Letters of Life

A Burmese Picture Story

Recently, I’ve been reading George Orwell.

You might remember that Orwell was an English author and journalist, who also wrote the acclaimed and once-banned books Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). Wikipedia describes his work as “marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

In his book, Burmese Days (1934), Orwell describes a noisy market scene, teeming with villagers and fresh produce. But because he was writing for an English audience, he took great pains to outline and detail the range of exotic fruit, food vegetables and people that grew familiar to him when he was an officer with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma.

“The merchandise was foreign-looking, queer and poor. There were vast pomelos hanging on strings like green moons, red bananas, baskets of heliotrope-coloured prawns the size of lobsters, brittle dried fish tied in bundles, crimson chilis, ducks split open and cured like hams, green coconuts, the larvae of the rhinoceros beetle, sections of sugar-cane, dahs, lacquered sandals, checked silk longyis,  aphrodisiacs in the form of large, soap-like pills, glazed earthenware jars four feet high, Chinese sweetmeats made of garlic and sugar, green and white cigars, purple brinjals, persimmon-seed necklaces, chickens cheeping in wicker cages, brass Buddhas, heart-shaped betel leaves, bottles of Kruschen salts, switches of false hair, red clay cooking-pots, steel shoes for bullocks, papier-mache marionettes, strips of alligator hide with magical properties. 

Elizabeth’s head was beginning to swim. At the other end of the bazaar the sun gleamed through a priest’s umbrella, blood-red, as though through the ear of a giant.”  

These pictures, taken recently when I visited Burma, closely match the village bazaar Orwell described some 77 years earlier. Did you notice that Orwell’s grocery list of merchandise formed one lovely succinct sentence brimming with colour and detail? Like a heavy food basket or sack of groceries, the overloaded sentence  literally makes one’s head swim.  But it works.

I am keenly aware that not just in the golden land of Burma alone, but in myriad towns and ancient villages the world over, time appears to have walked on by.

Or is it that for those of us living in the 21st century, time  is moving  far, far  too quickly? 

Warm thanks to J. Roy for sharing his photos.

Comments? Thoughts? I would love to hear your travel stories and insights here. 

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