengupta is chief of the South Asia bureau of The New York Times.






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