By Myint Zan
Daw Amar born 29 November 1915, Mandalay, Burma
Ludu (‘The People’) Daw Amar a revered and eminent Burmese author died in
Daw Amar (roughly translatable as Ms Firm, ‘Daw’ being an honorific for Burmese women) made her mark on the Burmese literary –and political- scene at a very young age. While still studying at
Starting from the early 1950s both Hla and Amar were known by the honorific Ludu (the People). For that was the name of the journal –and later a separate daily newspaper was also established-that U Hla and Daw Amar co-founded in 1945 soon after the war ended. Ludu has been translated into English as ‘The People’ but the usual term that used was (and is) Pyithu retranslatable as ‘citizens of the country’. The term Ludu has a more colloquial and in some sense more militant term roughly meaning ‘masses of the people’. In 1946 the couple founded the Ludu daily newspaper which as its terms suggest took a left-wing editorial stance concerning both national and international affairs. It was the premier –later sole- private newspaper in
Ludu Daw Amar had borne out with courage and fortitude more than her fair share of the slings and arrows of (mis)fortune. In the mid-1950s her husband U Hla was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for sedition. During the period she mainly ran the Ludu daily newspaper as well as looking after her children who were growing up.
It would seem that the firm leftist views of the Ludu couple passed down to at least two of their offspring in an even more radical way. Daw Amar’s eldest son Soe Win while studying at
When Ludu newspaper was in publication both husband and wife had their own separate columns. U Hla’s columns entitled (in translation) ‘Motley of things that [I] want to write about’ was less ideological and softer in both substance and tone than the columns Daw Amar authored under the heading ‘Comments on the Moving World Events’. During the mid-1960s the Ludu editorials and especially Daw Amar’s columns were scathing in their condemnation of the Johnson administration’s policies in
Daw Amar’s literary contributions extended far beyond political matters. In 1964 she won the national literary prize for her book Artistes Loved by the People- a meticulous and informative study of Burmese musicians and artistes, mainly those from
In the past quarter century or so before her death hundreds of persons from all over the country gathered on November 29 each year in a monastery near Mandalay to pay tribute to Daw Amar. (Her last -92nd- birthday though was held in her eldest daughter’s house in Mandalay due to the fact that the authorities were imposing difficulties in the birthday arrangements at the particular public place so it has to be done at a private home). In her later years Daw Amar was affectionately and reverentially known simply known as Amei: The Mother. Notwithstanding the adulation or -perhaps at times and at least by a few- of what she probably would have considered to be over-adulation she can be disarming and self-effacing. I read over ten years ago a probably apocryphal story that after the then Secretary- 1 of the State Law and Order Restoration Council of Burma in one of her birthday ceremonies presented her (through a proxy and not in person) with an expensive pen she threw it away. When I met her – after not seeing her for about fifteen years- in early 2004 I mentioned that comment to her. She stated unselfconsciously and disarmingly that it was not true and that she ‘dared not do it’. But dared she did in many other areas: always speaking her mind on a variety of matters through print-media (she continued to write into her nineties by dictating) and in broadcast interviews with foreign radio stations up until virtually the last few weeks of her life.
Living as long as she did Amei Daw Amar had had many of her friends, contemporaries and even (considerably) much younger colleagues passed away during her long, productive and inspiring life. Throughout the years she had written various obituary-tributes about many of her elders, contemporaries including well-known international figures as well as about those who were junior to her in age. Among the world-figures she had written obituary-tributes were those of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) and Italo Calvino (1923-1985) Around 2003 her friends and colleagues collected and published her obituaries-tributes under the title roughly translatable as ‘Essays in Memories of (and nostalgia for) those (who have departed)’ (lun-thu-sar).
When the late Burmese poet Tin Moe (1933-2007) died in exile in Los Angeles on 22 January 2007 Daw Amar expressed –in an interview with the Burmese language service of either Voice of America or the British Broadcasting Cooperation- her regrets and sorrow that Tin Moe –who according to her was ‘in his prime’- ‘had to die at the age of 73’ when she (according to her own description) ‘useless old woman’ that she was ‘did not die’. She implied that she is now ‘useless’ because she could not write any more. (Even though in the last few years of her life she continued to ‘write’ by dictating to her granddaughters perhaps in the last several months of her life she might have some difficulty doing even that.)
But for once Amei Daw Amar might have been too self-deprecating when she said that she had become a ‘useless old woman’. Reverential age (rather than old) yes but never –we can firmly and unequivocally assert- ‘useless’. Indeed her life was nothing short of inspiring for all of us she had left behind and we will dearly miss her.
At what can be considered at the start of Daw Amar’s literary and political career more than seventy years ago during the February 1936 Rangoon University student’s strike another prominent Burmese literary figure the late Minthuwun (1909-2004) gave her a poem, in his own hand writing, part of which read, in my adapted translation, as follows.: (The poem used her name ‘Amar’ firmness as a starting point and as an exhortation)
The crooked (way) is not the ‘straight’ (up right) way
Supine-ness is not firmness
Don’t let the crookedness prevail over that of uprightness
Don’t let firmness become supine-ness
Amei Daw Amar’s life is an ample testament that the Mother lived up to her name of principled firmness: a life indeed of kindness as well as conviction which can only be a source of inspiration and a well-spring for courage for all those who mourn her passing.
Dr. Myint Zan