Delhiwale: Letter from Kim’s kingdom


Standing alone against a golden sky, he is smiling beatifically, God-like. Next, he is visiting a textile mill, amused at a weave. Next, he is joking with the “old lecturers” of a university named after his dad.

Adorning a glass display that overlooks a rutty south Delhi lane, these three photo-portraits are of Kim Jung II. No no, do not confuse him with Kim Hyun-Joong or Kim Tae-Hyung or Kim Seok-Jin. The man in the photos is not a South Korean K-pop star. He is from North Korea. To borrow the words of the all-knowing Wikipedia, he led that “people’s democratic republic” from the 1994 death of his father Kim Il-sung, the first Supreme Leader, until his own death in 2011, when he was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un.

And here in Panchsheel Park stands his country’s embassy, on a forgettable lane called RM Vats Marg. The place becomes special only on spotting the embassy. This ordinary building represent one of the world’s most isolated nation, so much so that it is called the Hermit Kingdom. As any news consumer will attest, the country and its current “Respected Supreme Leader Comrade” trigger—unjustly or otherwise—excessive outrage, ridicule, curiosity and memes. Check these unflattering news headlines:

The craziest and most outrageous Kim Jong Un facts and rumors (New York Post)

Why North Korea has banned laughing, drinking, shopping for 11 days (Hindustan Times)

How ‘Crazy’ Are the North Koreans? (New York Times)

Understanding Kim Jong Un, the world’s most enigmatic and unpredictable dictator (Vanity Fair)

Kim Jong Un fed uncle alive to 120 starved dogs (USA today)

This afternoon, no guard is standing by the gate. Though a grey car bearing a CD, or corps diplomatique, number plate is parked outside. One knocks, yearning for a frank chat with any North Korean within (“what is your country really like?”) The gate remains locked. The red-and-blue flag continues hanging limply from the mast. The glass windows on the upper floors, too, refuse to show their secrets—they are reflecting the outside trees instead.

Usually when anyone loiters outside an embassy in Delhi, the alert security turns up quickly. Here, nothing. Embalmed in a pin-drop silence, the embassy appears as mysterious and isolated as its country.

A few steps away, a woman is sweeping the lane with a long broom. The dust clouds slowly float towards this tiny island of North Korea.