- Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
The Centenary Birthday of Ma Kyan, writer researcher, was most fittingly celebrated on the 10th waning of the first Waso 1380 ME (Saturday, 7 July 2018) at 1pm at the Sarpay Beikman Hall in downtown Yangon. Ma Kyan, in good health and spirit, personally graced the occasion with her presence.
Leading organizers of this event were writers Thura Zaw, U Aye Cho [M.A.], Aung Moe Saung and December Mon. Friends and fans of Ma Kyan are preparing to publish an anthology of essays about her to be titled, “Centenary History — Devi” [&mNynfh orkdif;a’0D].
The writer of this article was bound to be present at that ceremony for many reasons. Firstly, though Ma Kyan was eleven years his senior in age, she happened to be his pupil in the M.A. class at the Department of Modern History and Political Science, University of Yangon, from 1954 to 1956. Secondly, she and the writer were the two most junior tutors in the Department of English when Professor U Myo Min advised them to transfer to the Department of Modern History and Political Science, where there was the prospect of promotion, unlike his own department where many junior staff were blocked from promotion. Professor U Ba Nyunt willingly accepted Ma Kyan and the writer, as not only his own department was extending but also another department, i.e. the Department of the Far East History, would be opened, where U Kyaw Thet, a doctorate degree holder from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, was to become its professor. So she and the writer met at Professor U Ba Nyunt’s department, but in two different positions. She was a tutor and a pupil in the writer’s class of Political Science. The writer, as a lecturing tutor, had to take the lecturing duty when Professor U Ba Nyunt was abroad to attend academic conferences.
The writer came to learn about his pupil Ma Kyan, who later came to become his colleague in historical research at home and abroad and in writing of Myanmar history and compilation of the official biography of Bogyoke (General) Aung San.
Ma Kyan told the writer some exciting events of her own life. She hailed from a town named Taungup, situated at the border of Rakhine State, and near Pyay. She was a Rakhine Myanmar and a well-educated daughter of a middle-class family. She joined the Kyaukpyu Post Office as a clerk. Due to her integrity and efficiency in financial accounts, she was promoted as an accountant in that office. Not long after that promotion, her integrity and courage were challenged by an unexpected and exciting event. After Myanmar regained independence in 1948, the entire country was plunged into insurgencies. Government offices and public facilities were attacked, looted and destroyed. Kyaukpyu was no exception.
One late afternoon, a group of insurgents rushed into Ma Kyan’s Kyaukpyu Post Office and, at gunpoint, ordered her to surrender all the cash to them. Ma Kyan calmly said, “At gunpoint, I have but to surrender. I’m a faithful Government servant. If I give cash to you with my own hands, I’ll be cooperating with you in this crime. So, take these keys and open the safe and get the cash by yourselves.”
When the insurgents had taken the cash, Ma Kyan made a demand to them.
“You have got what you wanted. Now please comply with my request. I have to prove to my boss that the cash in the safe has been taken away by insurgents. So as a proof, sign a letter saying that you have taken the cash on this day, date and hour.”
It was incredible, but the insurgents did sign the letter, before taking away the cash from the Kyaukpyu Post Office. Here we could not but admire Ma Kyan’s integrity and courage, but also the integrity of the insurgents. At gun point, Ma Kyan, a lady, had the courage to demand the insurgents to sign a letter saying that they took away the cash as a proof. The insurgents were honest enough to sign the statement that they took the cash.
Many years passed by, and Ma Kyan, after she got an M.A. degree, became an assistant lecturer at the Far East History Department. When the Myanmar Historical Commission was formed by Prime Minister U Nu, under the chairmanship of Sithu U Kaung, and later, under Mr. G.H. Luce and U Pe Maung Tin, Ma Kyan was recruited as a Senior Research Officer [S.R.O]. Later, she was joined by Dr. Daw Yee Yee, who had obtained her doctorate degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. But she was many years junior in age to Ma Kyan. These two ladies had two commonalities. Firstly, both of them love history, research and writing. Secondly, the two had remained single. To use the typical English word for single women is ‘spinster.’ Before the industrial revolution in the late 18th century, England was an agricultural country. In the country side all males were involved in farm or field work. All females were occupied in their daily chores. Spinning the wheel to get good fine thread for weaving takes hours the whole day. As females did that job, their minds were also spinning when they would get a lover or a life partner. If a single woman had got more than one lover, her mind was spinning whom she should choose. If she failed to decide but got lost in spinning, her age gradually advanced and she became an ‘old spinster.’ In Myanmar, old spinsters are called ‘apyogyi’ tysdKMuD; who later got married to Lubyo Gyi [old male bachelors] or who would adopt her nephews, nieces or pet animals to accompany her in her life.
“The writer met Ma Kyan and Dr. Daw Yee Yee in London from 1956 to 1960. The writer was a Ph.D. student at the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science, London University. The two apyogyis Ma Kyan and Daw Yee Yee were at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. While living within the means of our allowances, we tried to cook our daily meals. So we usually meet at the butcher’s or slaughter house, fish store or green grocery shops when buying vegetables. Sometimes we would meet at tea or coffee shops, like A.B.C. or Lyon’s Corner. On Sunday, we would meet at cinema halls that sold tickets at a discount for students. On other days, we would meet at second-hand bookstores at Charing Cross, Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus.
When the writer returned home with a Ph.D. degree from LSE, he became a lecturer. The two apyogyis became Senior Research Officers.
Another round of a cycle of change
came, when the writer was appointed the Director General of Fine and Performing Arts, and a year later, the Director General of Myanmar Historical Research Department. The two posts were held simultaneously but was paid only one salary.
Here, as the DG of Myanmar Historical Research, the writer met the two apyogyis or single ladies Ma Kyan and Dr. Daw Yee Yee. They both insisted the writer not to use ‘spinster’ or ‘apyogyi’ when addressing their names. The writer willingly accepted their insistence adding, “of course you still have time for marriage.” The writer was married with five children by then.
At the 100th Birthday celebration of Ma Kyan on 7 July at the Sarpay Beikman Hall, we met Ma Kyan in good health and in good spirit. The writer has noticed that history professors, lecturers and researchers live long lives.
Buddha had said that there are four major factors in causing death (1). Kama [your own doing] (2). Sitta [mind] (3). Udu [Climate] and (4). Ahara [food]. Though nothing is permanent, one can prolong one’s life if one can avoid the above mentioned factors.
Whenever the writer calls Ma Kyan in a directly-translated English word ‘Miss Remainder’ or ‘Miss Left-Behind,’ Ma Kyan said the spelling of my name is rMuef not rusef ]]&,pfMuef]] not ’’,yifhusef’’ Muef not usef Muef meaning, ‘full of good features. ’’usef” means remainder or left behind. Ma Kyan is ‘full of good features and not the remainder or left-behind.’ Teasingly, the writer told her that Ma Kyan, therefore, still has the chances to marry and she would jokingly reply, “Of course, why not even at this age of 100?”.
H.E. Union Minister for Information Dr. Pe Myint graced Ma Kyan’s Centenary Birthday celebrations at the Sarpay Beikman Hall on 7 July, not only with his presence but also with his inaugural speech remarks, in which he said that people involved in historical research, writing and compiling Burmese dictionary, encyclopedia Birmanica and Myanmarsar, and Historical Commission live long lives. The writer agrees with his remark. History Professor Dr. Kyaw Thet lived beyond 80, his wife Mary Kyaw Thet beyond 90, Professor U Ba Nyunt beyond 80, and his wife Daw Ohn Khin 100 years. U Thein Han (Zawgyi) beyond 80, his wife 100 years. Dr. Ohn Khaing was beyond 80, Dr. Than Tun 83, and the writer himself is now 89 years. An old student of the writer came up to him and said “Sayagyi, I’m sure you’ll also live up to 100 years. We now honour Daw Kyan with the title &mNynfh orkdif;a’0D’, you will surely get to &mNynfh orkdif;a’0g 100 years old Devi – so keep it up”.
For an hour and a half, greetings, homages, presents, cash and kind showered upon Ma Kyan, in the same way rain was pouring outside. Ma Kyan shed tears of delight and appreciation.
The Birthday cake was cut and shared, with everyone joining in the chorus, ‘Happy Birthday to you.’
The evening TV program covered that event in full. Long live Ma Kyan!