In this picture taken on June 18, 2019 students prepare to have their lunch in their classroom of a government school on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. Picture: AFP/YE AUNG THU
In this picture taken on June 18, 2019 students prepare to have their lunch in their classroom of a government school on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. Picture: AFP/YE AUNG THU

Yangon — A cherished Myanmar love poem will stay on the school  curriculum thanks to the angry reaction to plans to scrap it for fear that it promotes smoking.

Present of a Cheroot, written by Mae Khwe more than 200 years ago, has long been a staple for Burmese teens in a country where literature is revered.

The ode tells how the poet makes the traditional cigar for her distant lover,  drying aromatic leaves in her bed trimming them with her teeth.

But it was not the sensualness of the verses that prompted the education ministry to drop them from the curriculum. The government said it feared the poem encouraged smoking among grade 8 pupils aged 13-14.

Myanmar has about 13.3-million smokers, a quarter of the population, says  the World Health Organisation. It puts deaths due to tobacco use there at  65,000 a year.

But the decision of education officials sparked uproar. Political commentator Mg Mg Soe took to Facebook to call them “idiots” who “did not understand history or traditions”.

So this week education officials reinstated the poem, albeit for Grade 10, on the grounds that pupils aged 15-16 are mature enough to handle it.

Myanmar Teachers’ Federation welcomed the decision to bring back Mae Khwe's work, but still protests raged. “We cannot accept what they did,” said secretary Zaw Myo Hlaing.

Facebook erupted in applause over the U-turn. “See! Mae Khwe got a promotion,” wrote Thiha Ko Ko.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has not commented, but she is a keen reader and encourages Myanmar's young to pick up books.

AFP