The Comments of Moung Ka

Moung Ka, cultivator of rice and philosophic virtues, sat on the raised platform of his cane-built house by the banks of the swiftly flowing Irrawaddy. On two sides of the house there was a bright-green swamp, which stretched away to where the uncultivated jungle growth began. In the bright-green swamp, which was really a rice-field when you looked closely at it, bitterns and pond-herons and elegant cattle-egrets stalked and peered with the absorbed air of careful and conscientious reptile-hunters, who could never forget that, while they were undoubtedly useful, they were also distinctly decorative. In the tall reed growth by the riverside grazing buffaloes showed in patches of dark slaty blue, like palms fallen amid long grass, and in the tamarind trees that shaded Moung Ka’s house the crows, restless, raucousthroated, and much- too-many, kept up their incessant afternoon din, saying over and over again all the things that crows have said since there were crows to say them.

Moung Ka sat smoking his enormous green-brown cigar, without which no Burmese man, woman, or child seems really complete, dispensing from time to time instalments of worldly information for the benefit and instruction of his two companions. The steamer which came up-river from Mandalay thrice a week brought Moung Ka a Rangoon news-sheet, in which the progress of the world’s events was set forth in telegraphic messages and commented on in pithy paragraphs. Moung Ka, who read these things and retailed them as occasion served to his friends and neighbours, with philosophical additions of his own, was held in some esteem locally as a political thinker; in Burma it is possible to be a politician without ceasing to be a philosopher.

His friend Moung Thwa, dealer in teakwood; had just returned down-river from distant Bhamo, where he had spent many weeks in dignified, unhurried chaffering with Chinese merchants; the first place to which he had naturally turned his steps, bearing with him his betel-box and fat cigar, had been the raised platform of Moung Ka’s cane-built house under the tamarind trees. The youthful Moung Shoogalay, who had studied in the foreign schools at Mandalay and knew many English words, was also of the little group that sat listening to Moung Ka’s bulletin of the world’s health and ignoring the screeching of the crows.

There had been the usual preliminary talk of timber and the rice market and sundry local matters, and then the wider and remoter things of life came under review.

‘And what has been happening away from here?’ asked Moung Thwa of the newspaper reader.

‘Away from here’ comprised that considerable portion of the world’s surface which lay beyond the village boundaries.

‘Many things,’ said Moung Ka reflectively, ‘but principally two things of much interest and of an opposite nature. Both, however, concern the action of Governments.’

Moung Thwa nodded his head gravely, with the air of one who reverenced and distrusted all Governments.

‘The first thing, of which you may have heard on your journeyings,’ said Moung Ka, ‘is an act of the Indian Government, which has annulled the not-long-ago accomplished partition of Bengal’

‘I heard something of this,’ said Moung Thwa, ‘from a Madrassi merchant on the boat journey. But I did not learn the reasons that made the Government take this step. Why was the partition annulled?’

‘Because,’ said Moung Ka, ‘it was held to be against the wishes of the greater number of the people of Bengal. Therefore the Government made an end of it.’

Moung Thwa was silent for a moment. ‘Is it a wise thing the Government has done?’ he asked presently.

‘It is a good thing to consider the wishes of a people,’ said Moung Ka. ‘The Bengalis may be a people who do not always wish what is best for them. Who can say? But at least their wishes have been taken into consideration, and that is a good thing.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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