You Thant…U Thant: An imagination fragment from the mind of The First Non European Secretary General of UN from 1961 to 1971

By Parnab Mukherhee

When they brought my dead body down…..the entire Rangoon erupted in closely held anger.

Anger stuck inside the clenched Buddhist fists of compassion. Anger that morphed into a quiet courage called empathy.

Anger that went deep down from the spine to the consciousness. My coffin was virtually snatched at Rangoon’s Kyaikasan race course and relocated to former grounds of the Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU), a premises which had been dynamited previously on July 8, 1962 on the orders of Ne Win.

From December 5 to 11, 1974, the students and citizenry at large built me a temporary mausoleum. The government troops stormed there, re-snatched the coffin and buried my mortal remains at the foot of Shwedagon pagoda. The city went on rampage. Martial law was declared.

Deep inside the recesses of my remains,

I wondered the extent of my legacy, of my words, of my action.

Yes, I do regret my handling of Sinai in 1967 but I did not sell out to the US. Or maybe the way, I could have been a little more decisive in Cyprus in November 1967.

But, I am proud of chasing the King Leopold’s last remaining ghosts away from Congo through Operation Grand Slam.

My protracted negotiations during Cuban Missile Crisis. Did I sink into a new low after the Six Day War between Arab Countries and Israel?

Yes, I did.

Did I toast a new high as Bangladesh was born?


Till the lung cancer enter into the nether zones of my body and movement became severely restricted, I was fighting against fatigue.

The fatigue of meeting imperialism guised as secularism, puritans in a liberal garb and the blood on the floor and the invisible Agent Orange that ran amok in the Vietnam landscape.What went through my mind as the doctor called me clinically dead on November 25, 1974. What went through my body as it left the Riverdale,

Bronx estate for a long trip across the white clouds to Rangoon.

I could see Buddha grappling with Maraa. The anthropomorphic demon who was the last membrane between the guarded skin and the enlightened skin. The klesha-mara, or Mara who is the metaphor for routine emotions. The mystique of the mundane.

The Mrityu-marawho gravitated in the formless vaccum between the ceaseless cycles of birth and death. The skandha-mara, the one who destroys our risk taking garbs and condemns us to conditioned existence.

The Devaputra-Maraa who zealously guards the Divine within.

I could see these creatures, grappling with each other sometimes in Sinai, sometimes in Gaza. I could see the seduction in the eyes of all in Cyprus in November 1967. The seduction of power. The seduction of routine. The bull who beguiles, the elephant who enters the forest of the mind and the flood of women grappling with the last vestige of self-respect in 1971 genocide in east Pakistan.

The mortal body becomes a dew in the grass.

Me, the decade long first Secretary General from Asia. becomes a dew. You will trod on the idea but not on the dialectic

That poem of Prague Spring By Jacqueline Cizel… keeps coming back..

It was whispered by staff,

he’d been on the wrong side of an old revolution,

was beaten with the butt of a gun and left for dead,

thus carried the permanent scar on his eyelid but never

spoke about it at all,

until the day I had the gumption

to ask as we leaned over a

fresh delivery of books in

need of sorting & shelving.

He smiled at me, then eagerly

told his pent up story in a free flowing manner,

educating me

about events …..Spring of 1968… later

that afternoon as silence fell upon us and

the bookshelves

he put a steadying hand on my

chin……………& pressed a worn copy of

The Unbearable Lightness of

Being into my open hands…

Prague Spring broke the back of intrinsic faith in socialism and co-working, And of course apartheid in South Africa which makes you lose faith in humanity and then like Lazarus you rise from the debris of self-respect and claw back to fight your battle. Tumult of Bangladesh war..embers of Muktijuddho.

I take a deep breath. Go back to that precise moment of my birth. To my bloodied pre-natal state and then I crawl out from the womb on January 22, 1909 and say softly: Om Manipadme Hum.

From a distance as I stand at the Williamsburg Bridge looking into that smallest island of Manhattan, 100-by-200-foot (30 by 61 m) protrusion, created during the construction of the Steinway Tunnel….I can see my water grave…

At U Thant island….i can hear U Thant whispering on U Thant’s ears: sangham sharanam gacchami…the sangham of the white olive branches embossed in blue.

Infinite watery blue.

(Mr P. Mukherjee is one of the leading alternative theatre directors)


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