Next weekend, I will spend in Yangon, at a friend’s place. I have always felt an invisible thread of connection with Myanmar, and am so excited to visit.
I’ve tried to list this attachment in a very business-like way – A List. (And if you are wondering about the title – Mylapore, in Chennai is where I grew up and where many of my ‘reasons’ took root.)
My List of ‘5 Reasons why I want to visit Myanmar’:
1. My great-grandfather and his sons took their amateur drama troupe to perform in Rangoon*. He was a retired civil servant, music lover and philanthropist who experiencing an epiphany – meeting Swami Vivekananda. After this, he dedicated his life, resources and energy towards funding and sustaining a students home/ college (Ramakrishna Mission) in Madras*. The trip to Burma* was, yes, another fundraiser. I have never met the man in question, nor have I done anything worthy to match his nobility. But at least, I’m visiting a land he went to, and where none of his great/grandchildren have ever been to. Hopefully, with some investigative work, I can find the venue where they performed.
2. Mrs. Moses, my class 5 teacher who was a refugee from Burma in Madras . Recently displaced, she wanted a job for her son. When she found out that Appa was setting up a business (no idea how that!) she launched herself on me (nicely. Not in an awful way) and gracefully asked for a meeting with him. I did that, but never found out what happened afterward and neither did my dad enlighten me. To me she was ‘foreign’ and exotic as she came from Burma. But also so familiar – she was, after all an ethnic Indian.
3. Perumal, our gardener in Mylapore. My heart would bleed for that old man, as I saw him wheezily and feebly work at the dusty plants in our backyard. My Patti was quick to burst my balloon of pity. Apparently, he wasn’t old (he looked 70 to me). He was sniffing because he was high on some weed. He was 40 and a childhood of drugs in Burma (oh wait! I think Malaya – not sure, but never mind that!) had resulted in accelerated aging.
4. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. Loved that book. Deeply moving. Myanmar has been on top of my “Some day, I should visit” list after reading it. Yet to read “Saving Fish From Drowning”. I love Amy Tan, so I’m surprised I haven’t read it.
5. Aung San Suu Kyii. A big hero from my schooldays. We loved her, her grace and her quiet courage. Being in the same city as her, is reason enough for a visit.
And then of course, there is the prospect of Burmese food. Experienced in San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore. Can’t wait to try the real stuff in Myanmar.
And as a post script – Who from my (and older) generations in India, can think of Myanmar and NOT think of this charming song? ‘Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon’ from Patanga (1949)
“Mere piya, ho mere piya gaye Rangoon
Kiya hai wahaan se teliphoon
Tumhari yaad sataati hai, jiya men aag
(ALERT! DANGER! There is a cheesy cheap remixed HORRIBLE version of this song sung by some woman called Shaswati. AVOID!)
Mingalar par, Myanmar! Can’t wait to visit you!
(* – I have contextually used the colonial names of Yangon, Myanmar and Chennai…because…in the ’70s and ’80s, that’s how we knew these places. Also that’s how the people I have referred to, knew them)