U Than Zaw – Ex-Marine R/O
Is the name of a young girl, her village is not very far from Columbo in due North, near tea-centre, Sri Lanka.
In 1969, owing to becoming the high cost of living in our country, Myanmar, I submitted my resignation from Magway Aero Drome In-Charge in DCA (Department of Civil Aviation), joined as a Radio Officer (R/O) aboard the MV Maldives Skipper in Maldivian Shipping Co Ltd Columbo, Sri Lanka. The company offered me to be paid the remuneration of 25 Sterling (pounds) per month plus other allowances. I made a contract for one year’s service.
During that period, I made a journey to Aden’s peak where Lord Buddha’s footprint was situated. For my pilgrimage, a Burmese monk of Maradana Temple led me to go there. We two travelled by train. On the train, we were very fortunate to happen to make friends with a group of Ceylonese (Sri Lanka natives) who joined the same passenger wagon from a village station. We were seated very nearby to have charts after making friends with one another. They were travelling the same route and the same pilgrims with us, too. They speak Sanskrit and English as well. Their leader was an elderly lady. We became very friendly with everyone as we were of the same religion (Buddhists). The old mum, an elderly leader, introduced me to a young girl about 16 years of age by the name of “Hima-Lai-Ta” and we two became good partners exchanging views “this and that” joyously enjoying sightseeing together through the train window. We did not even notice that the train arrived at the foot of Aden’s Peak Mountain. The elderly leader, grandma said: “Hay! You two, stop talking, we have arrived already, your naughty little boy and girl.” When we two looked back at her, we found her smiling satisfactorily, nodding the head asides we felt shyness of her look in that manner.
We took a rest just at the foot of Aden’s Peak Mountain which was opposite India beyond the sea.
It was their custom to cleanse up the bodies with some water using soap and lemon juice prior to paying worship to Lord Buddha’s footprint. Then, we all changed our clothes to white colour. I, too, changed into white long pants and a long-sleeve white shirt to be uniform with all of them.
By the way, while I was taking a show, Hima-Lai-Ta, very kindly, took care of me, such as giving me toilet soap and lemon juice and rubbing thoroughly on my back just like my own sister helped me respectfully. During all that time, her younger brother watched us everything, mocked us and ran away, saying “Tan-Jot, Hima-Lai-Ta” repeatedly. But actually, my name is “Than Zaw” in the wrong way as he was a foreign-native “tongue”. Nevertheless, Hima-Lai-Ta never got angry and kept patience with smiles. We have our proverb as saying “Agreed if no response, accepted if smiled, and amusement means already confirmed. The old mum, “By seeing these manners of her grandson, she gave a stern look as a warning not to disturb others etc.” Grandma, too, seemed to be pleased with our close friendliness and familiarity with each other in her sight. Because we saw her always in a smiling mood.
After we had dressed up and were well prepared, we started to climb up the mountain.
The elderly lady who was a leader of our pilgrimage went ahead holding up a torch, shouting up rhymes as: “Apeli Apeli,” we responsively shouted as:
“Api-Bante”, “Ape-Bu-Doom”, she shouted, “Api-Bante”, we shouted back, the translation of the rhyme in English is climbing round and round the mountain, we will pay worship to our Lord Buddha, we must pay respect to our omniscient Lord Buddha.
As soon as we arrived at the top of the mountain where Lord Buddha’s footprint was placed under the shed, the elderly leader and the followers including myself, except for the (Burmese monk who was the companion), ran quickly and paid worship to the Buddha’s footprint, touching with their forehead, weeping, tearing sorrow fully even. I found they respect it very seriously. The style of my worshipping is quite different and rather ridiculous compared to their styles. I paid worship by bowing down in a sitting position.
The next morning, we came back to Columbo by return train. On our way back, the elderly lady asked about my job and position in Columbo. I told her about my position aboard the Maldivian Shipping Co Ltd at present; the ship was alongside for about 20 days in Columbo and we would be sailing for Indian ports right up to Karachi, West Pakistan. In that case, “I have a little talk with you, my good boy, she said: you better get down at our village to pay a visit, and in the meantime, please spare for about a couple of days to make you engaged legally with my grand-daughter “Hima-Lai-Ta”. This gentleman is my son who is a policeman in Columbo.“Hima-Lai-Ta” is his youngest kid and he, too, liked you very much to be his son-in-law. He wanted you willingly. We all are relatives here at our pilgrimage party. They are all fond of you and they know that you two were in love with each other. You are a Buddhist like us, same religion, no objection at all. Ok?”, she said in a long speech.
In my, response: “I am quite familiar with you all, indeed, Grandma, but I’ll tell you frankly, I’m not a single person as you think. I have been married and had three kids in Burma; I have to go back home after the completion of one year’s contract. She replied: “no, no, no, I don’t believe it. It is impossible, you are still very young; please don’t give me a lame excuse, you see, you still have no moustache and beard yet, and you are not old enough to get married in your country, come on let’s get down now. She forced me strongly holding my shoulders and pushing me down. I gave a quiet glance to “Hima-Lai-Ta” I found her getting amazed with her wide eyes opened and gazing at me to hear my answer eagerly, in my response.
“I told you the truth, Grandma, I never say lies to others, please believe my words Grandma, excuse me if you don’t mind.”
The train whistled and slow down for stoppage at the station at any moment.
I saw both of them bent down their necks hopelessly. What a pity for all the honest lovely village group of people in Sri Lanka. I felt very sorry. They got down at their village station hesitatingly. Their faces looked to be very forlorn and morose. Meanwhile, the train proceeded to Columbo slowly. What a pity for all of them, especially “Hima-Lai-Ta”. I gazed at her back; it was a blurred sight with sorrow for them all. I braced my mind not to tear out. I came to know that “Hima-Lai-Ta” had been waving her hands heavily with a final glance at me tearing down both of her cheeks. “Oh! Poor little village girl of Sri Lanka!”
“Let bygones be bygones.” Poor pretty girl: “Hima-Lai-Ta!” They had gone out of my sight now. I did not even know how to decide my experience abroad should be a “Tragedy” or “Comedy”.