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Pukka Sahib – Burma – Orwell

The term pukka sahib keeps popping up in my reading of Burmese Days by George Orwell. I made a note of the term over coffee this morning and looked it up the first thing I got into the office. According to Wikipedia, pukka sahib was a slang term taken from Hindi words for “cooked” and “master,” but meaning “true gentleman” or “excellent fellow.” The term was originally used in the British Empire during colonial times to describe an attitude which British administrators affected, that of an “aloof, impartial, incorruptible arbiter of the political fate of a large part of the earth’s surface”[1].

burma1.jpgburma2.jpgburma3.jpgburma4.jpgThe anti-empire novel evokes some of my fond memories in Burma Orwell paints a very vivid and accurate picture of Burma:

“He acclimatised himself to Burma. His body grew attuned to the strange rhythms of the tropical seasons. Every year from February to May the sun glared in the sky like an angry god, then suddenly the monsoon blew westward, first in sharp squalls, then in a heavy ceaseless downpour that drenched everything until neither one’s clothes, one’s bed nor even one’s food ever seemed to be dry. It was still hot, with a stuffy, vaporous heat. The lower jungle paths turned into morasses, and the paddy fields were great wastes of stagnant water with a stale, mousy smell. Books and boots were mildewed. Naked Burmans in yard-wide hats of palm-leaf ploughed the paddy fields, driving their buffaloes through knee-deep water”

Myanmar (formerly Burma) is mostly jungle except for the capital Rangoon (formerly Yangon) and townships bordering Thailand. I made my entry at the crossing of Mae Sai, the northernmost town in Thailand, a strategic point from which to explore the Golden Triangle, spanning Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The crossing is very busy with cart-loads of merchandises, local people, tourists, and shops. It’s one of the best spot to observe border life consider that this one of the few crossings where all travelers can obtain a permit for up to 2 weeks from the Burmese immigration facility. As you see in the pictures, this crossing features an infamous bridge, Lo Hsing-han’s former Golden Triangle passageway for opium and heroin that spans the Sai River between Mae Sai and the Burmese town of Tachileik. From Tachileik I got on a bus that began a bumpy journey through jungles as Orwell has described in the above passage to the capital city Rangoon.

1.“Race Against Time” M. Freedman, Phylon, 1953.

Additional reading:
Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin
[42] 1984 – George Orwell.

6 Responses

  1. Hi Matt

    Did you manage to catch a bus from Takhilek to Rangoon? I understood that foreign passport holders were forbidden to do this – I once made it down from Keng Tung but understood we couldn’t travel cross country!

    Great news if we can!



  2. John:

    Many years ago I entered with my Chinese passport but conditions in Burma has changed like stock market, it’s difficult for westerners to gain entry.

  3. The Burmese border was closed to US Passport holders. I diverted to Laos.

  4. […] in the Imperial Police. He launches an unrelenting attack at the core of British Imperialism–Pukka Sahibdom–an unspoken yet in tacit accord a code of coduct Englishmen abroad abide by. That one’s […]

  5. HI, Matt!

    You are lucky indeed to have visited Burma. When I was in Chiang Mai on a short visit I tried to get a permit to go across the border, but no luck. I am currently reading Emma Larkin’s “Finding George Orwell in Burma”. Have you read it yet? I think you will enjoy it especially because you have visited Burma and have read “Burmese Days” which was the inspiration for this novel as you know.

  6. My brother recommended I might like this blog.
    He was entirely right. This post truly made my day.
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