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Aung San Suu Kyi’s practical guide to de-iconisation

by G Pramod Kumar  Nov 16, 2012 16:24 IST

#Aung San Suu Kyi   #Barkha Dutt   #Karan Thapar   #VeryCloseUp  

Indian media has been full of Aung San Suu Kyi for the last two days with the headlines playing up the regret element - that she was saddened by India’s support to the junta, but never felt betrayed.

But, the most interesting aspect of her conversations, particularly in the two TV interviews—one with NDTV and the other with CNN-IBN—was not her politics, but how she coolly defeated the media’s justified attempt to build an awe-inspiring icon, with a lot of mystery and mystique, out of her.

One cannot blame the media. It is in the nature of the beast. It can only dip into its stock of Gandhi and Mandela templates, spirituality, sacrifice, infallibility and destiny to create that romantic cut-out.

Chairperson, National League for Democracy, Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Image courtesy PIB

But Suu Kyi won’t take any of that. For her, there were no sacrifices, but only choices. You try again and again to romanticise her experiences and image, she will laugh them off and debunk your theory.

This is Suu Kyi’s practical guide to de-iconisation.

In her interview on CNN-IBN, Karan Thapar attempts a mild mystification and asks her if she was ever surprised by herself during the 16 years of her house-arrest.

"Do people surprise themselves? If people are surprised by themselves, then obviously they haven’t taken time to know themselves."

She also downplays the attribution of "inner strength" that helped her endure the house-arrest and says that it was the way she "chose to go".

She goes on to dismiss any suggestion of fate and sacrifice: "Keeping away from family was not my fate, but my choice." "I learned that I had to rely on myself" and "it’s alright for me to be alone".

NDTV’s Barkha Dutt asks her a similar, but much longer, question that tries to invoke the Suu Kyi mystique:

"One of the things that are often said about you is that you are an intensely spiritual person, and that spirituality is also not separate from your politics. Is that something that has given you strength over the years? Because you seem very, I am meeting you for the first time, but you seem so calm that one derives the sense of calmness just by talking to you, and one wonders how there is somebody, who has gone through everything you have gone through, seems so serene and so strong?"

And this is her answer, barely one-third of the length of the question:

"Well, I don't know about spirituality, but I do have a sense of humour, and I keep reminding people that that helps a great deal."

Barkha Dutt goes on to ask her about her biographical movie:

"You've led an extraordinary life and so much has been written about you, a movie has been made about you, have you seen the movie?"

"No."

"Do you plan to?"

"No, I don't plan to."

"Is that because you think it's bit unreal to watch yourself on screen?"

"I will find it embarrassing."

Barkha asks her if she didn’t feel claustrophobic during her house-arrest:

"Claustrophobia eating you up, just been locked into your house?"

"No, it's quite a big house."

Cut to Karan Thapar. He asks her about the role of music, another stock mystical element, in her life of incarceration.

"Playing the piano was good for me because I was very bad at it. So I had to work very hard at it. I had to put all my mind into it which was a good thing."

(An LA times report, featuring her piano tuner, lists Bela Bartok, Bach, Telemann, Mozart and Clementi as her favourites - perhaps she is not as bad as she projects herself to be)

"Radio was your secret window to the world?"

"Not so secret. It was my window to the world."

Now that she is a parliamentarian, are there constrains on her behaviour?

"Well there are constrains and restraints on my behaviour. We have to get into the house when the bell rings."

She tells Barkha that she is no saint, that she has a bad temper and that she has made mistakes. She tells Karan Thapar that she believes in the Army and wouldn’t mind back-door and front-door accesses.

In the end, the iconisation falls flat. Aung Sang Suu Kyi is a politician and a pragmatist. The house-arrest was her choice and strategy, and not sacrifice, to fight back; and there was no spirituality, mystery or super-humanness to her persona, but a practical resolve to bring back democracy.

She tells Karan that she has been a politician for the last 25 years and she does want to win the elections and become the President of her country.

She doesn’t mind being hated either: "If one doesn’t like to be hated, one shouldn’t enter politics."

She certainly doesn’t want to be deified and consigned to legends and folklore, but wants to be of use to her country.