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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #12

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, February 12, 1996


Letter from Burma No. 12 by Aung San Suu Kyi

	It is generally held that in Burma we do not have four seasons, we have
only three, the hot season, the rainy season and the cold season.  Spring is
largely unknown although in the cooler border regions there is a stretch of
pleasant, spring-like weather that we refer to as early summer.  Neither is
there a season that the Japanese would easily recognized as autumn, but in
those parts of the country where there are deciduous trees a flush of
/momiji/* colors brighten the early weeks of the cold season.
	From a casual observation of Burmese behavior it might appear as through we
were not particularly sensitive to the changing seasons.  We do not have
festivals to celebrate the advent of spring blossoms, we do not acknowledge
the vibrant beauty of the fall, we do not incorporate seasonal motifs into
our artistic presentations or our fashions.  We wear the same kind of
clothes the whole year round: the main sartorial difference between the hot
season and the rainy season is an umbrella and in the cold season we simply
add a few layers on to our summer outfits.  We do not give the impression of
paying too much attention to seasonal variations.
	But the Burmese are in fact acutely aware of the minute changes that take
place in their natural surroundings throughout the year.  In the classical
tradition we recognize six season and we also have a genre of poetry that
treats the 12 months of our lunar calendar as though each month were a
separate season in itself.
	December coincides roughly with the month of /Natdaw/ which, in the days
before Buddhism took root in Burma, was a time for the worship of the Hindu
god Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity of wealth.  In poetic tradition Natdaw
is the moth when the earth is wrapped in mists and cold silvery dews and
hearts are filled with longing for absent loved ones.  It is the month when
the /thazin/ orchid blooms: tiny exquisite blossoms, parchment colored with
golden yellow stamens, drooping from a curve of translucent green stems.
For the Burmese the thazin is exceedingly romantic, delicate and difficult
to nurture, its graceful beauty barely separable from the sharp coolness of
the season when it comes into flower.
	Natdaw constitutes the second half of the season of /Hemanta/ or winter.
It is the most lovely, most nostalgic of seasons in Burma.  The skies are
porcelain bright, pale cerulean edged with duck egg blue at the horizon.  In
Rangoon the coldest day is no colder than a fine day in Kyoto at the time of
the cherry blossom.  But for the Burmese this is cold indeed.
	Elderly gentlemen cover their heads in woolen balaclavas when they go out
for their early morning constitutional and old ladies drape knitted shawls
over flannel or velvet jackets of a cut fashionable half a century ago.
Tradition recommends the consumption of rich and "heating"foods such as
meat, milk, butter, honey and dried ginger during Hemanta and the cheeks of
those who can afford to eat well become rounded and glow in the fresh
morning air.
	Winter begins for me when at night I start piling on the Chin blankets that
we have always used in the family.  These blankets of thick cotton come in
stripes or checks, usually in different shades of greens, reds and reddish
browns.  As children we became attached to our own blankets and I remember
in particular a green checked one that I insisted on using until it was
almost in tatters.  Now, the first blanket I place on my bed at the advent
of the cold weather is an old one given to my father by Chin friends: it is
white with faded red stripes and in the corner is the date embroidered by my
mother, "25-3-47."  When the temperature drops further I place on top of the
Chin blanket a Japanese one that formed part of my parents' bridal bed.
	This is the eighth winter that I have not been able to get into bed at
night without thinking of prisoners of conscience and other inmates of jails
all over Burma.  As I lie on a good mattress under a mosquito net, warm in
my cocoon of blankets, I cannot help but remember that many of my political
colleagues are lying in bleak cells on thin mats through which seep the
peculiarly unpleasant chill of a concrete floor.  Both their clothing and
their blankets would be quite inadequate and they would be unprotected by
mosquito nets.  There are not as many mosquitoes in winter as their are in
summer but a net would have provided some much needed extra warmth.  I
wonder how many prisoners lie awake shivering through the night, how many of
the older ones suffer from aching bones and cramped muscles, how many are
dreaming of a hot drink and other comforts of home.
	This is the eighth winter that I have got out of bed in the morning and
looked out at the clean freshness of the world and wondered how may
prisoners are able to savor the beauties of Hemanta of which our poets have
written so nostalgically.  It would be interesting to read poems of winter
behind the unyielding walls of prisons which shut out silvery dew and
gossamer sunshine, the smell of pale winter blossoms and the taste of rich
warming foods.

* * *

This article is one of a yearlong series, the Japanese translation of which
appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the previous day in some areas.

* In Japan, /momiji/ has the specific meaning of "maple leaves" or the more
general meaning of "autumn" or "red" leaves.