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A Visit to Rangoon’s House of Memories

Zarni Mann The Irrawaddy

RANGOON — “Kyi, I would like to have boiled garden peas and Nan Pya if possible,” Gen Aung San wrote in a short note to his wife Daw Khin Kyi in the early 1940s.

Nan Pya, Indian-style baked flat bread, served with a boiled garden pea salad is a typical, popular Burmese breakfast, and the note became well-known as it showed that the famous general loved the same food as any ordinary Burmese person.

A copy of the note by Aung San—Burma’s independence hero and father of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi—graces the walls of the House of Memories, a restaurant located in the historic Nath Villa on No 290, U Wisara Road.

The more than 100-year-old building, which is listed as national heritage, was at one time Aung San’s office. The restaurant still has an item on its menu called “Bogyoke’s rice,” a rice plate served with portions of fried chicken, fish, meat balls and egg. The venue also offers a variety of other dishes of Burmese traditional food, and Thai, Chinese and Western cuisine.

The large, colonial-style wooden villa is much more than a restaurant, however. The remarkably well-preserved house, which still retains most of the original antique furniture, is also a museum that commemorates key historical events in Burmese history that occurred here.

It was the family home of the late Dina Nath, chairman of the Indian Independence Army for Burma and his wife Caroline Nath. An upstairs room in the house was Aung San’s first office when the Burmese Independence Army (BIA) was headquartered here from 1941 onwards.

The late Dina Nath helped organize secret meetings between Aung San and various Burmese and Indian leaders at his house during the independence struggle for Burma and India, both of which were under the British Raj at the time.

Prominent Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose was one of the leaders who stayed at the Nath family home when he visited Rangoon to hold clandestine talks with Aung San.

Dina Nath’s grandson, Richie Nath, says on the House of Memories website that the building stood empty for some time and he considered renting it out. But then he decided to turn it into a restaurant and living museum as “This building is the legacy of our grandparents.”

Walking through the house is like taking a trip to another era. Antique wooden chairs, desks and old type writer fill the rooms. Original copies of Aun San’s speeches along with numerous historical black and white photos cover the walls. Many pictures show Dina Nath with a range of Indian and Burmese independence leaders such Aung San, Prime Minister U Nu and Jawaharlal Nehru.