A Girl Named SUU

The Lady Suu Kyi (second, from left) with Malavika Chanda (far right) in 1964 |
The Lady Suu Kyi (second, from left) with Malavika Chanda (far right) in 1964 |

Malavika Karlekar

When a childhood friend is the face of a movement for democracy in a country ruled by a junta, time can only partially dim, not ever erase, one’s memories of her. Among other things, I remember Aung San Suu Kyi’s ready wit. Some years ago, I chanced upon a picture postcard from her marked “Oxford, 1979”. “Doesn’t the gargoyle on the New College bell tower look like Mr X?” she’d asked, referring to an Economics don, her tutor who’d been quite taken by her Oriental charm. I could almost hear her giggle; she saw humour in things we found quotidian. The quality surely emboldened her in the dark years.

Vol5_InlineText01As schoolgirls at Delhi’s Convent of Jesus and Mary in the last years of the Nehruvian era, we were ingenues, sheltered from the real world. Suu’s mother, the gracious Daw Khin Kyi (Madame Aung San), Burma’s ambassador to India at the time, would brook no indiscipline. Sloppiness or slouching was out. For habitual loungers to whom divans with bolsters signified ultimate bliss, Suu’s upright posture was a constant reminder of how young ladies should conduct themselves. Of course, the strict regimen of a convent with its insistence on well-starched divided skirts (what if ordinary skirts billowed in the wind?) just that one inch above the knees, Angelus at noon and learning by rote only reinforced familial values of discipline and order.

Some of our illusions about the world gave way to the lessons of realpolitik when we went on to study Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College. Interestingly, the syllabus had little on Indian political thought (nothing by Gandhi for instance), but focused on Rousseau’s ideals of childhood and Hobbes’ Leviathan. Notions of liberty and freedom via Locke and Hume made their way to our receptive minds—still revelling in having escaped from the shackles of a convent.(more).