by Maniza Naqvi
“… How does our affair progress? I hope that, as dear Mr. Macgregor would say—U Po Kyin broke into English—eet ees making perceptible progress?”
Burmese Days by George Orwell remains relentlessly relevant and a touchstone for cynics eight decades after it was written. The novel opens with U Po Kyin at age 56 thinking of his achievements with satisfaction—and plotting intrigue to further his interests. He thinks back to his first memory of the British troops with their weapons entering victoriously into Mandalay in 1885. “To fight on the side of the British, to become a parasite upon them, had been his ruling ambition even as a child. He does this by playing one side against the other, planting intrigues and solving them, always putting himself in the position of the problem solver, the loyalist to all—taking bribes and ruthlessly controlling everyone.” U Po Kyin's memory of British troops marching into town is set in the moment in which the oil company Burmah Oil is born in 1886 and when Burma became a province of Imperial India. (here, and here and here.)
George Orwell was in Burma in the Indian Imperial Police from 1922-1927 Eric Arthur Blair or George Orwell was born in India, on June 3, 1903 in Motihari Bihar (here). Orwell’s novel follows the trajectories of the ambitions and the psyches of Imperial administrators, their military officers, wives, concubines, their merchants and those who served them. The title of “U” has been bestowed on U Po Kyin for his services enroute his own trajectory from a lowly clerk to a minor official to a Sub divisional magistrate, through planting seditious activities and creating rebellions and quelling them himself so that he can demonstrate his loyalties to the Imperial masters by jailing adversaries while havig his fingers in every pot in his subdivision for personal gain and pleasure.
His good works of building Pagodas will ensure his next life. But in this life his most ardent desire is to be a member of the British Club: