Burma Memories: Release Ceremony, Hong Kong

Mu. Ramanathan

I am extremely delighted to stand on this stage in front of three luminaries. Honorable Mr. L D. Ralte, the Consul General of India, the first Indian citizen of this city-state Hong Kong, a senior most diplomat by profession, but an unassuming and a simple person. Today four associations have joined hand together; they represent the entire Tamil community of Hong Kong and a considerable cross section of the Indian community. When Mr J V Ramani and Mr M Arunachalam sought an appointment of the Consul General with the presidents of these four associations, he simply told them, ‘I am excited in joining with you and your associations in felicitating the great man living amongst us; and do not make me feel as an outsider by extending a formal invitation’. Let me tell you, at least as far as I know, no diplomat of his stature has forgone these types of protocols. Thank you, sir.

Prof.  Suba Veerpandian, a well known Tamil scholar, has been active in the social and political arena for several decades; authors of many books and conducts talk shows in Tamil TV channels and hence has become a household name; and we will be privileged to listen to him talk today.  And the hero of the day, who all of us call affectionately as ‘Yoonus Bhai’, who acclaims respect amongst Hong Kong Indian community not by his age, but due to his wisdom and active participation in social activities.

I look so small in front of these three great men, but I do not mind, rather more than pleased as I have been given an opportunity this evening to say few words about the book and its making.  Yoonus Bhai, is rich with experiences, but has not seriously considered putting down them into paper. I have had the chance to listen to him talk in Tamil Cultural Association’s meetings. But the idea for this book came to me through the Tamil Literary Circle meetings. We started this Circle in 2001 and like any other serious literary forums, it has hardly attracted big crowds. Yoonus Bhai attends regularly and normally delivers the valedictory speech. He has been the special speaker at some meetings. In Jan 2003, on the topic of life of immigrants, he spoke about the social and cultural life of Burmese Indians. We had never heard of these accounts before; lakhs and lakhs of Indian immigrants have lived and are still living in Burma, but their social and political life have not been properly recorded. Four years later, again in another Tamil Literary Circle meeting, in November 2007 he spoke about how Indians who led a life with high social status in Burma had to flee during WWII, and subsequently in early sixties after military assuming power.

I never considered myself competent to compile Bhai’s great experiences, but at the same time was anxious that these valuable accounts should be documented. But I did not know under what genre his experiences could be classified. He talked about the social values, customs, culture and life style of Indians, Burmese and also the Chinese who lived in Burma during the first half of the last century, but it is not alone a sociological account. He talks about two World Wars, the Japanese aggression, Nethaji’s Indian Independence League of which Bhai himself was an active member, Burmese and Indian independence, how situations led to a junta in Burma, and finally he records with great pain the exodus of Indians out of Burma. But the book does not come under the genre of history. Though not to a great extent, he talked about his family and his brought-up. But it is neither a biography nor an auto-biography. He talks about the Tamil theatre in Burma during and after the independence struggle, he talks about films, talks about journals and literature, but the book is not a literary or theatrical account. He lists the happenings very precisely, but this is not a diary. It is combination of everything, it is his reminiscences, it is his memoirs covering social, cultural, political, historical and personal life.

Not only the content, but also the making of this book is much different. I met Yoonus Bhai several times and interviewed him. He spoke in length on all the areas I just now mentioned. I recorded his talks using a digital recorder. Later downloaded them into my computer, and edited those audio files using specialist software. I subsequently split-up these files into smaller ones, each one running for about 20 minutes. I sent these files to a group of ten friends who have volunteered to assist in this venture. We formed a Google email group; volunteers included people from Hong Kong and also those who had lived in Hong Kong and now living elsewhere. All these people know Yoonus Bhai, and needless to say they have very high regards for him. They listened to the audio recordings and typed the transcripts in Google Documents. These documents were shared among the members of the group.

Bhai’s talks were like a flood, flows away with a rush. Though he tried, his talks many a times were not in a chronological order, and not on the same subject we started with for the day. This posed me with a challenge of rearranging.  My inexperience in a venture like this caused delay. Though we started this exercise in November 2007, we could pull the curtain only by July 2009. Bhai did not mind the delay and continued to cooperate. I have divided the book into 17 chapters and tried my level best to group his talks under these headings. I edited the transcripts, compiled them, arranged them subject wise, and again shared these edited files within the group for comments. Bhai also read the edited versions and made several changes. Rajesh Jayaraman, Zainab Kathija, Kavitha Kumar, Kazhi Alaudeen, Geetha Bharathi, S Prasad, A Senthil Kumar, K G Srinivasan, S Vaidehi and S Narasimhan are the people who wrote the transcripts. M Sridharan, now a counselor in Indian high commission in Fuji, assisted me in editing. Sridharan has worked in Hong Kong Indian Consulate before. A Swaminathan has taken the recent photos of Bhai.

Kalachuvadu Publishers have published the book and it was launched in Chennai on 31st December during the Chennai Book Festival, and since then has attracted considerable attention. Down south, in a Taluk headquarters, namely Karaikudi, the book was launched a week ago, again in a book exhibition. The day before the launch of this book in Karaikudi, the book festival itself was inaugurated by none other than Prof Suba Veerapandian. Last week, I missed him by a day, but catch him up today, in the same dais for the Hong Kong book launch.

In the Karaikudi launch, the president of the book festival committee and authors of several books, Prof. Dr. Aiykan spoke very high of the book. In my introductory note in the book, I have mentioned how this book was made. Having read that, he praised me for my computer knowledge and for using modern technology in making this book. Though I was tempted to accept his praises, I overcome the temptation and I did admit the fact. And the fact is, as Tamil writer A Muttulingam once said, in a broad daylight, I could distinguish between the front side and backside of the computer. Whatever I have done in the computer arena for this book were spoon fed to me by the fellow participants.

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