Night Birds by Khet Mar

Censored Art

I am in need of some simple words telling a simple story from a simple life. Two humans locked in their cages converse across their walls without ever meeting each other face to face. They slide orchids and letters from under their dividing door. I do not want to know their past or future. I want to know how the purple orchid felt like when in hands of both sides; the gifting tree and the receiving vase.

The underlying body of Night Birds is far from simple but the simplicity and the innocence that the story is narrated with keeps reminding the reader of the beauty of human existence in the very smallest things from our mundane days.

These very smallest things hold the grand story behind the preciousness of human life. A dried rose sitting in the vase next to my writing window has already said a lot; in its tale of birth in our garden, its gift to our love, its fading days syncing with ours. Night Birds narrates such regular scenes with such beauty and realness, that they become an engraved memory for the reader to carry.

Night Birds was banned by the Burmese Government, a fact that would come as a shock to the reader since the story is about exchange and relationship between two teenagers who come from difficult family situations. Burmese Govt understood the metaphors behind the story and the book was banned. Khet Mar, the writer of the book and a social activist, did go on to say that the book was a fictional version of her days when she was jailed.

After the fact, reader can find the metaphors and see the oppressing governments in stepfathers of the two teenagers, see the activist prisoners jailed and exiled by the governments of their homelands in the teenagers in their caged surroundings, see their inability to return to their countries and homes, and many other such underlying accounts in the story.

However, to me, I carry most of the resilience and courage of these characters in the most testing and brutal times; as well as their softness and humanity they managed to retain intact. Even through our biggest losses, we carry the common thread of humanity. Our melancholy and healing taste the same no matter where we come from.

I came across Khet Mar’s work and met her while attending an event at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh; an organization that has “provided sanctuary to endangered literary writers, so that they can continue to write and their voices are not silenced” close to two decades if not more. They have several exiled poets and writers in residency and regularly host programs to introduce the work of these writers to the community and cultural exchanges to continue even though the work has been banned and censored in the native countries of these artists.

I also found below interesting information from one of her interviews that goes on to say a lot about the senselessness, lack of understanding and paranoia of the agencies censoring art:

“In an interview in City of Asylum’s online magazine Sampsonia Way, Khet Mar told managing editor Silvia Duarte about the censorship of one of her first stories to be accepted when she was a university student. It was about a girl in a room behind bars.

“The windows in Burma are open all the time because of the heat, so they all have iron bars,” she told Ms. Duarte. “In my story, I told in detail how this girl felt lonely. The censorship officers thought I was writing about Aung San Suu Kyi. But the story was not about her; it was actually a story about loneliness. The censorship officers in my country are paranoid.”

Vaishali Paliwal



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