The young women smiled at us timidly. Using sign language and a few scant words of English they communicated that they were university students and that they too were taking an evening stroll. Soon our mutual attempts with sign language petered out and we moved on.
We followed the streets of Monywa in the evening, just down from the banks of the river Chindwin after idling to watch the sunset and the Burmese paseo. Mirek stood on a corner and took photos of the transport going past.
Our way led us along unpaved streets past what looked like stage settings in every house we went by. The front wall of these homes was missing, allowing us to peer inside and watch life going on…
Usually, this would involve observing an elderly family member recline on some kind of deckchair reading a newspaper in the dim light while lazily fanning themselves. Nearby children might be playing cards on the floor and mother would be in the background, pounding away at whatever it was she was preparing for supper. Father might be repairing an old bicycle tyre or standing on the threshold chatting with a neighbour and smoking a cheroot or sipping tea. He might then absent-mindedly re-tie his longyi which had come loose.
Imagine a scene from a Tennessee Williams play, and then imagine an Asian version of that setting, and that‘s the picture I am trying to paint. I can sense the heat, the sounds and the smell of the place. The stillness in the air. The lazy whirring of an electric fan which would suddenly switch off as a power cut would make itself felt. The weak bulbs in the households give so little light that the power going off doesn’t seem to make much difference. Especially when there are already candles or small parafin lamps already lit, as if in preparation for these inexorable interruptions of power. Life goes on as usual.
Further up the street, you happen upon a large pagoda compound which you enter and merge into a world of tranquility and serenity as families gather around for their evening strolls, some of them picknicking at the foot of some favourite buddha and some lighting candles, others reading in the dim light and some praying. You spot young monks in the pagoda’s library catching up with their reading. The warm marble floors you walk along, after leaving your shoes at the entrance, feel pleasantly welcoming now the heat of the day has receded and the darkness envelops you as you come to the end of another inimitable day in Burma.