Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Saffron Revolution

A Buddhist monk holds an alms bowl upside-down as a symbol of protest.

pic courtesy: Reuters
As I type this perhaps Burma or Myanmar (as it is now known) is getting ready for its ninth day of street demonstrations against the junta or military government of Burma.

Yesterday (25 Sept) some 30, 000 Burmese monks took to the streets of Rangoon where they were joined by 70,000 supporters as well as 100 Burmese nuns. The monks were armed simply with their begging bowls, some flags,banners and little else. This Gandhian-like protest has been dubbed "The Saffron Revolution" and despite warnings from the Junta that force could be used to end the biggest anti-government protests in 20 years, the Buddhist monks defiantly carried on with their non-violent protest.

I am so rooting for the monks. In this age of terrorism, guns, suicide bombers and other extremely violent ways of putting one's point across, these monks with their begging bowls paint a quaint, almost mythical picture. I so want their non-violent protests for democracy to succeed.

My grandmother hails from Burma (she and her family fled to India in 1942 when the Japanese invaded Burma). I wish I had thought to ask her more about the country she grew up in, perhaps I will get the chance to record her memories when I visit her in India next year. Until then I would like to read more about this country and its people. Can anyone recommend any Burmese writers or any books on or about Burma? Would be grateful for any suggestions, thanks!

UPDATE: Many thanks for the very welcome book suggestions, with your help I've compiled a tiny reading list of Burma-related books:

1.
The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U (History, Non-fiction)

2. From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe
(thanks, Sanjay and Happy Reader)

3. Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin (Thanks, Sanjay)

4. The Glass Palace: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh (Thanks, Nix)

5. The Lizard's Cage by Karen Connelly (Thanks, Sharif)

6.
Land of a Thousand Eyes: The Subtle Pleasures of Everyday Life in Myanmar by Peter Olszewski

7. Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi (Thanks, Happy Reader)

8. The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II by Donavan Webster (Thanks, Melissa)

9. Burmese Days: A Novel by George Orwell (Thanks, A Reader from India)

10. Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi (Inwa) (Nominated for the 2007 Asian Man Booker Prize)

11.
The Voice of Hope by Aung San Suu Kyi (thanks, Holly Dolly)

12. Under the Dragon: Travels in Burma by Rory MacLean (Thanks, Bint Battuta)

13.Last of the Guardians by David Donnison (Thanks, Yuva)

14. The Coffin Tree by Wendy Law-Yone

15. Irrawaddy Tango by Wendy Law-Yone

16.Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess by Inge Sargent

50 comments:

Parth said...

It is good that this is getting prominence. In today's day and age, getting a handle on regimes that suppress information is tough to do. Awareness on our part is a start.

jenclair said...

Non-violent protests have had remarkable results in the past and when set against the violence we've seen for so many years, non-violent protesters seem even more courageous.

Hope you are able to find out more about your own Burmese heritage and that some good book suggestions turn up!

Sanjay said...

Lotus, Your passion for and connection to the country of Burma are very much in evidence thru this heartfelt and touching post. Like you I have been following the events there, and been pulling hard for the monks and their peaceful protest against the brutal regime.

I hate to sound like a cynic, but sadly it looks as if this peaceful protest will be squelched as well. The world will make well meaning noises and pass resolutions.

Perhaps this might be a reason Burma is the world's largest exporter of teak and a principal source of jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires. It is endowed with extremely fertile soil and has important offshore oil and gas deposits.

Sadly realpolitik and commerce come first. What has India's stance been on this protest if I may ask?

I would love to see the junta overthrown by the people without violence, but perhaps I am dreaming but hoping for the best.

I truly hope you will be able to record your grandmother's memories when you visit India next. My heart goes out to you and her for I am sure this news must cause both of you concern?

Talking about books related to Burma, I heard this amazing interview on NPR. They interviewed the author "Emma Larkin" (her pseudonym).
As per NPR.. She has retraced Orwell's path through the southeast Asian nation as a way of exploring the present-day country, its people and its brutal military junta, which has renamed the country Myanmar
The link to the NPR interview is here. There is also an excerpt from the book "Finding George Orwell in Burma" at the link. I hope this book might be of interest to you.
Thank you for a thought provoking post.

Sanjay said...

Lotus, Out of curiosity I looked up if there were any more books on Burma (and by a Burmese author). I found From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey . It has good reviews at Amazon.

diyadear said...

yaa.. myanmar is in news now.. just heard a while back sayin more than 5 ppl groups r not allowed to be formed in public n all. hope it all ends up well

Sharif said...

This is not by a Burmese but has a buddhist theme.
Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly, a nice novel placed in Thai-Burmese border.

Radha said...

Its so true...seeing a peaceful protest in this age of violence is heartening.
The results from peaceful protests however are not overnight. Mahatma Gandhi continued his struggle for years together without losing hope. As the Burmese monks stand up to the military I hope they take heart from the Indian history.

Anali said...

I've been watching these protests too and so hope that the monks will be okay. Before I see the news each morning, I've been nervous about learning what happened overnight.

Srijith Unni said...

Hi, Me first time, in here.. A neat blog, and some great posts. This post, was of particular interest to me, because I had recently been wondering about Burma, and the oppressive situation there. The tyrannical arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by the military government is seriously a case the whole world must look into. I had composed a poem in dedication to her too.

This struggle of the monks, therefore comes seriously as a fresh breath of news. Thanks for sharing..! Will keep visiting. Came here through starry`s blog.

Have Fun, Take Care and God Bless.!

With Best Regards,
Srijith.

Srijith Unni said...

Blogrolling you, in case you don`t mind.

Best Regards,
Srijith.

Pijush said...

Its nice to know that Gandhigiri is there as well. Very interesting post :-) Take care

Lotus Reads said...

@Parth ~ I couldn't agree more. Awareness is key. It won't be long now before the junta clamp down on them and it's important that we get their message across to the world before that happens.

@Jenclair ~ Thank you! The monks are a courageous lot, aren't they? Despite not having any outside support they continue valiantly with their peaceful protests hoping to bring down this brutal regime.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

As always, it's wonderful to hear from you!

Well, apparently the Junta has clamped down on the monks and imposed curfew and an assembly ban...some 300 monks have been arrested for defying the ban, I guess the numbers will inch upwards as the day wears on.

I'm ashamed to say India has its eyes on Burma's energy wealth. The ONGC has just signed a very lucrative contract with the Burmese government and that is why they you don't hear them speaking out against the Junta. What a pity.

Oh, yes, Burmese Teak is among the best in the world and so are their precious gems. Burma is rich in natural resources and yet their people are so poor owing to the regime's isolation, corruption and mismanagement

THank you very much for the two books you found! I cannot wait to listen to Emma Larkin on NPR and "From The Land of Green Ghosts" sounds wonderful, too! Thank you very much Sanjay!

Lotus Reads said...

@Diya ~ You are right, there has been a clampdown by the Junta. It will be interesting to see, however, if the regime will use violence to stop them. After all, Monks are highly revered in Burma and if blood is spilled onto the streets there might be terrible consequences for the regime.

@Sharif ~ Thank you for your excellent book suggestion. I have seen the title often enough but had no inkling as to where it was set. I visited the border when I was in Thailand so this book will definitely resonate with me.

@Radha ~ I am hoping for the same. Non-violence can achieve results... we have seen Gandhi do it, we have seen Nelson Mandela do it, but, yes, like you say, it does take time, patience and persistence.

Lotus Reads said...

@Anali ~ That's the first thing I do,too, but always with my heart in my mouth because the regime is known for its brutality.

@Srijith ~ Welcome! So nice of you to stop by. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of my heroes and I am so excited to learn you have written a poem about her. I'm going to work now but when I return you can definitely expect a visit from me, I would love to see the poem. Thank you for adding me to your blogroll!

@Pijush ~ Thank you! There is something so touching about seeing the monks march in their 1000's through the streets of Myanmar, you cannot help but pull for them!

Nix said...

The only book I can think of reccomending that would be Amitav Ghosh's Glass Palace.
Although I'd have to say that I did not like it as much as The Hungry Tide, but it did give me a nice insight into a country and a people who although were my close neighbours, I knew so little about.

Asha said...

I saw a monk with a stick in his hand on TV this morning!!! Guess they need a Gandhi too. Good luck to them in their fight.
You grandmother is from Burma, that is wonderful.Great culture they had, I knew a Burmese Doctor in UK, she was so kind and wonderful!
Hope you talk to your ajji about her life there, exciting to me!:))

Hollydolly said...

Anjali:
I too have been following this story.I read your touching post with tears in my eyes. The sight of these beautiful people protesting with maybe one of their few,perhaps in some cases, only possession, their begging bowl.

As you say,
"I am so rooting for the monks. In this age of terrorism, guns, suicide bombers and other extremely violent ways of putting one's point across, these monks with their begging bowls paint a quaint, almost mythical picture. I so want their non-violent protests for democracy to succeed".

For me that says it all....

I have just lit a candle and said a prayer for them, it is not much compared to what these gentle people are risking.

How wonderful if you will be able to record your Grandmother's memories when you next visit.Perhaps, if they are not of a too personal nature you could share with us all.

I read with interest our dear Sanjay's post. So I am off to check out links and books. What a delightful Guy......

Love and prayers.....

hellomelissa said...

we are all rooting for those monks. unfortunately, i just read that 3 were killed.

"the burma road" by donovan webster deals with burma, india and mostly china during ww II. i really enjoyed it (mostly to share hubby
's interest) but it may be too dry & historical.

Lotus Reads said...

@Nix ~ *hitting head with hand* Why didn't I think of that one? I even have it sitting here on my bookshelf, it has been for over 5 years I think. Thanks a million for jogging my memory, Nix, I'm looking at it now, it does seem like an excellent choice for readings on Burma.

it did give me a nice insight into a country and a people who although were my close neighbours, I knew so little about

You said that so well, Nix. It's true, the Burmese were our neighbors but they were kept away from the outside world so ably and efficiently by their military rulers.

@Asha ~ That must have been his walking stick!?! Yes, I enjoyed my grandmother's company very much. I only ever got to know her well when she came to stay with me after I had my first child. She taught me a lot of Burmese dishes, but sadly, we never really spoke about her life in Burma.

Beenzzz said...

I too support the monk! You're right about their peaceful Gandhian approach to protesting versus reducing to violent attacks on innocent people. I wish more countries would adopt this method. I do feel sad to know that some were killed though. I suppose that is bound to happen, but as long as they perservere, it shows more strength on their part.
How VERY interesting that you have a familial connection to Burma. I hope that you post all that you learn from speaking to your grandmother when you go to India. What part will you be visiting?

Happy Reader said...

Gosh, I didn't know about this Saffron Revolution.. Guess I am living in my own cocooned world. *Sigh* Happens when you have a wailing baby in your hands all day.
I just looked up a few books for you online. One that might interest you (I was intrigued too) "From the land of green ghosts - A Burmese Odyssey" by Pascal Khoo Thwe - Good reviews in Amazon & It was a 2002 Kiriyama prize winner too!
"Letters from Burma" - By Aung San Suu Kyi
Hope you find something to your liking! And Do let us know what you picked.
Very interesting to hear about your Burmese Heritage. May be you will share some stories with us, after your trip, I wonder...

Priya said...

yes, i am actaully in Jo'burg. I could have went for the match, but we were driving back from the coast - almost a 10 hour journey by car! ;p

Sanjay said...

Hey again Lotus. Thank you for your response and I hope you like those books.

I'm ashamed to say India has its eyes on Burma's energy wealth. The ONGC has just signed a very lucrative contract with the Burmese government and that is why they you don't hear them speaking out against the Junta. What a pity.

Thank you for telling us about the ONGC contract. Maybe that explains it?
Actually I would say India is trying to look after its interests. China is it's competitor after all and it makes sense that like China, should India also try to find energy and natural resources which it's growing economy needs? China has been doing this in Africa and Burma.

Sorry just playing Devil's advocate here. I wish they would put pressure on Burma in some fashion, and like you I find their silence saddening.

Hollydolly said...

Hi Anjali, me again....

I am so sad to have learned about the monks killed in Burma as they protest the military-ruled government and its abusive power including the continued house-arrest of the pro-democracy movement's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. It's very scary, where will it all end..........

gs said...

hello lr
my sympathies are fully with the prayer-chanting monks.it is a great tragedy that aung san suu kyi is still languishing in jail.the free world's response so far has been dubious.the un has done nothing.i am angry with our own government for so brazenly showing insensitivity to this matter.as the world's largest democracy we should have been in the lead to deliveer burma from its tyrants. instead our minister is right now hobnobbing with the generals to secure energy for india.ongc has promised to invest in offshore drilling.economic intersts have taken priority over human freedom.but the monks will ultimately win.they have instilled fear in the junta.and they dread the time when people no longer fear them.

A Reader from India said...

Lotus,Thank you for sharing this. I hope that the peaceful protests by the monks has an impact. Wouldn't it be a wonderful triumph of non-violence if they eventually succeed in overthrowing the junta?

I haven't read any books set in Burma other than an Orwell essay on 'Shooting an Elephant in Burma', will watch your post for recommendations.

Part of Sharatchandra Chatterjee's novels Shrikanto and Pather Dabi are set in Burma. Shrikanto has a few poignant chapters on the interactions between the Bengalis who went there to work and the simple, trusting natives. It was touching and disturbing.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sylvia ~ THank you so much for your touching comment....yes, let's keep the monks in our prayers. THey have shown such bravery and courage in standing up to the Junta, I would hate for any of that to be in vain. I, too, have been quite disturbed to learn that some of them may have been killed by the police, let's just keep hoping that the people of Burma taste victory.

Yes, Sanjay is so well informed...I think it's because he has such a natural curiosity about everything.

@Melissa ~ Thank you for the book recommendation! I will soon make a reading list for Burma-related books and will include "The Burma Road" by Donovan Webster. THanks again!

@Beenzzz ~ I promise to do a series of posts on my grandmother's childhood in Burma if I get to see her in India next year. She lives in Bombay but my parents and M's parents live in Bangalore, so I will have to make a special trip to Bombay to see her.

Lotus Reads said...

@Chitts ~ I don't blame you, I think I created my own little world when my kids were small..a world of Lil' Miss Muffet, Cerelac, Peek-a-boo, etc. :) I, too, had no clue what was going on outside that world unless someone chose to share with me. All credit to you for visiting our blogs and leaving comments despite how busy you are. Thank you! Thank you also for the book suggestions. You know? I discovered a Burmese author in the 2007 Asian Man Booker longlist. The title is "Smile As They Bow", written by Nu Nu Yi (Inwa). According to "The Irrawaddy", the novel depicts events at a popular but controversial Nat (spirits) festival in the village of Taung Pyone, near Mandalay, where many in Burma’s gay community gather each year to participate in ritual marriages with Nat. As you can imagine, the subject matter of this novel did not go down so well with the authorities in Burma!

@Priya ~ The drive along the coast must have been beautiful! We drove along the Garden Route when we visited Cape Town. South Africa must have one of the prettiest landscapes I have ever seen.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ hi again! Yes, the book suggestions are truly appreciated, thank you! True, in an ideal world both India and China would put pressure on Burma instead of watching things unfold from the sidelines, but sadly, we live in a world where money and power come before being human.

@Sylvia ~ The latest I have heard is that the The Karen National Union (KNU), (an ethnic rebel group which has battled the government for 57 long years) has now thrown its support behind Buddhist monks leading anti-government protests and urged other similar groups to unite in opposing the regime. Honestly, I don't know where all this is heading.

@gs ~ You have summed this up so well...I echo your sentiments. Apparently the govt. is barging into all the monastaries and rounding up all the monks. It is much too sad for words.

Lotus Reads said...

@A Reader ~ "Shooting an Elephant in Burma" sounds like a great book! I hadn't realized that Burma was to Orwell what Cuba was to Hemingway. Also, I truly value the Sharatchandra Chatterjee suggestions, didn't he also write "Parineeta" and "Devdaas"? I loved them both!!!

iliana said...

Unfortuantely I've been out of the loop on the news (blame it all on a vacation and continued vacation state of mind!) but what little I've gathered from CNN is just sad. I am with you and want their non-violent protests to succeed. What the world needs is peace. I hope you'll be able to find some good books on Burma and of course share with us :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Iliana and welcome back! I am in the process of putting up a list now,I hope everyone will find it a helpful reference for books on Burma.

Lotus Reads said...

@A Reader ~ I just re-read your comment and realized that 'Shooting An Elephant in India" is an essay, but thanks to you I found George Orwell's "Burmese Days" which I will including in my reading list.

Happy Reader said...

Wow! Look at all those books! Very inviting! Thanks for sharing it with us, Lotus! I hope I get to read a few. May be I will start with the Booker Prize Nominee..
Many Thanks.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I'm so sad to see the way this is turning out, at least at this point. I would love to see their efforts turn successful.

Id it is said...

It's a unique protest no doubt, and I'm pretty sure they have the support of the entire world given the nature of their protest and the cause they are protesting.

George Orwell is the only writer I can think of on the top of my head who has used Burma as a setting, though i'm sure there are many others as your list already indicates. Infact I'm hoping to find some good reads from/about Burma from your future postings, hehe

starry nights said...

I am rooting for the Monks also.may their voices be heard.Thanks for sharing the names of the books.would love to read about Burma.

DJ said...

i m an avid reader and i just came across ur blog... i simply loved it...
mind if i blogroll u??

Lotus Reads said...

@Chitts ~ Thanks for contributing to the list! I am not sure where to buy the Booker nominee book from. Amazon doesn't have it.

@J ~ It's terrible, isn't it? Thank goodness for the blogs though, you do hear heartening stories about Burmese bloggers putting their stories out there for the world to read. Not long before the authorities cut off the internet, isolating the country completely.

@Id ~ They do have international support but what good is it if the support is only verbal and can't make any real difference? Only China and India, but especially China, can make any real difference to situation, but they're staying mum.

@Starry ~ You're so welcome! Yes, I think Burma would make a fascinating read.

@dj ~ Welcome and please go right ahead! Always happy to meet another book lover. Will visit your blog soon!

Dark Orpheus said...

Like you I've also been following the situation with Burma on the news. Things have turned so bad, and I wonder if there will be enough pressure to change things.

I've read Finding George Orwell in Burma a few years back. One of the interesting thing I found was how Emma Larkin found so many Burmese that loved to read. And how they used stories, metaphors and allusions to express their oppression.

I really have to get back to Freedom From Fear -- was reading it halfway. I'm also waiting for The River of Lost Footsteps when it comes out in paperback. Burma is truly a place that captured my imagination.

Bookfool said...

There's very little world news in our local newspaper, so I had no idea monks were protesting peacefully in Burma. I'm rooting for them, too. Burma is long overdue for a change; I hope it will occur during our time.

What a great list of books! I can't wait to see your reviews, as you get around to reading them.

If you have a chance to interview and record your grandmother, you should do so. My last living grandparent died when I was 26 and my father when I was 27. I will always mourn the loss of the stories I should have written down while I had the chance - both were in excellent health and died unexpectedly. My father, in particular, loved to reminisce. I so wish I'd written down what he said during our living room slide shows.

Tara said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. You have a wonderful way of writing about global issues. I'm so glad I tape-recorded a conversation I had with my Grandmother the last time I saw her. I cherish it.

Lotus Reads said...

@Dark Orpheus ~ Thank you for your comment! I was listening to the Emma Larkin interview on NPR and yes, she did mention the Burmese love of reading. Isn't it such a pity that books and other reading material are censored so much there? Have you read the synopsis of the book that made it to the 2007 Asian Man Booker Longlist, "Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi (Inwa)". That's a bold book...I'm surprised it made it past the censors.

I am enjoying seeing the monks engage in spiritual activism, but unfortunately many will lose their lives, this regime is just brutal!

Lotus Reads said...

@Nancy ~ Hi! Do you know the first impression that a lot of people that visit Burma come away with? The gentleness of the people and how much they love children. The Burmese are a very gentle race and I guess this is why the military has found it so easy to keep them cowered down. Not for much longer, I hope. I honestly think the people have reached the end of their tether and now that the monks have started agitating hopefully the Burmese will summon their collective courage and bring the regime down.

Nancy, I am sorry you weren't able to collect the reminisces of your grandparents and father...I realize time is short and I really should be talking to my grandmother more. Thank you for the reminder.

@Tara ~ Thank you! Global issues and current affairs are among my favorite subjects. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving me a comment. I'm so glad you managed to record a conversation with your grandmother the last time you saw her...what a lovely thing to share with your children when they are older.

bint battuta said...

lotus, i haven't visited for a while - love the new look! (or do i just have a bad memory?!)
i can recommend a book about burma i read a few years ago, called 'under the dragon', by rory maclean. worth reading, if you can get hold of it.

iamyuva said...

if I may- few more suggestions:

From the Land of Green Ghosts, a Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Thwe

Freedom from Fear by Desmond Tutu

Last of the Guardians, a Story of Burma, Britain and a Family by David Donnison

Lotus Reads said...

@bint battuta ~ Hello! Yes, my blog has a new frock, thanks for noticing! :) Thank you also for the book recommendation I will add it to the list. Come to think of it, I have seen "Under The Dragon" at the bookstores. It's a good suggestion, thank you!

@Yuva ~ I like the sound of "Last of the Guardians" will definitely add it to the list. Many thanks for the recommendation!

Anonymous said...

Burma books from 1940's

Seagrave, G: Burma Surgeon

Seagrave, G: Burma Surgeon Returns.

A Reader from India said...

Lotus, that was a great list of books based in Burma! And thanks for telling me that the essay was from 'Burmese Days'.