Set In The Days Of The Empire, With The British Ruling In Burma, This Book Describes Corruption And Imperial Bigotry Flory, A White Timber Merchant, Befriends Dr Veraswami, A Black Enthusiast For The Empire, Whose Downfall Can Only Be Prevented By Membership At An All White Club There s a map of the village of Kyautada in my edition of Burmese Days, a map which is based on a drawing done by Orwell himself My heart skips when I see a map in a book I know immediately that the geography of the place will be somehow important, and Orwell s map, with little arrows tagged UP and DOWN alongside the roads, gives an almost three dimensional idea of the terrain, showing that the village was built on the side of a hill The few buildings strewn along the slope are tagged with their owners names At the bottom of the hill, he s drawn in the broad expanse of the River Irrawaddy and at the top of the hill, a large shaded area, which he has simply tagged Jungle When you begin reading, you know that the story will take place on this rather narrow slope of land between the jungle and the river, and for me, that information spelled danger The book opens with the hatching of a rather diabolical plot so the suspicion of danger is confirmed and the tone of the story is set from the beginning.I was slightly disappointed that the descriptions of nature promised by this hillscape between jungle and river were so few but the scattering of houses on the map are farsignificant than they look at first In fact, most of the story takes place in one or other of these houses, or in the little cube marked Club , its back set to the river, and to which the main characters make their way before breakfast, at noon, and every evening of their Kyautada lives They sit in their club, as in all such Kipling haunted little Clubs, whisky to the right of you, Pink un to the left of you, listening and eagerly agreeing while Colonel Bodger develops his theory that these bloody Nationalists should be boiled in oil. The club, needless to say is exclusively white and the plot of the book revolves around it remaining that way Or not.The promising strip of jungle on the upper edge of the map has a role to play in the story, as does the river, but too much of the book is concerned with the sayings and doings of the sahiblog, the little group of agents of the British Empire who gather in the club at Kyautada, and they are a particularly unpleasant group But thanks to Orwell s talent as a writer, he somehow manages to squeeze an interesting story out of such unpromising material If he were alive today, I would love to talk to him about this book and his motivations for writing it Of course that s impossible, but the next best thing is to take a look at what he said about this book when he was alive, in Why I Write From an early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writerWhen I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words..As for the need to describe things, I knew that already So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were partly used for the sake of their sound And in fact my first complete novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.But already in Burmese Days, for all his attempts at purple passages and arresting similes , there is a definite leaning towards the type of social criticism that was to become the focus of Orwell s later writing The Indian Empire is a despotism benevolent, no doubt, but still a despotism with theft as its final objectThere is a prevalent idea that the men at the outposts of Empire are at least able and hardworking It is a delusion Outside the Scientific Forces the Forest Department, the Public Works Department and the like there is no particular need for a British official in India to do his job competently. The real work of administration is done mainly by natives. Burmese Days, p 69 In Why I Write he explains how he came to definitively turn his back on the Burmese Days type novel In a peaceful age, I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties As it is I have been forced into becoming something of a pamphleteer First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma , and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc.Fortunately for us, those later life experiences gave Orwell material for some of his finest writing, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia as well as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty four.I need to readOrwell. Poor Flory If only he d had the good sense to be born into an E.M Forster novel instead of one by George Orwell, he might have had half a chance Burmese Days, Orwell s second book, draws on his own experiences as a police officer in imperial Burma in the 1920s The novel describes the experiences of John Flory, an English timber merchant living in a Burmese outpost Flory feels increasingly estranged from the other Europeans His only real friend is a Burmese doctor, despite the disapproval of his fellow Englishmen Flory finds their overt racism repulsive, though his rebellion against it is halfhearted Flory deals with his sense of alienation as many of his fellow Europeans do, comforting himself with a Burmese mistress and vast quantities of gin When the lovely but vapid Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives on the scene, Flory thinks he has found a kindred spirit to rescue him from his isolation He misreads her utterly, however, resulting in some truly cringe inducing scenes of courtship And just in case Flory weren t inept enough in the love department already, he gets some help when the complicated plotting of a corrupt Burmese magistrate turns him into collateral damage Burmese Days is a scathing attack on racism and imperialism that seems in many ways ahead of its time The novel was published in the United States before it was published in the U.K because it was thought that it would bepalatable in a country without a direct connection to colonial India and Burma and where the real life models for the characters wouldn t be recognized.It often feels like much of Orwell s work, both his novels and essays, served as a lifelong preparation for Nineteen Eighty Four This is true even in Burmese Days, with a setting that little resembles Oceania Still, the theme of isolation and repression of thought is strongIt is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored In England, it is hard to imagine such an atmosphere Everyone is free in England we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism Free speech is unthinkable All other kinds of freedom are permitted You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator but you are not free to think for yourself Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahibs codeit is a corrupting thing to live one s real life in secret One should live with the stream of life, not against it Despite these serious themes, Burmese Days is still an engaging story Admittedly, most of the characters border on loathsome, painted with Orwell s extremely dry wit Hopefully some of them are exaggerated caricatures, but unfortunately many probably aren t Flory, though, despite his numerous failings, still has a certain poignant appeal Though the odds are stacked greatly against him, it s hard not to hope he can somehow prevail. I like Orwell s politics and vision It is amazing to see how far he has gone in exposing untruths and fighting injustices Throughout his life, he remained steadfast in his politics This makes him an admirable figure We need writers like him eventoday, but I wonder if there is any scope for such a man especially in First World countries where one does not know who Big Brothers and Winstons are maybe they have merged into one entity, making the world evenintriguing than it ever has been Burmese Days shows us the man who is fighting injustice in whatsoever form it presents itself Here the setting is British Rule in the subcontinent, and the reader sees how they exert power over the natives One among the English, John Flory, fights the dubious practices of the rulers in everyday matters, For instance, the English men at club oppose an Indian doctor s membership to the club, Flory fights his colleagues.So one sees two kinds of English men in colonies the majority that exploits the natives and a minuscule number of English men who defends the rights of the natives Indeed, a perfect arrangement I guess until we have people, groups, nations who are in a position to help others we are in a terrible place because such a situation arises out of inequalities in the first place For instances, in Nordic countries it is not that one rich man is helping 50 others just out pity such gestures of help are often seen inprimitive societies, where such a helper and his ancestors must have built their riches by exploiting the majority population.So while one admires people who try to bring injustices down, but very often they areor less come from the same class And no matter how honest they are, they are never wholly saintly, their own prejudices and complicity leak in unguarded moments Flory, a friend of Indian doctor and great champion of equality and so forth, is once seen loathing his orderly who spoke to him in English Here, we see his snobbery first hand I am not sure, though, if this was intentional, or could this be Orwell himself, by default, showing his own prejudices On one level, Flory s claims to righteousness are fundamentally problematic, after all, he works for the British Raj.The second time I read this novel, I was not looking for how one good man is fighting for the rights of the others an admirable thing, though, but an ideal situation in human life does not produce them, there is no scope for them I was actually studying the good man himself What is it that makes him How come he fights the system Are the reasons often given only embedded in goodness Or is it just a way of exerting power from the other end Each time I read about modern day activists, the so called good guys, I always wonder would they still remain good if whatever they fight vanishes Would an Indian Brahmin, who claims to fight caste in India, really be at ease in caste less society Would someone like Orwell, who fought against colonialism, be glad to love in today s world where England is not what it used to be Or would he, then, resent democracy As a reader, I cannot help myself asking these questions.Or Like many, he would also resent democracy today It is these questions I cannot help thinking while reading Burmese Days. The whole body of policemen, military and civil, about a hundred and fifty men in all, had attacked the crowd from the rear, armed only with sticks They had been utterly engulfed The crowd was so dense that it was like an enormous swarm of bees seething and rotating Everywhere one could see policemen wedged helplessly among the hordes of Burmans, struggling furiously but uselessly, and too cramped even to use their sticks Whole knots of men were tangled Laocoon like in the folds of unrolled pagrisBurmese Days1934 It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cagesA Hanging1931 With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorm, upon the will of prostrate peoples with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest s gutsShooting an Elephant1936 It is interesting to note that the main distinction between these two great essays by Orwell,Shooting an Elephant andA Hanging, and his novel,Burmese Days, is length All have plot, characters, vivid descriptions, the protagonist conveying his ideas and thoughts through the telling of a story Where fiction becomes fact is not clearly defined If the protest but Flory is a character has merit, one could say the same of the speaker in the essays Did these events really happen Was there a dog, does Orwell really remember exactly what was said For that matter, did he ever shoot an elephant or see a hanging There is some doubt However there is no doubt of the truth of what is conveyed, even if one can pick apart each and every incident recounted Fiction and soi disant nonfiction both have their lies and truths, but which is which is not always apparent.To belabour the point Art is a lie I use to tell the truthPicassoThe truth isimportant than the factsFrank Lloyd WrightIs there anything truer than truth Yes, LegendKazantzakisThese things never were, but always areSallustBurmese Days, as is often noted, is influenced byOf Human Bondage, Lord Jim and Passage to India But combined with Orwell s experience in Burma, and his sharp perceptions, it is a satire with beauty, heartbreak, cruelty and madness John Flory, the protagonist, had been in Burma fifteen years Orwell was there for five The exoticness of Burma had captivated Orwell, and it is rendered quite wonderfully in this his first novel The sun circled low in the sky, and the nights and early mornings were bitterly cold, with white mists that poured through the valleys like the steam of enormous kettles There was no lawn, but instead a shrubbery of native trees and bushes gold mohur trees like vast umbrellas of blood red bloom, frangipanis with creamy, stalkless flowers, purple bougainvillea, scarlet hibiscus and the pink Chinese rose, bilious green crotons, feathery fronds of tamarind The clash of colours hurt one s eyes in the glare A nearly naked mali, watering can in hand, was moving in the jungle of flowers like some large nectar sucking bird Unblinking, rather like a great porcelain idol, U Po Kyin gazed out into the fierce sunlight He was a man of fifty, so fat that for years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely and even beautiful in his grossness for the Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling His face was vast, yellow and quite unwrinkled, and his eyes were tawny His feet squat, high arched feet with the toes all the same length were bare, and so was his cropped head, and he wore one of those vivid Arakanese longyis with green and magenta checks which the Burmese wear on informal occasions He was chewing betel from a lacquered box on the table, and thinking about his past life Orwell s own assessment The descriptions of scenery aren t bad, only of course that is what the average reader skips Don t skip them if you want to be in Burma with Orwell Although it does get a bit out of hand occasionally, I would not call it purple prose And there are so many scenes that are brilliantly handled, and often with a dash of dry wit and subtle irony Orwell is Flory, almost as much as he is the shooter in the essay He was part of the imperialist empire, yet an outsider too He could not play the role of the pukka sahib He was too admiring of the natives, the land, the language, the culture and he hated the role of exploiter, hating how his fellow Englishmen were so intolerant and chauvinistic these same ideas are found inShooting an Elephant andA Hanging.Burmese Daysis very visual indeed and I am surprised it has never been filmed In 1936, Orwell wrote to his agent, I don t think personally the idea of dramatising Burmese Days is much good, but it might be worth while getting an expert opinion That expert might be Ralph Fiennes, who is looking at doingBurmese Days, based on an adaptation by John Henry Butterworth Apparently he wants to be John Flory, and he s sent the script to Roger Michell director ofNotting Hill Hmm Luckily Fiennes has had some practise at playing the ugly guy The first thing that one noticed in Flory was a hideous birthmark stretching in a ragged crescent down his left cheek, from the eye to the corner of the mouth Seen from the left side his face had a battered, woebegone look, as though the birthmark had been a bruise for it was a dark blue in colour He was quite aware of its hideousness New tick Flory does look rum, Got a face like a monkey s bum But Flory had lived down Monkey bum in time He was a liar, and a good footballer, the two things absolutely necessary for success at school Naturally Orwell is as droll as ever here It ll be amusing to see Fiennes made up as Flory and saying words like pyinkado, frangipani, longyi, thakin, tuktoo, pwe, sahiblog, dacoity, and thathanabaing And not smiling. Burmese Days, George Orwell Burmese Days is a novel by British writer George Orwell It was first published in the United Kingdom in 1934 It is a tale from the waning days of British colonialism, when Burma was ruled from Delhi as a part of British India 1985 1363 416 1363 367 1389 9789644531088 367 1392 1393 1389 9789644531088 442 1393 9789645174543 416 Imagine sitting in a small, dark room with George Orwell sitting ten inches away from you shouting the words, RACISM and IMPERIALISM at you for two hours That s what it s like reading this novel Orwell wants to get his message across so strongly that he completely forgets that coherent plots and characters are essential in fiction However I must say that Burmese Days is written very well as with all of Orwell s works and it has a disgustingly pessimistic ending which is always a major bonus in my literate tastes. This always happens to me I seem to forget how beautiful and almost effortless Orwell s prose is, only to be stunned by his talent the next time I pick up one of his books Even when he writes about mundane things, his turn of phrase has an elegance that few others have mastered and that dry, razor sharp British sense of humor adds a colorful layer to his narratives Just a couple of pages into Burmese Days , I was both laughing bitterly and sighing in admiration at the wonderful language he used to tell this rather devastating story I also could hardly put the book down, and growled at anyone who interrupted my reading.In some ways, Burmese Days reminded me of E.M Forster s A Passage to India , but harsher, grittier in its description of bigotry and corruption Just like Forster, Orwell lived in South East Asia and saw how his fellow Englishmen saw the native population, and treated both them and their local resources and the different ways the Burmese and Indians reacted to this imperialism Obviously, he hated what he saw This is not 1984 or Animal Farm , but it is nevertheless a scathing social criticism of colonialism and its repercussion both on the colonists and colonized Orwell knew that the problems faced by everyone involved in this situation were complex and intricate, and had no easy solutions.Dr Veraswami s only hope of avoiding the persecution of a corrupt magistrate is to be elected as a member of an all white Club, as this strange power of association would give him enough prestige to stay safe He has one hope, that his friend John Flory, who loathes the open racism his compatriots spew all day long over drinks, will help him acquire this coveted membership But Flory doesn t have the strength of his convictions, and U Po Kyin, the slimy magistrate, will exploit this weakness of character to his own ends.Orwell never really seems to write likable characters, but he makes his pathetic and despicable ones very layered and well rounded Flory s sense of alienation and despair is perfectly captured I kept hoping he d get his shit together, but I didn t think it was very likely He feels enormous guilt for being complicit in the exploitation and abuse he witnesses, but can t bring himself to rebel against it entirely I wondered how much of himself or a young version of himself Orwell poured into this tormented timber merchant, how much of what Flory experiences echoes how Orwell felt during the five years he spent in Burma He did say that much of the book was simply reporting things he had seen during his stay there, to the point where his publishers were originally worried about libel suits Orwell didn t think this was his most political work, and later decided that he would no longer indulge in what he felt was purple and decorative writing, because the world he lived in was not a peaceful place, which made him feel he had a responsibility to infuse his writing with political purpose It might not have been the driving inspiration behind Burmese Days , but it is nevertheless a beautifully written but heartbreaking and unflinching look at a terrible time and place of our history A must read for Orwell fans. In the 1920 s an obscure young Englishman named John Flory, obviously modeled after George Orwell himself, goes to colonial Burma to make his fortune, The Road to Mandalay this is not The writer had been a policeman there also for five years Flory becomes a timber merchant, in the north of the country and living in Kyauktada Katha A small town of 4,000 at the edge of the formidable jungle, but it is the capital of the district with a railroad, hospital, courts and a jail of course and the Irrawaddy River flowing leisurely by The seven Europeans who constitute the entire white population there, social center is the club, all the British have one in Burma A not very impressive or beautiful building, but it is the only place that they think, represents good old England The foreigners naturally keep away from the Burmese, as much as possible Still times are changing , the days of the British Raj are numbered, the world moves on The club members are an anachronism and are too stupid, to realize it They re living in the past, in the Glorious Days of the Empire that doesn t exist any The Europeans mostly get drunk inside and have arguments, smoke a lot of cigarettes with some card playing and reading on the side And always complaining about the intolerable heat and vilify the natives, as less than human especially Ellis, a bigot to the bone Except for Flory, who has an Indian friend causing much criticism , from the other Europeans his only one, in the wide world, Dr Veraswami is strangelypro British than Flory, have loud, vigorous discussions about politics The good doctor has an enemy, U Po Kyin a very ambitious corrupt magistrate, so fat that he can t get off a chair by himself Intrigues are his delight in life, theharm he causes the better his enjoyment, plus he getspower and rupees Being the first Burmese in the club, is his goal and nothing will stop him Poor sensitive Mr.Flory, born with a hideous birth mark on one side of his face, which he tries to hide not very well John likes the country and the people, the only European who does A very sad lonely man, the biggest thing he hates is himself for his debauchery, drinking too much, native women he uses, living like the rest of the white slobs, believing himself a coward for not speakingagainst British rule The faithful servant Ko S la, helps him to bed many times His mistress Ma Hla May, is always asking formoney, but the dog Flo loves him Entering the story, the inexperienced Miss Elizabeth Lackersteen, an orphan at 22 years old, no coins in her purse She needs a place to stay, arriving in town and living with her only relative, the lush of an uncle Mr Lackersteen and his wife When not falling down drunk, he likes to lecherously chase the niece around the house This is Mr.Flory s last chance for salvation, can he overcome his weaknesses, his ugliness, his self hate, to win the love of this young , attractive woman a dozen years his junior and make his life worth living But there is a rival Lieutenant Verrall, a military policeman newly posted for a short time in town, there is rebellion in the air Handsome 25, loves his horses, younger son of a peer thus destitute, paying bills not his way, conceited, looking down at the other Europeans, a real creep and not a heart of gold either, in sight But with good manners, resulting in countless women falling for him, so does foolish, desperate Elizabeth Very informative novel that shows the evils of imperialism.. This was my first Orwell s novel and coincidently it was also Orwell s first novel It shows Burmese Days is essentially about the pettiness and cruelty of colonial society The novel follows a set of characters but decides, eventually, to focus on John Flory, a timber merchant who is stuck in Burma Myanmar nowadays due to his lack of prospects elsewhere Flory has a love hate relationship with the land that grants him a living He hates the white colonial society, with its racism and arrogance, and he clearly admires the Burmese people and their ways This admiration, however, is constantly stiffled because he, a white man, could never openly admire the natives without causing some major scandal What is absurd is that this white society in which the so called scandal would be given any attention is composed of less than 10 white people As Flory himself admits there would be no serious consequence for him if he were to defy the unspoken and unwritten rules of colonial sociability But he is a coward, and he hates conflict He persists in his feebleness It is hard to simpathize with any of the characters They are all either detestable or pathetic or ridiculous The ending is predictably unhappy Burmese Days is well written because Orwell is incapable of bad writing Still, it lacks proper structure and character development Above all, it lacks subtlety Everything is very much in your face in a way that grows tiring even for such a short novel Still, and perhaps paradoxically, Orwell s anger which is clear and palpable at the utter injustice and absurdity of the reality of the British Empire is the best thing about this book He takes all the myths about British Imperialism the benovelent rule , the we brought civlization , the competence of the officials and destroys them That I did enjoy.