Burma’s Collective Amnesia

By Alex Wagner

The story my Burmese family told itself went like this: We’d fled the only home we’d known to escape oppression and danger, only to find ourselves in America, strangers in a strange land. But we did it. We made it. And from our vantage across the ocean, we continued to fight for Burma, to support its virtuous freedom fighters with our voices and resources. We were on the other side of an ocean, the right side of history.

These stories were so often repeated, so well worn, that they had very nearly faded into the background, until I noticed a snag—and decided to pull.

“We had an Indian cook who made the most delicious curry,” my grandmother often wistfully recalled when speaking of her life back home in Burma. But she offered—always—this caveat: “And he robbed us blind.”

I could very nearly taste these vindalooos and dals, given my grandmother’s frequent and lusty recollections, but oh, what a cruel price our family had to pay: unspecified ruby bracelets for untold chicken biryanis. It was an impossible choice, but there was only one to make. The cook was dismissed, taking with him all those curries. Replacements were hired, but no one could replicate that harmony over the stove. That Indian cook! Who was he? No one ever mentioned his name, only the dishes he prepared.

From the outset of the Indian-Burmese commingling under British rule, many Burmans, including my grandmother, referred to Indians as kala. The word’s origins may be from the Sanskrit word kula—meaning “caste man”—or kala, for “black man.” Or it may be from the Burmese word ka la—the term for “coming from overseas.” Even after half a century in the United States, my grandmother always referred to Indians as kalas, which we American-born offspring giggled at but didn’t quite understand. As it …read more

Via:: The Atlantic


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