Photographic memory of war

Following a young boy’s life from war to peace, 20 years later

Folk-rock singer Amrit Gurung presenting a copy of A People War in 2007 to Hemanta Bista at the same spot where the photo was taken five years previously.

During the Maoist conflict, Hemanta Bista was an 8-year-old student at a school in Motipur in Kailali District by the East-West Highway. A police station next to the school had been attacked by Maoist guerrillas in 2002, killing most of its 10 personnel.

The building was in ruins, and the children never ventured close because they were told it was haunted. One afternoon, they saw a man with a ponytail and moustache, camera slung around his shoulder, taking pictures of the building.

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He was none other than Amrit Gurung, Nepal’s popular folk-rock singer who was on a peace concert tour of western Nepal.

Gurung is also an avid photographer, and specialises in portraits. He remembers: “I was taking some slides with an old-fashioned analog camera when I saw two boys peer out of a hole in the wall made by a mortar shell.”

The colour slides had to be sent to a studio in Kathmandu to be processed, and when he got them back Gurung found one of them to be a striking image.

“That photograph of Hemanta and Aman really touched me, the hole in the wall looked like an outline of Nepal, and it was symbolic of the kind of Nepal we are leaving for the next generation. A land in ruins.”

In 2006, after the ceasefire, the photograph was chosen as the cover image for the first volume, A People War लडाईमा जनता , of Kunda Dixit’s trilogy of photo books on the conflict published by nepa~laya.

When Amrit Gurung passed Motipur again in 2007 on another concert tour, he invited Hemanta, who was now 13, to present the boy with a copy of the book posing in front of the same hole in the wall of the police station.

Hemanta now has an MBA and works as a customer relations officer in an automobile dealership in Kathmandu. Hemanta remembers the night of the raid on the police station, and helicopters arriving the next morning to take the bodies away.

The war was always close during his childhood because his father was in the Nepal Police and several uncles and an aunt were Maoist guerrillas.

Hemanta remembers his mother being worried all the time and fainting whenever she heard of a police station being attacked. Hemanta’s father rarely came home for holidays for fear of being found out, but when he did he used to sleep in the paddy fields nearby in case the Maoists targeted him.

“We saw so much violence and death during our childhood, but today we see no big change for the better in Nepal, all those lives were lost in vain,” says Hemanta, now 28. “It is because of our parents that we got a good education, so now we can take care of them.”

Kunda Dixit


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