Burma’s Sir Paw Tun in Exile in Simla, 1940s

In the Himalayan foothills near the Solan beer factory [Burma’s ex-prime minister] Sir Paw Tun, the last pre-war prime minister wrote the obituary of the old order in a long, rambling series of letters to [Burma’s ex-governor] Dorman-Smith, part combative, part self-pitying. He wrote as an Arakanese who had imbibed some at least of Britain’s imperial ideas and had tried to reconcile them with Buddhism and his deep sense of Arakanese and Buddhist Burmese identity. He recalled during his school days in a Christian convent he had read Samuel Smiles’s essay on ‘character’. He had prayed daily for his governor, his king and his country. ‘My mother taught me to be absolutely loyal to the British crown’, he wrote. But this was difficult when many British officials acted with arrogance and racial pride. It was natural for well-brought up Burmans to bow before superiors. But more than once he had ‘straightened up from my bending posture to show that he [the British official] no longer deserved respect because he was bullying me’. Mortal man, he said, was liable to be blinded by greed, passion and ignorance. This was particularly true of the old British administration in Burma which knew little of the people or their religion. The British, of course, were not as corrupt as the Burmese ministers such as Ba Maw and U Saw. They were less tempted by money as such, but they still fell victim to ‘other attractions – in some cases women, and in other cases, flattery, platitudes and kow-towing’.

Paw Tun loathed British racism and arrogance, but he believed the Thakins were beneath contempt, merely low-class upstarts. What worried him was the way in which the Thakins and Japanese had rallied the monkhood and the faithful in his ‘priest-ridden country’. He noted how the Japanese were giving liberal donations to the Shwedagon Pagoda and how their commanders had liberally fed the monks and taken part in Burmese religious ceremonies. Despairing of the British, because Dorman-Smith seemed intent on bringing back the new plebeian Buddhism of the Thakins, Paw Tun slowly came to see that he had no future. It was this that lay behind his increasingly erratic behaviour and protacted bouts of illness.

SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), p. 354

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