19 July is one of the most significant days in Myanmar as we mourn for our fallen hero General Aung San who fought for the independence of our country from the British rule. We affectionately call him “Bogyoke” which, in English, means General and regard him as the Father of our country. Many Burmese people could recite a poem called “Aung San Zarni” that is dedicated to him at any given time and we take our pride in remembering his whole life events captured in that poem.
Born in Nat Mauk, a rural village in central Myanmar, he was a natural leader proven by several leadership positions he held during his student life at Rangoon University which is now called University of Yangon. Because of his unrelenting efforts, Myanmar became independent on 4 January 1948. However, it came with a huge price. General Aung San was assassinated 6 months before independence on 19 July 1947 at the prime age of 32 along with seven other cabinet members and one guard while they were holding a meeting in the Secretariat, a colonial red building in downtown Yangon. It later becomes designated as Martyrs’ day when several commemorative events such as national essay contests, debate competitions and a national level remembrance event at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon are held every year.
Beside the abovementioned formal events, a lot of local celebrations happen at the same time. One particular event stands out. Once the clock strikes 10:37 AM on this day, people suddenly stop all their activities and silently pay respect to him and his comrades for a brief moment. Cars in Yangon will stop and drivers would honk the horns for the entire minute. The whole city literally stops its function for a while. Being a national holiday, many pay visits to the Mausoleum, the Bogyoke Museum and the Secretariat. Parents would bring their children to these places to remind them about the heroes and pass on their legacy. It is such a special day indeed.
Likewise, many users of social media like Facebook change their profile pictures with General Aung San portrait and post statuses about the famous phrases used by him. Some of them include “I hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” and “Kyi, I want to eat boiled chickpeas and naan bread if available.” The latter quote is about Bogyoke dearly asking his wife for boiled chickpeas and naan bread and as such, its consumption would go up on that particular day.
In this way, Bogyoke will always be in our heart and his legacy reminding us to stay united despite being different among hundreds of ethnic groups in Myanmar lives on.
By Thein Min Swe, ASEAN Correspondent from Myanmar