January 19, 2021

KITAAB

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A fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative through the female perspective: Interview with Nilanjana Sengupta

2 min read

by Zafar Anjum

Nilanjana SenguptaThe Female Voice of Myanmar: Khin Myo Chit to Aung San Suu Kyi by Nilanjana Sengupta (Cambridge University Press, India) is a scholarly treatise on Myanmar. The book will be released in late September in Singapore. Sengupta is a Visiting Scholar at Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore).

There aren’t many Indian writers who write on Myanmar, so this is an important work of scholarship. The publisher describes the book as a “commentary on the evolving state of Myanmar and female thought from colonial times to the present, seen through the eyes of four Burmese female activist-writers”.

The book presents a female perspective on the history and political evolution of Myanmar. Through an exploration of the literary works of four carefully selected women activists— four major voices in the book: Khin Myo Chit, Ludu Daw Amar, Ma Thida, Aung San Suu Kyi—who have also been prolific writers of their times, the book seeks a fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative.

Tell us about your interest in Myanmar? What got you started on this project that tracks the lives and thoughts of four strong female voices of Myanmar?

If I really dig long and hard, I think my interest in Burma stems from a childhood spent in Calcutta. Frequent references to Burma are to be found in old Bengali literature when under the British, Rangoon or the beautiful mountainous town of Maymyo (later renamed Pyin U Lwin) was an alternate home to Bengalis; when many Bengali families considered Bengal to be their janmosthan (place of birth) but Rangoon to be their karmosthan (place of work). I cannot forget the Burma of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Srikanta—a place where the hero comes of age and is forced to redress his moral and ethical perspective. Or the letters Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to his brother in 1925 when he was imprisoned in Mandalay, marvelling at the social status of Burmese women.

So if you ask about my interest in Burma, I would credit it to a strict mother who insisted I read Bengali literature at length before delving into anything Western!

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