Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja Sithu,
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
On the 18th November 2016, a 2017 calendar was presented to me by the teaching staff of the Department of History, Yangon University. It is a commemorative calendar celebrating the 96th year of our Alma Mater, anticipating its centenary in four years’ time that is in 2020. What a significant historic coincidence that 96th National Day and the 96th year of Yangon University fall on the same red letter Day in our calendar. I could not resist the temptation to look at twelve sheets of the beautifully illustrated with good photographs of the land mark buildings of the campus. So all along my homebound journey from Weithali Hall, I was spiritually, transported back to my College days as I carefully turned every page of the 1917 calendar. I was suddenly aroused from my absorption in the past by the driver’s announcement of my arrival at home.
The Calendar indeed is a historical document of a sort. Its photos and captions below vividly record our Mother University, just like Yaza Kumar Stone inscription or Shin Ditha Pamaukha Stone Inscription of Ancient Bagan Period. The first photo and caption that catch my eyes are those of Convocation Hall for January 2017. The Chancellor Road is leading straight to it. Old and mossy but massive and dignified the Hall still bears its Crest and motto in English, Pail and Myanmar on its façade. Two Lion bronze statues on either side at the front entrance of the Council Chamber are still faithfully alert at their duty. Here in this grand spacious Convocation Hall, degrees had been conferred upon several graduates, honorary titles upon eminent persons, prominent international heads of State, heads of government and political leaders have given their addresses and the corpse of U Thant, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Organization received public homage and respects for nearly a month.
The month of February 2017 shows the entrance gate of the Chancellor Road leading straight to the Convocation Hall. But the gate and signboards are later additions. What is conspicuously missing is the small round about circus right in the center of roads crossings- the University Avenue and the Chancellor Road. That round about circus commonly known as “Awaing Kalay” among students and teachers was demolished soon after the tragic event of 7 July 1962. The month of March 2017 is illustrated by a photograph of the Chancellor Road with its Burmese name “Adi Padi Lan”, lined on either side with beautiful lam post grassy and wide path ways for the pedestrians under the green foliage.
The April of 2017 is shown with the photo picture of University Central Library- an old colonial building surrounded by shady, fragrant blooming Gant gaw trees, where U Khin Zaw (K) U Thein Han (Zaw Gyi) and Dr Thaw Kaung had given their life-long services. The May of 2017 gives the picture of Recreation center, a new complex with a new design in which shops, stadium and staged theatre are combined. Recreational and extramural activities of the students take place there.
Next appears the picture of Thit Pok Pin, the oldest or one of the oldest trees on the main campus. Some students say they had seen the ghost of an Englishman professor residing on that tree on full moon or no moon nights. This tree has witnessed and has been witnessing all events-good or bad, happy or tragic, on the campus. The June of 2017 gives this picture. The photo pictures of Arts Hall (Weikza Khanma) and Science Hall (Theik Pan Khanma) appear in July and August of 2017 respectively.
For September 2017 the photo picture of the Building of Science Research. Though they still retain their original designs and looks, their floral surroundings have changed, unrecognizably. Next come photo pictures of women’s and men’s hostels. Original two women’s hostels Benton (Thiri) and Inlya in the month October of 2017. I remembered that Miss E San Htay was the warden of Benton (Thiri) Hostel and English Lecturer Daw Thein Nyunt (Norma) was the warden of Inlya Hostel. I am pleased to find the correct Burmese spelling of Inlya (အင္းလ်ားေဆာင္) on the façade of the hostel. Not the wrong spelling Inya (အင္းလ်ား). Because the hostel faces the elongated lake it was named “အင္းလ်ားေဆာင္”, not
“အင္းလ်ား” which means Itchy Lake. These two wardens were noted for their strict disciplines. Many men students had unpleasant experiences with these two wardens when they visited there to date their girl friends. They had their jokes about them.
The month of November of 2017 has the photo pictures of five men’s hostels known as Central Halls namely (1) Inwa hostel, (2) Sagaing hostel, (3) Pyinya hostel, (4) Pegu hostel and (5) Tha hton hostel. They all retain their original looks, encircled by nicely trimmed Ponayeik bushes under the shades of Padauk, Sein ban and Tayoke Saga and Ngu tress. Pegu hostel was where Bogyoke Aung San resided in his college days. Inwa, Pinya and Tha hton hostels produced good soldiers, artists, film stars, singers, politicians and Sagaing hostel where I resided and served as hall tutor and deputy warden turned out good “Dobhat and Ozi” players, cartoonist, pleader and judge and student’s union’ leaders.
December 2017 gives a good photo picture of Judson (Saya Yudathan in Burmese). With Benton (Thiri) women’s hostel and two men’s hostels Wellington (Dagon) and North (Shwe bo) halls around it the church looks majestic, its bells chiming regularly giving religious and social services. The two rare trees that grow in Upper Myanmar but I found near Judson Church are Yin Kat tree and Neem tree. I hope they are still there.
As you come near the main gate of the Chancellor Road, you suddenly notice that one important building on the campus was conspicuously missing. That building is a Student’s Union Building (Ta-Ka-Tho Kyaung Tha Myar Tha Ma Ga ah saut ah Oo). It was very sad and unfortunate that immediately after the tragic event of 7th July 1962 the building was demolished by heavy explosives. To-day the site is covered with grasses and planted Seinban tress. In the immediate background still stands the original stadium and sports training center with original statues on its façade. On either side of the Chancellor Road are houses where Professors, high ranking administrators resided on the left side, at the corner was the house where Professor of Mathematics U Aung Hla and his wife film actor and singer May Than lived. Next close to Pegu hostel were two houses where Professor of Law, U Myint and Sayagyi U Kar had lived. On the right side are houses where Dr Hla Myint resided, Bursar U Thein Maung had lived, Professor of Botany, Dr Ko Ko Lay and Register Pwa Yu Khin had lived. I moved into U Thein Maung’s house No,33 where I resided for 18 years.
My memories rolled back to our good old days. There were no separate colleges. There were Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Engineering, and Faculty of Education. At the Convocation, the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor the Rector and Deans of Faculties confer degree upon the successful graduates.
Hostels were under the supervision of wardens, deputy wardens and hall tutors who were teaching staffs of departments. Four meals were served at hostels; early morning breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Messing was managed and run by messing committees of hostel students’ representatives under the supervision of deputy wardens and hall tutors. After study bell is rung every hostel student must be at study in his room. Saturday, being half holiday was devoted to extra-mural activities such as billiard, table tennis, and public speaking called “Kyaban or impromptu speaking”. There were many associations- subject wise, township wise, hobby wise, visual arts, performing arts could be pursued at the Recreation centers. Very exciting events were debates, annual dinners and excursions. Every hostel had yearly magazine in which students and teachers had the chance of training in the literary art. New types of verse prose and plays and also translation appeared in them. Of course the University’s Annual magazine and “O Way” magazine (the annual magazine of Student’s Union) were the leading ones. Besides the world renowned Journal of Burma Research Society (JBRS) and “Gandaloka”, The world of Books “Khit San Sarpay” publications were prestigious. Later radical Thakins formed “Naga Ni” Red Dragon publications. Its leaders were Thakin Nu, Thakin Aung San, U Thant, Thakin Ba Swe, Thakin Tin, Thakin Ba Nyein, Thakin Ba Thaung, Thakin Thein Pe (Tetphongyi Thein Pe Myint) etc.
Among Professors and lecturers whom I admired most for their teaching, speaking and mannerisms were Dr Htin Aung, Mr J, Kangyi, U Khin Maung Latt, Daw Khin Myo Chit, U Myo Min of English department, Professor Ba Nyunt, Daw Mya Sein, Dr Ohn Khaing of Modern History and Political Science department. U Aye Maung, U Maung Maung Gyi, U Hla Shwe, U Kyaw Yin, Daw Than Swe and Daw Myint Than of Burmese department. Professor Dr Hla Bu and U Pe Aung of Logic and Philosophy department, Dr Tha Hla of Geology department and Dr Daw Thin Kyi of Geography department. I also owed a great deal to Mr J. Moonie and Daw Hla Shwe of English department, Dr Maung Maung Gyi of History and Political Science department, and Saya Ba Thaing of Burmese department of Mandalay Degree College. Professor U Ba Nyunt always sent me to Ministry of Foreign Affairs on request for a guide for foreign visitors. Therefore I came into contact with Ministers and ambassadors. Among them were Mr James Barrington, I.C.S U Pe Khin, I.C.S U Kyin, I.C.S U Aung Soe and wife whom I admired and from whom I learnt most.
We never failed to make a day trip to historic sites and tours around Yangon costing only 3/kyats or later 5/kyats per head inclusive of everything Thanlyin, Twantey, Pegu, Thadu Kan, Gyo Phyu Kan, Hmawbe. We sand, dance, played instruments, played games, partook meal communally and became friends for life or lately found lovers. All daily newspapers, English, Burmese monthly magazines were on the table and rare ones where in the cases in the Social and Recreation Club down stair room of hostels. Students may bunk classes but they never miss tutorials and reading dailies and monthlies. So they need not take tuition when they sit for Public Service Commission’s Exams (PSC exams) on English, Burmese and General Knowledge.
Dear readers, I have been too long to tell you about our good old days. My article is to hail the 96th National Day and to anticipate the 100th year Centenary of our Alma Mater Yangon University in 4 years time.
So please old students and new students wherever you are at home or abroad, kindly contribute your share for the successful celebration of this great event.