Episode Three: 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 that 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 house to investigate. In the house they find the postman-wallah propped against the wall dead. He had been there about here days. They also found a diary. Ko Thain Maung, San’s Shar’s Dr. Watson, tells the story …
We left the body as it was, and exited the house from its rear door. We locked the front door and headed for the post office. We related to the post office master that we had found the body of Lar La Khan, but were unable to catch the perpetrator, so we didn’t want to move the body from there and interfere with the police, that it was the responsibility of Maung San Shar to go to the police station.
On reaching it, Maung San Shar told the police station master the same thing as he had said to the post office master, and made a request for them not to move the corpse for that night. The police station master knew very well of Maung San Shar and agreed that if Maung San Shar took responsibility, he would give his consent to it.
On that night, as the tea shops on Hteetan Street put out their lights and closed their doors, the houses on the whole street were dark. Maung San Shar, the police station master, and myself went out into the back alley, and went to the vacant house, and entered through the rear door. It was Maung San Shar’s opinion that the murderer had looked for his lost diary everywhere, and he could not find it, and then at last remembered it might have been dropped in this house. If it was so, San Shar knew that if there was no news of a corpse being taken away or of a book being found by anyone, the murderer might come back here to look for it that night. If he did not come, there was nothing to lose. If he came, he could be caught. With that scheme, the three came here and waited for his arrival.
When we entered the house, the clock showed just past eleven o’clock. We kept silent, with no talking or smoking. Since accompanying Maung San Shar, I had met fearful things, it was true. But this night vigil was the most intimidating. Being fearful in a no-one-dare-to-live house, being midnight, being dark, having the occasional foul smell of over-three-day old sudden-death corpse swirling into your nostril, on awaiting an enemy who did not care much about another’s life. My spine chilled with anticipation, because of the fear of a ghost, fear of losing life, fear of poltergeist, so many causes.
Knowing it was twelve o’clock, on hearing the clock strike from the police station, no one appeared and everything was silent. Nothing happened though it struck one, then two, then three; and a bark or two from afar. Then five minutes later, slow steps along the rear alley were heard, so that Maung San Shar touched me. The police station master, on also hearing the steps, pulled out a pistol from his waist.
The steps became closer and closer and halted at the rear of the house. After hearing three steep ascending sounds, someone then slowly pushed the door, opened it and let the flash of the torch stream in. The station master directed his torch towards the door and shouted, “Hey, don’t run away!” All of a sudden, confronting each other torch to torch, we found a man standing at the rear ladder who happened to be an European accoutred Indian man.
As soon as the station master shouted at him, he was shocked and dropped his torch and turned over the ladder and descended from it. Then, the station master shouted, “A step more, I’ll shoot you!” But, he did not stop and ran down the ladder so that the station master’s gun went off. We found the man staggering from the ladder. All of us rushed there and looked for him under the ladder or house, but no one was found.
Then, hearing the fire of the gun the locals opened the doors, holding torches and became noisy. They looked for the Indian man in every alley, but he could not be found.
Shar: “Where did you shoot?”
Station Master: “I shot his leg.”
Shar: “No blood was found, and he wasn’t hit. It seems he was shocked and fallen. We’d better wait for him upstairs. Because of thr foul smell of the corpse, we waited for him downstairs, so we let him escape. But we still have our chance. He’s not completely free yet.”
The next day, the police officers dispatched the corpse to the hospital. Maung San Shar and I went to a house in a small alley, two hundred foot away from that house. On reaching the house, an Indian man inquired us of the matter. [Maung San Shar had been thinking about the case the whole night, and he had gotten this idea to take me here.] As soon as the Indian host asked about the matter, Maung San Shar asked him questions in English without hesitation.
Shar: ” I think you’ve heard about the murder of the postman-wallah around here?”
Lar: ” Yes, I’ve heard.”
Shar: “A diary has been found in the house where the murder took place. Have you ever seen the book?”
Saying this, Maung San Shar handed the book to the Indian man, and looked at him attentively. Though it was a surprise to show him the diary, a sign of shock could not be traced anywhere on his face. Then,
Shar: “I’m the detective Maung San Shar. I think that the murderer is a Bengali and you are only person of this appearance around this house, so, we came to enquire here.”
When Maung San Shar said this, that Indian man stared at him with an indifferent face. Then, Maung San Shar continued,
Shar: ” If the police know all this, they will surely arrest you. So, you should share the truth with us, or do you want me to transfer you into the hands of the police.”
He discerned the unflinching face of the Indian man.
Indian man: “Let’s the case be settled with you. You can ask me if you have something to do. I’ll tell the truth as far as I know.”
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 #13, November 2015.