E-Pao! EI - Interaction with the Myanmarese

Interaction with the Myanmarese

By: Amal Sanasam *

Sparing an hour for learning the Myanmarese language, apart from the main subject, is really interesting as well as relaxing.

Basically, to learn or to know the language of a neighbouring country which shares a dynamic history since time immemorial invoke a retrospective thinking. Even though it is a language of an underdeveloped country yet it can be a subject of study that induce knowledge, knowledge is above all territorial consideration.

It can be borne in our mind that a language can be enough to fit as carriers for higher studies in many dimensions e.g. trade & commerce, cultural studies, tourism, journalism, socio-economic and geopolitics. Learning and tolerance towards language brings hope and makes interaction more viable and interesting.

I’ve acquired this enthusiasm and the prospect from my enrolment in the six-month course conducted by Myanmar Studies Centre, Manipur University, which is a part of look East Policy of the Government of India. It was a class comprising of 30-40 candidates, old and young, from diverse streams, creating an atmosphere where new and old ideas could be exchanged.

The course taught by two instructors who had experience, and had spent their energetic life in Myanmar for decades, coupled up with a competent coordinator and a director.

Towards the end of the course an interaction programme was organised at Moreh and Tamu. It was an opportunity to interact with Myanmarese people from different walks of life - students, businessmen, officials, etc. Obviously, it had been a dream for the entire class.

In common perception, the natural urge of every Moreh-visitor is to buy goods at cheaper rate from Namphalong and Tamu towns, but the particular trip had a different objective. It had a tendency of interfacing with the people who have shared a history, culture and economy, but are politically divided at present.

This had been spurred by the linguistic affinity that was inculcated during the course. It is true that human beings communicate through languages more than through symbols because language helps in conveying emotions, knowledge, opinions, attitudes and values.

At the border, two check points regulated entry and exit from the twin towns i.e. Namphalong - Moreh Gate No. I is hardly used. Whereas entry into India does not pose much of a problem, official restrictions welcome any tourist crossing the international boundary for a shopping spree beyond Namphalong market.

Uniformed immigrant officials made us pay Rs. 10/- per person after checking I-card they kept them in their custody till we returned and handed over the entry - pass on which they wrote our particulars in and issue.

Early, in the morning, its very attractive to see a group of Myanmarse girls wearing traditional bark paste make-up and flat hat with full of flowers in front of their bicycle, peddling towards the Moreh gate No 2. Most of them were in hurry and busied themselves to sell the flowers to the pilgrims who came to offer morning rituals to Gurudwara Temples and other Mandir at Moreh town.

The scene compels me to take a photograph. While trying to capture the best moments of the flower girls a sudden thought obstructed me immediately to hold back my camera. It was the advice given to me by the tour-guides at Moreh that Myanmarese Government disliked mobile phones, laptops, sophisticated cameras and indiscriminate chatting.

Luckily, none of the guard saw my camera nor checked my bag. It seems they were quite lenient to our group or might be the official mood was upbeat. Some of my colleagues greeted the girls with a Minglaba (means blessing in Myanmar language).

Most of them, at a glance, knew that we were not frequent visitors but still enthusiastic about interacting with the Myanmarese. Quite a few of them were awe-struck and burst into laughter.

Tamu is a well-synchronised city, with wide boulevards and lined with beautifully painted spacious two-storey buildings, made usually appealing to the onlooker. The people of Tamu enjoyed a smooth traffic movement. It is a sign of remarkable relationship with the neighbouring ‘big brother’ - India.

After the inauguration of India Myanmar friendship Road, BRTF have constructed 160 km Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyu Road connecting Moreh town in Manipur and Kalwa, Kalewa, Kalemyu in Central Myanmar in three years. Everybody, especially the drivers are contended with the highway that was almost as smooth as fair-lady’s cheeks.

However, when asked about other stray road condition to our taxi-driver, he nodded that they were dusty and bumpy. A local passenger giggled and told us that tourists who went for a taxi-ride around the back lanes usually came back with a backache.

Tamu market with its sprawling shops and fast food restaurant is quiet and peaceful comparing to markets of our state. Every thing from rubies to lacquer ware, colourful longyis and velvet flip-flops was sold here. Cheap Chinese and Thai imports of every description were there.

Bargaining seemed the rule rather than the exception. Every shopkeeper first cheerfully quoted a price and then said, with twinkling eyes, “Now you say your price”. Interacting with different people ranging from shopkeeper to student and Government employees was a great moment.

While my colleagues were busy reading and writing down words from poster and signboard written only in Myanmarese, I was desperately looking to capture some typical scene of Tamu town for my stock photography.

Manipuri Tourists (Not related to this author's travel) in front of the Myanmar Royal Palace.
Photo Courtesy: RK SHIVA.

There again our tour guide prompted not to wield my camera freely as photography is officially prohibited. I realized, I needed to be quick and self-effacing, avoid dangling the camera from the neck and baring lenses from coat pouches.

Myanmar is a land of gentle people, beautiful pagodas, amazing fish curries and a culture brimming with enthusiasm for life. Even though our trip was shortened up to Tamu only yet there was much beauty, warmth and a rare generosity.

The rest of the world may dub Myanmar a third world country, but one of the tourist delight in Southeast Asia - a land with a scene of immense and desolate beauty; miles of ancient pagodas lie in every direction across the wide plain.

And when it comes to natural resources, Myanmar has few equals. The soil itself is first - rate. The quantity of rice they grew here is renowned worldwide. Teak fetches a lot of foreign exchange. Personally speaking, Myanmar has potential in every field but remains yet to be explored.

Beyond and beneath the superficial joys of travelling, marketing and interacting, Myanmar is a troubled land. The repressive political regime rigidly controls its citizens, curtailing many of their freedoms.

Poverty, a Military Junta suppressing democracy which is ostracised by the international community and ethnic rebels are Myanmar’s home grown problems.

Having dwelt among the Myanmarese during my short sojourn with deep absorption, I got a crystal clear picture of the daily life of the Myanmarese folks - falling standards of living, precarious health and educational level dropping rather than rising.

Intellectuals are extremely concerned about the declining levels of education and system of learning which allows no room for critical thinking. It is sad and a bit ironic that Burmese traditional culture is facing such a threat to its natural resiliency.

The Burmese always felt at home in their own culture and unlike many in the region, never adopted western dress or manners. There seems to be a need among people to talk to someone - anyone - from outside the country to tell the world about a hidden, deep suffering. Having engrossed in this thought, unwittingly, I find myself less as a tourist and more as a witness.

However, the few Myanmarese that we had the opportunity to interact with appeared to live their lives with a sense of grace and culture that was deeply moving.

Even though they had a life full of wants and difficulties, they are very laborious and joyful by virtue of which they forget their sorrows and miseries.

Amal Sanasam wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on April 06th, 2007 .

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