4: Go-between

Daw Sein, the Wife of the Inspector of Police, was the daughter of a Timber trader of Massein and had known Daw Nu U, So Ya's wife for many years. Daw Nu took Daw Sein's visit as the usual one the latter paid whenever she came to stay with her parents.

"And how' are your children?" Daw Nu asked when both had sat down on the finely woven smooth mat in the front room with the usual array of betel box, salver of cheroots, ash trays, matches, and a clean spittoon for the betel leaf chewer.

"They are growing very fast" replied Daw Sein. "Two of them are at school now."

They spoke of various people, recent happenings, and local gossip while sipping Shan tea from china tea bowls till conversation flagged somewhat because of Daw Sein's pre-occupation with the object of her visit. Suddenly she felt she could wait no longer and got down to business:

"We are old friends, you and I. I know you won't take offence at what I have to ask, Have you and U So Ya any plans for your daughter Ma Nyun?"

Daw Nu was taken aback. Could her friend be acting go-between? Incredible!

"No, He have no plans. Ma Nyun is still young. Besides, U So Ya dotes on her and has had such big ideas. He keeps saying she could have lent grace and beauty to the court at Mandalay, But "why do you ask?"

"Oh, Daw Nu, I won't beat about the bush. There is an Englishman who has seen Na Nyun two or three times. He says, he loves her and wants to marry her in the Deputy Commissioner's Court at Monywa, The Deputy Commissioner personally performing the ceremony."

Daw Nu was shocked surprised and dismayed.

"What Englishman?" she asked with sharply rising tone of voice.

"The Wundauk (Superintendent) who is in charge of constructing the telegraph line from here to India arrived last month and set up camp on the river bank. He has many overseers and hundreds and hundreds of men working under him. By our standards he must be very rich. Should she marry him, Ma Nyun will be very well off."

Daw Nu mulled over the information for several minutes then spoke softly and slowly as if she was thinking aloud:

"U So Ya will never agree. He hates all foreigners. Most of all the English because they are our masters having replaced our own King."

"Let's leave U So Ya out of it for a moment shall we? Instead we could ask Ma Nyun. Since he has seen her three times, she too must have seen him and formed some opinion of him, If she rejects the idea straight away then it's all over; but should she have been attracted, even ever so little, there is a chance that it will grow. Then she could work on the Taikthugyi."

Her mother having called, Ma Nyun came and sat with them. After greeting Daw Sein, she looked inquiringly at her mother, who after a moment's hesitation explained:

"Daughter, we have something important to tell you. Although only 16, as the eldest of three, you have taken your position seriously and have almost shed girlhood to become a young woman. Several mothers of sons have dropped hints but I have paid no attention to them, You are beautiful and one must expect young men to be attracted to you and ask their mothers to speak for them. But now, something quite different has happened. Have you seen the Englishman who arrived last month and set up camp on the river bank?"

Ma Nyun frowned for a moment, then replied:

"Yes. I had come out of the river after my swim when 1 felt someone staring at me, So I looked around and there he was, very tall, staring with bright blue eyes. 1 turned away, changed and came home, Since then I have seen him twice, still staring hard at me, Why do you ask?"

Daw Sein Has about to speak when Daw Nu gestured with her hand and said:

"Well, this Englishman says he loves you and wants to marry you. He asked his friend the District Superintendent of Police to help him, as he knows no Burmese nor our ways to be able to tell you this. As a result the Police Superintendent asked Daw Sein and her husband to speak for him. Have you anything to say about this?"

"Oh mother, what can I say? I don't know him or anything about him. Besides it is not for me to choose. As a good and obedient daughter, I am bound by custom to accept whatever arrangement you and father make."

Daw Sein now interposed:

"He is a Wundauk with many overseers and workmen under him in the Government Telegraph Department, He is therefore a man of substance and good prospects, He is eminently suitable from that point of view. But your mother tells me that your father hates all foreigners, most of all the English, This means he will never agree unless and until you can persuade him. You are the only person who could make him change his mind; there is no one else."

Ma Nyun was quick to reply:

"Oh Auntie, how can I go to father and ask this of him when I don't even know the man? Besides, if I have to marry, I'll have to leave Massein and go and live among strangers in Monywa,"

Daw Sein waited for a few moments before asking:

"Have you anything against him? Did he give you an unfavourable impression when you looked at him? Don't be shy to tell us your inner thoughts since it will help your mother and I to decide what should be done for your future,"

There was a long pause as the girl with eyes downcast reflected and carefully chose her words, "I have nothing against him, Nor did I dislike him. As our eyes met, I thought what a kind person he must be."

It was a bold suggestion to make; but if she was to do her job thoroughly it would have to be made, Daw Sein said:

"In that case, Daw Nu, do you think they should meet in my parent's house? I realise it is most unusual and against our custom; but this is an unusual case."

Daw Nu looked worried and much perturbed; The indecision that clouded her face took time to clear. She then said:

"It will be terrible if U So Ya finds out. You know what a temper he has - a throwback to the clan chiefs of old, Perhaps you could arrange one meeting to help Ma Nyun to know her own mind. Would you like that, daughter?"

"Yes mother. I think it, would be a good thing. If I am to be able to influence father, I would have to say I like the man and explain we met accidentally. The Englishman could have some work with Daw Sein's father, couldn't he, while I happened to be visiting Daw Sein,"

The two older women looked at each other with the same thought passing through their minds, They were thinking, 'there must have been much more than a mere look on Ma Nyun's part and eyes do speak at lightning speed.

"You are a clever girl, daughter, very quick and helpful. That is What we will do," said Daw Nu.

Meanwhile at Monywa, Dick Chapman was giving Tom a crash course in Burmese manners and customs. He also had some worthwhile advice to give.

"Do you know, Tom, there is a section in the Penal Code punishing anyone violating the modesty of a woman with fine or imprisonment or both and that by even trying to hold the hand of a Burmese woman, you have committed such an offence. Custom even forbids, a young woman from sitting near a man, leave alone close to him. So watch out, No display of affection or love as, we westerners know it when you meet her. The rest I leave to your good sense and Daw Sein's advice. Fortunately she has a little English and her husband will be able to fill in the blanks."

True to expectation, U So Ya exploded when Daw Nu told him that an Englishman wanted to marry their daughter, Ma Nyun.

"A foreigner, an Englishman at that: it shall never be, Knowing me you should have known better than to entertain such an idea, You should have rejected the proposal outright,"

Dan Nu, small, petite, still pretty in her thirties, was, used to her husband's outbursts. Though only 4 foot 11 inches in height she had a quick temper, a fiery spirit and the courage of an Amazon, all qualities her husband had tested invariably to his cost. In measured tone's she answered:

"Had I not told you, you would have been angrier still with the accusation that all this was, being done slyly and behind your back. Calm down. Tell me, is there anyone is this village you would have Ma Nyun marry? No, of course not. And don't talk any more of Courts and Palaces."

He had calmed down a trifle when next he spoke:

"But we know nothing of him. Nor what sort of a life our daughter will have. Worst of all, she'll have to leave Massein if she marries him! Anyway, what nonsense to talk of her marrying him. Ma Nyun is my daughter, very like me, thinks like me and will never want to marry an Englishman, an enemy of our country."

This was too good a chance to miss, Daw Nu couldn't have done better had she written the lines for him to speak, She quickly said:

"Then why don't you ask her?"

U So Ya assumed his most authoritative air when Ma Nyun had seated herself near her mother and looked up expectantly at her father, who solemnly said:

"Your mother tells me an Englishman wants to marry you, You know how I hate the English. Being like me and as my favourite daughter, I feel sure you won't have anything to do with him. However, since the proposal has been made, I feel it my duty to ask what you think of it."

Ma Nyun was very like her father in many ways, she too could make up her mind and stick to her opinion. She thought very carefully, then spoke slowly in a soft voice:

"Father, it is very difficult for me to gainsay you in anything. I have always been a good obedient daughter. But in this matter, my future is at stake. I have met the man and we have spoken a few words to each other at the home of Daw Sein's parents. I like him. I feel he is a kind person who has a lot to offer. Even so, I leave the decision to you and mother as a dutiful daughter should. I feel certain, however, that I will never have a better offer,"

U So Ya's face was a study, One moment it showed annoyance, then anger, then bitter disappointment to be followed by a deep stillness and introspection. She should have been, but was not, of like mind. That was most annoying, Then the thought of the Englishman daring to do this to him greatly angered him. But then she was no more a child. She had grown up and he himself had acknowledged that she was sensible and clever. She therefore had every right to decide and voice her own opinion, Saying more or less that she was attracted to the Englishman, she still respected her parents, and left them to decide instead of pleading for him to change his mind and give his consent.

"You have spoken well, daughter," he said. "Leave us now to talk over the matter, Be patient. It may take much time before we come to a decision,"

Saying "Thank you, father and mother," she bowed to them and left.

The two factions (the descendant of the clan chief and the doting loving father) in U So Ya were at war and everyone connected with him suffered in consequence. At the meeting of village headmen in his charge, he was impatient, cross and faultfinding instead 0f being his usual self, the genial, urbane kindly supervisor. At home he was abrupt, given to long silences and sudden eruptions of words to his wife, favouring one or the other side of the problem he was wrestling with, Ten days went by and still there was no decision. After one of his outbursts, he said:

"Why should my daughter go to Monywa to be married by the Deputy Commissioner? They can be married here in our home according to our custom, that is if I decide to give my consent."

Daw Nu, noting the change in the direction of her husband's line of thought was quick to reply:

"It is necessary to protect our daughter's reputation and to secure her rights as a legally married woman. You must have heard of girls living with foreigners. They consider themselves to be properly married according to our customary law; but everyone else considers them to be a kept woman, mistresses in fact, and treat them accordingly, You wouldn't want that for Ma Nyun, would you?

The journey down to Monywa, which we have not seen for some years, will be well worth the trouble. After the marriage we could go and worship at the great and famous Shwezigon pagoda."

"That's all very well; but where will we stay? With our three girls, there will be five of us."

"That's no problem. Have you forgotten U San Ya, the Timber trader, who has stayed with us so often? How many times has he tried to persuade you to take us and stay with him for all sorts of occasions such as the annual festival of the Shwezigon? And his wife, Daw Khin, who has also stayed with us, is such a dear. We will be very comfortable living with them and further we could have given them an opportunity to repay all the hospitality they have enjoyed here." Daw Nu ended feeling more hopeful; her husband's thoughts were proceeding along the right channel,

That night after he had been lying awake for several hours, U So Ya woke his wife and simply said:

"Ma Nyun can marry that Englishman," then turned over and went to sleep. The fond father had won, Daw Nu lay awake for a long time, her mind engaged in sorting out the many matters, which had to be attended to. She was very glad she had been awakened,