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[89] Burmese Days – George Orwell

burma1.jpgBurmese Days is a 1926 novel based on George Orwell’s experience in India, where he was born and in Burma, where he served 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 opinion on every topic of any conceivable importance is dictated for him renders one a creature of a despotism, tied tighter than a prisoner by an invisible, unbreakable system of tabus.

That the code of pukka sahibdom is meant to promote edification of the lower (native) races leads to a clash when anyone, white or native, seeks to challenge the inveterate system. A malicious Burmese magistrate who is too absorbed in his intrigue that he is invulnerable to failure paves his way to be elected into the whites-only European Club in Kyauktada, where a handful of Englishmen gather to drink and to alleviate their loneliness and nostalgia. Anyone who is in good terms with these elite foreigners will be in good stead and prestige. Defying the Buddhist belief of earning merits, U Po Kyin contrives to ruin the reputation of an upright Indian doctor, who stands in the way of his rising to power, through a series of calumnies that cause a fallout between the Englishmen and the doctor.

While the doctor’s only English friend Flory perceives the futility of England’s rule during the waning days of Imperialism, he has not even a spark of courage to speak against public opinion bound by the dreadful pukka sahibdom, let alone standing up for someone whom the white men consider their inferior. That he is burned with hatred of the imperialistic atmosphere is not enough to champion a black face against the full fury of a collective attitude. As the attack on the doctor rages on and scandal mongering chokes the club, Flory feels the scruple of being silent. Complicated by the fact that he falls in love unexpectedly with a newly arrived snob of an English girl who despises poverty and dreads the natives’ filthy habits, Flory must find the strength to do right not only by his friend, but also by his conscience.

The caustic novel is a slap in the face to those living in foreign soil and in their superciliousness seeking to patronize what don’t belong to them. The subtle writing ridicules these supercilious foreigners who in their impudence trample on the native culture, take what is most vulnerable, and reduce cultural legacy to something to which they can assimilate, in a condescending way. On a side note, the picture of the book cover satirizes this kind of behavior: a dog is being treated better than a human, the native.

6 Responses

  1. I’ve always found British imperialism into Asia to be fascinating. Oddly enough, I listened to the Eurythmics’ soundtrack to the movie version of George Orwell’s 1984 this weekend.

  2. This book was an accidental find and I’m glad I found it. British imperialism was such stronghold to the country and their culture that at once they claim to be one empire that never sees the sun go down. What arrogance!

    There is a movie version of 1984, eh?

  3. It’s been one that has been on my ‘mental list’ for a long time but never got round to buying it, let alone reading it. Your last comment is fascinating and I must get it now, at least make sure it’s on that shelf of books ‘to read’…

  4. seachanges:
    I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this one. It’s top of my list for this year so far.

  5. […] Books , Personal  I have not planned nor have I anticipated that some of the recent reading, Burmese Days and The Egyptian, will once again echoes the theme of irrelevance of good and evil in The Master […]

  6. […] , Literature , Books  Keep the Aspidistra Flying embraces man’s greed and fear like in Burmese Days but under a completely different allure. Poverty is written all over the face of Gordon Comstock, a […]

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