She never, ever, reacted with aggression or bitterness to any suffering that she might   encounter. She faced whatever Fate brings with serenity and would smooth things out with unruffled patience. For this people might think her weak, or as one who is in denial but I believe that her equanimity in the face of  hardship is her way of meditation and her way of seeking to gain a higher state of mind.

      When one of her friends said to her, "Ma Khin Nyo, I always see you so busy you would hardly have time to sit at the shrine to pray," Mother answered, "Well, as I cook and clean I keep my mind on Buddha's teachings, don't I?"

      So, this is how she prays.

      Mother's charity is what I might call something for all beings and at all hours. Why?

      She would often say, "Don't bother about buying diamond earrings for me, just give      me enough so that everyday I can feed as many people as I want."

      Actually, she does not have a big family to feed at home as there are just six of us. But friends of my brothers and I, such as writers,  poets, and painters and my movie-director father's crew and their families treat our home as a place to come and go at anytime of day or night as it pleases them,  to eat up what food there is, or even to drop in just to use the loo.

      Mother loves all this. She loves to feed people, not only people who drop in but if any friends or acquaintances happen to pass by our gate she would almost drag them into the house: "Hey, come in and have a taste of what I cooked today," is something you hear from her all the time.

      Two elderly men who sell brooms would often come into our neighbourhood and they always look tired, what with the load they carry and the hot sun. Whenever Mother saw them she would insist they come in for a meal, and would look on smiling with joy while they eat huge piles of food with relish.

      "See how convenient for them to have a meal here," she would say to me, "it must be exhausting to walk for hours in the sun with their load, and I doubt if they make enough to buy their meals. When they eat here, they save a bit and I get the merit."

      Once Mother and I were on a trip and our train stopped at a small station that express trains usually pass through. I heard Mother   calling over a vendor and I thought she wanted to buy food so I did not take much notice. But when the woman approached I saw that she only had two large bamboo baskets in her hands.

My mother, A-may1  Nyo as everyone calls her, is a devout Buddhist who do not pray long and loud every night. She is also not among the ones who would attend meditation                 sessions at famous centres to strive hard to reach a higher status of mind. She is also not the type to gather merit by giving Soon kyway2  meals for monk and feasts for man, on a monthly or even a bi-yearly basis.

      I would not like to have the reader feel that I was casting some sort of disrespect on those who do so: people live as they see fit and that is none of my concern. I merely wanted to talk about my mother.

      Although my mother does not practise Buddhism in the ways I mentioned above she in her own way live her life with a charitable nature, a generous heart and a peaceful mind.

So, how does she do it?

       "Are these for sale?" Mother asked.

      "Yes, ma'am," the old woman answered  politely.

      "How much, old mother?"

      "Two kyats each."

      "Give me both," my mother said and handed over the money. She never bargains when she shops: I think that earned her merit in her own way and I noticed that she never met any seller hiking up the price.

      Our space on the train became a bit constricted with the two huge baskets Mother had bought.

      "Oh Mother, why buy them? You could easily get them in Yangon," I complained.

      "Now, "she said, smiling, "I couldn't get  them for this price in Yangon and see how neatly its woven, its worth the handiwork already. I felt sorry for the old woman. When our train stopped I saw her sitting in the sun with just these two baskets and think of it, if she wove them herself it would have taken her at least two days. For that she got only four kyats and maybe she’s feeding a family from that."

      I am aware of her views and have written about them in a few short stories, but Mother acts on it: a kind of merit that does not need a ceremonial ritual to make it work.

      "Hey, look over there, son," Mother gestured out of the window. There, with high steps belying her age ran the woman who had sold Mother the baskets, heading towards a  line of huts far beyond the stalks of harvested paddy in the bare fields.

      Mother's generosity gave me moments of joy like that, or at times, pure fun.

      A Ko Yin6  comes around every morning to our neighbourhood on alms rounds and he   and I are good friends. One day he told me something about Mother's charity, and this story I will tell you, combining the end of his story with the beginning of one I knew.

      One day Mother cooked a pot of chickpea and vegetables. She likes to experiment and that day used the vegetables usually meant for Chinese cuisine in this Indian-style dish. It did not turn out well so she added other vegetables and more water and thus landed with a large amount that could have fed the six of us for three days.

      One young daughter of one of father's staff who lives in our compound, helps Mother around the house and she was dispatched to carry one bowl each to her own house and  another to Mar Mar’s house. Mar Mar is another of the many people living in our compound.

      "Wash the bowls and bring them back," Mother told her as she sent the girl O-Su Ma  on her way.  She also sent out bowls of her chickpea chowder to the other five houses in the compound when O-Su Ma came back.

      "Well, one dish more for their meal is not such a small matter to them, poor things" Mother said to me.

      From this point let me conjecture what happened, to be concluded with the Ko Yin's end of the tale. Our compound is bordered on three sides by three monasteries and our Ko Yin resides at the monastery at the back.  He would enter by the back gate and make his way through the compound to the front.  The first house he would pass is O-Su Ma’s house, where by the time he arrives O-Su Ma’s mother Ma Sein has cooked, cleaned, dressed the younger kids for school and she herself bathed and freshly lathered with Thanakha bark-paste make up. Ma Sein is one capable woman. But, she never thought much of Mother's cooking so when Ko Yin came to stand silently in front of her house with downcast eyes, she poured Mother's chickpeas into one of his tin cups on his alms bowl and rice into the alms bowl itself. Why not? It saved her giving away the food she has cooked with her own hands, right?

      Ko Yin6 according to the rules of his Order did not glance at what was offered to him but went on his way and came to Mar Mar's house. Now, Mar Mar is rather different from Ma Sein. At any time you see her, she is bedraggled and almost unwashed. She is the type who would spend her husband's daily wage just by eating bowl after bowl of Monhinga noodles at a sitting. She would idly sit at home and call in any vendor who passes by and if she could get credit would buy an elephant.  As for neatness she is the type to 'take off, drop and dump', a term my Mother translated for  me as taking of her clothes, letting them drop and with a flick of her toes dump them into a corner of the room. She left the housekeeping chores in the hands of her children so her house is naturally always messy. Her kitchen fire is never lit as she prefers not to cook but to buy, or to live off whatever Mother sends. So, when Ko Yin stopped before her house, all she had was Mother's chickpea chowder and that she easily put into another tin.

      In another house lives U Maung Maung Hla whom we respectfully call Master Hla, a crewmember of my father’s movie business. He is a deeply devout man. When Ko Yin arrived at his front door, he had his own cooked food but so that he and Mother would share a merit, he offered Mother's dish to him. That way, from the back gate of our compound to the front where my house is, our Ko Yin's six tin cups were each filled with Mother's chickpea chowder.

      And to end our story with what Ko Yin told me in some bewilderment a few days afterwards:

      "You know, that day my guest the monk from the Shan State and I had no idea which tin of curry to eat first."

      "Why, were there so many dishes?"

      "Not at all, its as if every house in your compound has agreed what to cook for that day, every house has chickpea chowder!"

 

 1 Mother

 2 Special term used for a meal offered to monks

 3 Vipassana or Theravada Buddhist meditation at one level focuses on how one faces the upheavals of life without stress

 4 The biggest status symbol of a Burmese woman

 5 People making donations pour water drop by drop in a ritual to mark the merit gained

 6 A novice: boy or young man not yet 20, when he would become a monk

 7 Monks are not permitted to care about the food offered to them

 

1980 January

Pre Silver Anniversary Magazine

University of Yangon

 

(The above short story was translated by MTG)

 

Thu Maung

      Thu Maung, born in 1951, is the son of a famous movie director and writer Tha Du. His mother Daw Khin Nyo, a retired headmistress, was a well-respected and much-loved member of the Burmese intelligentsia community.

      Thu Maung is an actor and singer, and made a name for himself in both careers as well as in his main profession of a writer. He has written over 40 books, including novels, translations and several volumes of collected short stories and essays. He also writes observations on the movie  industry, poems and articles on Buddhism.