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Poet and altruist Moe Hein succumbs to ‘angel of death’

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burmese poet, writer and altruist Moe Hein died of throat cancer in Rangoon yesterday morning at the age of 68. 

The youngest son of journalist and Journal Kyaw editor Chit Maung and prolific writer Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay, died at 9 a.m. in Shwegondaing Specialist Hospital.

He had written about the impact of his diagnosis in the article: “An Open Letter to the Angel of Death”, which said “the arrow shot by infirmity, right-hand man of the angel of death, hit me in the throat in late 2008”.

The writing appeared to be an exercise preparing him for death, as he expressed his belief that “the angel” was giving him a chance at contrition and was providing a form of dharma lesson for him to contemplate. In light of that, before his death he embarked on religious affairs, literary and social work.

“I hold the pen to inherit the literary legacy of my parents. I hold chalk to distribute the legacy of education from my masters to others, writing in the belief to serve many rather than one or one group – busy with writing, teaching and charity works. I don’t want to confine myself in ego, but in altruism. I don’t want to devote my life to literature and teaching but to altruism,” he wrote.

He taught English, Buddhist philosophy and ethics at Rangoon Pariyatti Sasana University and taught English in free charity classes.  He had also since 2007 taught at the Dahat model charity nursery ground founded by artist Myo Khin.

Similarly, he sponsored the building of the 36-foot-wide, 36-foot-high Maha Paritta pagoda, at Shwegugyi monastery, between Nahtogyi and Myingyan townships in Mandalay Division.

“The foundation-laying ceremony has been held and now we are shaping the basement platform. There will be four entrances and a cave, on which the pagoda will be built. This is a most pleasant task for me. Whenever I think of this pagoda, I feel my cancer cells are shrinking. I once said I can face death calmly and happily now after doing these works,” he wrote.

The pagoda’s abbot, Ashin Wei Polla, said Moe Hein, who had dreamed of building a pagoda for 11 years, met him through a Myingyan youth charity worker and then his dream came true.

Fellow poet Zaw Naung said Moe Hein approached problems from a Buddhist viewpoint, citing Moe Hein’s anthology, Harmony of Head and Heart, which was written in English and published in 1999.

“You will know his philosophy after reading his poetry book. He devoted all his life to religion”, he added.

He and his older brother Maung Thein Dan (deceased) attended school in Darjeeling, India. The brother was an actor who starred in Hna Ma Let Shaw Nay Lay Daw (Dear Darling, Please Curb Your Desire). Older sister Dr. Daw Khin Lay Myint was the noted French scholar who died in 2007. She had translated their mother’s works Mone Ywe Ma Hu (Hatred) and Thway (Blood), into French, and also translated some French literature into Burmese, including Prince and the tome, 20th Century Modern French Short Stories. Her translations are well known among Burmese people.

After peace talks between dictator Ne Win’s Revolutionary Council and underground parties in armed struggle against the regime failed, Moe Hein, his mother and stepfather were detained by the regime along with many overt activist politicians and writers. After his release from prison, he translated Nandar Thein Zan’s notable work Through Life’s Perils in 1983 and the anthology, Sweet Scent of Padauk and Dockchampa, in 2002 

He published an anthology of his articles and poetry titled, First Turning Point. One of his latest works was a compilation travelogue published early this year based on his visit to the University of Iowa in the United States and titled An Outside Dream. He recently translated a work by Pegu’s Dr. Ashin Pyin Nyeint Thara titled Mind and Concise Vipassana.

His second poetry book, Midnight Rainbow, in English was still being prepared for publication, Zaw Naung said.

Moe Hein had worked in the economics department of the Indonesian embassy in Rangoon but switched to writing 10 years ago. He was awarded a US poetry prize.

His stepfather Aung Zeya, who had received radiotherapy with him, also for throat cancer, died last year.

Last Updated ( Friday, 24 September 2010 02:01 )  

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