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Looking back, looking forwards

By Daw Aung San Suu Kyi  • 

Originally appeared in The Mainichi

January 1, 2011

The beginning of the year is a time for renewal, reinvigoration, resolutions and remembrance of things past.

I look back on 2010 and find that parts of the year were so little memorable as to have disappeared wholly into the lost wastes of time. How did I spend the first day of 2010? I cannot remember.

I can say, however, that it could not have been comfortable. Renovations to my house had been started in December 2009 and stopped a few weeks later by order of the municipal authorities.

While my lawyers worked to get the order reversed, I spent several months living in the midst of cardboard boxes, thick woven blankets wrapped around unidentifiable objects, assorted suitcases and leaning towers of books.

Looking up from my bed, which was wedged between a high bookshelf, odd tables and a number of lumpy bundles, I had a good view of a peeling chunk of ceiling that afforded me many moments of contemplation on the nature of decrepitude and decay.

While the weather was cool, the jam-packed room seemed cozy, and the urban jungle camp-style of existence could be seen as something of an adventure. As the weather got hotter and hotter, however, the romance wore off, particularly as the scaffolding that had been erected against the outside walls was in such a position that the windows of the bedroom could not be opened and large parts of the night were passed in sleepless swelter. I  did not feel in the best of health.

The first quarter of 2010 was not just a period of physical discomfort, it was also one of intense mental activity. My lawyers would visit me on occasion to discuss the appeal that we had lodged against the sentence that had been meted out to me at the Insein Jail court the previous year. I found the whole legal process fascinating and learnt much from my highly experienced and able lawyers.

I felt immense pride in them and in the Legal Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) that had been working hard since 1995 to uphold the rule of law and to defend the rights of prisoners of conscience in our country. As one of the lawyers, U Nyan Win, was a member of the Executive Committee of the NLD, I also learnt much of what was happening in the
political world outside my house and was able to participate to some extent in the decision making process of the party.

This, in a year crucial to the political scene in Burma, posed intellectual challenges which, for me, were of far greater importance than health considerations.

Around the time of the Burmese New Year that falls in mid-April, the court decreed that the renovations to my house could be continued. Overnight, what had been an enclosure cut off from the sounds and movements of the world outside became a place of constant noise and action as workmen swarmed all over the place.

There was so much to be done. A major project was repairs to the roof. For some years I had spent the monsoon months moving my bed, bowls, basins and buckets around my bedroom like pieces in an intricate game of chess, trying to catch the leaks and to prevent the mattress (and myself, if I happened to be on it) from getting soaked. Now that the roof would be made sound.

I could look forward to the next rains with equanimity. In Burmese, a sound roof is a metaphor for security, a reflection of the notion that if all was well at the very top, all would be well throughout an edifice.

The repairs and renovations meant there would be greater physical convenience and comfort in the future. But much more important than the material considerations were the human contacts that were made possible.

Every day for about five months (the work on the house went on from April to September with a break of three weeks in-between), I was able to acquaint myself with the lives and concerns of our workmen, to acquire a better understanding of the difficulties with which the labor force of our country had to cope and to get a clearer idea of their hopes and aspirations.

Another consequence of the renovation project was frequent discussions with the Special Branch and other forces responsible for the security of the premises. The bringing in of men and materials had to be negotiated on an almost daily basis, and we found that obstacles could be smoothed out with reasoning and flexibility on both sides.

2010 was a year that brought many improvements to my house, but what it brought to our country, which is the home of all our people, is a much more serious tale, to be told another time.

I would like to end this, the first article I have written since my release, by expressing my deep appreciation of the support and friendship the Mainichi Shimbun has given me over two decades and by sharing with its readership an extract from a poem that had a special significance for my late husband and that I cherish for its abiding wisdom:

…yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

–from The Salutation to the Dawn based on a Vedic Hymn.

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