The young men of Kathmandu speak for themselves

I’ve watched the DVD that a few friends of Cathal Ó Searcaigh put together a few weekends ago in Nepal in his defence. It was distributed at the press conference that Liam Gaskin, Ó Searcaigh’s media advisor, held yesterday. It is footage that should be seen by anyone who sees tonight, but, unless someone edits it down and uploads it to YouTube, they won’t have the opportunity. They were lent a camera to enable them to record their reactions to the scandal. Some of them were featured in the documentary, others were not. None of them has seen it, but all were disturbed by the news reports, knew exactly what the charges were, and spontaneously wanted to speak up for him. As Ó Searcaigh has not been back to Nepal since the filming two years ago, it’s a remarkable gathering. I can’t imagine any other “sex tourist” inspiring such loyalty, such passion among the people he has supposedly exploited. What follows is not a proper transcript, but as faithful an edited paraphrasing as I could manage, given that sometimes the English is hard to understand and there is a lot of repetition. In particular, time and time again they speak of his generosity, how he has helped them and other poor people of Nepal, never saying no to anyone. They do so without shame, or a sense of being sullied or insulted or bought, but with a dignified, heartfelt gratitude.

It starts with one of the most affecting young men in Fairytale speaking, Naryan Panta, the beautiful shy youth who talks about his first experience of sex with Ó Searcaigh, and says in halting, pained English, “he bought myself”. It is one of the most evocative moments in Neasa Ní Chianán’s film, the most apparently damning. However, here he is, aged 20, a cool bespectacled college student studying Physics, in jeans and baseball cap, (with his mobile phone going off and interrupting the interview), talking about his loving, continuous, physical relationship with Ó Searcaigh. He admits to feeling guilty for what he said at the time, and says he felt pressurized to say what he said in the film. The reason why he was angry with Ó Searcaigh that day was that he had come looking for him at the Buddha Hotel, and had just been told, by Ramesh Khadka, the man who organised the interview for Fairytale, that Ó Searcaigh had just left for Ireland, and that he wouldn’t be in touch with him again, because he never keeps in touch with the friends he makes in Nepal, that he was a bad man. Naryan was, understandably, devastated by that information, and in that hurt and confused space he told the film maker what she wanted to hear. Now, he’s come out fighting – against Ní Chianán. He says he felt pressurized, he felt pushed to say what he said. He had asked her to remove his interview from the documentary. She assured him that she had.

Naryan does not consider himself a victim, nor does he look or sound like one now. He was not offered counselling, nor, it appears, would he take it. He knows of no one else concerned with the film being offered counselling. “You are the greatest victim, in Neasa’s eyes, in Neasa’s thinking” jokes the interviewer to Naryan. He refutes it categorically. “No, never”.

Naryan’s amateur interviewer on this DVD, Janak Sapkota, who also appears in Fairytale, introduces himself. He is 21, with model looks, doing a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, and he’s also a writer and film maker, who has published two books with Cathal. He has known him for a long time, and they write haikus together. He says “After talking with a lot of Cathal’s friends, I have come to know that what Neasa is doing is all fake.” He says that none of the guys gave written permission to be interviewed. He says that Ní Chianán claims that she is representing their voice – but he says they can speak on their own, they have their own voice. If she is sure that the documentary is their voice, he says, he’d like to invite Neasa to come to Nepal and listen to them. Why can’t she be there with them? Why can’t they see the documentary together, why doesn’t she sit down with them side by side and they watch it together?

In the early part of Fairytale, in Ní Chianán’s narrative, she first wondered aloud about what Ó Searcaigh was up to when they went trekking, and a village boy who could speak no English, Ram, spent the night with Ó Searcaigh. The lad concerned, now a thickset vociferous twenty-year-old man, speaks on this DVD, and is furious that she filmed him without permission. In a passionate diatribe in rapidfire English, he condemns her, is outraged that she inferred what was happening between them, without justification, without proof, without even talking to him. He gives an account why he stayed with him, as it was too late to go home, after a night of dancing and laughter, that they all enjoyed very much. Why did Ní Chianán not interview him, or even introduce herself to him? “She has totally diminished us, our culture, our society, the Nepalese people” he says, and he challenges her to re-edit the documentary, to get “justification” from them.

The DVD then switches to a room full of his friends, drinking tea, recorded on a different day, or days. Naryan is there, as well as a few others, and all are lining up to speak with love and affection for their friend, their best friend, their god.

A 26 year old unnamed man speaks, not seen in Fairytale, talking about Ó Searcaigh, saying that he was very kind, that he loves Nepalese people. He encouraged him to study as well as doing his job. In response to the news that somebody is making a documentary about Ó Searcaigh claiming that he “abused with sex”, he says simply “I did not find that he had that kind of nature.”

Anwang Xu, a trekking guide, met him eleven years ago. “Cathal is not like that, people. I know him very well. I am doing a course and I had to ask my teacher to let me come here to speak for Cathal. I am happy to come here and speak for him. For the last eleven years he has always been with me, and I never saw anything like what they say about him. This is not true. He is not a wrong person. He is not like this. He’s a very true person. I am very worried about Cathal.”

Prakash Nepali, (21), the young man in Fairytale who was most lovingly effusive when talking about Cathal, then speaks. “I gave my interview, and said that Cathal was very good for me, I love him very much. I am always saying that Cathal is my god. I am very angry. He is my very very best friend. I am so upset hearing this bad news. He is not like that. She took my interview but I didn’t agree to show the documentary – I didn’t sign anything.”

A handsome young dude with pop star looks named Ozum speaks, who didn’t appear in the documentary. “In September 2005 I met Cathal, I found nothing against him in character. He is always very good. We have to understand that European culture and Nepalese culture are very different; most people are Hindu. He helped to expose the intelligence of Nepalese youth. When the news broke in Kathmandu, I was really very shocked and mournful. I do not believe he was like that. In our society, when men go with women, they are looked at with Devil’s eyes. Neasa is only making money, by damaging somebody’s life. I do not believe Neasa’s documentary.”

Janak Sapkota speaks again: “I was so shocked. I have been with Cathal for the last five years. I have been with him almost all the time when he used to be in Nepal. I have not even sensed a single evidence of what Neasa wants to show in that documentary. I found that Cathal is a beautiful writer. Alongside that he is such a wonderful man, who has helped lots of Nepali people. He loves Nepal a lot. But some… maybe that cultural difference between Ireland and Nepal… the main subject that Neasa picked and described it in a negative sense, that makes Cathal like …” and he trails off, in despair. “I have known Cathal as a guardian, a teacher, a guru, he has been a help to everyone. What Neasa wants to show, that’s totally unbelievable. I do not agree with what I was reading, with what Neasa wants to show in her documentary. Cathal is a beautiful man, a beautiful poet, and he has helped a lot of Nepalese people. That’s not fear of Cathal (speaking) but it is coming to you in this media right now. ”

Yuyutsu RD Sharma, a writer and translator of Ó Searcaigh’s, concludes the DVD. Suave, cultured and in his forties, he speaks of his shock at the news. “The first time we met, Ó Searcaigh said, like Walt Whitman, ‘I want to build bridges across the river Bagmati. I want to make friendships as strong as tree trunks.’ I think this film has shattered those bridges. This film, and the scandal is so negative, and I am shocked and stunned. I have very little idea of what happened, but I am slowly trying to get into things.”

“The passionate intensity of Cathal Ó Searcaigh, his generosity, his legendary fame, has come to his disadvantage. The gusto and exuberance that he had, the passion that he had for Nepal. … This film maker tries to make the whole mess out of it. In the sense that Cathal said, the first time that they met, he said he was openly gay. In Nepal when a man and woman meets, without marriage, it’s called monstrous. Nepalese are in no way able to understand what gay is, although gay literature is being taught at the university. The way that this film maker has tried to tinker with the idea of Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s gay openness is very shocking, very damaging. She has done great disservice to Nepalese literature, Nepalese culture, Nepalese art, Nepalese friendship. All I see is… these innocent boys are with me (in the room), I just met them today … we just came here, there is no pre-planned programme, I’ve been phoning Cathal but with no answer … I am trying to tell people that this is like trying to demonize a gay writer. He is so innocent. He can’t hurt anyone. This is all I know. Did Cathal do violence to anyone? I can’t believe it.”

“If this film-maker had gone to any of the restaurants, she would find loads of teenage girls being used by the Western tourists. You don’t have to go more than one minute from the Buddha Hotel. I wonder why she is not worried about these innocent girls? How she is worried about Cathal’s friends, being “exploited” by Cathal? You’ll see so many teenage girls being everyday being used by these tourists, no investigation required to see this see this sort of thing. She says she’s so sensitive, she’s so worried about her son, about the children.. if she’s so worried, why doesn’t she make a story about Nepal, about these Nepalese children? Why just Cathal? Why just Cathal’s friends? I invite her to come to Nepal, go to all these dance restaurants, she’ll make a wonderful story about child exploitation. But just concentrating on this one person, and then seeing whole world of inhumanity and suffering in this? This is atrocious, this is so biased. This is demonizing Cathal, this is demonizing a gay writer. Like women here demonize men, a transexual man, or a man seen talking to five, six young men, young women, would be seen as a monster. Nepalese society is so sensitive to these things, in its makeup, in its intrinsic relationships, in its large families. At the moment Nepal is passing through a very critical phase. This poet, this prophet, this saint, from Ireland came and tried to help these young people. He translated lots of Nepalese poets in Irish pages. This man was a bridge between Nepal and Ireland, between Nepal and Europe. This man is being demonized. I invite this film maker to come to these restaurants, and find the very visual, very simmering evidences of all that she’s trying to prove with Cathal. And she’ll find none with Cathal. She just has to come. This is absolutely outrageous. I can’t understand all this. I want to say one message. Cathal is openly gay, and I’m telling all my friends that Cathal is going to be one of the greatest writers of the century in the years to come. I am telling my friends, the whole enigma of Cathal. His generosity, his openness, has come to his own disadvantage. And that’s what happens with good people.”

After watching it, I realise the power of film making, the power that a film maker has to tell a story, and how one (inevitably?) sees what one wants to see. In this amateur DVD you get what is missing from Fairytale - balance.

Ní Chianán had assured Naryan that she would remove his interview from the film, but didn’t. The others protest that they did not sign any release forms. Ní Chianán did not even bother introducing herself to Ram, and yet what she implies about his actions is central to her narrative. If this is a film about consent, in all its manifestations, then surely informed consent to take part in a damaging documentary is pertinent? Everyone who took part in her film did so only because they trusted Ó Searcaigh. Why didn’t she have her interviewees sign release forms? Do different film-making rules apply outside of Ireland? Despite their reaction to the film, this DVD is full of invitations to Ní Chianán to come back to Nepal. To meet them, to hear their story, to see the real exploitation for herself, to sit with them and watch the documentary together. There is, understandably, a lot of animosity towards her, they feel she has betrayed their trust, and attacked their friend. They are also outraged at the damage done to their culture, to their country, and to their lives.

Central to this whole story, however, as far as I am concerned, is the dynamic that seems to be the most problematic for a lot of people, the sexual relationship between an older Western man and a younger Asian one. Anyone who sees Fairytale of Kathmandu has to see the this DVD, and, in particular, the segments in which the supposedly victimised and exploited Naryan, now flourishing and confident, speaks bravely and without shame about his relationship with Ó Searcaigh.

Update and correction 1pm 12th March 2008: It appears that the young man Ram in this DVD is not the same Ram who appeared in Fairtyale. Because Fairytale has not been seen in Nepal, there was confusion about who of Cathal’s friends was included in the film, and this other Ram had also been filmed by Ní Chianán. It appears that this was a genuine misunderstanding by the people in Kathmandu, and by Liam Gaskin, who clearly stated at the press conference that it was the same Ram, but this has of course meant that the sections I have struck through above are no longer fair to the film-maker. I have left them in because I wrote them in good faith, based on the evidence that was produced by Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s spokesman. Liam Gaskin explained what happened on RTÉ in the Pat Kenny show today and stated that he’s standing down as Ó Searcaigh’s public spokesman.