On the other hand, translating The Quietest School in the World is like a stroll in the park, until you come to the thorny bushes of ‘conceptual writing’ that seems to be the hallmark of canto-honcho Sky – sorry: Fa Poonvoralak: coinages such as maya-khati (illusionism?); metaphysical jargon; and English words that can’t possibly mean in Thai what they mean in English, or do they?
Consider the following: tanka … mee order rai khorpkheit, ‘logic … has (an) order without limits’. Odd enough, yet nothing compared to what follows: phiang khae sarm order thaonan man kor kharm khwamjing: ‘with three orders only, it goes/extends beyond the truth/beyond reality’. And then what of phiang khae see order thaonan man kor mee phalang-ngarn mark kwa eikaphop: ‘with four orders only, it has more energy than the universe’? Help, someone!
Meanwhile, the first chapter presented below is mercifully limpid, and its sobriety refreshing.
1 – The call of the butterfly
Within the classroom there are eight sets of desks and chairs arranged in two rows, four to a row. To the left there are eight windows; to the right there are two doors.
This morning, three pupils have come to school: Wind, a young woman of about twenty; Earth, a fifteen-year-old girl; and Mountain, a thirteen-year-old boy. They all sit in the back row. They are always together wherever they go. They are the least quiet group in the classroom. Sometimes they come and sit chatting like chirping tailorbirds.
“Today, let’s play Suppose,” Wind begins. “Suppose the Lord grants us one personal wish each. What will you choose?”
Earth looks uneasy, because Wind is staring at her. The three of them accept Wind as their leader, not just because she is the oldest but because she has the most energy. She’s always finding things to do.
“I’ll ask to attain enlightenment,” Earth after much thought answers.
Both Wind and Mountain burst out laughing. The answer is unexpected.
“We’ve known you for ages and it’s only now we know you’re a true Buddhist,” Wind teases. “Why did you choose enlightenment?”
“I don’t know,” Earth answers. “Maybe it’s because I think life is sorrow. I don’t want to be born again. And besides, following the Buddha is safer.”
“What about you?” Wind turns towards Mountain.
“I’ll ask for everyone in the world to enjoy peace and quiet,” Mountain answers. He’s always had a way with words.
“You can’t! You must ask only for yourself, not for others,” Wind objects.
Mountain sits silent for a long time. He really can’t think of anything. “I don’t know. I can’t think.” When he must think about himself, he feels confused and self-conscious.
Wind nods understandingly.
“Then what about you?” Earth turns to ask Wind in turn. She and Mountain look at Wind expectantly.
“I’ll ask to be able to run at the speed of the wind,” Wind answers as she laughs. Wind isn’t exactly good-looking, but she’s got charm. She’s someone whose energy is radiating all the time, making those near her happy, making them feel that being alive has meaning.
“I think that running at the speed of the wind in itself is one form of happiness without compare. It’s something easy in physiological terms. It isn’t thought, can’t be sought, can’t be swapped.”
“Your turn to ask a question,” Wind turns to tell Earth.
“Then suppose we choose to be some kind of animal. What will you be?”
“I’ll ask to be reborn a male orang-utan,” Wind answers almost without thinking then smiles broadly with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“It must be male too? Why?” Mountain asks, nonplussed.
“I don’t know actually. When I stare at a male orang-utan, I feel it looks half stupid half clever. If I stare at it long enough, my heart falls apart,” Wind answers blithely, making Earth and Mountain laugh.
“How about you?” Earth turns to ask Mountain.
“I’ll ask to be reborn a tortoise,” Mountain answers in turn. “I like the slowness of the tortoise. When it walks from the front of the room to the back, it’s a long span of time, stately and full of meaning. I like the time span of the tortoise.”
“Then how about you?” Wind asks Earth, who has thought up the current quiz.
“I’ll ask to be reborn a butterfly or any insect that lives one day only.”
“You mean to thwart Mountain, don’t you?” Wind teases.
“Not at all,” Earth protests. “I truly feel like that. I think that creatures that live for one day only – it’s an exciting span of time, and a most meaningful one. Every second is learning, seeking experience, probably lots of fun. Even though the span of time is short, it’s impressive, I feel. We humans live too long, so that beauty in our lives diminishes without our realising it.”
Right then, a butterfly flies into the classroom. It enters by a window to the left, flaps its wings leisurely for a while then casually exits through a door to the right. This sudden visit throws the three of them into silence.
Now back to Four Reigns, a different kettle of glitches altogether. I’m on page 669 of 1262.