Madhu Gurung is a freelance journalist. Army is a leagcy in her family. She worked with the Women's Feature Service and is a Fellow of the National Foundation of India. She has worked with the BBC World Service Trust and Was the Media Adviser for the National AIDS Control Organisation, New Delhi. Currently she is based in Delhi where she lives with her husband, children and their three golden retrievers- Rainbow, Treasure and Buddy.
I have always believed in magic.
The first time I remember being touched by it was as a five- year-old child, sitting on the mud-washed kitchen floor of our village home in Johri Gaon, Dehradun. Our animated shadows cast by the flickering lantern light and the crimson wood fire created their own spell. It was there that my Bajai (grandmother in Nepali) would weave tales of handsome kings, beautiful queens, fierce demons, talking serpents, flying spirits who changed form at the slightest whim and lived enchanting lives. Each tale bespoke of human grandeur with all its passion-despair, turbulence, greed, deceit, tears, bravery and triumph. Long after she ended her tales the magic remained like individual fingerprints on our souls.
Bajai always started her stories with the lines, "Sunne lai sun ko mala, bhanne lai ban ko mala, yoh katha baikunt jala" - To the listener a garland of gold, to the story teller a garland of all forest flowers, and the tale I tell you will also be heard in the heavens above.
I began writing this collection of Burmese stories when my husband was posted in Myanmar as the Military Attache from 2000-2003. We reached Myanmar in the monsoons and we had never seen such heavy rains. One rainy day as I sat writing my diary, Amma, our cook, came and sat down beside me on the steps of our colonial bungalow, and told me a story she had heard as a child. I was fascinated to hear the story of a crocodile named Raincloud. I wrote it down and immediately sat on the computer and added some dialogue. Thereafter I started collecting Burmese folktales. My local gym friends, Kyi Kyi, Aye Aye and many others helped me as did my scrabble friends, Charlotte and Ruby. Like a ripple in a pond, my friends would talk to their families and come and recount the stories they had heard. I soaked it all up and tried to keep as close to the original as possible.
As my collection grew, I met U Maung Maung Thein, a lively man with quick silver eyes and ready humour. It was he who painted the characters making the stories come alive.
These stories are written for the children of Myanmar (Burma) in English - the language that was removed from the school curriculum after the country was nationalised in the early 196os. Thereafter it belongs to everybody around the world. In the years that I spent there, we saw the military government reintroduce English as it was accepted as the universal language of communication.
Much has changed in Myanmar since then. As the country opens its doors, through this book I hope people get a glimpse of its magical folktales that still find resonance in the lives of the people of this ancient, beautiful, magical land of Myanmar.
I hope my readers feel the magic.
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