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Review: The Female Voice of Myanmar

By Latha Anantharaman

A nuanced and insightful story of four women in Myanmar’s long struggle for freedom

In its decades of military rule after independence, Myanmar has flickered on the edges of India’s vision, and only in recent years has the country unveiled itself to the rest of the world. Its history is still as raw as yesterday’s newspapers, and we won’t get the long view and smooth narrative for a while yet. Nilanjana Sengupta’s heavily footnoted, indexed history, with archival photos duly labelled, gives us the plodding, dispassionate documentation that seems more appropriate at this stage.

Sengupta tells the story of four women visible in Myanmar’s long struggle for freedom: Khin Myo Chit, Ludu Daw Amar, Ma Thida and Aung San Suu Kyi. Around each she draws a picture of Burmese society, economy and politics of the time. All four chafed under the fabled gender equality of Burmese society, premised on the economic autonomy of women often encouraged and expected to run their own enterprises. This fell far short of genuine equality while allowing society to evade the issue entirely. Casting a shadow over these four is the history of a fifth, Queen Supaya-Lat, chief queen of the last king of Burma, exiled to India by the British. Supaya-Lat was notorious for her political machinations and outright brutality, but she also was an example of Burmese resistance, defying the British so bitterly that they were afraid to let her return to the fortified palace at Mandalay. Read more

Source: The Hindu


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Myanmar: Women talk sex, censorship at literary forum

By Lillian Kalish

Filmmaker Emily Hong once said that the very act of a woman holding a camera in the streets of Yangon – by nature of its rare and provocative nature – is performance art. When women move and work in ways which counter the expectations of society, they open up new avenues for discussion, community and the transferring of knowledge.

That notion forms the framework for this weekend’s inaugural Ingyin Literary Forum, a four-day event dedicated to Myanmar women writers. Hosted by Yaw Min Gyi’s Ngarse / 50 community centre, the forum blossomed out of a desire to share experiences: Its title is derived from the name of the Bodhi tree’s flowers, which bloomed overhead at the birth of Buddha and have come to represent the sharing of knowledge.  Read more

Source: The Myanmar Times

 


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The Bizarre Trial of a Poet in Myanmar

In its brief coverage of Saungkha’s ordeal, the international media has seized on a more salacious, and catchier, version: “I have the President’s portrait tattooed on my manhood/ How disgusted my wife is.”

Weeks after Saungkha posted the poem online, I went to see him in a holding cell, where he was handcuffed to a police officer and awaiting trial for defamation. Saungkha, a slim man with boyish features, told me, through a translator, that he did not think his words would stir up so much trouble. He cited Myanmar’s abolition of censorship and its transition to democracy, a process that began in 2010 and culminated, or seemed to, on November 8, 2015, when voters pushed the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, into power for the first time. “Even though it is said we have freedom of expression, now they charged me because I wrote a poem,” Saungkha said. “So I was surprised.”

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Essay: Reading ‘Les Miserables’ in Myanmar–Lessons in Nationalism with Aung San Suu Kyi

by Nilanjana Sengupta

angsuukyiI was fortunate to be a part of the first Irrawaddy Literary Festival – the first of its kind Myanmar has known in perhaps half a century. It was organised at the Inya Lake Hotel, Yangon in February 2013. Winter and early spring are the traditional seasons for literary talks, or sarpay hawpyawbwe in Myanmar. This particular morning was cool, the air having lost its chilling bite and indolent, white cotton-ball clouds were reflected in the blue waters of the Inya Lake. Aung San Suu Kyi arrived amidst unprompted and seemingly unending applause – she was the festival patron and was to participate in two of the panels.

During the course of discussion she confessed to her lack of admiration for the character of Ulysses and in the same breath declared Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean to be an all-time favourite. This was greeted with surprise and the possible reason for her rejection of the cultural icon of individual self-assertion over a petty French convict, jailed for his 40 sous theft, whose climactic act of heroism consisted of carrying his former enemy through miles of Parisian sewers, was debated at length. I too wondered… till late into the night, the thought going round in slow, concentric circles in my mind even as I kept a wary watch for the gecko I had spotted crawling the walls of my lonely hotel room. Uff, I will think of it tomorrow, I finally decided, why does everything in Myanmar have to be so complicated? Continue reading


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Essay: Myanmar – What does Aung San Suu Kyi’s Victory Mean for Myanmar?

Nilanjana Sengupta

angsuukyiExactly twenty years back Aung San Suu Kyi was released from the first of her house arrests and on 4 October 1995 went to visit the revered U Vinaya’s* monastery in the Kayin State – her first journey outside Yangon in six years.

She wrote of the journey with some lyricism in a couple of pieces titled, The Road to Thamanya – narratives which are rich with the fragrance of long-awaited freedom and the suppressed excitement of a child setting off on an adventure. The deep sense of connection she feels with the Burmese countryside is evident as she describes white stupas wreathed in morning mist and bamboo fences with their delicate frieze of flowering vines. Everything appears magical in the early morning light and the discomfort of travelling in a car in an “indifferent state of repair” cannot dampen her spirits – despite the car radio unceremoniously falling off and the first-aid box, firmly ensconced at the back, suddenly found nestling by her feet!

As she passes through the smaller townships of the Mon State there is a distinct softening of her tone as she describes the NLD offices, modest huts perched on slender bamboo poles, “These [NLD] signboards, brilliantly red and white, are a symbol of the courage of people who have remained dedicated to their beliefs in the face of severe repression, whose commitment to democracy has not been shaken by the adversities they have experienced. The thought that such people are to be found all over Burma lifted my heart…” Continue reading


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Essay: Myanmar – What Next?

Nilanjana Sengupta

Recently at the Singapore Writers’ Festival I met a young publisher from Yangon who confessed to spending sleepless nights, thinking what would happen on the 8th of November and perhaps more importantly, afterwards. In the last Myanmar general elections he had reached the election booth nice and early only to find his name absent on the electoral roll. He had merely written ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’ on a piece of paper and slipped it into the ballot box.

Sitting amidst the well-manicured lawns of the Victoria Concert Hall of Singapore with the efficiently administered GE 2015 recently concluded, it is difficult to imagine the fever-pitch tension which is currently raging in a neighbouring country – Myanmar. The November 2015 election is a first of its kind in decades when real political parties will engage in real electoral competition. During the 1980s and 90s the country has known East European-style elections which merely confirmed the majority of the ruling party. In 1999 though the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD party won 392 of 492 seats, it could not persuade the military junta to hand over power and in 2010, with Suu Kyi still under house arrest, the NLD decided to boycott the elections and the government-backed USDP won by an overwhelming majority. Continue reading


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Myanmar’s multi-ethnic languages and literary works see a new day

Book Launch 6

Writer Yu Ya reading from her story

On 27th September 2015, the British Council’s ‘Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds’ project launched an anthology of ethnic short stories in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. In order to celebrate freedom of expression and creativity in multiple ethnic languages, this unique multi-lingual anthology includes 28 short stories, 21 in translation in 10 languages and 9 distinct scripts.

The anthologized pieces were produced in several workshops held during 2013 and 2014. The workshops focused on construction of short stories were conducted in the ethnic states in which participants discussed how their socio-political concerns could be crafted into narrative forms in their own languages. Short stories from the three best workshops in each ethnic state were selected on the basis of literary merit and translated into Burmese. Continue reading


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Myanmar: Literature fans book it to anniversary fair

A book fair to mark the 16th anniversary of Seikku Cho Cho’s founding in 1999 – the name means “Sweet Thought” – is being held from July 30 to August 12 at Anawa religious hall, Kyar Taw Ya Street, east wing of Shwedagon Pagoda. At the fair, about 2500 titles of new and reprinted books are on sale at a discount. Continue reading


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Myanmar: Link the Wor(l)ds Literary Translation Workshop

 Translation panel session with Alfred Birnbaum, Zeyar Lynn, Lucas Stewart and Moe Thet Han

Translation panel session with Alfred Birnbaum, Zeyar Lynn, Lucas Stewart and Moe Thet Han (Image credit: Han Zaw)

It is said that there is only one novel from Myanmar translated into English.  While this isn’t strictly true (there are at least six) Nu Nu Yi’s ‘Smile as they Bow’ gained a much deserved reputation after being the first Burmese novel short listed for a major international award, the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008.  Her translator, Alfred Birnbaum, is perhaps better known for his early translations of Haruki Murakami.  What many people probably don’t know, including myself until last week, is that Alfred has a Burmese wife, lived in Myanmar for eight years and speaks, reads and writes fluent Burmese. Continue reading


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A bridge between Myanmar and international literature translation

How do translators convey the tone and flavour of a work in a foreign language while making it fully accessible to foreign readers?; Myanmar Times

This is a question that many writers have addressed, all the while acknowledging that the skill of the translator might sometimes be acknowledged as almost equal to the art of the original author.

What would have happened if the great Sayar Gyi Shwe Oo Daung had not chosen to interpret the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, written in English, thus presenting to a local readership his vision of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes? Thanks to his insight, we can enjoy the adventures of U San Shar, who continues to enrich the fans of adventure and mystery. Continue reading