Old pals on agenda for Delhi visit

Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi, Nov. 3: Burmese Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be in Delhi later this month on a weeklong visit, her first in nearly three decades to India and to a city where she spent some of her formative years.

Sources said high on her 'to do' list in the city where she spent her teenage will be meeting old friends, visiting her school and college apart from calling on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at her residence at 10, Janpath.

Suu Kyi's meeting with the Congress president is sure to bring back old memories for the Burmese leader. It would give Suu Kyi an opportunity to visit the house and the room that she lived in during her stay in Delhi in the early 1960s.

Suu Kyi's mother Daw Khin Kyi, widow of Jawaharlal Nehru's close friend General Aung San, was the Burmese envoy to India and had been allotted 24, Akbar Road as her official residence.

The bungalow which Nehru had then christened Burma House was later occupied by Lal Bahadur Shastri and now houses Indian National Congress's headquarters. Suu Kyi's room is now Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's residence.

Sources said Suu Kyi may be shown around 24, Akbar Road when she calls on Sonia Gandhi at 10, Janpath. The bungalow shares its boundary wall with 24, Akbar Road.

Suu Kyi's visit promises to be nostalgia heavy with the Burmese leader having conveyed to South Block that she was keener to meet friends and supporters during her stay here rather than spend time convincing senior government functionaries to have a change of heart over what it terms its "pragmatic" foreign policy towards Myanmar.

Ever since her release from house arrest two years back Suu Kyi has tried to catch up on the past, visiting old friends and places that she couldn't during nearly two decades that she spent in house arrest at her lakeside house in Yangon.

In May, Suu Kyi put aside her "disappointment" with New Delhi for having supported Myanmar's military junta during the past decade and a half to accept Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to visit Delhi to deliver the Nehru Memorial Lecture.

Suu Kyi is expected to start her India visit on November 13, which incidentally also marks the second anniversary of her release from house arrest.

She was released on November 13, 2010.

In the last two years, Suu Kyi has been across the world to meet political leaders and friends who stood by her and her people's struggle for democracy and to deliver acceptance speeches of numerous prestigious awards, included the Nobel Prize in 1991, that she couldn't collect personally as she was either incarcerated or unwilling to travel outside Myanmar as she feared the military rulers wouldn't allow her to return to her motherland.

Suu Kyi's India sojourn ' she calls India her intellectual home and in a recent speech at Columbia University said Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru to be her "greatest sources" of inspiration ' will be about reliving old memories.

Earlier this year, Suu Kyi expressed the desire to meet old friends and classmates. A teenaged Suu Kyi studied in Delhi from 1960 to 1964 when her mother Khin Kyi was the Burmese envoy to India.

Suu Kyi finished her secondary education from Convent of Jesus and Mary and later graduated in political science from Lady Sri Ram College before moving on to Oxford.

Sources said Suu Kyi is likely to visit both her school and college and pay homage at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat and Nehru's memorial at Shanti Van. A Buddhist, Suu Kyi is also scheduled to visit Bodh Gaya as also Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Lama. Burmese political exiles and refugees plan to organize a felicitation for her in Delhi.

She will call on the PM but it will be her visit to UPA chairperson's residence at 10, Janpath that may bring back old memories. According to a biography of 24, Akbar Road by The Telegraph's Rasheed Kidwai, Suu Kyi had picked the room which is now Rahul Gandhi's office because it had a huge piano. "Every evening, a teacher would come to give her piano lessons," writes Kidwai.

She also learnt Japanese flower making at 24, Akbar Road and on one occasion played with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi in the bungalow's sprawling laws. The three, who were contemporaries, would together take their riding lessons from the presidential bodyguards at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

However, Suu Kyi may find it difficult to recognize the house from when she lived there because of the innumerable alterations made to the building to provide chambers to party's top functionaries.

But not much has changed at the venue of her lecture where she must have accompanied her mother to meet then PM Nehru. It was Nehru's official residence which is now a museum and a library. Nehru was a close friend of her father Aung San.

In June, in an address to both houses of British Parliament at the Westminster Hall, Suu Kyi acknowledged her debt to Nehru.

She said her father Aung San's most famous photograph taken outside 10, Downing Street in 1947 and months before he was assassinated, shows him wearing a large British overcoat that was given to him by Nehru "to protect him against the unaccustomed cold. And I must say that having not left my tropical country for 24 years, there have been odd moments when I've thought of that coat".

Elsewhere, Suu Kyi has described Gandhi as "somebody really phenomenal" who influenced her though but has said she "felt a little bit closer" Nehru as she had a similar education as he had, having been educated in England.

It will be her debt to Nehru and to honour her father Aung San and Nehru's "deep friendship" that Suu Kyi will be honouring when she delivers the Nehru Memorial Lecture.