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(7) Myanmar women in war-time
     The Second World War came to Myanmar like a tornado sweeping off all sense of security. With many people the bottom just fell out. It was impossible to think what might happen the next moment. People were dazed with disbelief.
     Whatever political changes the war, invasion and military occupation brought about in Myanmar, the social upheaval was shattering. Just a short time ago any rank of white collar workers, from clerks to officers in government and mercantile services were regarded with respect; their jots were secure and even prestigious unlike those of private traders.
     With the coming of the w ar and occupation, prewar status symbols lost their lustre. During the first months of the war white collar workers trudged along the corridors of offices with credentials in hand hoping for a job. Even as their meagre savings dwindled away, trades-people with little formal education were well on their way to be mini-millionaries-in inflated currency.
     It was then that Myanmar wom en with their traditional aptitude for trade began to do ninate the scene. Even those who had so long lived on their husband's salaries began to show a talent which they never thought they had.
     Many women began selling things they did not quite need like jewellery, crockery, pieces of furniture for mere survival. Soon they found themselves selling not only their own things but other people's as well. Even before they realized women found themselves acting as agents or brokers, bringing together sellers. and buyers-a spare-time activity with a fat commission to earn.
     Even those who were not talented enough to throw themselves into such business found some modest ways of earning money. There are many varieties of pancakes made out of rice flour and jaggery, and anyone with a basic knowledge of cookery could learn to make any of those delicacies. Many women found it profitable to open a stall at home and sell their concoctions, which sold like what they were-hot cakes!
     Consequently the family life pattern ofthose days ran something like this: the man of the family went to office; the wife either went round on her commission agent's errands or sat in her stall at home and sold pancakes or whatever snack she was good at making.
     What usually happened was that the wife earned more from her home snack kiosk than her husband did at office, since the salaries could no longer keep pace with the rocketing inflation. The man's salary was only a fraction of the household expenditure. The wives who were smart enough to be commission agents belonged to the super tax level.
     What might seem strange to a non-Myanmar would be the way Myanmar men took the whole thing. No man had the least tinge of resentment that his image might be defaced by the fact that the whole family lived off his wife's earnings.
     The men wore what their wives bought for them, carried sumptuous lunch-boxes to office, something they could not afford but for their wives' income. They made no attempt to keep the situation secret and they treated the whole thing as a big joke. "The man of the family goes to office to earn - not money, but the neighbour's respect!" This became a popular epigram.
     Nor did the women complain. They went on 'cheerfully, because what they did was after the tradition of the Four Great Ladies of the Buddhist parables "Look what Lady Madi did; she went along with her exiled husband and went out daily to collect fruits for xihim and children. This attitude also enhanced the man, as the one who might be a Buddha one day!"
     The war also opened out a new horizon for women... namely, armed forces. Women played an important role in the resistance movement. There were many unsung heroines who laid down their lives for the country. Their courage, intelligence, and their willingness to do their duty won the ungrudging respect and admiration of their male comrades.
     Here, none too honourable mention must be made of the feckless white collar women who had neither the talent for trade and business, nor for concocting delicacies. She just wasted away at her office desk to earn a month's salary which might equal a commission agent's takings of one day. And she was spoiling her husband's image by being a career woman.
     But the post-war years saw a different image of a career woman; this will be the subject of my next article.
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