- By Thi Thi Minn
Feeling great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart, teenager Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay was very sad after reading the shocking poem of an aerial bombing over Yangon City in the Myanma Alin newspaper during the Second World War.
Residing at Thayet Taw Village near the mighty Ayeyawady River, northwest of Nyaung-U, Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay lamented that his dream of visiting Yangon was being shattered due to the bombings in Yangon.
Yangon city dwellers had run away from their homes to safe havens after the series of aerial bomb attacks occurred on 23 December 1941. However, the desire of the 16-year-old Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay to visit Yangon City could not be suppressed.
“I have heard that media guys and writers are very much important and crucial in Yangon. Therefore, I will go to Yangon when I grow up and settle down there. This desire comes deep from inside my heart”, he told his peers in his younger days.
First trip to Yangon to pay respects to martyred leaders
His first visit to Yangon was at a time when the whole country was in grief and sorrow over the loss of the nation’s independence architect, Bogyoke (General) Aung San, and other Arzarni (martyred) leaders who were gunned down by conspirators on 19 July 1947. Carrying the sad news in his heart, Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay headed to Yangon.
The remains of the fallen leaders lay in state at the Yangon Jubilee Hall for the general public to pay their respects and tribute.
This is how Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay recounted his experience, after traveling to Yangon together with a venerable monk:
“Immediately on arrival in Yangon, we rushed straight to the Jubilee Hall. I saw the remains of the fallen leaders lying in state for the public to come and pay their respects. A person on duty would alert people when to salute, and the waiting mourners would do give their salute one group after another. I also had the honor to salute the fallen leaders, and I was filled with grief at that moment.”
“The whole county was in grief, and no sound could be heard in the city of Mandalay. All the newspapers carried headlines similar to, ‘Bogyoke and others have fallen, what are we going to do now?’,” remarked U Maung Ga Lay while he was in Mandalay.
Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay is now the 96-year-old U Maung Ga Lay, and he is still excited as he reflects and remembers the brief encounter with Bogyoke Aung San during his younger days.
“One day, I heard that Bogyoke Aung San was scheduled to visit Nyaung-U to deliver an organizing speech. I duly noted the important day. Since I am curious by nature, I went to this place where the mass rally was held,” he recounted about his teenage experience.
It was a time when Bogyoke and leaders were struggling hard to regain the country’s independence and the name ‘Bogyoke Aung San’ had become popular among the entire population, he said.
In the evening, the compound of the government state high school in Nyaung-U was all set for the important event, and the crowd was there filled with excitement. On a makeshift stage, Bogyoke Aung San was flanked by U Kyaw Nyein and U Ba Pe. The first speaker was U Kyaw Nyein, and U Maung Ga Lay quoted what he said: “In a Myanmar traditional orchestra, an unmarried young woman would start entertaining the audience. Therefore, I am the non-married single girl of this show”.
Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay was quite eager to see Bogyoke Aung San, and therefore, he went to the back of the makeshift stage to take a little peep of him. Suddenly, out of the blues, Bogyoke Aung San appeared at the spot where he was, put out his arms around the teenage’s neck and asked “Hey, what are you looking at?” The now old man smiled, recollecting his unforgettable encounter with Bogyoke, and added, ‘’Bogyoke had a muffler around his neck”.
He also remembered what Bogyoke said on the stage: “Bogyoke urged the people to be united and also explained how degrading it was to be subjugated. He expounded that he was fighting for independence of the country and was seeking strong support from the people. I do not remember each and every word, though. Well, Bogyoke has been assassinated 71 years ago, and that’s a long time, right?”
The second recollection of U Maung Ga Lay was the event in Mandalay, when Bogyoke came to the city for a political campaign and it coincided with a time Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay was also there. The elderly man remembered, “The location was at Ywar Hine Market near Maha Myat Muni Pagoda. It was indeed an open wide space with green and shady large tamarind trees.”
He continued “At that time a prestigious man from Mandalay had enlisted to compete in the parliamentary election. Bogyoke heard about it and traveled to upcountry for that matter.”
Bogyoke was scheduled to arrive at 1pm, but he was delayed for two hours and arrived at 3pm. Later, it was learnt that large crowds of people had stopped Bogyoke on the way and requested him to deliver speeches for them.
U Maung Ga Lay recounted with much excitement, “As soon as Bogyoke arrived, large crowds rushed forward to the nearest place from the stage as they wanted to see Bogyoke as close as possible. I also moved quite quickly towards the stage. There were no security personnel or body guards. His fame had already spread around.”
While close aides Tetkatho Nay Win and Bo Htun Hla stood on guard at each corner of the stage, Bogyoke stepped out of the car and rushed straight onto the stage like a young student. He waved at the rallying crowd and praised, “Mandalay is behaving better”, and the crowd clapped with exuberance.
“Bogyoke dwelt on many issues, which I don’t remember in detail,” the old man remarked.
“The next day, newspapers in Mandalay, namely Mandalay Thuriya, Ludu and a third daily, the name of which I have forgotten, printed in bold and large headlines, ‘Bogyoke Aung San praises Mandalay,’” according to U Maung Ga Lay.
After regaining independence in 1948, U Maung Ga Lay came to Yangon for the second time and joined the literary circle in 1952, putting his heart and soul in his profession. While editing a short story about Bogyoke Aung San, Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay had daringly edited some paragraphs that might hurt and damage Bogyoke’s reputation, he still remembers that decision with great satisfaction.
He also recounted one funny event of Bogyoke, written by one U Pu Lay. When Daw Khin Kyi, spouse of Bogyoke, was feeling dizzy while traveling by car, Bogyoke had to massage her. While doing that, with a sense of humor, Bogyoke remarked, “I took her along with me to nurse me, but now I’ve got to be nursing her”.
For nearly 60 years, until now, Thauk Kyar Maung Ga Lay has been producing his Thauk Kyar journal. In conclusion, this prolific writer, showing a picture of currency notes with Bogyoke Aung San’s portrait that appeared in Aung San Mawgun magazine, wished, “I would like to hold again and spend legal currency notes with Bogyoke’s pictures on them, like we used to do until U Ne Win’s time.”
Translated by UMT (HK)