An experimental narrative from Myanmar

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A city is emitting fragrance without a reason — such a sweet, soothing smell! People living in this city behave like bees. They go hurriedly, work fast, eat quickly, sleep less, do not gamble, quarrel less, and laugh a lot. The city is very beautiful and splendid. It has spacious parks, tall trees, perfect housing, clean air and is plastic free. The residents enjoy their lives to the fullest. Children can play happily at all times and everywhere lost in wonder — as if they were in a perpetual Disneyland. Peace and harmony reigns supreme. The city is charming and stately. Even big cities like Paris, New York, Venice, Sidney or Tokyo cannot compete in beauty and grandeur to the fragrant city.

The residents are very hardworking, energetic, and ambitious. Also, they do not much care about any politics, even, social, and economic matters. They are only focused on attaining satisfaction in life. They tend to do what they think is right — informally and independently. They have no worries over food, cloth, and shelter. They have plenty. The system is very good; there are no hurdles that need to be overcome in everyday life. The long term plans provided by the government are perfect. They welcome any immigrants who come to this city heartily. Food is abundant, people are sweet, and places are nice and fanciful.

They communicate with each other using their special olfactory lingua franca. Only the city dwellers can understand. They just only have to conjure ideas which travel like waves. These waves spread from their brains and touch another person’s skin or any part of the body, they can accept the waves and decipher the meaning. They do not have to exert to make a sentence. They do not have to speak like us or worry about knowing a language. They can communicate with each other easily.

By San Lin Tun

 

Irrawaddy Literary Festival (ILF), a non-profit venture, is renowned not only in Myanmar but also in South East Asia and the rest of the world. Since its inauguration in 2013, the festival has hosted writers of international repute like Vikram Seth, Jung Chang, William Dalrymple, BBC journalist Fergal Keane and photojournalist Thierry Falise as well as those from Myanmar including Dr. Thant Myint-U and Pascal Khoo Thwe. The following and ensuing years saw more writers and authors across the world such as Louis de Bernières, Anne Enright, Barnaby Phillips, Ratna Vira and Margaret Simons participating in the festival. The venue has been in Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar. The festival is a major attraction for writers, agents and literary enthusiasts even from the non-literary community.

The fifth ILF 2019 was held in Mandalay at Mercure Mandalay Hill Resort for three consecutive days from Nov 9 to Nov 11 from 9am to 7pm. Local and international writers attended the festival. The theme of the festival this time was ‘Youth and literature’ to promote literary enthusiasm in the younger generations.

This festival has been an occasion when literature crosses national borders and the local and international writers meet to create an awareness of each other’s concerns and cultures. A fusion of literatures from varied countries adds colour and vibrancy to the festivities. Such exchanges lead to a heightened awareness of current literary trends.

By San Lin Tun

Moe Way Literary Magazine, 1980, July Issue
Moe Way Literary Magazine

Myanmar modern poetry became popular and gained much momentum in 1970’s. They often appeared in the reputable journal, Moe Way Literary Magazine. The young poets liked the flavours explored in Htinn Yoo Pin Yeik (The Shade of Pine Tree), a collection of English poems which had been translated by the literary genius of Maung Tha Noe. The youth attempted to use the techniques used by poets translated in this pioneering collection.

Conventional poets criticized them for not following the classical styles of poetry writing. The old school poets said that modern poems did not follow the conventional versification forms. While conventional poets preferred “rhymes and rhyming systems”, modern poets used “rhythms and un-rhymes systems” in their poems which resembled “free verse” and allusions to literature and the world outside of Myanmar.

A well-known Myanmar modern poet Aung Cheint reinforced: “There are no hard and fast rules or ways to write Myanmar modern poetry. They read English poetry books and translated poems. They felt inspired by reading them and tried to compose modern poems like them. In that way, Myanmar modern poetry came into existence.”

Poet Maung Lin Yeik
Maung Lin Yak

Among those rebellious young poets, Maung Lin Yeik was one of the prominent exponents of Myanmar modern poetry. Though he worked as a technical school teacher, he wrote poetry that won admiration and praise from both fellow poets as well as the readers. As a part of Myanmar Poet Union in 2010, he participated in poetry readings and literary festivals within the country. He talked more about modern poetry than conventional one.

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Title:  The Heartsick Diaspora and Other Stories

Author:  Elaine Chiew

Publisher:  Penguin Random House SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 256

Price: SGD$22.90 (before GST)

Links : https://www.penguin.sg/book/fiction/heartsick-diaspora-stories/

About: Set in different cities around the world, Elaine Chiew’s award-winning stories travel into the heart of the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese diasporas to explore the lives of those torn between cultures and juggling divided selves. In the title story, four writers find their cultural bonds of friendship tested when a handsome young Asian writer joins their group. In other stories, a brother searches for his sister forced to serve as a comfort woman during World War Two; three Singaporean sisters run a French gourmet restaurant in New York; a woman raps about being a Tiger Mother in Belgravia; and a filmmaker struggles to document the lives of samsui women—Singapore’s thrifty, hardworking construction workers.

 

an english write front cover

Title: An English Writer

Author: San Lin Tun

Publisher: Duwon Books

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 216 pages

Price: 7, 500 MMK (local price), 10 USD (foreign price)

Links: Bookstores at Yangon

About: An English Writer is a story about a forgotten English poet/writer, C.J Richards (retired I.C.S) who lived and worked in Burma for over 35 years as an Indian Civil Servant. He retired in 1947 and settled in Swarraton, Hampshire in UK. Although he wrote seven books and many articles on Burma and UK, not many people know much of him and his life. The novel “An English Writer” explores the life of the English writer and defines his connection with both communities, Burma (Myanmar) and Britain as a poet and writer. The story, set in present Yangon, transports people back into the times of the English writer, C. J Richards, from 1920 to 1947 and then to 1976.

A short story from Myanmar by San Lin Tun

Moe did not know what he could do while he sat in his chair and his mind drifted like a kite floating with the free flow of wind. Something dampened his strength and he felt frayed. He had been feeling this way for a couple of days. It started gradually till it took concrete shape in his mind, tending to block his mental processes. That is why he could not  focus on his job. He decided to try to deal with it…

Though he felt it, he could not name the sensation. He picked up the pen from the rectangular lacquer pen holder in front of him on the table, unconsciously. He did not intend to use the pen but his laptop. He sighed at his confusion and looked at his watch — fifteen past four in the afternoon. He stood up, pushed his laptop away and picked up his shoulder bag that lay in a slant against the foot of the table.