Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ma Thein Shin – Chapter (4)

(Direct translation of late Naing Win Swe’s “Ma Thein Shi Si Pote Pay Bar”.)

(On 6 January 1966 General Ne Win’s Revolutionary Socialist Government stupidly prohibited the civilian populace from transporting, storing, distributing, and trading of 460 basic commodities including the staples such as rice, peanut-oil, and salt. Hta-nyet (jaggery) was one of those restricted commodities and a large scale smuggling trade of Hta-nyet had developed overnight in Middle Burma where most of it is produced.)

Year 1969

As a train clerk I used to do the day-to-day jobs of selling tickets and checking tickets on the train for the passengers and their cargo only. But now I was forced to do the horrible jobs of searching and arresting people and their cargo if they were transporting the general commodities strictly prohibited by the military-controlled Socialist government.

I also had to work with many train conductors. Whenever the alcoholic conductors San Yee or Mya Ohn or Chit Swe were on the trains the smell of hard liquor was unavoidable in the Guard Car. Especially the days with Conductor San Yee happily went through real quick.

“Hey, Yin Maung, listen to me! Actually, we should all be living like that three monkeys on the match box. Have you ever seen Three-monkey match box before? Nope, how could you have seen it? You must be only a baby back then. Like that three monkeys from the match box, one closing its eyes and another one blocking its ears and the last one shutting its mouth, we should behave. Aren’t we? I say, what you know?”
“Say it in Burmese?”
“I’m a bit drunk and I want to say by English. Can’t you know?”

He then almost fell asleep sitting while kept on saying Can’t you know …… Can’t you know. The train jolted and I fell on him. I tried to take a sip out of my glass as I leaned on him.

“But we have on our shoulders the duty to search and arrest the smugglers on the train. On our shoulders, isn’t it right? Okay, you have to remember that! If we work harder we will get more rewards. Isn’t it right? Now, today, how much we got today?

As he asked I handed him his share of ten kyats.

“What? Only ten! I am really sorry now. Yin Maung, you are breaking my heart. My little brother, I give you the whole train to work. And like that three monkeys I shut my eyes and my ears and mouth so that you can do whatever you want on this train, my train. So many smuggler bitches on my train and you are the king of this train and, bloody hell, you give me only ten. Only ten kyats and I am the king of this whole train. Hey you bastard Yin Maung, my little brother, are you double-crossing me? Say it. Nope, I want to kiss you, please.”

He then held me by the shoulders and tried to kiss me on my cheeks. Then he tried to hit me with his loose fists, but he was too drunk to do that and finally he gave up and started crying with tears coming down on his cheeks.

“Hey, you want to box me? Little motherfucker, you don’t dare! That’s good. Just remember this. Money, money, money, and money is everything. If you have money your mother-in-law will love you. And your wife will love you. Even if you are blind drunk and swearing on the middle of the road she will take you to home. Right into the bed. But you don’t know how to make money. What are you? A future Buddha? Yeah you are a Buddha!”

“Hey, rain has to come down, come down heavy. This rain now is our rain, loving rain, like that song, gold rain, silver rain. Hey get up, let’s dance, gold and silver are raining down on us soon!”

So we danced holding hands and circling inside the narrow space of the guard compartment. We sang together too as the train was grinding Jaung Jaung Jaung Jaung on the track. Our uniforms’ green neckties were flying as we danced.

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In reality we knew very well our happiness was just a short-lived one. The fear that the train could be held at the coming station long enough so that the cops could do a thorough search was always in our mind. That fear had immediately driven away my little drunkenness.

In reality we sometimes forgot we were travelling in the stark darkness and we never could guess there would be an abyss on our way right ahead somewhere. But one thing I surely knew was that just before dawn at the shadowy edges of Taung-dwin-gyi Station there were so many Hta-nyet smugglers waiting eagerly for the train. Despite the pre-dawn darkness I could see them clearly in my mind as the train slowed down and stopped completely.

There was Ma Aye Myint a married middle age woman but got more fucked by countless men than a well-used prostitute. There was well-fucked Ma Aye Shwe claiming still to be a virgin. Also there were two very young women Thin Thin and Nu Nu who normally slept on the train with I didn’t know how many men. All Hta-nyet smugglers. Also there was 200-pound-heavy Ma Nyunt Yee who always waited for me between two carriages.

As part of my job I had to scare them enough just to squeeze measly bribe money out of them but I had never stopped them from smuggling Hta-nyet they were carrying. They were my so-called victims but they were loyal to me and never gave me any trouble. If they got arrested by cops for smuggling they would go straight to jail without dobbing me in.

As I jumped down onto the platform and walked towards the station-house fatty Ma Nyunt Yee quietly called out, “Ko Yin Maung?”

“Who is this? Are you Ma Shwe U (Golden-egg)?”
“Don’t joke, who is the conductor today?”
“The ex-monk.”
“Oh U Aung Gyi, whew, I’m glad, I was afraid it was Chit Swe!”

She was relieved. Despite being a smuggler she had pride and decency and unlike many other women Hta-nyet smugglers she would not let cops and conductors touch her. Especially if that drunckard-womanizer  Chit Swe was on the train she wouldn’t board that train.

She was not even twenty yet and her little face was so young and pretty it din’t really match her massively obese body. I stood beside her a little while as she calmed down from breathing heavily with fear. I then remembered U Paw Lar with broken front teeth as I always teased her with him.
“Who else in your usual group today, is U Paw Lar there too?”
“Yeah, your big step-father is here today!”
“Ha, don’t pretend, you’ve been with him all the times.”
“Stop it, we have Ah May Nyunt and Ma Nyunt Tin today, also Ko Pike.”
“They are no important, but with your massive body everyone knows you are here. You should be moving like a cat. What a bad smuggler you’re!”
“Yeah I know, someone told me to drink lemon juice to lose weight and I drank 5 lemons a day but getting fatter. People also told me to cut sleeping and I slept less and it made me eat more, nothing seems to be working for me?”
“But you look better nowadays.”
“Oh, you’re not gonna say I have a pretty face too. Don’t lie to me. If your girlfriend hear this I’ll be in trouble. Oh don’t you know, she is coming along today. She is carrying Pineapples!”
“Oh, Nyo Nyo is coming along today?”
“Yes, Nyo Nyo is, your golden egg!”
“If that so, I’d better go see her.”
“Yes, yes, go please!”

I left her while laughing with delight. One of them would always let me know if Nyo Nyo is among them. Nyo Nyo didn’t do carrying prohibited goods like Hta-nyet yet. But she was coming along to Kyauk-pan-doung together with Thin Thin and Nu Nu. Those two notorious girls used to buy tickets but now since they knew me well through Nyo Nyo they stopped buying tickets by giving me some cash.

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Whenever Nyo Nyo was on the train I walked down to their carriage and sat at the empty seat beside her to see her pretty little face. Thin Thin and Nu Nu smiled at me and greeted happily. But not young Nyo Nyo, she was obviously shy and tried to ignore me deliberately. She looked away from me as if she was deeply absorbed in the passing scenery she saw every time she was on this train. 

For me, the way she was shyly ignoring me deliberately was kind of more heart-pleasing. So just to tease her I ignored her also and only talked to Thin Thin and Nu Nu. She knew my tease and sometimes she would smile as if she couldn’t control herself. I could see only half of her face but her shy smiles were so lovingly attractive.

“I really want to say that. Thin Thin and Nu Nu, I really like you two, you know. You both are friendly. But someone here who I really like and love wouldn’t like and love me back. She is incredibly rude. I’ll not say who. I just have to accept my unfortunate fate. Maybe I did something bad previous life. Just my bad Karma. Look, she just turned her face away only when I came to see her. She just shut up tight. But I know if she wanted to talk she would talk so much she will bore anyone to death. Just unfair!”

Both Thin Thin and Nu Nu were now laughing without opening their mouths. I felt like holding Nyo Nyo’s shoulder and turned her back to face me as I now really wanted to see her pretty little round face. But I held myself and continue to tease her by asking if Hta-nyet were hidden underneath the pineapples in their huge baskets.

“Yes we have Hta-nyets. We already told you so,” replied both Thin Thin and Nu Nu.
“How about inside other girl’s basket?”
“That we don’t know. Why don’t you ask that girl direct?”
“That girl is deaf. She doesn’t know how to speak too, I guess.”

Nyo Nyo didn’t turn back but started laughing quietly. Then said, “That girl might be Ma Aye Thwe.”

Her friends were now strangely smiling and staring at me. So I tried to laugh off at Nyo Nyo too, but I couldn’t too long as I knew very well what a loose woman Ma Aye Thwe was and that my hidden fear of my Nyo Nyo eventually becoming like Ma Aye Thwe had been growing daily inside of me.

I looked at Thin Thin’s young face while remembering that horrible gossip of the orgy she and three railway policemen had just a couple of nights ago on this same train. Same gossips of Ma Aye Thwe and Ma Aye Myint and even Nu Nu were all over the place too.

Suddenly I felt nauseated by the ugly decent to hell of those young smugglers trying to survive in this man-made Socialist hellhole called Burma. I had to get up and slowly walk to the quiet corner by the carriage door. I stood at the doorway of slow-moving train while staring meaninglessly at the passing hills at the distance.

Together with dried hillocks and parched farmyards a little stream was also following the train beside it. They were frequently alternating between moving away and then closing on as the train drove past them. I asked myself silently why did I love her. Why was she so deeply inside my heart? When did my river of love towards her start flowing?

For many days and weeks now my mind had been overwhelmed by the growing worries for Nyo Nyo. I even prayed to Lord Buddha that those horrible gossips about her friends Thin Thin and Nu Nu were just fake news.

But thinking of it, there was nothing strange of those smuggler girls sleeping with cops and conductors just to survive. They had to pay for their way with either cash or their young bodies. Like I took cash from them some cops took their bodies, nothing so difficult to believe.

A decent girl slowly being turned into a whore is nothing strange in this hellhole. I had seen it with my own eyes. And it had pained me deeply to accept that reality of harsh life here. Now I had to worry about my young Nyo Nyo becoming a Hta-nyet smuggler like her dear friends and eventually a lowly whore forced into sleeping with cops on the train.

Her little business of selling vegetables was earning her less than half she used to earn as so many other girls are doing it to survive the economic ruins brought by Socialism. And the general prices were rising too fast to ten times more than last year. Nyo Nyo’s whole family had been relying on her measly income and she needed to earn more cash and fast.

She has to choose which way to go. I was so afraid that she would have to abandon decency just to feed her family eventually. Just worrying about her there I couldn’t breathe as if I was drowning in my own imaginary sea. I looked up at the vast blue sky following the train and I thought it was a vast blue sea from my imagination.

There in my vast blue sea I could imagine the stormy waves crashing one after another. Enormous waves seemed to be crushing everyone and everything on their way. I my horrid imagination I could vividly hear the cries of drowning people shouting out for help. I had to warn Nyo Nyo before too late, I reminded myself again there on the moving train.

********************************

The day I was warning Nyo Nyo not to smuggle Hta-nyet my words wouldn’t come out of my mouth for a while as if they were being blocked in my emotionally choking throat. It hurt me so much. That day Nyo Nyo was waiting for me underneath a Koke-ko tree near Kyauh-pan-daung Station. Time was too early for train passengers to arrive.

As I sat down besides her sitting on the bench she quickly looked up at me and smiled and then looked down at the ground. Her face was blushed as if she was shyly expecting me to say that I loved her, again. On the same bench but we were clearly apart from each other. I could see the falling leaves on her shoulder.

When I looked away from her the faraway mountain ranges in the west appeared to be peaceful and calm unlike me. A giant cotton-wool-like cloud was slowly drifting far above us. “What do you want to tell me today?” Nyo Nyo slowly started the conversation.

“What I want to say is I want to ask you if you’re already carrying Hta-nyet. I know you’re not carrying hidden Hta-nyet in your pineapple baskets, yet. You know I love you and I will take care of you all your life. You know that we will be married once time and situation are right. Anyway that is not the main reason I wanted to warn you today.

You do know that I do not want you to carry Hta-nyet on the trains. You do know what could happen once a young girl starts carrying Hta-nyet and becoming a serious smuggler. She has to be nice to anyone who has authority to catch her, arrest her, and jail her. She has to surrender her body to them just to save her goods and herself. I know she has no choice but to surrender to avoid starvation and also her family to survive. I know that truth.

But I do not want you to do that. You must not do that smuggling. You will think that is unfair to prohibit you from doing that. Let me say something serious. You must not do smuggling Hta-nyet. If one day you are forced to do it because you have no other choice that day will be the day I will kill someone. That’s it, I’m so tired of worrying about you all the time. You will not and you must not carry Hta-nyet on the trains.”

The train had arrived. I could now hear the sounds of horse carriages by the station as the Hta-nyet smugglers were arriving earlier than usual. I could see Ko Shwe Youk and his three sons loading their Hta-nyet baskets onto the train. On the passenger train the railway policemen were pretending to be asleep as they had already been well greased with hard cold cash by the usual group of Hta-nyet smugglers.

Nyo Nyo’s eyes were now filled with sad tears. She then said to me, “I’ll not do Hta-nyet. If you don’t want me to do I won’t do it.” Now I felt as if I was totally unfair to her and deeply felt sorry for her. I held her hands tightly in my hands and repeatedly whispered, “Nyo Nyo, Nyo Nyo,” without saying anything else at all.

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(Prominent Burmese writer and poet Naing Win Swe (1940-1995) was killed in a jungle on Thai Border in 1995 by Burmese Army after he took to the jungle in the aftermath of failed 8-8-88 Uprising.

The legend is that, as he lay dead on the battleground his comrades picked wild flowers and covered his remains with the flowers before they retreated as they didn’t have enough time to bury him.

This fictionalized semi-autobiographical novel vividly depicts the utter sufferings of a society under the brutal Socialist System as both the rulers and the ruled become the hapless victims of that Evil Satanist Ideology called Socialism where State Controls almost everything and People Starve.)

Ma Thein Shin – Chapter 5