Updated on June 10, 2019
- My Father
- Historic Photo of Burmese Doctors
- Before You Judge People
- Two Brothers
- The Student who taught me
- Sad Loss of Manuscripts
My father had a very chequered life.
Short stay at Rangoon College
He stood first in the Matriculation examination at the age of sixteen. He had distinction in all subjects including shorthand and typing. He got scholarship when he entered Rangoon College in June 1914 but was expelled from the College in July 1914.
There was going to be a scholarship exam to enter Calcutta University. The Principal of Rangoon College, Mr. Mathew Hunter had chosen two bright young men to take the exams to enter medical college in Calcutta. The two students for this exam were my father and Sayagyi U Ba Than. They were very close friends.
Just before the exams, my grandmother passed away in upper Burma where my grandfather was working. Father went to the Principal to give him leave to attend his mother’s funeral. But the dates would clash with the exams and Mr Hunter refused his permission. Father was told that if he went without the Principal’s agreement, he would be expelled on return.
My father went in time for the funeral but on return, as told to him earlier he was expelled from the College.
My grandfather was very angry with my father being expelled. Father was told not to come back to the family.
Father supported himself by doing a unique job. He traveled from Pegu passing through small towns and villages. At that time, there were many Burmese women who had children by Englishmen, and were common law wives. The Englishmen had left Burma, but they did not money regularly.
On behalf of the women, father wrote letters in English to the men in England. He was offered food, small amounts of money, and a place to stay.
He continued doing this, going up the country till he reached Myitkyina some months later.
Bombay Burma Company
Due to father’s expertise in short hand and typing, a young English man from Bombay Burma Company gave father a job as a clerk and secretary. Father told me about the kindness of the English couple who let him stay with them.
Apart from Secretary work, he had to go with workers to the teak trees that had been cut down and later sent them down the Irrawaddy to Rangoon. Father had to supervise that the Bombay Burma Company seal was hammered deep at the end of the logs. The logs were floated down the Irrawaddy river. Logs with the seal were collected and exported to England.
A year later father had cerebral malaria and it was the young couple who looked after him during the illness.
Enlistment and Assignments
Father stayed on with the English couple till the end of 1916. By that time the war that was said to last only one year had to gone into its third year with no resolution. There were many casualties and new fronts for the conflict. The English government intensified their recruiting efforts.
The young Englishman and his wife returned to England. The husband joined the army.
Father did not want to continue working in Myitkyina. He also thought of enlisting for the war.
He first went to Pegu to reconcile with his father. Grand father was doing a job what would be equivalent to a District Commissioner (DC) but being Burmese was given the post as Extra Assistant Commissioner (EAC) but doing the same job.
Burmese doctors were appointed as Sub Assistant Surgeon (SAS). They had to work like surgeons and civil surgeons.
NB: the status of Burmese doctors before Independence can be read in the books by Dr. U Myint Swe.
In spite of my grandfather telling him not to enlist, father went ahead for enlistment.
The place for enlistment was the at the Cantonment (which Burmanized as “Kan Daw Min” Park). It is the place with a small lake near the Shwe Dagon Pagoda.
At that time, no Burmese would be accepted. One must either be an Anglo-Burman or and Anglo-Indian.
When asked, father gave his name as “John Henry Wilson”. He could be taken for an Anglo because he was very fair with sharp facial features.
Next he was asked to go against the wall to measure his height. Father was only five foot two inches. When the sergeant cane to measure him, he stood up on his toes so that it would be five foot four (the required height for a soldier.
The sergeant asked him whether he really wanted to serve, and getting an affirmative, the sergeant write down on his enlistment as “John Henry Wilson, Anglo-Burman, five foot six”. Father became a soldier.
Since, the English keeps excellent records, there must be enlistment records for the regiment that above item written down above, would still be there in their archives.
I visited the Middle Temple Inn in London, from where my father was called to the Bar. I wanted know about my father, the Librarian asked me for date of being called, went in, back in about 15 mins and gave me a copy of information of my father as recorded in their archives.: Will write more about this in a later post “My father: the Barrister”
I tried to remember but still could not get the place in India where he was sent. I only remembered that it was in a cantonment not far from Dehli.
Father was sent to where the Gloucester Regiment, the 12th Battalion was billeted. He got his training, stayed there for some time rising to the rank of corporal.
Mesopotamia Campaign and “the war to end all wars”.
At the start of the war, the British army and its allies thought that it would be a short war lasting for a year or so. But it didn’t as the allies were fighting on different fronts. When the Turkish Ottoman army joined the war, that opened a new front of the war: the “Mesopotamia Front / Campaign”. Father’s regiment was sent to that front.
Germany had sent a fleet of submarines to attack British ships carrying either troops or cargo.
Although not entirely, the British army and navy were depending on oil from Burma Oil Company in Yenangyaung. But when their ships sailing from Burma were being sunk, they looked for an alternative.
Apart from Burma, the oil fields from Mesopotamia were near to England and likely to have less loss during transport.
Just like Burma Oil Company (BOC), there was another company that could offer the required crude oil. Like BOC, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (AOC) was owned by an Englishman. Both BOC and AOC were taken over by the British government for the war efforts.
The Mesopotamia Campaign happened mainly to save and have access to AOC refineries.
For some years now, whenever I heard about Iraq, Iran, Syria, two words often appeared: Basra and Mosul.
Mesopotamia was the area between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. It covered what would later become most of Iraq, parts of Northern Arabia, Eastern part of Syria and South East Turkey.
The oil rigs were in Basra and Mosul within Mesopotamia.
And that was where my father’s regiment was sent: to guard the oil fields from the Germans.
As the German army was engaged in other fronts, it was the Turkish (Ottaman) soldiers and Nomadic Arabs attacking these two areas.
It was mainly skirmishes and attacks mainly by the nomadic Arabs who were given arms by the Germans. The disciplined regiment could repel the poorly planned attacks and thus England still had access to the oil.
Armistice: 11-11-11 11AM
Father and did comrades stayed on in that area till Armistice, the end of the war at: “the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th. month of the year”.
President Woodrow Wilson in his speech said, “the war to end all wars” had ended, using H.G . Wells’ words from the book “The War of the Worlds”. How ironic it was as only three decades later the Second World War happened.
Not too long after that soldiers including my father were demobilized and could return to their home countries.
Father returned home to be with his family.
Study at Cambridge University
Since he was expelled from the College, he had never given up his hope to gain a good education. The demob and savings from his salary and other benefits on leaving the army, he now had enough money to go to England to get what he had wanted to do since 1914.
He applied to be admitted to Queens’ College Cambridge, where his elder brother had attended gaining MA, LLB.
Father landed on the shores of England in the spring of 1919. He was twenty one years old.
After spending time in London for a week or so he got to Cambridge to seek admission. Father told me that it was a vibrant time to be as there were so many young men like him, veterans of the war, some who had left their studies and had left to fight the war as well as those like him who had come to be admitted for the first time. He wanted to study at Cambridge as this was where his elder brother studied for his BA (later MA) and LLB.
Both Oxford and Cambridge gave dispensation for veterans, so that they did not have to undergo a strict entrance exam but only had to take what was known as “the little go”.
Father went to the College with all that he had was his matriculation certificate from Burma. He had to go through an interview first to see whether he should be admitted. Father impressed the examiners that he was admitted without the need to take entrance exams.
Finally he thought he was going to get the education he had missed before. He had enough money to sustain him for the four years at the university.
During the two years he was in Cambridge, he actively participated in debates conducted by the Cambridge Union, where he sharpened not only his oratory but also would help him at the courts when he became a practising barrister in Burma. It also helped when he became a well known politician in Burma.
Two things happened that would affect his ambition to be a college graduate.
First when he was in the second year, U Tin Tut arrived. He was sent to Oxford to do his training for the Indian Civil Service (ICS). He was to be the very first Burmese to be admitted to the Service. And unlike the others who later joined, he was the only Burmese to be admitted by nomination and not by selection examinations.
In December 29th 1920, there was a nation wide students strike against the British government. Schools and the Rangoon University was closed down.
U Myint Thein was then studying in the junior BA class at the University. Not knowing when the university would be reopened, even without telling my father he traveled by ship to England. This he did without any funds for tuition fees. He arrived and requested my father to pay for his tuition and upkeep in Cambridge.
U Tin Tut gambled a lot on the races and he also was asking father to help pay some of his gambling debts.
Father decided to leave Cambridge so that he could support his younger brother. He searched for a job to sustain the three of them.
For the second time in his life, his education had to be postponed.
At that time, there was Burma Club. Many years later — at the time when Saya U Maung Nyo was studying in London — there would be the Britain Burma Club. And Prof. Woodruff, who was a visiting professor of tropical medicine in Rangoon, was a Patron.
The Burma Club was for the people who have served in Burma both before and during the war. Father got a job as the secretary of the Club. It enabled him to sustain the needs of his two brothers and allowed him to prepare for the barrister examinations.
I have titled this part of my post as “Cambridge — here I come”, but for father in 1920 was “Cambridge — here I leave”.
Yet again he was thwarted from gaining a university degree.
P.S. In spite of all the obstacles, in 1948, on gaining independence, my father, the college dropout, was appointed as one of the first three Supreme Court Justices of our country. And also later became the very first Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Rangoon University.
Four brothers and Inns of Court
Before You Judge People
Dr. Su Mon, daughter of Dr. Thane Oke Kyaw Myint, used her strong mental prowess to overcome adversity.
She posted on Facebook in 2015:
Dear world, I just want you to know that I am more than the sum of my diseases and limitations, I am more than my usually failing body, I am more than my brains and IQ, I am more than just a person with disability. I am more than my limp and my strange gait (yes it would be good if you stop staring at me when you see me) and I am more than my many scars. And I am definitely stronger (mentally) than you can possibly imagine. Please don’t think my life is easy, that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, that all that I have achieved so far came to me easily. I worked damn hard for every little thing, every step forward is hard fought with all that I have in me. I may not meet your definition of success or beauty, or intelligence but I am ok with that. I love who I am, many flaws and all. All I ask before you judge me or dismiss me is that you spend an hour in my shoes. I will do the same for you.
Dr. Myo Khin (C70) wrote :
Heartfelt appreciations to your strong spirit and will, all the best. May lord Buddha bless and keep you. Your god uncle, MK.
Cecilia James wrote :
A fighter against all adversaries and a risk-taker is to be admired. The world makes way for a person who knows where she / he is going. May God bless you and may you be successful in all your endeavors !
Historic photo of Burmese Doctors
Saya Ko Gyi, Ophthalmologist and Medical Superintendent of EENT Hospital, is the father of Dr. Thein Wai (Fifth in Burma in the Matriculation of 1963) and U Aung Khin (SPHS62, DSA, GBNF).
Sayagyi Col. Min Sein is the father of Dr. Thein Htut (RUBC Gold).
Sayagyi U Maung Gale was Dean of the Rangoon Medical College from1959 to 1962. Per Saya Dr. Maung Nyo, “He was our dean, very quiet and peaceful. He translated Grey’s Anatomy to Burmese and he handed over the manuscripts to Dr Norma Saw.”
Prof. U Khin Maung Win was Pathologist and DG ME. At one time, he headed the Medical Board to examine the people chosen for States Scholar.
Garawa means paying respect (especially to elders and mentors).
U Myint Thein (“MMT”, former Chief Justice of the Union of Burma, former Ambassador to China, and author) paid respect to his elder brother U Kyaw Myint (Barrister, Head of the Tribunal which tried Galon U Saw, and former Dean of the Faculty of Law).
Dr. Thane Oke Kyaw Myint wrote :
It was on the occasion of the 80th birthday celebration of [my Ba Dwe] U Myint Thein at the residence of the British Ambassador Mr. Charles Booth.
Father [U Kyaw Myint] was the Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Rangoon. He took classes in constitutional law as he explained why it was important to have a comprehensive constitutional law. He also lectured on criminal law.
One anecdote about father: I was very curious when father marked the answer books of BL students. I once saw father giving pass to a student who answered only one question. Father showed me the book which the single answer almost fill. Father told me that although it was only one answer, he wrote as though it was a real lawyer’s brief while others “regurgitate” what they had learned from lectures and books. Father followed the career of his student. As father predicted he became one of the best lawyers in Burma (sorry, have forgotten the name)
The Prime Minister was the Chancellor of the Rangoon University. U Nu followed by U Ba Swe were Chancellors. [Ba Dwe] Dr. Htin Aung was Vice Chancellor. It was during U Ba Swe’s time that father was conferred LLD (in honoris causa), together with Emperor Haile Salasi of Ethiopia.
Among his students was Guardian U Sein Win and Sao Hso Holm.
Father defended U Sein Win when he was arrested and charged for writing articles about the then government. The trial went on till the last day of summation by both sides. Uncle Sein Win told me about what father did. In that day, father stood up and announced that U Sein Win himself would present the summation. U Sein Win was aghast as he had not been told if this. He turned to my father who said “You can do it. If not you are not my student of law”. U Sein Win gave a very impressive summation of the case which was reported full in both national and international papers. And he was acquitted.
“Sawbwalay” Sao Hso Holm (Son of Arzanee Sao San Htun) together with [my Ba Dwe] U Myint Thein, was the first to be arrested and last to be released from custody. [He was the Legal Advisor to the Sawbwas.] He visited my father in his office. Father told his former student that he could join their chambers if he was looking for a job. But he was offered a job by UN ending his career as Assistant Resident Representative in Fiji covering the Pacific islands. I recently bought “Burma, My Mother” by Saw Kaemawadde (Ma Ma Biddy, Sawbwalay’s spouse) her autobiography. Very touching narration of her life. You can get a soft copy from Amazon.
At present is U Mya Thein, senior adviser on the constitution to the present government. He is the son of a brilliant lawyer U Kyin Htone, and also my father’s student. [He is a younger brother of advocate U Tun Tin.]
Dr. Hla Yee Yee wrote :
“ Uncle Monty” to everybody
Dr. Myat Soe wrote :
I know well about your uncle U Myint Thein Saya [TOKM].
He was former Myanmar Ambassador to China, and he was a good friend of (Late) Chinese P.M Mr.Chu-Eng-Lai.
The Student who taught me
In the book of tribute to me, that Prof. Aye Maung Han, Prof. Nyunt Thein, Prof. Ye Myint Kyaw published for my seventieth birthday, many of my former students wrote about what they learned from me when I was teaching and working with them over two decades as a teacher in our medical college.
I would like to share with whoever gets to read this, learning is not one way but two ways: while the students are learning from the teacher, the teacher himself learn from his students Some of the lessons that I learn from them are work related but many more lessons are about being a good person, being dutiful, respect for people, compassion, humbleness, gratitude, integrity and religiosity. For a significant number of them, being either a medical student, a house surgeon and later as a qualified doctor or specialist, life was never a bed of roses.They juggled to fulfill their professional role as well as the role as the bread earner for either their young families or in support of elderly parents.
The student who taught me has written and published significant number of books ranging from fiction (based on his life experiences) to belle letters and articles mainly of which are not only sharing knowledge but also inspirational.
The last time I went back home, he kindly gave me a book of his.
I have read his book more than once. I go back to each chapter of his book repeatedly , especially when I come across an incident or experience, which relates very much to a relevant chapter of his book.
And through this book, my student teaches me.
I had a strong affinity with my colleagues and students and previously when my memory was better than now, I could remember most of whom I taught by their names and the year they graduated. The author, although I knew him well, was not close to me as student, intern and in service,as unfortunately he was either in units other than where I was in or he did postgraduate studies only I had left the country.
Some years back, at the request of Prof. U Aye Maung Han, I gave a talk about my experiences of working in UNICEF, which were so different from my life as a paediatrician. I had titled the talk as “Shades of Mediocrity” as I felt that what I would talk about might seem both to the audience as well as to myself as my having gone through a state of mediocrity, as someone who moved from being a clinician to being an UNICEF staff responsible for public health, nutrition, water and sanitation, emergencies and the broader aspects of interventions to ensure that the the rights of children would be fulfilled. I did genuinely wonderd many times, whether I had contributed significantly beyond mediocrity, to areas of work which I had never worked in.
I had used the title from Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound lyrics:
“All my words came back to me
In shades of mediocrity”.
And I also quoted the vow in Burmese that appears on the front page of every book written by the well known author Tetkatho Phone Naing. The following is my own translation, more correctly my “transliteration” as I will never be able to give a precise translation of of Saya Phone Naing’s poem:
If you should not gain, by reading what I have written,
You cannot lose, if it helps to overcome ennui
If at least a word or a para will make you thoughtful
If you should find such in my writings, I the slave of writing
Will feel that my duty is done.
I will never claim that my writings are to be cherished by the reader,
Nor through my writing I will claim as being more learned than the reader
I will not go over your head, nor claim to enlighten you
I make this my vow.
Tetkatho Phone Naing
(The original “vow” by the author, I have added as a photo as I do not know how to write in Burmese on Facebook)
After I had just recited the first few lines, someone from the audience stood up and finished the poem for me, the whole passages and vow that had been made by the author..
On top of that he said the “mediocrity or mediocre” need not be seen as permanent nor to be disparaged, as he himself was once a mediocre student during his college life.
The person who said that he was “mediocre” was far from being mediocre, he was already a writer of renown and at the time my talk, he had not only acquired more accolades both as doctor and a writer than most of us but also held a senior teaching position at the medical college.
I must come back to the book he gave me. I want to tell how my ” mediocre” student, whom I know that is never so, with his writings taught me to be a better person.
The book is “Mingalar shi thaw aung myin gyin” or “Auspicious acts conducive to success”
I have looked at how the word ‘mingalar” could has been translated. In the version of Paritta Protective Verses in Pali, Burmese and English, Sayadaw Silannadabhivamsa translated “mingalar” as “highest blessing”. But, I would like to use “auspicious acts” because according to the Oxford English Dictionary, auspicious means “conducive to success” , and thirty eight auspicious acts in the Mingalar Sutta lead towards the highest blessings. Maybe those who are more conversant with Pali may question my translation. But it would be appropriate for the book, to be translated as “auspicious acts that lead to success”
The author himself has translated “mingalar” as “rules for good and auspicious conduct”
The writer has written a chapter for each of the MIngalar (act or conduct) with erudite explanation on each of the mingalar, quoting each in Pali and Burmese. He has based these not only by rote or learning but from lessons given by eminent sayadaws of Burma. References are made to books on dhamma and sermons by La Te Sayadaw, Dr. Pyinneikthara, Sayadaw Seikienda, Shwe U Min Sayadaw and many more. He shows not just learning and knowing but how much he has internalized and practiced each of the auspicious act, by referring to his life lessons.
The fourteenth stanza of the Mingala sutta describes the first three auspicious acts:
“Asevana ca balanam,
Panditanan ca sevana,
Puja ca pujaneyanam”
“Not to associate with fools,
to associate with the wise
And to honor those who are worthy of honor.”
From: translation by Ashin Silanandabhivamsa
As I read, I learn and am so impressed not just by the narratives of his life experiences but also by seeing the depth of understanding of Mingalar Sutta. While starting life as a simple young student, he gets to where he is now by following the various tenets of Buddhism. I use the word “erudite” for him as again Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of “erudite” as “having or showing great knowledge or learning” as those who have read the book would agree with me that he has not only understands and learns but also practices what he has learned.
His third chapter is on the third auspicious conduct “pujaca pujaneyyanam” : he wrote about me, as one of the persons whom he considered as his “guru”‘ among those he honors as being worthy of honor. I was very touched on reading this chapter as well as it makes me feel humble to be among those he honored the most as I may not deserve such honor, as I did not have as much contact with him during both his student years nor later as a paediatrician.
Each chapter of this book carries with it the precise meaning of each mingalar and how he has conducted himself according to his deep understanding of each.
After the third reading of the book, I feel as though he are saying the words to me and guiding me towards not only just understanding but also ensure that my conduct are within the tenets of each of the mingalar.
Ko Ye Myint Kyaw, with your book, you have taught me and I would like to thank you for this.
I have only one wish to ask of you: the wish is to ask you to write a similar book on “Metta Sutta” my favorite sutta in the paritta, as I know the extent of metta (compassion) that you have for the patients, their families and your students.
May all the highest blessings be upon you.
Thane Oke Kyaw-Myint
20 June 2015.
Sad Loss of Manuscripts
Daw Khin Mya Mu’s work
- Before U E Maung died, he asked me to bring out exercise books with writings by [my aunt] Daw Khin Mya Mu.
- In the books were transcript of many “Kyauk sar” and translation into Burmese of hundreds of stone scriptures from all over Burma.
- When I asked him why they were not published, he told me that no printing press [in those days] have fonts for the ancient writings.
- [Thus] they were all unpublished.
U E Maung donated his house and belongings to Tipitaka Sayadaw. When he passed away Dr Tha Hla was given the task of selling the property and have as cash donation for Sayadaw. We were not informed but later on when I asked, I was told that except for some books, the handwritten documents were not saved anywhere. Felt very sad about losing the handwritten books.
Only some books were chosen to be donated to the Burmese Department of Rangoon University.
Dr. Htin Aung’s works
The sad thing was when [my Ba Dwe] Dr. Htin Aung left Burma, he had also left not only his books but drafts of books he wanted to finish and publish, mainly in history.
Dr. Thane Oke Kyaw Myint wrote :
I am so fortunate that books written by my former students are either given to me by the authors or bought for me by my niece Hnin Wit Yee or Min Thet Aung.
I got a signed copy of “The Female Voice of Myanmar by Nilanjana Sengupta, translated into Burmese, by Myae Hmone Lwin. It was given to me by Ma Thida.
The book consist of articles about and by four eminent lady Burmese writers and activists: Ludu Daw Ah Mar, Daw Khin Myo Chit, Daw Aung San Su Kyi and my “daughter writer” Ma Thida (San Gyaung).
Please do not say that I am biased towards my daughter but I read the articles on Daw Ah Mar, Daw Khin Myo Chit and Daw Sung Dan Su Kyi once only but read and reread the articles by and on Ma Thida about three times or more.
Coming from a family whose members were at different times and at different lengths of incarceration by the military government, each article about Ma Thida in prison brought back sad memories of my own family. I had to pause even in the middle of each article as such memories flooded my mind.
From a very young age Ma Thida stand out among her contemporaries . A multifaceted person with deep attitudes and understanding of right and wrong, justice and injustice, tears welled up in my eyes reading what she went through in prison, and had to stop reading after going through some incidents described by her in the book.
I am happy and very proud that she can be what she is now, an activist, feminist, author and running PEN Myanmar and many more.
This book must be read in Burmese as in any other language, much would be lost in translation.
P.S. Although she left the book for me in May, due to circumstances, I happily received the book only last month.