Friday, July 21, 2006  

Things best not forgotten

Nearly 30 years after the Khmer Rouge came to power, there is a sense that once of the most shocking government-sponsored killing sprees is almost all but forgotten. Kevin Sites, whom I have since grown to respect, has some interesting and thoughtful coverage on the legacy of the years of killing and the extraodinary tribunal being set up to call the remaining architects of this bloodbath to account.

This reminds me of an incredible reportage I read which quickly became one of my favorite pieces of writing:
The only person I ever met who knew both Princess Soumphady and King Sisowath was a dancer named Chea Samy. She was said to be one of Cambodia's greatest dancers, a national treasure. She was also Pol Pot's sister-in-law.[snip]
On King Sisowath's death in 1927, his son Monivong succeeded to the throne, and soon the regime in the palace underwent a change. The new King's favourite mistress was a talented dancer called Luk Khun Meak, and she now gradually took over Princess Soumphady's role as 'the lady in charge of the women'. Luk Khun Meak made use of her influence to introduce several members of her family into the palace. Among them were a few relatives from a small village in the province of Kompong Thom. One—later to become Chea Samy's husband—was given a job as a clerk at the palace. He in turn brought two of his brothers with him, so they could go to school in Phnom Penh. The youngest of the two was a boy of six called Saloth Sar—it was he who was later to take the nom de guerre, Pol Pot.

Chea Samy made a respectful gesture at a picture on the wall behind her, and I looked up to find myself transfixed by Luk Khun Meak's stern, frowning gaze. 'She was killed by Pol Pot,' said Chea Samy, using the generic phrase with which Cambodians refer to the deaths of that time. The distinguished old dancer, mistress of King Monivong, died of starvation after the revolution. One of her daughters was apprehended by the Khmer Rouge while trying to buy rice with a little bit of gold. Her breasts were sliced off, and she was left to bleed to death.

'What was Pol Pot like as a boy?' I asked, inevitably.

Chea Samy hesitated for a moment: it was easy to see that she had often been asked the question before and had thought about it at some length. 'He was a very good boy,' she said at last, emphatically. 'In all the years he lived with me, he never gave me any trouble at all.'

Read "Dancing in Cambodia" by Amitav Ghosh in Granta

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