Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma by Prof. Shubha Tiwari SignUp
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Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma
by Prof. Shubha Tiwari Bookmark and Share
 

Continued from "The Calcutta Chromosome" 

Amitav Ghosh's training as an anthropologist has been an important formative factor in his books. Travelling comes naturally to him. Much of what he has written is travel based. This book ‘Dancing in Cambodia, at Large in Burma’ is a pure travelogue. With an anthropologist's eye for accuracy and authenticity, Amitav Ghosh's studies life, art, social culture, and political institutions of the places he visits. Thematically speaking, displacement has been a central concern of Ghosh's work. Coming and going, departures and arrivals have always been relevant symbols of his narrative structure.

Travel is a very complex psychological process. It changes the traveler in many ways. If travelling is juxtaposed with living at a fixed place, we can easily see the influences of travelling on a person. To begin with it makes a person more flexible in her/his routine and life style. It opens new possibilities in her/him regarding both the world and her/his own self. The traveler seems to realize, 'I never knew these things existing in the world as well as I never knew I had all these possibilities in me.' Naturally reading about a place is as different from actually visiting it as getting a description of a sweet piece and actually eating it.
 
Travelling can be either real or fictional or a combination of both. But here we are talking about rear travelling. Travelling can be for a definite purpose like earning money or getting education and knowledge. It can be just for fun as well in the present world many travels are aimed at searching the roots.
 
At times the traveler may be irresistibly in love with a particular place. There can be a thousand more reasons for travelling. In any case travelling remains a powerful human sensation, a jolt.
 
V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie have also written travelogues. Naipaul is, of course, the most famous travel writer of our times. Salman Rushdie in the prologue to his travelogue ‘Jaguar Smile’ says that when he visited Nicaragua he never intended to write a book or write at all for that matter. But the Nicaraguan experience shook him so deeply that he had no choice left but to record all his experiences in the form of a travelogue.

We can take Ghosh's travelogue in the light of above comment. Only a writer who has a proper sense of time and distance can write a good travelogue. For one thing, travel writing is always nostalgic. The writer here is trying to capture various images of a place or places, she/he has to balance the time of her/his actual visiting and writing and also the distance between her/his place and the place she/he is writing about. But this is not all. The travel writer has to weigh the flow of time and its distance in the place of his/her description. For example in writing about Cambodia and Burma, Ghosh has to view these countries in historical perspective. One just cannot grasp the chaotic realities of present day Cambodia and Burma unless one knows how the time has roughly flown in those countries. On matters as sensitive and controversial, as the regime of Pol Pot and the emotionally charged movement of Suu Kyi, the writer must save herself/himself from the dangers of morbidity, glib sensationalism or excessive sermonizing and moralizing. Going by these rules we can say that Ghosh has done a wonderful job. As a perspective author and politically alert observer Amitav Ghosh has tried to comprehend Cambodia and Burma and their respective recent pasts of extreme isolation. Both the countries have been colonized earlier; both had traumatic dictatorial regimes. And both the countries practiced politics of complete isolation or iron curtain in recent past. Ghosh tries to reconstruct the scenario during the regime of isolation. The book is a significant social historical chronicle. It is divided into three parts - (i) Dancing in Cambodia, (ii) Stories in Stone and (iii) At Large in Burma.
 
It is a small book where the first and third chapters are of about fifty pages each and the middle one is literally sandwiched into eleven pages.
 
King Sisobath was the last king of Cambodia before Pol Pot took over. The first chapter begins with an anthropological description of the sea journey of King Sisobath. Cambodia as we all know had been colonized by the French. It was King Sisobath's lifelong dream to visit the land of the colonizers i.e., France. We can see Ghosh's reconstruction of the mind set of the colonized. Sisobath went along with his entourage of several dozen princes, courtiers, officials, and most importantly a troupe of nearly a hundred traditional classical dancers and musicians from his royal palace in Phnom Penh. His journey started on 10th May 1906 in the afternoon. He was abroad a French Liner, Amiral Kersaint. We can only smile at the child like joy of the king and his group, 'The king, who had been crowned two years before, had often spoken of his desire to visit France, and for him the voyage was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream' (l).
 
For other members also it was a cherished opportunity to step out of their cloistered existence. They were going to perform for the colonizers. It was their moment of showing and proving themselves at the immense fairyland, Marseille where an exhibition had been organized on the theme of France's colonial possessions. They were going out of their country for the first time. As Ghosh touchingly writes about the royal dancers, 'It was said that the dancers entered the palace as children and spent their lives in seclusion ever afterwards; that their lives revolved entirely around the royal family; that several were the king's mistresses and had even borne him children; that some of them had never stepped out of the palace grounds until this trip to France' (3).
 
The colonized situation of dancers is sensitively portrayed. Their excitement and joy at visiting the 'superior' land on one hand and their inferiority complex and anxiety on the other have been described in a very delicate fashion. There is no doubt that Ghosh is a master in the craft in weaving words. It is almost impossible to change or replace his words. Precision is his supreme attribute. When he describes these dancers there is no sexual undertone as might be expected. There is nothing erotic in his vision. He describes them just as they are. We can almost pity the dancers, '[...] with their hard and close cropped hair, their fingers like those of striplings, their thin, muscular legs like those of young boys, their arms and hands like those of little girls, they seem to belong to no definite sex. They have something of the child about them, something of the young warrior of antiquity and something of the woman' (4). Accompanying these excited dancers, as their guide and head is King Sisobath's eldest daughter princess Soumphady. An elegant lady with an immense presence, royal manner and style, she has an electrifying effect on the audience at Marseille. We shall see later that her impact on the art and culture of Cambodia has been of a permanent nature. She is her own woman. A woman of substance, we might call her in current terminology. She admires the French women, their clothes and head dresses but nevertheless declines to dress up like them. She holds her ground, 'No! The princess said after a moment's reflection. No! I am not used to them and perhaps would not know how to wear them' (5). This can also be taken as an indirect hint at the Indians' fascination for Western style of dressing. Almost a century back these Cambodian women had a sense of pride about their distinctive attire suited for the variety of their dances.
 
Conversation with the associates of Pol Pot is a major and effective research device adopted by Ghosh. He learns about the remaining story of the journey to France and other aspects of the Pol Pot regime through Chea-Samy, a sister-in-law of Pol Pot and a teacher at the school of fine arts in Phnom-Penh, in 1993. Chea-Samy is the main agent who tells the author about the tearing apart of Cambodia by tyrannical Pol Pot years from 1975 to l978 and the incessant turmoil thereafter. Ghosh meets the members of Pol Pot's family. He also visits the village where he was born to gain insight into his background. Ghosh tries to assess the impact of Pol Pot's brutal regime on Cambodia. What is striking is the power of dance and music and the vital force of these arts operating upon the Cambodian collective psyche. Howsoever hard it may be for believing, but it is these art forms that hold Cambodia intact after the traumatic years. In this saga of cultural courage, the importance of dance in Cambodia has been paramount even when the country is on the brink of destitution. The tenacity of Cambodian people is touching.
 
The Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died of heart attack in April 1998 at the age of seventy-two. His real name was Saloth Sar. He grew up in a comparatively prosperous farming family at the hilly area of Kompong Thong province. This area was the very centre of the then French protectorate. He got a scholarship in 1949 and studied Radio Electronics in Paris. His political career began in 1950 when he joined the underground communist party. He became its general secretary in 1962. He finally came to power in 1975. As soon as he came to power, he started implementing his dream of turning Cambodia into an agrarian utopia where there would be no city, no money, no property and no religion. He held all these things to be the corrupting forces. He started setting up rural collectives. He was completely ruthless in his implementation of his vision of a perfect society. Whosoever was even remotely sensed as being 'liberal' or against his views was executed. He was the architect of Cambodia's killing fields. He is held responsible for the deaths of two million Cambodians! It was only in his  death in l998 that international community shook in commotion and tried to inquire about his motives and methods. Since then, many people have tried to know the reasons and aftereffects of Pol Pot's terrible graduation from electronic engineering to social engineering. He was held possessed by the idea of social cleansing. Pol Pot's activities amount to one of the worst genocides in the twentieth century. 'Dancing in Cambodia' is an answer to all questions regarding Pol Pot's regime of isolation.
 
Chea-Samy had entered the palace in Phnom Penh in 1925 as a child of six. She began her training in classical dance under princess Soumphady's guidance. Ghosh also meets Molyka, a mid-level civil servant. Ten members of Molyka's family had been murdered by Pol Pot, including her father! We can only imagine the depth of torture, sorrow and the mental damage caused by Pol Pot. Pol Pot's ideas of Social Utopia were shaped by his early life among the hill tribes in remote northeastern Cambodia. The tribe was called Khmers. These early Khmers were self-sufficient. They lived a sort of ideal community life or so it must have looked to Pol Pot. Their raw culture was unaffected and untainted by Buddhism. They had no concept of money. It was somehow Pol Pot's umbilical attachment with his childhood that resulted in all that bloodshed and horror. Pol Pot went about his plan in a systematic manner. He targeted the middle class.

In his book, ‘The Great Indian Middle Class’, the bureaucrat turned writer Pawan Varma, has dealt in detail about the tenacity and high endurance level of Indian middle class. This seems to be a universal phenomenon.

Pol Pot very well realized that it is the middle class that shapes the societal mind; it constitutes it. He wanted to eliminate any element of dissent from the middle class. About the systematic and sustained blows on middle class, Ghosh writes, 'Cambodia's was not a civil war in the same sense as Somalia's or the former Yugoslavia's, fought over the fetishism of small difference: it was a war on history itself, an experiment in the re-invention of society. No regime in history had ever before made so systematic an attack on the middle class. Yet, if the experiment was proof of anything at all, it was ultimately of the indestructibility of the middle class, of its extraordinary tenacity and resilience; its capacity to preserve its forms of knowledge and expression through the most extreme kinds of adversity' (10).
 
Chea-Samy's personal connection with Pol Pot also has an interesting story. It is through her we get the famous lines of Pol Pot, 'The Revolution does not recognize families.’ During his regime he bestowed no favors on members of his family, not even Chea-Samy's husband who was Pol Pot's elder brother. When King Sisobath died in 1927, his son Monivong became the king. But his love for his favorite mistress Luk Khun Meak changed everything. The palace in Phnom Penh and its regime underwent complete change. In place of princess Soumphady, Meak became the supervisor of all girl folk. Meak knew how to exercise her power. She brought many of her relatives to the palace and gave them important charges. One of her young  relatives later became Chea-Samy's husband. Her husband's youngest brother was a six-year-old boy called Saloth Sar. He was later to become the terror god of Cambodia, Pol Pot. But what Chea-Samy says almost amounts to irony for us, 'He was a very good boy, she said at last, emphatically. In all the years he lived with me, he never gave me any trouble at all' (13).
 
It only goes on to show the mystery of human nature. It is so difficult to get hold of the particular thing that actually makes a dictator, a dictator, a terrorist, a terrorist, and a bandit, a bandit. Except for the inerasable impression of his childhood on his mind, Pol Pot does not seem to have anything away from the normal. He was a boy who 'gave no trouble at all.' And yet this boy got two million people butchered! Ghosh hints at problems that arose out of France's colonization of Cambodia. Khmer, as we have already noted, is one powerful tribe of Cambodia. These groups resorted to Guerrilla war tactics. Pol Pot's tactics was simply breeding hatred. His target was Vietnam and Cambodia's own Vietnamese minority. Ghosh suggests that the fact that Pol Pot lived the formative years of his life in the 'elitist, racially exclusive culture of the court’, might have had a permanent impact on him. Ghosh also cites historian Ben Kiernan in this regard. An overdose of ideology of national and racial grandiosity might have damaged Pol Pot's thinking. This man was an unashamed racist. As Ghosh described the reaction of one Khmer Rouge defectors, 'As far as the Vietnamese are concerned, whenever we meet them, whether they are militaries or civilians, because they are not ordinary civilians but soldiers disguised as civilians, we must kill them, whether they are men, women or children, there is no distinction, 'they are enemies' (25).
 
Ghosh also explains how terror was essential to the exercise of power by Khmer Rouge. All the old comrades were executed for betraying the Revolution. Pol Pot's ally Khieu Samphon planned 'the mass purges of the period,' meaning thereby the killings. They had ideas like purging the land of all sinners. They believed in a moral, religious tone of their activities, 'Terror was essential to their exercise of power. It was an integral part not merely of their coercive machinery, but of the moral order on which they built their regime' (50). As someone has said that human beings commit crimes so happily in the name of religion. Pol Pot's hero was Robespierre. What he loved most about this terror icon from France was his line, 'Terror is an emanation of virtue' (50). The author systematically goes on to show how the Revolution began to devour itself. But it did not end before damaging Cambodia so badly.
 
It was in 1975 that Khmer Rouge seized power. Chea-Samy goes to describe how she and her husband, like everyone else, were forced to go to serve in a village of old people. The Khmer Rouge loyalists along with the new converts were made to work in rice fields. For two years, there was complete, news blackout in Cambodia. No one knew as to what was happening. Keeping the people in dark was one of the ways of terror mechanics of Khmer Rouge. It was only in 1978, the terror organization started building personality cult around its leader. Actually their fall was imminent and inevitable. Just to save themselves from collapsing, this building of personality cult was their last desperate move. Ghosh writes, 'Chea-Samy was working in a communal kitchen at the time, cooking and washing dishes. Late that year (1978) some party workers stuck a poster on the walls of the kitchen: they said it was a picture of their leader, Pol Pot. She knew who it was the moment she set eyes on the picture. That was how she discovered that the leader of the terrible, inscrutable organization Angkar, that ruled over their lives was none other than little Saloth Sar'(14).
 
When Vietnamese broke Cambodia in 1979, the country became 'like a shattered slate,' before you could think of drawing lines on it, you had to find pieces and fit them together (16). And what actually did the fitting in was nothing else but the traditional Cambodian art forms. We usually do not give much importance to music and dance in our day-today prosaic lives. But music lies deep in human psyche. Only reading this book is believing this truth. It is a wonder how Ghosh creates the impact of music on the mind of the reader through this book. I, for one, will always welcome Cambodian music. In the post-revolution period, the Cambodian ministry of culture launched a project to relocate and gather the trained classical dancers and teachers. The results of this search were shocking. Almost ninety per cent of the artists had been killed in the Pol Pot regime. Anyone who survived found living to be a miracle. If one dancer found out another dancer they would shout, 'you are still alive! 'And then they would cry thinking of all those who had died. One well-known surviving dancer described her condition during the Pol Pot time, 'I was like a smoker who gives up smoking […]' I would dream of dance when I was alone or at night. You could get through the day because of the hard work. It was the nights that were really difficult; we would lie awake wondering who was going to be called out next. That was when I would dance, in my head'(16).
 
As I said, reading this book is believing the worth of art. Ghosh describes the worth of art. Ghosh describes the response of a Catholic relief worker from Italy, Onesta Carpen. When first music concert was organized, there was electricity crisis, 'The city was in shambles; there was debris everywhere, spilling out of the houses, on to the pavements, the streets were jammed with pillaged cars, there was no money and very little food. I could not believe that in a situation like that people would be thinking of music and dance. But still they came pouring in and theatre was filled far beyond its capacity. It was very hot inside' (52). Another foreigner Eva Mysliviec, a Quaker relief missionary, who also witnessed the first performance, recalls it thus, 'when the musicians came on the stage she heard sobs all around her. Then, when the dancers appeared, in their shabby, hastily made costumes, suddenly everyone was crying: people wept through the entire length of the performance' (52).
 
Here music and dance stand for life itself. It is as though the collective Cambodian voice is saying, 'to live is to sing and dance.' The sudden and spontaneous bouts of joy only strengthen the belief that artistic heritage is the very life and soul of a nation. The tears at the first performance are the tears of finding life again. It is as though. 'I'd thought I'd died but no, I'm alive I'm living.' In fact Ghosh develops the passion for dance and music as symbols of politics of resurgence in Cambodia. These art forms gave the beleaguered Cambodian people an identity and certitude, a badge of authenticity. The author sums up the mood as, a kind of rebirth: a moment when the grief of survival became indistinguishable from the joy of living (52).

 
When as a reader, I thought about the power of Ghosh in conveying so successfully the multiplicity and depth of life, I came to realize that he did it because the voices that he heard and noted were those of women. In situations like the Pol Pot regime, women suffer more simply because in the 'animal' scheme of things, women become the 'weaker' sex. Ghosh's identification with Chea-Samy and friends is complete. He trusts their version and suffers like them while listening to the horror tales. That is why he succeeds in narration. To sympathize and empathize with women needs a special kind of sensitivity because here the normal parameters of power and success do not matter; what matters is acceptance.

Womanhood, as has been described by some philosophers, is a state of 'being' while manhood is that of 'becoming.' While manhood implies effort and achievement, womanhood means 'being' what you are. It is only when complete osmosis has been achieved with the state of being that one gets a feel of life, 'real' life. But I cannot go into the philosophical depths and differences among various schools here. What I suggest is simply that Ghosh's contact with the old ladies gives him better understanding. Ladies like Chea-Samy are the real heroines. Ghosh writes, 'Like everyone around her, Chea-Samy too had started all over again-at the age of sixty, with her health shattered by the years of famine and hard labor. Working with quiet, dogged persistence, she and a handful of other dancers and musicians slowly brought together a ragged, half starved bunch of orphans and castaways, and with the discipline of their long, rigorous years of training they began to resurrect the art that princess Soumphady and Luk Khun Meak had passed on to them in that long ago world, when King Sisobath reigned. Out of the ruins around them they began to create the means of denying Pol Pot his victory' (18).
 
In such touching passages, along with the power of womanhood, we also get the message of the worth of the old people. They are the living reservoirs of past. They are living tradition. They are the solid ground on which we today stand and jump and try to catch the stars. In moments of crisis, they can provide all that, we think, has been lost to us.
 
The social and political history of Cambodia from 1906 to1993 has been narrated with an added human dimension. Both the dates are important. In 1906 Cambodian performers went to Europe for showing their native skills. These native skills will, in future, give them strength to live and dream. 1993 is the year when finally under the auspices of the UN's Transitional Authority of Cambodia, country wide elections were held.
 
The second chapter of this book is devoted to the description of various aspects of the twelfth century Cambodian temple Angkor Wat. This temple is actually much more than a temple in the traditional sense to Cambodians. Many stories are carved on these elegant structures. Cambodians call Angkor Wat, 'A Monument to the Power of the Story’. This monument is sort of a gigantic abacus of story telling. It is a big, huge architectural device. It is said to be the largest single religious edifice in the world. It seems to be self-sufficient and complete in its setting and dimensions where each part is complementing the other. The setting is Mountain Meru. It is a mountain in Indian mythology. The seven graded tiers of the mythological hill provide the blue print for Angkor Wat. The entire pantheon of gods, deities, sages and prophets is cast.
 
We are pleasantly surprised that Ghosh offers one of his own discoveries regarding the temple. Ghosh says that he noticed the paradoxical nature of the reputation this temple has among Cambodians and the people of the rest of the world. People around the globe view Angkor Wat as a unique powerful symbol of the romance and glory of a lost civilization. But for Cambodians, it is a symbol of modernity. Although Angkor Wat is undisputedly a temple, yet it does not figure in anything that has to do with religion or any thing old-fashioned. Many factory-produced commodities bear it as a logo. It is stamped on uniforms. '[...] It figures on the logos of large corporations, like bank, indeed, the erstwhile Kampuchea Airlines even succeeded in transforming this most earth bound of structures into a symbol of flight, by lending it a pair of wings' (56).
 
Ghosh's training as an anthropologist really helps him here. He comes to know about the legend of accidental finding of this temple by French explorer Henri Mohout. It is one of those types of miracle stories where structures are supposed to have come up. The contradictory nature of this temple further gets a boost when Ghosh comes to know how this temple was restored with all latest available scientific and technical methods. Indian archaeologists were also called for help. Thus this central cultural symbol of Cambodia is also a symbol of change and modernity. Ghosh writes, 'For an entire generation of Cambodians, including politicians as different in ideology as Prince Sihanouk, Son Sann and Pol Pot, Angkor Wat became a symbol of modernizing nation-state. It became the opposite of itself: an icon that represented a break with the past-a token of the country's belongings, not within the medieval, but rather the contemporary world. Thus, the bear, banks, airlines and of course flags' (60).
 
Decolonization is essentially a process of confusion and uncertainties. Post-colonial countries that wish to decolonize their mind-set face many challenges. In getting reactionary against the erstwhile colonizer, they run the risk of forming wrong judgments. These countries also face re-colonization in form of globalization and commercialization. These countries, on one hand, go for extreme glorification of their past and yet on the other hand, wish to compete in today's globalized world. Ghosh's description of Cambodian intellectual crisis applies to India as well. Seeking refuge in past glories to compensate for today's inadequacies is a recurrent feature of many newly liberated states. I remember Naipaul's Nobel lecture where he says that the colonized lie about themselves. Their talking falsely big about themselves and feeling great is their only weapon. In my view, getting 'mad' about decolonization will not lead us anywhere. The other day I was talking to a very reputed Ramayana scholar from our region who has published some standard books on the subject. I said to him that one person who did not get justice in Rama Rajya was Sita. She was punished for a crime she did not commit. Rama deserted her when she needed him most, when she was carrying. She was the first victim of character assassination, a potent tool against women in our society. The old gentleman somehow, took upon himself to justify Rama's behavior with the obvious presumption that whatever is Indian is good or even, whatever is good is bound to be Indian. I have seen and heard professors who claim that Sanskrit is the origin of Arabic, Persian and even French and English. One just cannot go with irrationality. What is happening actually is that this 'decolonization mania' is harming academic standards. There is lots of inbreeding. You read Indians, you apply Indian canons all the time. So I, for one, ask for fresh air from all sides. Let us think in terms of having the best of both the worlds.
 
But I think I have gone a little far because Ghosh does not seem to imply so much. If anything, he is to be taken as a writer with a decolonized bent of mind. He only suggests here that in the process of decolonization an exaggerated thrust is given on past glories.
 
The last part of the book 'At Large in Burma' is mostly a linear narrative. As expected, its topic is struggle for democracy in Burma. But Ghosh has a personal link to Burma as well. He says that writing about Burma is an attempt on his part to get to his roots. He wants to explore places his parents and relatives had lived in or visited before the birth of the Indian Republic in 1947. He writes, 'To me, the most intriguing of these stories were those that my family carried out of Burma. I suspect that this was partly because Burma had become a kind of lost world in the early 60's, when I was old enough to listen to my relatives' stories. It was in 1962 that General Ne win, the man who would be Burma's long time dictator, seized power in coup. Almost immediately, he slammed the shutters and switched off the lights: Burma became the dark house of the neighborhood, huddled behind an impenetrable, overgrown fence. It was to remain shuttered for almost three decades' (65).
 
In his family, memories of Burma were kept alive by an aunt and her husband nicknamed Prince who left Burma in 1942 and came to Calcutta just before the invasion of Rangoon by the Japanese army.
 
Basically, at the time of author's visit to Burma and even prior to that, two forces were working in Burma-forces of orthodoxy and status quo represented by the army and democratic forces, seeking change that have been headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi's father Aung San was Burma's acknowledged leader during the freedom struggle. On 19th Iuly 1947 he was assassinated. At the time of her father's death, Suu Kyi was just two years old. She rose to be an eminent human rights activist and spearheaded a peaceful non-resistance mass movement to restore democracy and civil liberties in her country. At the time of the author's visit she was still under house arrest. Ghosh analyses the political situation in today's world. Politics goes by symbols. If you have strong symbols, you will remain in public memory, otherwise not. He correctly writes, 'In the post-modern world, politics is everywhere a matter of symbol and the truth is that Suu Kyi is her own greatest political asset. It is only because Burma's 1988 democracy movement had a symbol, personified in Suu Kyi, that the world remembers it and continues to exert pressure on the current regime. Otherwise, the world would almost certainly have forgotten Burma's slain and dispersed democrats just as quickly as it has forgotten many others like them in the past' (83).
 
We can easily find parallels in Nelson Mandella being Africa's symbol in its anti-apartheid movement and Gandhi being our own symbol of freedom and self-reliance. How strange that collective anguish must find one universally accepted voice to be taken notice of; Ghosh is also conscious of the double standards adopted by erstwhile colonizers and developed nations. In theory they support democracy, freedom of speech and liberty for people of all races, but for political and economic gain support dictatorial and terrorism inclined regimes. Burma has been fighting civil wars since its Independence in January 1948. There has been a communist uprising. Military coups have decided the order of the day. Ghosh tries to analyze as to what went wrong in Burma and where did things go wrong? It used to be one of the richest countries in Asia and yet now it lists in UN's ten least developed nations on earth. Burma has become the byword for repression, xenophobia and civil abuse. About two third of the country's population is Buddhist. But during the colonial rule, the British favored minorities over ethnic Burmans. Even the army had units named after the minorities like 'Karen' Rifles, 'Shan,' ‘Mon’ and so on. But things were to change and change for better, 'It takes a military dictator to believe that symbols are inert and can be manipulated at will. Forty years after his assassination, Aung San had his revenge. In a strange, secular reincarnation, his daughter Suu Kyi, came back to haunt those who had sought to make use of his death. In l988, when Burma's decades of discontent culminated in an anti-military uprising, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from obscurity as one of country's most powerful voices, the personification of Burma's democratic resistance to military rule' (74).
 
Without undermining Suu Kyi's greatness, we can also see the role of circumstances and the times in creating a great personality. Suu Kyi is a product and a necessity of the age in which she is placed. We, Indians, very well know her tools non- violence, peaceful resistance. Ghosh realizes how popular this frail lady is. She held rallies at her residence. She answered questions ranging from food and health to politics and literature. The only reason how the army succeeded in grabbing power for so long is its wide and deep surveillance system. Suu Kyi is meek, conciliatory and patient. But she is not weak. Her firm belief that sooner or later, the army rule would go is amazing.
 
She tells Ghosh, 'I have always told you [...] that we will win [...] that we will establish a democracy in Burma and I stand by that, but as to when, I cannot predict. I've always said that to you' (113-14).
 
Now that we know the events of later years' we can only say that Suu Kyi's conviction was correct.


References
Ghosh, Amitav. 1998. ‘Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma’. New Delhi: Ravi Dayal Publisher.  
 
Continued to "Countdown"
 
17-May-2012
More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari
 
Views: 5261
Article Comment nice but complex
neha swami
08/30/2012
 
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