A Murder On Pansodan Street – San Shar – The Burmese Sherlock Holmes

Episode One: San Lin Tun once again takes us into the world of famous detective San Shar in 1930s Rangoon, with his translation of a new original Shwe U-Daung story –  Pan So Tan Lu That Mu (A Murder On Pansodan Street).  Ko Thein Maung (San Shar’s Dr Watson) tells the story.

On a particular evening after having dinner, U San Shar and I were sitting in the living room. He was reading a letter from a friend and I was looking at the daily newspaper without much interest. I slammed the newspaper down on the table as it it had no real information to take note of and I let my thoughts drift. Then, U San Shar suddenly spoke out, “Yes, it’s true, Ko Thein Maung, it happened as you thought. A piece of rubbish can cause fire to the entire pyatthat (tiered) building. It is a sorrowful fact that many people lost their lives in war on trivial grounds.”

Feeling surprised, I replied, “It’s true. Anyway, how do you know that I’m thinking this.” Smiling a little, he raised a question to me, “Do you believe that someone can know another man’s thoughts without revealing what he is up to?” To that, I answered, “In Western countries they have never heard of ‘Thought Reading’ and they seemed to not to believe it.” Then, he replied, ” Don’t be agnostic. It is a possible thing. Now, you believe that I know your thought.”

“Alright, you have known my thought, but I can’t figure out how did you know it?”

“It’s not that difficult. Facial manner and expression, especially looking at the eyes can convince what one is thinking.”

“Well, can you tell me little bit about how you know my thought?”

“It’s like this. Firstly, you are reading a newspaper. While reading it, not long after, you dropped it onto the table ‘cos there’s no significant thing in it and you start to think randomly. While you’re thinking I looked at your face, and made an assessment of it. I found your eyes averted to the photo of La Kit Cha Nar that was hanging above the table. Then you looked at a space to the right of the photo. Thinking that it would be good to hang a photo that is suitable for the space, you dawned on the idea of hanging the photo of a military man ‘cos  La Kit Cha Na was also a soldier. Later you remembered one thing, the photo of Sir Douglous Heit in the Sphere newspaper. Then you glanced at the newspaper shelf, didn’t you? The thought of the military man then turned to war. I knew your thought on war ‘cos your face became nonchalant. That makes you think of the cause of war, doesn’t it? You shake your head ‘cos you realised the cause of it is: “A piece of rubbish can cause fire to the entire pyatthat (tiered) building”. Then, I concluded it ‘cos I sensed your thought, isn’t it? That’s all.”

“It’s true. I believe it ‘cos you say it on cause and effect. If not, I would accuse you of witchcraft. In this way, your trait is not so bad.”

“Yes, Ko Thein Maung. It is a kind of detecting. When you know it, it’s easy. But it isn’t easy to be systematic. Well, get up, limbs are needed to be stretched out. Let’s go out and take a stroll.

U San Shar and I descended from the building and had food on Mogul Road [Shwe Bontha Road] and took a short visit to Shadow Halls [Cinema Halls]. At about eight, we went back to our apartment.

When we arrived at our building, we found an Indian man dressed in European style with coat and pants, waiting for us. No sooner did he see us, than he stood up, conversing in English.

“What a good timing! I’ve just sat down. Are you U San Shar?”

U San Shar replied, “Yes, come in and take a seat. Let us change our clothes.” After changing clothes, and lighting a pipe, U San Shar asked him,

“Well, tell me, what’s your matter?”

The visiting Babu said,

“My name is Sannael, Dr Sannael. I’m a physician. I live in Pansodan Street. You might see my placard. I came here for this reason. In the last four or five days a queer thing has happened in my house. But, I make myself delay to tell anyone, day after day. Now, I came here ‘cos I can’t withhold it any longer. I hope you’ll help me with that.”

Smoking his pipe, U San Shar replied,

“Well, tell me about this incident. I’ll help you with all my abilities. Be sure.”

Cover of 'The Memoirs and Records of Shwe U-Daung'
Cover of ‘The Memoirs and Records of Shwe U-Daung’

Then, the Babu said,

“It’s like this. It’ll be more comprehensive for you when I start with the inception of it. Let’s me relate all of my school day incidents. It’s like this. I’m a Bengali from Bangladesh. When my father died, I was too young, and lived together with my widow mother. My father left very scant things, with that my mother sent me to school. After F.A, I got a state scholarship and spent five years in medical school. Then, I passed my M.D. I came from a poor family, and I studied hard with all my diligence in medicine. I specialised in ‘epilepsy’. I have written a book on it, for which I received an award from the government. After becoming a M.D, I decided that to work in my town where educated persons were numerous, so I left for Burma. In Burma, upon suggestion of my friend, I opened up my own clinic rather than serve under government. I had only three or four hundred so that I couldn’t lease a grand building. I set up my clinic in a far-fetched place. Let’s say I just tried to keep myself out of troubled water. I felt frustrated in this business. One day, an Indian man came into my clinic. I felt very happy because it had been really long time since I had been sent for. I gave him some space to sit down and asked what was the matter.

The man asked me,

“Are you the doctor who has recently written a book on ‘epilepsy’ and got awarded. Your name is Dr Sannael?”

I answered, “Yes, I am.”

He asked again, “How long have you been in Burma?”

I replied, “More than a year.”

Then, he said, ” You need to answer my question truthfully. If you are truthful, you’ll be benefited. I’ve overheard that you’ve got a good personality, a good style of writing, and a good practice of medicine, that means you are a very smart doctor. But, although you’re smart, you find trouble in finding money. Well, I’ll ask you one thing, you’ve got education, but do you have enough sense?

I asked him, “What kind of sense do you mean?”

Then, he said, ” Sense here means the power of your knowledge. If I tell you something beneficial to you, you will obey that. That means ‘sense’. Well, do you have that kind of sense?”

I reflected on what kind of person I was encountering, and replied, “I have my reasoning whether it is beneficial or not.”

He asked me again, “Do you have any bad habits like drinking liquor?”

“No, I don’t.”

“What about betting on the horses?”

“I’ve never done it.”

“You are such a smart man, but why aren’t you prosperous? And why do you set up your clinic in this sleazy street? Like I said, though you have enough education, you don’t have money after that. Well, well, I’ll tell you. Don’t you want to set up your clinic on a big, good street like Pansodan?”

rangoon-scans

“I’d love to.”

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing. I have four or five thousand extra money. I’ll invest it in your clinic. Do you like this?”

Then, without belief, I was agape and stared at him.

“Don’t you believe what I am talking to you? Do not think I favour you much and I do it for your own good. I have my own reason to do it for my own good. What about it? Do you agree with it?”

“Can you tell it to me thoroughly again to make it clear?”

“It is like this: like I said before, with four or five thousand money, I’ll lease a building on a good and grand street like Pansodan, and set up an grand and enormous clinic, on which your name placard will be hanged, and an advertisement will be put in the newspaper. You need to pay your patients’ fees to me. I’ll provide you with food and shelter, and I pay you one fourth of your earnings in return. If it fails, it’s on me. If it is benefits, I’ll take it. That’s all. Do you agree with it?” he asked.

“I thought that it was a strange way and considered whether I agreed with it or not. Then, I was barely feeding my stomach by setting up an unstable clinic by myself. I thought that this would be a good idea so that I agreed with his plan. Let me make it short. The next day, we leased a two storey building on Pansodan Street. Downstairs was now occupied by my clinic, and lived upstairs. I spent time in this way. In ten days, because of good fate, several patients came there. So, with subtracting one hundred and fifty, and the expense of my food, much money was left for him.

“What is his name?”

“Te Wah Ri.”

“A Bengali like you?”

“Yes.”

” Well, continue with your story.”

”In this way, he showed no sign of associating with others. He stays upstairs all day. At night time, he comes down from his room, and takes my daily earnings, and twenty five pya out of every kyat is left for me, and then he goes back upstairs for a while. A few moments later, he takes hold of his walking stick and sets out for a walk. Everyday he gives me my dividend and takes a regular walk.

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. ‘Murder on Pansodan Street’ is an original story, not an adaptation.

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