SOMETIMES, it takes the unlikeliest figures to alter the destinies of nations.
In the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev, a Communist Party apparatchik with a wine-coloured birthmark on his head rose to power in Moscow and launched the economic and political reform programmes known as perestroika and glasnost. That helped end the Cold War, even as the Soviet empire dissolved and spawned nations suffused with a new energy.
A few years later, in New Delhi, a dour polyglot named Narasimha Rao, who had thrived in the shadows of Indira Gandhi, was given the reins of power after the assassinations of Mrs Gandhi and her son, Rajiv, who succeeded her as prime minister. Rao, hitherto considered an uncomplaining and colourless henchman, launched the economic policies that today have once again placed India on the world map and elevated it to the position of Asia's No. 3 economy behind China and Japan.
Something similar is taking place in Myanmar over the past 18 months and the man in focus is President Thein Sein. The political and economic reforms let loose by the former military man, if taken to their conclusion, could rejuvenate Myanmar from its military-induced torpor and restore it to the eminence it enjoyed in the 1960s as a thriving nation with a professional class that was the envy of South-east Asia. Recognising this, The Straits Times in December named Thein Sein for its inaugural Asian of the Year award.
Now, we've gone further. This week, we launched Myanmar Sunrise, our first ebook.
Edited by Assistant Foreign Editor Bhagyashree Garekar and designed by Senior Executive Sub-Editor Denise Chong, the interactive edition brings together a collection of essays on the extraordinary story of the world's newest democracy experiment and Southeast Asia's last big economic frontier. Rich in video and pictures, Myanmar Sunrise also hints at the extraordinary vibrancy of Myanmar society that is coming to the forefront in so many ways.
"After years of newspapering, this was one cool job," says Bhagya, who has spent more than two decades in the trade with The Straits Times and publications in her native India. "To be associated with the first ebook in the history of a 170-year-old institution like the ST also leaves you with a sense of awe and pride."
For Denise, designing the ebook was like moving from painting to sculpture. Suddenly, she had to think in so many dimensions.
The results have been gratifying. We believe that what she's produced is a work of art.
Says Denise herself: "Designing the e-book was like picking up the fabric of the iPad and embroidering it painstakingly by hand with the rich and colourful threads of words, photos and videos. I pricked my fingers a few times, but the blood and sweat were worth it."
The ST interactive book is sponsored by Shwe Taung, a major property group in Myanmar, and its Singapore partners OrangeTee.com and Asian Acre Advisors.
Calling the interactive book a "ground breaking project", Aung Zaw Naing, Chief Executive Officer of Shwe Taung Group, said: “Our involvement in this project is very much in line with Shwe Taung’s commitment to our social responsibility. We hope that this book will help the world better understand Myanmar and help us build a better socio-economic environment for the whole nation.”
Myanmar Sunrise can be purchased from the Apple app store for US$9.99 (S$12.98).