By ARKAR MOE
The 90th birthday of Dagon Taya, Burma's greatest living literary figure, will be celebrated on May 10 in the mountain city of Aung Pan in southern Shan State.
Dagon Taya, a creative writer who continues to compose beautiful poems, short stories, novels and commentaries, is the recognized leader of the post-World War II writers who promoted literary realism and art for the people’s sake under the banner of Sar Pe Thit (New Literature).
Many young Burmese writers who emerged after World War II were deeply affected by their struggle against imperialism and fascism and by the left-wing political ideology of the post-war period.
"I greatly admire him because his ideas and his literature which influenced me in my youth," Win Tin, a celebrated pro-democracy leader and former journalist, told The Irrawaddy. "I like his philosophy, 'Literature can solve social problems and record the people’s struggle for freedom and peace.”
Dagon Taya is not only a leading literary figure. He was also an influential peace activist who made a significant contribution to both domestic and international peace efforts.
He was subjected to political persecution when the military staged a coup in 1962, when he was arrested and imprisoned for four years on suspicion of being a Communist.
Dagon Taya is known for his reserved, calm and flexible personality, and for his firm convictions. He was a close friend of Burma’s independence hero, Gen Aung San, who in 1943 offered him a high-ranking position in the Japanese occupation government—an offer he refused. Before Aung San's assassination in 1947, Dagon Taya wrote an important critical essay about his friend’s personality, titled "Aung San the Untamed."
Many Burmese were shocked by the criticism of the revered father of independence, but Dagon Taya, and Aung San himself, merely smiled in response to the controversy generated when the essay appeared in Taya magazine.
Dagon Taya wrote, “History is unforgettable. Criticism is intended to benefit the country. I believe if there is criticism, there can be progress.”
He refused a State Honorary Award by late dictator Gen Ne Win. After his refusal to accept the award, he went into self-imposed exile from Rangoon, from which he composed one of his best-know poems, "Sending Myself to the Mae Za." Mae Za is a place where critics of the king were sent into exile.
He called himself “the Liberator,” but he never assumed an active role in any political party or regime.
Following the 1988 uprising, many Burmese writers began using a variety of highly abstract styles and techniques to express their political dissatisfaction and hopes for a democratic society. Dagon Taya wrote an important poem titled “The Thaw,” addressing the changes in the international political climate.
In the mid 1990s, Dagon Taya briefly came under critical attack from some groups made up of ex-Communists and former members of Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Program Party. In reply, he reaffirmed his view that writers should not lose touch with the people and their social environment. He wrote, “You cannot separate the arts from the socio-political setting.”
In 2004, he said that the only way to resolve the country’s political deadlock in the best interest of all parties was through peaceful means, adding he was ready to play a role in peace talks between the military government and oppositions groups at any time.
“I have no foes, only friends,” he once said. “I have no hatred for any person. To me, politics means making friends of foes."