📍 North Korea 🇰🇵
This book has shocked me like no other. I am still astonished about the fact that, there still exists a country in this world like North Korea. A one of its kind country which has the lives of it’s citizens staged. A country where the autocratic leaders expect performances and accolades from their ‘captive’ citizens for simply existing in their thrones. A country which denies and violates all human rights, is akin to an open air prison.
Bandi, meaning firefly, is the pseudonym for the North Korean writer who might still be living under the oppressive regime. The book, shrouded in controversy over its origins, was written from 1989 to 1995, and was eventually published in 2013 in South Korea, and was later translated by Deborah Smith. The process involved in its publication which included smuggling the clandestine manuscript out of the country was an adventure in itself.
The book is a collection of seven short stories, the underlying theme of each being misery. What makes it even more heart wrenching is the fact, that the miserable and oppressed North Koreans can’t even utter a word about it, let alone against it. The autocracy has cast such a spell on everyone that many are unable to even recognise their plight and suffering. For them, this is the normal way of life. Two stories stood out for me. In So Near, Yet So Far, a young man Myeong-chol is desperate to see his ailing mother who is in a remote village, but is denied permit to visit because of a Class One event. Despite his futile attempts to hoodwink the authorities, he’s unable to see his mother and ultimately ends up in a torture prison. In the story, The Red Mushroom, Hoe Yunmo, is a newspaper reporter, who has been entrusted with writing an article on N town’s bean paste factory returning to normal production levels. However the truth is starkly different. During his investigation he discovers the deplorable conditions of the workers involved but is never able to write about it. The story portrays a writer’s helplessness and frustration in North Korea.
The book can be an eye opener for us. North Korea prides itself on its totalitarian leadership and propaganda. As you read the book, you get an idea, that other than the capital, Pyongyang, the rest of the country is battling severe famine, malnutrition and disease. However, propaganda by the Great Leader and the media, paints a completely different picture. If we contemplate, it won’t be too difficult to draw parallels with our own present situation. We are voting for propaganda, hailing religious sentimentality and jingoistic media and journalists, centering divisive rhetoric, celebrating non performance disguised under the veil of fanaticism and radicalism; and dismissing democracy, criticism, opinions, and humanity at large. Are we under a spell too? Is there a way out?
I hope every Indian reads this book.
~ JUST A GAY BOY. 😧