The emergence of a ‘Burmese’ literature in the 1910’s and 1920’s was influenced by the import and translation of western literary forms, in novels and short stories. Though this influence has arguably been exaggerated – the first true Burmese language novel by James Hla Gyaw has been often called an adaption of Duma’s Count of Monte Cristo, in reality the two share only a peripheral resemblance – perhaps the most famous example of literary imitation is Shwe U Daung’s U San Shar stories. The Burmese Sherlock Holmes stories were immensely popular in the 1920’s and were serialised right up to the 1950’s in the many literary journals of the time. The narratives themselves would not be that familiar to English readers of Sherlock Holmes but the debt owed to the character of Sherlock Holmes himself is unmistakeable.
This is evident no more than in their respective residences. Just as Arthur Conan Doyle gave his creation a fictional address, 221 B Baker Street in Marylebone, London, so did Shwe U Daung give his U San Shar a home. While Sherlock Holme’s house has become a mecca for Sherlockian fans and spawned a private museum and a permanent fixture on tourist sites to visit, U San Shar’s fictional apartment is less grounded in reality.
In the stories, Shwe U Daung never fully committed to an actual address, leaving only descriptions of U San Shar and his trusty side-kick sitting on the roof of their apartment overlooking the city. But through analysis of these urban depictions, and given how little the downtown townships have changed in the hundred years since the stories were birthed, there is a general agreement that the 221 B Baker street in Yangon is more than likely an apartment block on 40th Street, Lower Block, Kyauktada township, between Merchant Street and Strand Road.
The road itself is short. The Armenian Church covers its corner and it backs onto the British Embassy, so ending abruptly with a rather brutal, guarded, barrier. There are a couple of period-related apartment blocks and low-slung warehouses on the road, and it seems little has been added to the street since the time the stories were written, but which of the apartments Shwe U Daung had in mind is impossible to tell.
For now though, the road is just a quiet backwater that most will just walk past without venturing down.
Address: 40th Street, Lower Block, (between Merchant and Strand Road), Kyauktada Township, Yangon, Myanmar