Smile as they Bow by Nu Nu Yi (tr. Alfred Birnbaum and Thi Thi Aye)

a nutshell: amid the revelry of the Taungbyon Festival (a major traditional celebration of nats – spirits) we meet Daisy Bond, a celebrated queer natkadaw (spirit medium) consumed with angst about her increasingly strained relationship with her younger assistant

a line: “I speak, laugh, cry as a woman. I feel everything as a woman. That makes me a woman. I’m a woman inside.”

an image: born male but living as a woman, Daisy muses on how the meinmasha mark is on individuals from the moment they’re born – it may be hidden or masked for different reasons, but come the right time and season, it blossoms bright and bold

a thought: to Nu Nu Yi’s credit as a writer, I didn’t find myself siding with either Daisy or Min Min – both deserved to live more freely than their lives had so far allowed

a fact: due to beliefs that nat possession was a sham, the Taungbyon Festival was banned under King Mindon’s reign (1853-78) and remained so under the rule of Myanmar’s last king, King Thibaw (1878-85); British colonisers reinstated it to create a diversion for people, Nu Nu Yi says – “They didn’t reinstate Taungbyon for natkadaws to cheat people, they reinstated Taungbyon to cheat the country”

 

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