The Petchary must now comment on two happy events that have occurred in the past few days. One is, to the Petchary at least, an event of great significance and one to shout about. The other is a manufactured piece of PR that is of no significance at all, but which, because of its “cuteness factor” has won over many hearts. But then, let us not be churlish. We all need some good news from time to time, don’t we?
The first event was the release, on the evening of November 13, of the Burmese icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the Petchary referred to in an earlier blog post on Nobel Peace Prize winners who are unrecognized, even reviled, in their native land.
There is no doubt. Aung San Suu Kyi is a celebrity, but quietly so. Her exuberant and devoted supporters are always the ones making the noise. “We haven’t seen each other for so long, I have so much to tell you,” she told the thousands of adoring ones on the day of her release. She sounded more like someone who had just returned from an exciting overseas trip, talking to her best friend. It is this direct simplicity that is most beguiling. President Obama’s “personal hero” is calm, firm, with a deliciously sweet smile and a cool, almost stern gaze.
But then, she comes from strong stock. Her father, General Aung San, commander of the Burmese Independence Army, had met and married his nurse, Ma Khin Kyi, in 1942 in the hospital where he was recovering from wounds received during his march into Burma. Five years later, when Aung San Suu Kyi was only two years old, he was assassinated. Her mother became a prominent public figure and was named Burma’s Ambassador to India, where Suu Kyi went to high school. She then went on to Oxford University (St. Hugh’s College, where she studied Politics, Philosophy & Economics). She met her husband Michael Aris there (he died of prostate cancer in London in 1999 and was not allowed to return to Burma to see his wife before he died). Remaining in Burma was one of the huge sacrifices she made – if she left, she knew she would never be able to return.
We forget that Suu Kyi was an intellectual, who studied, lectured and published books in New York and London. A cosmopolitan woman, who moved in somewhat privileged circles. She did not become an activist until 1988, during the upheavals and vicious suppression of thousands by the Burmese military.
She was first placed under house arrest the following year. How strange, one feels, to be imprisoned in one’s own home, the same old-fashioned villa inherited from her father the General. The house almost became a part of her – its balconies and railings and shrubs, and the street outside where her admirers gathered.
Now, life has become much more complicated for Suu Kyi. After being detained for fifteen of the past twenty-one years, she has to try to unravel some of the twisted skeins of Burmese politics. Most importantly, she has to figure out who her allies are; some of them are strong and vocal and appear to be genuinely supportive. And who are her potential enemies; some of these are seemingly sitting on the fence, others are making deals with her political opponents.
In the few interviews she has given, it is clear that she is sizing things up carefully. Her words are well chosen, but one thing she has always made clear, and continues to do so: she believes in non-violence.
Now there is another happy event, one that has evoked cries of, “Oh, she’s so pretty!” and “Aren’t they a lovely couple!” and “What a beautiful ring!” Yes, the usual response to a betrothal, lots of oohs and aahs and sighs. Only this betrothal is special – it’s a royal one. Which means a royal wedding (Gasp! Sigh!) Yes, the sweetly handsome Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales is getting married to… Kate Middleton. Sorry, Katherine. But Kate sounds so much more delightfully young upper middle-class (we are talking about England, after all).
Anyway, in case you have been living on a remote island for the past week, the charming Prince (with his mother’s face and his father’s receding hairline) is marrying a “commoner.” (Hate to say this, but the royals don’t have a very good record associating with commoners, many of whom are now divorced persons. And William’s ill-fated mother, the adored Princess Diana, was foolish enough to be associated with a foreign commoner, and worse still, an Arab).
Now bookmakers are excitedly running around taking bets on the wedding date; Kate has taken to wearing ridiculous hats perched on one side of her elegant head, just like all the royals; she has been deer-stalking with her fiance and future father-in-law (isn’t that a blood sport? Yes, it is); she has attended various society weddings wearing the same stupid hats.
The Petchary is thankful that she no longer resides in England, where every detail of the life of the royal family is related, analyzed and regurgitated by the tabloids in a manner that is part sensational, part fawning, part nauseating. It’s worse than a soap opera. Soap operas are strangely, almost reassuringly, old-fashioned. No, the royals are young and trendy and they have names like Kate and Zara and Sophie, and they are seen at the coolest nightclubs and ski resorts… And oh yes, they wear idiotic hats…
Meanwhile, the deer-stalking Kate is the latest media darling. And hey, she really is a commoner… Her mother, a former air hostess, was seen chewing gum at the Prince’s passing-out ceremony (and yes, like his fellow royals, the Prince does pretend to be a military man, and looks dashing in uniform).
The Petchary apologizes for this blog. It has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
- Aung San Suu Kyi on freedom and phones (bbc.co.uk)