6 MAY 1989, Page 24

A Burmese refugee

Sir: Some readers of my article ('A Bur- mese evening', 29 April) said that they would like to help the student whose plight was described. The matter is urgent since many refugees in Thailand may be sent back to Burma, where their fate must be a matter of concern. If it proves possible for this 'displaced student' to be admitted to England to resume his education, any offers of help from readers of The Specta- tor would be very welcome.

Here is another detail of the evening in Mandalay. In the course of the bicycle- trishaw ride to Mandalay university, hav- ing explained that his grandmother was one of the Padaung 'giraffe women', Pas- chal told me a story from his grandfather, of how the first European — an Italian missionary priest — came to their village. The villagers had never seen a European before and decided that he was a giant, or some sort of wild beast — certainly not a human being. So they chained him up in a pigsty. All that night his weeping and lamentations could be heard throughout the village. He was kept in the pigsty for a month, and the villagers came gradually to suspect that he might be a human being after all, and that therefore (as Paschal put it) 'he might have rights'. In due course the priest (who is said to be still alive) con- 'Let's go in and defurbish it.' verted the entire village. The village pros- pered, and has recently been declared a town. It has its own bishop, and is the only Catholic town in Burma.

Against that background, a self-taught passion for James Joyce seemed to me something that could not have been pre- dicted,

John Casey

Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge