Nor Iron Bars a Cage
by Ma Thanegi
Ma Thanegi spent almost three years in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison for the crime of being Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal assistant. This is her account of those years.
This is not only an account of life in one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Ma Thanegi tells how a wildly diverse group of women, from political prisoners to prostitutes and pickpockets, banded together to buoy up each other’s spirits and to maintain a semblance of normal life. “We were supposed to be miserable and we were damned if we’d oblige,” says the irrepressible Ma Thanegi. She describes the inner bravery and joie de vivre that served her and her fellow-prisoners well, in an account that provides a moving example of how to withstand times of crisis.
An artist, a writer, a former political prisoner, Ma Thanegi has “walked the walk” in every aspect of her varied life. Author of the travel classic, The Native Tourist and Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy, she has written many books on the art and history of Myanmar.
2013; 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches; 176 pages; paperback
From the Back Cover:
We were supposed to be miserable…and we were damned if we’d oblige.”
When Ma Thanegi was taken to Yangon’s Insein Prison after working as a personal assistant to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, she used every scrap of strength she possessed to adapt to incarceration without succumbing to despair.
“It is in the Myanmar nature to face all things good or bad with pride and dignity, and not to lose face by “losing it.” For us, courage is shown by facing life calmly and without any display of anger. It is a weakness to allow others to humiliate us or break our spirits.”
The women prisoners who surrounded Ma Thanegi in Insein joined together, sharing food, support, and humor to get them through the ordeal they all faced. Buddhism helped them view their jailers with equanimity and the Myanmar values they had absorbed from birth allowed them to carry out a subtle form of protest—fashioning a nurturing community in a place that was designed to quell any sort of enjoyment.
From prostitutes to pickpockets to political prisoners, these women found ways to amuse each other, to be generous, to laugh within the walls of Insein. And chronicling this in her memory was Ma Thanegi, keeping her thoughts and observations in a mental notebook, waiting for the day when she could tell them to the world.
At last she is able to do that, with the honesty, insight, and irrepressible humor that permeates every book this talented woman has written. She describes the inner bravery and joie de vivre that served her and her fellow prisoners well, in an account that provides a moving example of how to withstand times of crisis.
“You cannot be humiliated or insulted unless you allow it to happen.”
This statement of courage made by prisoner Pyone Pyone Tin provides the backbone of Nor Iron Bars a Cage. It also forms the prison code followed by extraordinary women; the way they made these brave words the core of their lives is told in this book with great love and respect by Ma Thanegi.