Light of literature from Sarpay Beikman shines upon Myanmar

By Maung Hlaing

On 10 July 2020, the first coordination meeting of the Literary Consultant Team of Sarpay Beikman was held at the headquarters of Printing and Publishing Department on Theinbyu Street. It was 6 June in 1947. On that day, representatives, economists and officials met to deliberate on the national rehabilitation needs, under the leadership of Bogyoke Aung San, the architect of Myanmar’s independence. That historic meeting (widely known as conference) at the Building of Sorrento Villa which was situated at 361, Pyay Road in Yangon. The attendees drafted a Two-year Plan on Economic Development to be implemented when Myanmar regained her independenee. The Plan came to be known as ‘‘Sorrento Villa Plan’’ after the venue of the meeting. Bogyoke Aung San, who chaired the conference, made a historic speech. It was the last speech in the life of our later lamented national architect of independence, who became a Martyr on 19 July 1947. The Sorrento Villa Plan was beneficial not only to the economic situation of the nation but also to the literary world of the nation.
‘‘A translation department should be established to translate useful books and have them pub- lished in the interest of the people’’, said Bogyoke Aung San in his speech. His speech paved the way to save the people from the age of darkness. In order to implement his speech, the Burma Translation Society (BTS), or Sarpay Beikman, was established on 26 August 1947. In this way, the building of Sorrento Villa, located at 361, Pyay Road was found while seeking a place of peace and quiet to inplement the literary tasks of the BTS. The name of Burma Translation Society was changed into more honourable ‘‘Sarpay Beikman’’. Later, the name was used in English as ‘‘Palace of Literature’’ where necessary. Now, the name in Myanmar စာပေဗိမာန် is transliterated as ‘‘Sarpay Beikman’’. The motto အမှောင်ခွင်း၍ အလင်းဆောင်အံ့ written in Myanmar by Sayagyi Min Thu Wun was translated into English as ‘‘Light, Where Darkness Was’’ by Sayagyi U Khin Zaw (K).

Book sellers on the streets of Yangon offer a wealth of reading pleasure and knowledge through the ages. File Photo/GNLM
Book sellers on the streets of Yangon offer a wealth of reading pleasure and knowledge through the ages. File Photo/GNLM

As a result of implementing the suggestions made by Bogyoke Aung San at the Sorrento Villa, a grand publishing house emerged. At that time, although it received occasional government subsidy because of the educational nature of its work, Sarpay Beikman was not a government organization. It was a private, non-political institute, governed by a Managing Council whose members, in addition to its President, Premier U Nu, included U Tin, Minister for Trade Development, Dr U E Maung, ex-Justice of the Supreme Court, U Ohn, Counsellor to the Premier, U Cho, Executive Officer of the United States Educational Foundation in Burma, U Thein Han (Saya Zawgyi), Librarian of the University of Rangoon, U Myo Min, Professor at the Department of English, University of Rangoon.
U Wun (Saya Min Thu Wun), Director of the University Translation and Publications Depertment, U Ba, Director of Education, U Chan Htoon, Justice of the Supreme Court, U Khin Zaw (Saya K). Director of Burma Broadcasting Service, U Aung Min, Director of Social Welfare, U Thant, Secretary to the Premier, and U Thet Su, Chairman of Social and Economic Council.
Such presons were those who played the leading role in the political, economic, social and literary fields. Because of the efforts made by them, Sorrento Villa Printing Plant came into being and literary activities were sucessfully carried out. In the 1950s, the (Sarpay Beikman) Printing Plant was known as the most modern one in Southeast Asia where all our books were printed. Believe it, or not. In Sarpay Beikman Printing Plant, Ludu Theikpan Kyan (Science for the masses), school text-books, Sarpay Beikamn monthly magazine, People’s Handbook Series, books for children and other useful reading materials were produced.
Throughout the ages of Parliament Democracy, Revolutionary Council, Lanzin Party, or Burma Socialist Programme Party, Sate Law and Order Restoration Council and State Peace and Develop- ment Council and incumbent Government, Sarpay Beikman has been contributing a lot to literary development. We cannot deny that. The 70th Anniversary of the establishment of Sarpay Beikman was successfully held on 26 August 2017. We are now looking forward to seeing the Diamond Jubilee Ceremony in 2022. With the passage of time, Sarpay Beikman has to carry out gigantic tasks — Scrutinization of National Literary Awards, Scrutinization of Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards, holding of paper reading sessions, and other literary activities in addition to production of regular publications of Shwe Thway Weekly Journal for children, People’s Handbook Series, Myanmar Year Book (Encyelopedia), Thuta Padetha (General Knowledge) Monthly Magazine. With the guidance given by the Union Minister for Information, the One-hundred Myanmar Classic Book series have come out. Volumes one, two and three have already been published and they won the attraction of book-worms. Besides, the book lovers including researchers are now looking forword to seeing the Vol.1 of Encyclopaedia that will come out with a new updated version. The plan has been implemented in cooperation with the Tun Foundation.
It is heartening to see that the Translation Branch of Sarpay Beikman is now making efforts in producing translation works in full swing. Recently, it has produced an interesting book ‘‘Mass Media, Politics and Democracy’’ by John Street, translated by veteran translator (ex – Chief Editor of the Mirror) Ye Tint. The Public Library of Sarpay Beikman is open to all, providing services to readers including researchers, compilers, scholars and so on. In addition to its reference library, Sarpay Beikman has a Children’s Library to make the children have interest in reading and to build up their reading habit. However, it is disappointing to know that the number of readers who visit the library has fallen, compared to the past results.
Actually, Sarpay Beikman has been carrying out literary development activities in addition to its normal duties.
However, times have passed. Good and able persons of Sarpay Beikman have done their best and earned their rest. According to the vicissitudes of life, the new have to substitute for the old in the long march. The new comers have to be well trained to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps. To be frank, successors need to be qualified.
To meet the needs, the literary consultant team of Sarpay Beikman has emerged. Man of letters such as veteran writer and librarian Sithu Dr Thaw Kaung and veteran scholar Dr Khin Aye (Maung Khin Min – Danubyu) will lead the members who have possessed their own reputation in Myanmar literary world. The team will give guidance and advice on implementation of literary development works, production of quality publications, conducting training courses for editorial staff, promoting practices of literary studies, republishing famous books of Sarpay Beikman, translation of Myanmar cultures into English and etc. I for one, I assume that what Sarpay Beikman needs is capacity building for newly hatched editorial staff. Our seniors have done the best and earned the rest. But they have to relay what is the best to the next generation.
As Alfred Lord Tennyson said in his poem….. For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever….., Sarpay Beikman will go on forever!

Ref (1) A booklet on Sarpay Beikman Institute, 1958.
(2) မြန်မာ့အလင်း 31-3-2019

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