East Himalaya

Friday, April 6, 2012

Burma Break

For the past 03 to 04 days, all news channels and print media has been celebrating the success of Madam Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, NLD’s success in Myanmar. Her sacrifice for democracy is being compared with leaders like Mr.Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. India is busy highlighting her connections through her schooling and college in this country.
We often fail to go a little behind and discover that even her great father, General Aung San has close connections with India, mainly with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. He has made visits to Calcutta and Delhi and has made speeches for freedom. Both, General Aung San and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be remembered as the great freedom fighters for Asia.
During my recent visit to Myanmar, my enthusiastic driver did not forget to drive me twice in front of Madam Suu Kyi’s house. I have always felt that her perseverance and her form of political movement come from the deep rooted Buddhist traditions. From extreme corners of Myanmar to the heart of Yangon, I have seen her place in the hearts of people.

Burma and Eastern India have always been 02 sides of a coin since centuries, starting from Buddhism, trade, British Colony, 2nd World War CBI (China-Burma-India) theatre and above all the people. It is only in the post Independence period and later we identify India’s East & Northeast and Myanmar differently. For both the areas to prosper sustainably, we need to open all the old trade routes through land, even if necessary, consider the routes passing through Bangladesh, between Myanmar and Eastern India. 
The maximum movement as I have understood was during the mid nineteenth century onwards, when the British India, headquartered in Calcutta sent several people from then Eastern India, which included Bangladesh to Burma for supporting the British administrative system. Even several entrepreneurs went from the Eastern part to start a set-up there. While in Bangladesh, I suppose some very enthusiastic youths at some place in Chittagong (probably St.Martin’s Island) did show me ‘Moger Muluk’ in Burma, which I found later was the upcoming commercial centre, Akyab in the past, now known as Sittwe.
Pidusai, Loose Street, 59 street etc are some common names I hear from my friends who have migrated from Burma in 1965-66. Some of their families had medicine shop, some grocery shop etc. In Siliguri some of them still retain the same name of their establishment. While talking to my friend Amal, medicine shop owner, he confirmed that his parents had reached the then Rangoon through the said route. They were owners of Medicine Shop there also. Post independence in Burma, since 1962, when shops were taken over, bank accounts were freezed and schools were brought to local medium by the then Burma Government, they left Burma and finally decided to come and settle in North Bengal. No one was thrown out, but given an offer to be employees in their own shops. Those who wanted to leave were given passage money for ship or flight and some pocket expenses. We have many such families today in West Bengal, whose birth place was Burma.
Many of them, mainly the Baruas being Buddhists stayed on, who have now taken local Myanmarese names through inter-marriage. There is some influence and connectivity of Christianity along the western borders, mainly from Mizoram of India’s Northeast. Islam is quite noticeable in Yangon and to some extend in Mandalay, so is Hinduism. The Durga Mandir still is a landmark of the Burma & Eastern India ties, and still survives in its full glory. Even many Myanmarese communities have migrated to India. In the North Andaman Islands I remember visiting some Karen villages near Diglipur-Mayabandar. Though they were all Christians, yet they had a rich Burmese tradition. I remember some local administration personnel mentioning regular arrival of Myanmarese fishing boats to the northern side of the Andaman Islands.

All the above discussions are to bring into light that inspite of continuing illegal human movements, forced political borders and closing of land and water based trade routes, which have suppressed the once naturally, culturally and economically resourceful areas, it will be difficult to do so for a long time. Tourism can be the igniting factor again. A freely intersecting tourism circuits based on the rivers through Ganga, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy and Mekong, covering the extraordinary horse-shoe, namely the Indian and Malayan peninsulas with Yunan as the crown could beat almost all tourism areas of the world. The similarity and diversity, the heritage of Buddhism - Tea - Weaving, and the natural tendency to be committed hosts could set up a new grammar for the global tourism industry tomorrow.  

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