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News from India
Subject: Mandalay Maiden
By C. Uday Bhaskar
The Times of India, New Delhi.
7th, Feb 1996.
Mandalay evoked images filtered through John Masters, Kipling and Somerset
Maugham till on a recent visit to Myanmar. I was actually ensconced in an ornate
teak chair in the verandah of the erstwhile British commissioners bungalow.
Nursing a pink gin and lazily puffing away at a Burmese cheroot. It was easy to
imagine the lifestyle the <italic> sahib log <italic> must have assiduously nutures
as part of the white mans burden. Indian settlers and moneylenders added their
usurious bit to the colonial cross.
Intrinsically affable, the bungalow staff were particularly helpful in choosing a
traditional Burmese longyi for my daughter. Well-meaning suggestions were
made as to how I could acquire precious stones, old Japanese <italic> samurai
<italic> swords et al. But like many Indian abroad, I was acutely conscious of my
meagre foreign exchange allowance and opted to visit the local pagodas.
A guide conducted me and I marvelled at the piety the Buddha inspired in the
local people. Buddhist monks with shaven heads and saffron robes were
everywhere and the reverence they evoked was palpable. Apparently, despite their
frugal earnings, the locals thought little of cheerfully donating a fifth of their
daily earnings as alms to the monks. I was humbled for I could not recall when I
had mad a comparable gesture.
The last pagoda was imposing. As we climbed up, two young girls scampered to
us with bunch of flowers. Tell him to take them, they urged my guide as they
thrust the flowers into my hand. I declined in vain and asked them to pose for a
Which country are you from, queried the more vivacious one. When I inquired
their names, the young maiden asked me to guess, hinting that I held her name in
hands. This innocent sauciness was endearing and she burst into laughter as I
fumbled. Lotus? No -- she giggled and finally revealed through the guide that her
name was Hnin Si, Burmese fro rose.
On learning that the flowers were 100 kyats, the pretty book-keeper in me
surfaced. I managed to return them but Hnin Si adopted us and accompanied us
all over the pagodas. Pictures were taken and I promised to send them to her. She
retorted that I was like any other tourist -- I would never remember her after I left
Back at the base of the pagodas, it was time to say goodbye. Hnin Si was not to be
seen. Where she is I asked. Saucy wench, that one, remarked the guide. Too
attractive for her own good. She is orphan and not a pure Burman at that, he
spat, revealing a xenophobia that I had not discerned.
Does she go to school I asked -- naive tourist questions. School! he guffawed. The
way she hangs around chatting up tourists to make money, she will end up in
Bangkok in the flesh trade.
This was distasteful. The next appointment beckoned. As the car moved forward.
Hnin Si emerged from nowhere, swathed in peals of laughter. Thrusting the
bunch of flowers through the window into my hands. She raced away in the
pagodas. I was ashamed.
I returned to the bungalow chastened. For all her handicaps. Hnin Sis innate
generosity soared well beyond the fastidious book-keeper in me.