Episode Two: San Lin Tun takes us into the world of famous detective San Shar in 1930’s Rangoon, with his translation of Shwe U-Daung’s Thiksabauk Kinmyigauk (The Scorpion’s Traitor).
Postman Lar La Khan has suddenly disappeared on his mail run. On investigating, San Shar finds that all of Lar La Khan’s deliveries have been made but he has not been seen again since heading towards a house, in Hteetan Street in Kyi Myin Taing, which is supposedly haunted by a poltergeist. The owner of this house, an Indian named Muhammed, tells San Shar that he has recently rented another house nearby, and San Shar notes that the key to the vacant house has been surreptitiously wax-molded by someone. Muhammed gives San Shar the keys to the house to investigate. Ko Thain Maung, San’s Shar’s Dr. Watson, tell the story …
Then, Maung San Shar borrowed the key from him, and left Mohammed’s house.
When we reached Hteetan in Kyi Myin Taing, we unlocked the lock and went into the two-storey house that was deserted for such a long time that dirt lay so thick on the floor, and conspicuous footprints were visible. Maung San Shar left me near the door and discreetly checked them.
Shar: “They are the footprints of two persons, Ko Thein Maung. But one of the footwear didn’t leave much impression. This is the kind of footwear most Hindus wear that has a curl-up tip. It seems like the footprint of Lar La Khan the postman. The other one wears a shoe, which has the size of about eight and half. Regarding his broad stride and large shoe size, he must be imposing and muscular. His footprint shows that he might have walked in and out two or three times. For the postman-wallah, only the way-in footprint can be found. There is no way-out footprint for him. Come on, Ko Thein Maung, come inside.”
Then, we went together into the house and scanned all four directions, but we found nothing except a ladder that led upstairs. Under the ladder, we found a diary that was picked up by Maung San Shar. There was a thick layer of dirt under it, but there was little dirt on the diary itself, so he deducted that the book was dropped here not that long ago. Saying this, he turned the pages of the book and looked at them.
The diary was leather-bound so that it was probably worth 3 Ks; any ordinary person would not usually buy and use such a diary. We saw that the daily writing was in English and there appeared to be no secret meaning in it. Just his normal routine was mentioned, nothing extraordinary could be found. After looking thoroughly inside and outside of the book, Maung San Shar said,
Shar:” Well, Ko Thein Maung. Tell me about the owner of this diary, as much as you know.”
I: “The owner seems to spend lavishly.” Shar: “Ok, next?”
I: ” Considering his tidy handwriting, he is an orderly man. Moreover, he is a short-tempered one.”
Shar: “Why do you say so?”
I: ” From the writing, at this point, something got him furious and he pressed the pen nip and drew so that the paper became a little bit pierced.”
Shar: ” Excellent. Any other?” I: ” I can’t think further.”
Shar: “He used a Waterman fountain nib. The ink is the product of Stephan Company. He has got very weak eyesight. But these things are not that important. There is one important fact. What do you think his nationality is?”
I: “I have no idea.”
Shar: ” Look at his English. What do you think of his usage?”
I: ” His usage is grammatical and it can be said that he knows English very well.”
Shar: “Moreover, look at his choice of words, which are formal. These kind of words are not used by Myanmar men, not even in real English men.”
I: ” Oh, I know it. I think he is a Babu Indian who likes to use big words.” Shar: “Absolutely right.”
I: ” Then, you mean a Babu Indian. Could it be the Post Office Master, Chandayar?”
Shar: ” It can’t be. You’ve seen him. Chandayar isn’t that much literate. And he is only about five foot and six inch- es tall. This man has a height of about five foot and ten inches. So, just put the book aside and let’s find Lar La Khan. We went upstairs and found two bed- rooms, of which one room was closed. We tried to push the door, but it didn’t open, so Maung San Shar and I used the habitual way, which was bumping our shoulders against it with all our strength, and it yielded. The postman-wallah sat propped against the wall in the corner of the room. His eyes were bulging and his body was bloating, so we deduced that he must have died about three days ago. Inspecting the body, Maung San Shar did not find any slashes or wounds, but he did find ligature marks around the neck. He had died of chocking by rope.
To be continued …
Shwe U-Daung (1889-1973) was a pro-Burmese writer and translator, who in the 1930s adapted many of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, placing them in the setting of the author’s Rangoon, in a time of nationalist fervour, high crime rate and social unrest. The Scorpion’s Traitor was an original story, not an adaptation.
This article was previously published in MYANMORE’s monthly lifestyle magazine, InDepth #12, October 2015.