UNCLE AUNG –YOU ARE A HUMBUG
Translated by KM
——Provided by Myanmar Embassy in Beijing
“Ahshay Kyaung boys their food have to beg, Lai-Baw Kyaung boys on the best of food are fed. Coal’s as black as black can be, and our boys are as brave as brave can be. Now, one and all together Wah”. Those little urchins who raced about and raised this raucous cry were pupils of the Lai-Baw Monastery. And Maung Chit who followed behind them from a distance as far removed as a paddy-field on which a basketful of paddy-seeds can be sown, had his “longyi” carried about his shoulder, just like a peon wearing a “Sash”, wearing his frock very loosely and with bowed head counting, as it were, his paces was reciting incessantly, “E wun may thu-tan ekenthamayan.”About the time that it takes a tobacco pipe-ful to burn out, he happened to look towards the East and saw, clustered under the ivory-carver U Aung Gya’s shed his friends and class-mates. Curiosity prompted him to rush forward and push his way in to see what was happening.
U Aung Gya was engaged in the task of carving out of a piece of ivory the statuette of a princess. Having just begun, the form of the statuette was vaguely visible but it was daintily white and adorable. After a while, MaungHtwe, MaungKhway, Po Sa, Po Hla rose up and went away. But Maung Chit kneeling on the ground with his chin resting on the edge of the platform remained gazing.
He ventured with blinking eyes, “Uncle Aung, for whom are you making this statuette?” And U Aung Gya who was busily fumbling for his cheroot-stump in his tool chest after gently laying aside his mallet and chisel, drawled out, “What, nephew mine, do you want it? Uncle will let you have it for a kyat. Understand?” With a thinking countenance and scratching his head, he hazarded, “Uncle Aung, how many pyas are there in a kyat?” The ivory-carver laid down his cheroot-stump, and holding up both the palms of his hands together and as one fond of children and having a long temper, he demonstrated with gestures, “Tenpyas, ten pyas, six times and then four pyas, altogether sixty-four pyas. So much is called one kyat.” The whilst the youngster said, “Am I really going to get this statuette if I pay 64 pyas? Don’t humbug me afterwards, Uncle Aung,”he twisted and whirled his top-knot, and romped back merrily towards his house.
Maung Chit, not having the heart to spend the glorious fortune of the one pyas that his mother gave him to buy and eat the sweet-meat at the mid-day school-hour, gathered these up in the folds of his long frock through a hole he had made in it and had thus collected the glorious sum of six-pyas. For his ocean of a stomach which measures but one span in length was satisfied, contented and replete with the single plantain that Pondawgyi U Khema distributed to the pupils what time the hollowed-wooden gong sounded for the fore-noon meal of the pongyis.
Day by day, the ivory statuette became distinctly more and more beautiful and the form that prepared to smile even to the extent of almost exposing the teeth, would not wander away from his eyes even during Maung Chit’s hour of sleep at night. The more he looked at the statuette the more beautiful it became and the more grew the desire (in him) to gain possession of it. And that being so, there dawned on him the realisation that the process of saving up one pyas per day was a tardy one. In his eagerness to get more and more pyas he even prayed that the Sabbath-days (which were holidays) might be school-days. He bethought to himself as to how by other ways and means he could earn money.
Those were the days of the Great War and slate- pencils were a scarcity. And Maung Chit unmindful of midnight or of darkness drear, removed from the sacred flower-pot stand, the broken slates of his elder brother Ko Thit and lighting the smoking kerosene oil lamp manufactured slate-pencils with the aid of a pointed steel umbrella-rib. And selling these slate-pencils he acquired as much as six pyas. And he recollected with a pang of sorrow every time he recalled how that senior pupil Po Tay still refrained from settling his due of one pya.
When the sum of twelve pyas had been acquired and the fold of the frock could no longer contain them he stowed them away in a hollow piece of bamboo perforated at one end, such coins as bore the effigy of the head of Wayla (King Edward) Gyawt (King George) and “Nat Po Choon” etc. He also placed in the copper-castle along with its copper-companions after removing from its place under the mat the chunam-marked peacock pya that Auntie Nyo presented to his as a token of love on New Year day and to which he had clung without exchanging for the two pyas offered by friend MaungHtwe. The amount of the coins he marked with a bodkin on the bamboo. For as long as the days lasted his little fingers were busy making accounts of the pyas he had saved and auditing them_ “That day the peas-curry was cooked_onepya; the day on which Uncle Htu lost his cattle_onepya” and so on. Tired was he also a-weighing in his mind as to whether the treasure should be kept hidden in the rain-trough or whether on the bamboo shelf across the tie beam. Nor was he at rest trying to adorn and shapen the palm-leaf box in which to deposit the statuette once he had gained possession of it.
The sight of the steaming sticky-rice in the red-basket of the hawker Daw Kha U made his mouth water, but he had “boycotted” all such refections as can only be had by purchase. When his comrades bought glass-marbles and played with them, though, child-like as others, he wished to join with them, he had to be contented trundling, all by himself, around the monastery the old cask-hoop that was his own. Thus, a new joy added to the increase in every pya, came a day when he had collected thirty-four pyas.
The four o’clock bell that announced the breaking-up of the school unsettled Maung Chit’s heart. What time the evening prayers were being concluded as soon as he had said the word “ah-mah” he stood up and tried to rush off without repeating the word “Bhante” and an elderly Novice rapped his head with the knuckles, so that it sounded “gaung, gaung” as a caution against his being too much in a hurry to get away. He cared not, nor felt he the pain when on the road his foot struck against an obstacle and his big-toe nail was split into twain. He rushed pell-mell into U Aung Gya’s shed, and composed himself together only when he saw a pith-helmet topeed, blue trousered person sitting in all dignity on the platform handling the statuette turning it this way and that, as if he had the sole possession of it. It was only then that he heard the conversation carried on between the two:
“How’s that Sayagyi? You will let it go at the price I mention? There’s not a single house in your place that’s fitting enough to have a statuette like this. Nor is there anybody who can afford to buy this.”
“Yes, Sir. If it is for you, Wundaukmin, it may even have to be given away for nothing. But I want you to wait four or five days to polish and finish it up. As soon as that is done, I will bring it to Wundaukmin.”
Hearing even so much, Maung Chit felt as if his heart and lungs and entrails were falling off. He had a mind to snatch the statuette and run away, but how could he, who but hearing the words “Wundaukmin” had all his knees a-trembling.
The revolver on the waist, as if it were aware of Maung Chit’s intentions, turned and fixed its gaze on him, driving him away with a threat. With the greatest of difficulty he restrained the tears that welled into his eyes and with a last fond farewell look at the statuette with its back turned on him, made his departure. Passing down a by-lane he heard someone singing, “That little fellow brownish, crying because he loves us. Your tears availeth naught, for our mother will never allow us to get married.” The song might have pleased the heart of him who sang it, but it gashed into Maung Chit’s heart.
Fifteen days later was seen a group of old ladies each with a folded shawl over the head accompanied by a man entering into the dreary compound of the house occupied by Maung Chit. As soon as they had reached the top of the landing, a lady with dishevelled hair seated near the wall, embraced the legs of the man, crying aloud, “Ah-me-lai, Koyin Aung, can you bear the sight of what had happened to Maung Chit? O Maung Chit, mother’s darling, mother is coming along with you too. Ahi-Ahi” U Aung Gya, addressing himself to Maung Chit’s father seated, without any movement, near the lifeless body of Maung Chit, said “Why, whatever has happened, Ko Po Ngwe? I went up to town and I was away four, five or ten days and so I’ve heard nothing. As soon as I got back I came on straight-away here without even sitting down at home.” And wiping away his tear with the corner of his longyi, Maung Chit’s father gave the answer “My dear Koyin, I do not know what his disease was. He was all the time sad and pinging, refusing to eat rice and curry. At times when his mother fed him on boiled-rice as soon as a spoonful had got into his mouth he threw that out at once. Someone said that he was bewitched and when we sent for Saya Aw there was no change in his condition. It was as if we were ill-treating the child. He did not reply to our questions. Last night, however he called his mother and begged of her to give away an offering the fivemuus and two pyas that he had saved to his Sayadaw (Abbot). And directly after that he asked for you. Koyin Aung. When he was told that you had left for the town, he remained silent for some time and gasping incoherently “Uncle Aung’s a humbug he breathed his last.” U Aung Gya thinking awhile and realising what had happened” his face fell.
In the grave-yard on the southern side of where the coffeewort tree stands in the grazing-ground on the west of the village, one can see a lonely brick-work tomb. This is known as “Ah-Chit” tomb or “Maung Chit tomb,” but one cannot say which is correct. In a niche on the eastern side of the tomb, there can still be seen a statuette disfigured by the irreverent hands of bullock tenders and buffalo herds and on a marble slab fixed into cement were inscribed the words “The misery of desires unfulfilled.” Enquiring from my grand-father I casually learnt that this is the handi-work of U Aindra who became pongyi later in life and who died three years ago.
“UNCLE AUNG _YOU ARE A HUMBUG”
MINTHUWUN: A Selection of
his poems with English