I stand up for them. And they look after my family.
In times of hate love is strength, not simply a preacher’s well-worn rhetoric.
Here is Dr Ko Ko Gyi and me outside of his clinic in KL.
His picture here – indicating that he was a national merit scholar (5-times) from our high school – in the background graced the wall of our main indoor assembly hall where academic award ceremonies were held annually in our formerly Catholic Boys’ school in Mandalay. In the black and white picture from 1974, I was an obedient-looking kid receiving some annual award from this PTA member, who I vividly remembered as a wife of an army officer with a lot of time on her hand, while Saya Ko Ko Gyi’s middle brother stood and looked on.
Now Dr Ko Ko Gyi is in his mid-60s and I in my early 50s. We are friends, sometimes we disagree on Burmese politics and we argue. But there is always mutual respect and love.
I have known his family of many brothers for over 40+ years. Their mother is ethnically Burmese and father was of Indian continental origin. Their faith is Islam. But they are my friends, not “guests” in Mandalay, or Burma.
They love and belong in Mandalay and Burma – as much as anyone who claims to be “pure” Burmese and practising Buddhists, monks or lay public.
When their community of faith is attacked, orally and literally I stand up and scream: that was just about I could do as an individual, thousands of miles away from “home”.
(In 2013, 500+ Muslims in the ancient town of Meikhtila were slaughtered in pre-meditated anti-Muslim Fascist violence, with the consent of the military leaders, including those whom I knew. The town is heavily military – over 60 regiments are based there. And the military and the police could have stopped the violence against the Muslim communities, but they sat on their hands – under order from the Tatmadaw leaders in Naypyidaw and Mandalay the latter of which has civil jurisdictions over Meikhtila.)
When my old mother needs medical check-ups, one of Dr Ko Ko Gyi’s younger brother and my classmate from the 5th grade on, Dr Khin Maung Htwe, a medical professor in Mandalay, would take care of it. A very sought after surgeon and a specialist, he would not take a penny from me for his expensive consultancy.
Our deeds are not simply mutual back scratchings, an act of bribery or payment.
They are based on love. When hate engulfs our mental and physical world love is our best defence, the only way forward.
It is more than a preacher’s typical sermon, a well-worn rhetoric. It is a daily necessity of life – to move forward.