I found a present for The Family’s birthday: a trip to Myanmar. For practical reasons we can only make this trip months too late, but it will be a birthday present in spirit.
We have discussed a road trip to Myanmar for long, but when you start planning it looks uncomfortably romantic. We just do not have the time for a drive in the single week that we can take off from work. So we are forced to fly; we will miss the continuity that a journey by land would give us. There are flights from Kolkata to Yangon. However, the only convenient flight from Mumbai to Kolkata and then on to Yangon is on a Monday. We do not want to waste the weekend, so we decide to go through Bangkok. This gets us to Yangon in a reasonable amount of time.
We have little more than a week for this trip. This calls for a lot of reading. My knowledge of Myanmar has been restricted to stories I heard from my grandmother. This was a country which many Indian families had contact with before the second world war, mine being no exception. When the Japanese air force started bombing erstwhile Rangoon in 1941, children and mothers came back to India to stay with relatives. When Burma was captured by Japan, Indians had to flee, many on foot, during the extreme monsoon weather that strikes these parts. I remember the story of someone in my family, I forget who, walking back to India. I was too young then to appreciate how bad this must have been, but impressionable enough to remember the horror stories.
A few years ago, when we travelled to the Mizo hills and heard about American pilots bailing out of burning planes and seeking shelter with the local villagers, I did not connect it with old family stories. A few weeks ago I mentioned my grandmother’s story to a friend, and she said that someone in her family also walked back home. She remembered hearing that it took half a year. As we talked, we began to connect these up with stories like those we heard in the Mizo hills. How is it that a whole nation has forgotten stories of this long walk home?
We will spend a dozen days travelling to Myanmar and back. So many travellers have written about their experiences in recent years (here, here, here, here, …), that it will take me weeks of reading. I have weeks, so that is fine. These are our Burma telegrams, as Kipling once wrote, waiting to be read.