Burmese Days is a novel by British writer George Orwell. It was first published in the UK in 1934. It is a tale from the waning days of British colonialism, when Burma was ruled from Delhi as a part of British India – "a portrait of the dark side of the British Raj." At its centre is John Flory, "the lone and lacking individual trapped within a bigger system that is undermining the better side of human nature." Orwell's first novel, it describes "corruption and imperial bigotry in a society where, "after all, natives were natives – interesting, no doubt, but finally...an inferior people."This leads us into the famous Pegu Club, the club for English officers, merchants, and soldiers of fortune. As written in another blog, "It was where linen-suited empire builders could relax and run a colony over cocktails." Built off Pyay Road in the early 1880s on what was then the outskirts of Rangoon, the club was a long teak building with shaded porches and deep overhangs to help fight the blazing summer heat.
Rudyard Kipling stayed there a few days in 1889 during his long journey home. In his collection of travel letters "From Sea to Sea," he wrote: "The Pegu Club seemed to be full of men on their way up or down, and the conversation was but an echo of the murmur of conquest far away to the north." (Kipling 1923).
The Pegu Club mirrored Burma's troubled 20th century history. When the Japanese invaded in 1942, they used the buildings as a brothel. "Postwar, locals were allowed to enter the Pegu Club at last, but few did, perhaps because so little else about the place had changed. “Its long verandahs provided cool and silent shade,” wrote a Shan visitor in the 1950s, “while its polished teak bars never ran out of ice cold beer, Singapore slings, pink gins, or whisky. In the shadows were the Boys [Indian staff], still Boys even if they were 50 or 60 years old, who stood quietly in the background, always ready to anticipate a need and to refill an empty glass.” (Guyitt 2013).
Military dictatorship and socialism followed, and the buildings were commandeered as an army officers' mess. Paul Theroux tried to visit in 1974, but was turned away because a senior officer was having his dinner (Theroux 1975).
A young lady from Hong Kong wandered in alone with a film camera. When she saw my Leica, she asked how long I had been "into" film. I responded since the 1960s. Some Tri-X film photographs of the Pegu club are at this link.
These photographs were taken with a Panasonic G3 camera with 9-18mm Olympus lens or a Fuji X-E1 camera with Fuji 27mm lens, RAW files converted to black and white using PhotoNinja software. Of the various RAW processing software packages I have tried, I think PhotoNinja extracts more details - it's amazing.
For another view of the Pegu Club, here is a blog by a visitor from Glasgow.
Kipling, R., and Balestier, C.W., 1923. The New World Edition of the Works of Rudyard Kipling: From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches. Letters of Travel. 2 V. in 1. (Nabu Press ed., 2014), 812 p.
Orwell, G., 1934. Burmese Days. New York: Harper & brothers, 300 p.
Theroux, P. 1975. The Great Railway Bazaar. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 342 p.