Nyi Pu Lay: The Writer with a Peaceful Smile
The life of an artist and his thoughts on Burma’s current moment.
Nyi Pu Lay is the youngest son of respected dissident writers and journalists Ludu U Hla and Ludu Daw Ama, from Mandalay, Burma. However, his parents were harassed by the authorities for decades because they stood on the side of the people in their work and lives. Once Nyi Pu Lay told me that being forced to close newspaper offices and having his family members put in jail were normal occurrences in his life. His first memory of his childhood was from a time when his father was in jail.
- In Burma if you want to hear about issues the newspapers can’t talk about, you should go to a tea shop. Tea houses were where I used to meet with other activists, writers and artists, as well as where I built friendships. Within tea houses we talked about Burmese writers, literary trends we noticed, and, of course, politics. This online space attempts to emulate the conversations I enjoyed in Rangoon’s tea houses.
- Khet Mar is a journalist, novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist from Burma. She is the author of one novel, Wild Snowy Night, as well as several collections of short stories, essays and poems. Her work has been translated into English and Japanese, been broadcast on radio, and made into a film. She is a former writer-in-residence at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh.
In 1978 Nyi Pu Lay was detained the first time for almost a year with his mother and father. He was arrested again on December 25, 1990, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for “contact with illegal organizations.” We began to get to know each other after he was released in 1999. Nyi Pu Lay, who is soft spoken and always smiling peacefully, doesn’t look like he has been harassed throughout his life. He said he faced these difficulties with the strength gained from his life experiences and from books.
Since he was released in 1999, Nyi Pu Lay has resumed his writing career. He has published over 10 books of selected short stories, a travel diary, and two novels. In 2011 he became a member of the National Press Award Committee , an independent organization of Myanmar journalists. This year he won the Best Collection of Short Stories category of the Taw Phayar Ka Lay Literature Awards in 2012 .
But Nyi Pu Lay is not only interested in literature; he is also a photographer. Several years ago he chose a pseudonym to use for his photography: Nyeinchan Seinlann. His latest interest is performance art and he has said that there is a great need for expressing the nation’s needs through performance art.
Nyi Pu Lay, who strives to use art forms to express our current situation, has named this historical period in Burma “dusk.” People feel Burma has changed in a way, but people in Western and Eastern Burma are suffering because of the conflicts there. Dissonance is heard within opposition groups and from individuals. But Nyi Pu Lay has compassion for people living in this situation and compares it with his own experiences.
“Our country has seen a lot of suffering, negative feelings, and wounds,” he says, “because she has survived under different and mismanaging authorities or governments for many years. Those wounds won’t be healed immediately through treatment. We must have side effects. We have to open our eyes and ears to confront those side effects, and to proceed very carefully. We must remain united and generous, while at the same time being decisive. We shouldn’t think that it is not our business. We have to actively treat those wounds, get away, and observe what is wrong and what is right.
I expect to see Nyi Pu Lay’s artwork in the future, as now he is expressing the nation’s beauty and suffering in different ways. As time goes by there may be more pretty things and less suffering.