Love Poems: How love enriched Myanmar literature forever | Nay Oke | TEDxInyaLake


Translator: sann tint
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman I never knew my mother, for she died seven days
after giving birth to me. I was born in a small town
called Myaung in Sagaing division when the Second World War
was coming to an end. My paternal grandfather gave me an uncommon
Myanmar name, Nay Oke, which means “ruler of the sun,” because I was born at a time
when the Japanese fascists, with their emblem
of the sun on their flags, were being defeated in Myanmar. And also because I was a Saturday born. After the war, the family
moved back to Yangon, and my schooling began at a Catholic missionary school
called St. Paul’s. From the first year of primary school, we had to study the nursery songs written by our national poet, Min Thu Wun. He is the only Myanmar poet who is listed among
the world’s greatest 100 poets. He wrote altogether 13 nursery songs, and they were very popular then as now, and all Myanmar school children
can sing them from their hearts. Here is my favorite: “သပြေသီးကောက် ဝါဆိုဝါခေါင် ရေတွေကြီးလို့
သပြေသီးမှည့် ကောက်စို့ကွယ်။ ခရာဆူးချုံ ဟိုအထဲက
မျှော့နက်မည်းကြီး တွယ်တတ်တယ်။ မျှော့နက်ဆိုတာ ချိုနဲ့လားကွဲ့
မြွေနဂါးတောင် ကြောက်ဘူးကွယ်။ တို့လည်းကြောက်ပေါင် အတူသွားစို့
အုန်းလက်နွားလေးထားခဲ့မယ်။ သွားကွယ်၊ သွားကွယ်။.” Professor G.H. Luce translated [this]
into English as “Rose Apple Gatherers”: “July, August, rain and flood,
let’s go pick the ripe rose-apple. Hi, take care in thorns and mud.
That’s where big, black leeches grapple. Leeches? Pah! The hornless things.
I’ll fight snakes or serpent-kings. Who’s afraid? Let’s all go now.
I’ll just leave my coconut cow. Come on! Come on!” All these songs we had to study
by heart and sing in class. When I was – one day
when I was in grade two, my Burmese teacher asked me, “Do you know the poet
who wrote this nursery rhyme?” I replied, “Yes, of course.
It’s Min Thu Wun.” He said, “No, no. I mean,
do you know him personally?” When I said, “No,” he said, “The poet is your mother’s
college sweetheart.” I was, I was totally flabbergasted. The whole class went silent,
all eyes staring at me; I felt so embarrassed. As soon as I got home, I asked my sister,
who was seven years my senior, and she explained everything to me. My stepmother, a very kindly lady
who looked after me so fondly, I had always thought her
to be my biological mother. I was shocked, yes. But I was also quite pleased
to find out who my real mother was. When I reached middle school, I found both the poems
of my mother and of Min Thu Wun in my textbook again. By that time, all the teachers
and students already knew about the two poets
and their relationship. I felt quite comfortable learning them. I found my mother’s poems to be – well – sensitive, personal,
sometimes romantic, sometimes melancholy; whereas, Min Thu Wun’s poems
were always very charming and delightful, sometimes philosophical because he mostly composed
about rural life and traditions. Only after studying my poems, did I – could I visualize my mother. Of course, I have beautiful paintings
and portraits of my mother at home. But they look quite lifeless. Her poems resurrected her in my mind. When I was young, every time
I was introduced as Khin Saw Mu’s son, that’s the name of my mother, the first compliment I heard was, “Oh, your mother was a real beauty.” Although I’d never seen her in person, I gathered she must have been
quite beautiful. But what about her thoughts,
her emotions, her feelings? Her poems revealed to me that there was more than
beauty in my mother. I found that she was a charming,
gentle, affectionate and kind person, a devoted mother, an obedient
daughter, a loving sister, and above all, a dutiful wife. I felt very gratified that she composed all these poems,
these wonderful poems. For without them, I would never have known
my mother intimately. My maternal grandparents
brought up their children strictly adhering
to the customs and traditions of a Myanmar aristocratic family. My grandfather was a senior official
in the British colonial service. And he passed on his legacy
to his seven children. Amazingly, all seven of them,
four sons and three daughters, turned out to be brilliant scholars. When my grandfather passed away, my eldest uncle took his place
as head of the family. He was even more strict
than my grandfather. The three sisters had to spend all their
school and college holidays with him, wherever he was posted. There was no chance for my mother
to communicate with her friends – or for that matter, her sweetheart – during the long summer holidays. So, they communicated
[with] each other in poetry through a very popular journal
of that time called “Gandha Yatha.” The poems that they wrote during
the summer holidays became classics, and they are now included
in our school and college textbooks. Here is an excerpt from one
of the poems my mother wrote during the long summer months. “လိပ်ပြာနဲ့ ကြာကုမုဒ် မြကန်သာဝယ် သင်းပျံ့ကြွယ်သည်
သွယ်သွယ်ကနုတ် ကြာကုမုဒ်တို့ လဲ့လုတ်လဲ့လီ ဖူးဖွင်ချီသည်
ဒေဝီနတ်မိ တို့နှယ်တကား။ ဖူးလိပ်ပြေစ ရွက်ညိုမြတွင်
ရွရွနားကာ ပန်းလိပ်ပြာသည် သက်လျာနှမ ကုမုဒါငယ်
စောင့်ရနောင့်ကို ချစ်ကြည်ညိုက” Well, this is is just an excerpt. In the poem, the butterfly and a particular lotus
named Kumudra can never meet because the butterfly
comes out only in the daytime and the lotus blooms
only with the moonlight. So the butterfly would sit gently
on the leaf all day and beg the lotus but to bloom until the sun sets. When night falls, the lotus
would bloom under the moonlight, looking for the butterfly
till dawn breaks again. It is an emotionally moving poem. I think when my mother wrote it, she was longing to see
her sweetheart, for sure. And here is another delightful poem
written by Min Thu Wun. It’s a poignant but very delightful
poem called “Nhinsi Pwint”: “နှင်းဆီပွင့်။
လယ်တောက ပြန် ပန်ချင်တယ် ခရေဖူးဆိုလို့
မောင်ခူးကာပေး။ မနက်တုန်းဆီက
ကြော့ဆုံးကို မောင်မြင်တော့ သူ့ဆံပင် နှင်းဆီပွင့်တွေနှင့်
ဂုဏ်တင့်တယ်လေး။” And U Khin Zaw rendered [this], very concisely,
into English as “Roses”: “Last eve her ladyship fancied
some flowers we saw on the wild-wood way. I plucked them for her,
those forest flowers. Alas, today in her hair are roses, roses – very pretty she looks with roses! I think the poet dedicated
this poem to my mother, again. When my mother finished
her final year in college, she had to spend
the summer vacation as usual, with her eldest brother, my uncle. During the summer holidays, my uncle hastily arranged a marriage
between my mother and my father. My uncle was then
the district commissioner in Pyay, and my father was
the deputy district commissioner. Both my father, U Ba Tint,
and my uncle U Tin Htut belonged to the very elite
Indian Civil Service, called ICS. The British chose the outstanding
scholars in college and sent them to [the] UK
for further studies and trained them exclusively to be part
of the British colonial service. In those days, they were
the crème de la crème. My mother, always an obedient sister,
did not make any protestations but accepted her fate as wife
of a senior government official. During the same period, Myanmar literature was enriched
with an immortal short story written by Min Thu Wun
called “ဘကြီးအောင်ညာတယ်,” which means “Uncle Aung
broke his promise.” Ii is a touching story
about a ten-year-old village lad who fell in love with
a wooden statue of a maiden. He loved art, and he visited
the village sculptor U Aung frequently and watched him create beautiful pieces of sculpture
out of figureless blocks of wood. He thought the figurine
of the maiden was the prettiest he had set his eyes upon. So one day, he could not help but ask,
very timidly, the sculptor, “How much it will cost
to purchase that statue?” When the sculptor said, “One rupee,”
it nearly broke his heart, for he never had that kind of money, and he was getting just
one paisa a day for pocket money. In the colonial days, we had to use the Indian currency
of rupees, annas and paise. One rupee meant 64 paise. Nevertheless, he begged
the sculptor to keep it for him, for one day he would come back
when he had saved enough money for it. The sculptor gave him his solemn promise
that he would not sell it to anyone. So the poor lad stopped eating
his favorite snacks and started saving his pocket money
in a bamboo container. Every evening before he went to bed, he would take out
all the coins and count them. It was such a slow process, so he decided to supplement
his income by doing menial jobs, like fetching water and
gathering firewood for his neighbors. When he had saved enough, almost enough, he went to inform the sculptor that in a few days’ time,
he would be able to buy it. But alas, the sculpture was there no more. The sculptor told him, apologetically, that a high-ranking government inspector
had just taken it away. The poor boy was so brokenhearted; he didn’t eat or sleep
or talk to anyone for days. No one knew why. Soon a severe fever inflicted him,
and he lay dying in bed. Before he died, he asked his mother to donate
all his savings in the bamboo container to the village monastery. His last words were “ဘကြီးအောင်ညာတယ်,” which means “Uncle Aung
did not keep his promise.” A very poignant, yet human story that created classic literature, the likes of which usually outlived
those who poured their emotions into it. The writer, my mother,
my father, my uncle – all the mortals have passed away. The poems and the stories –
the immortals – still live on. The short story
became a very popular play, and it is still performed
at pagoda festivals all over the country. The village folk and the kids
[have] known this story for many decades. Last year, I think, at a Yangon –
at a literary festival in Yangon, it was presented
by a famous stage director, and it was the main attraction
at the festival. Well, that’s the story of my mother, long-gone but immortalized by her poems and the poems and stories of Min Thu Wun. To this day, the Myanmar literati
still argue and debate about who the poets were referring to when they wrote these masterpieces. I think that matter is irrelevant now. Because what [does] matter is that they have become truly masterpieces
in Myanmar literature that will exist long after
all of us are gone. People’s love for literature
is dying globally. And the electronic devices that can make it more accessible
to readers are not helping at all. Because the present generation feels that
there are better uses for these devices than reading classical literature. Education today has become job oriented. The world has become a place where
you need vocational skills to survive. True, jobs feed your stomach. But what about the heart?
What about the soul? It is literature, it is poetry
that feeds the heart and soul, and also makes you human. In conclusion, I would like to quote
an adage of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha once asked, “How can you distinguish
l-i-k-e, like, from l-o-v-e, love? He said, “When you
like a flower, you pluck it. But when you love a flower,
you water it daily.” He said, ”If you understand this,
you will understand life.” Thank you very much. (Applause)

3 thoughts on “Love Poems: How love enriched Myanmar literature forever | Nay Oke | TEDxInyaLake

  1. Thanks U Nay Oak for the talk. You are the best! Now we know whom Ba Gyi Aung lied to for the golden statue.. our new president is the son of Min Thu Wun the great poet of that time…. you are the link to our old British educated Burma.

  2. Thanks so much Sayar U Nay Oak for sharing our culture knowledge to the people and its so touching me to hear about the true story behind the peons.

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