I knew what I was getting myself into. I love the travel, but the single greatest joy I get when I’m on the road is learning. Be it learning the history of a community, a local recipe, the joys and sorrows of people I meet on the way or even a new hangover cure. History fascinates me, it always has. We are because of what we’ve learnt. Or not.
There I was standing under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day, amidst the desperate cries I kept hearing in my head. Men, women, children screaming in pain, hoping against hope for a miracle when the sickle hit their skulls. The audio guide kept telling me to move from one spot to the next, but it took me a long long time. I was at the ‘Killing Fields’, a few kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.
You make your way in a tuk tuk via many turns and corners to reach Choeung Ek. One of the most prominent killing fields discovered after the Vietnamese invasion, the area is serene and peaceful. There’s a sense of quiet all around, of unknown pain.
I sometimes wonder what made Pol Pot what he was. He was educated, a teacher at that, and yet Khmer Rouge chose to dehumanise humanity on the pretext of creating a self sufficient community. A country which was so rich in tradition and steeped in history, everything was wiped out in a span of four years.
It’s a pretty big area, the Killing Fields that is. There’s a little museum which details the rise and fall of the gruesome regime. It has pictures and uniforms depicting the true picture. You feel so angry and helpless, you really do. Your ‘why’ joins the millions of others who have thought the same for so many years.
As you listen to the audio guide and move from one spot to the other and feel the atrocities that were committed, the one which broke my heart was where little babies where killed. How can anyone be so inhumane?
You listen to horror stories from survivors. Each story leaves you gutted. Someone killed for bananas, someone for wearing spectacles. Is this what humanity is about? Killing one another? The audio guide signs off by saying that the world must learn to prevent such genocides. But do we actually learn? Bosnia and Rwanda prove otherwise.
I’m from India, a country which for hundreds of years had been dominated by different rulers. Visiting Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar or going to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans had left me drained, feeling miserable. But what I felt standing at the Killing Fields, looking at the weapons and skulls, was something different. Something needs to change. Something has to change for the better.