marcel barang

Birth pains (3)

In English on 31/10/2009 at 8:35 pm


Today is Halloween, the right time to mention a ghostly outfit whose refusal to come forward is detrimental to the influence of Thai literature in the world and more specifically to the popularisation of an important novel it is allegedly entrusted with.

The novel is Thutiyawiseit, by Bunluea, the pen name of ML Bunluea Theipphayasuwan; the outfit is the ML Bunluea Theipphayasuwan Fund; and the story is this:

Last February, I sought to locate ML Bunluea’s legal heir(s) to ask for permission to publish in English that novel, which I hold to be one of the twenty best novels of Thailand and one of the few successful political novels this country has produced.

Thutiythutiawiseit came out in Thai in 1968. By 1994, when I included it in my anthology, it had long been out of print, and in subsequent interviews I always made a point of mentioning this as a prime example of the parlous state of Thai publishing.

It was eventually republished by Klet Thai in 2007 (cover picture here).

A flurry of phone calls led me first to Silpakorn University, where I was redirected to… the Intellectual Property Department of the Ministry of Commerce.

So, armed with a letter in Thai my daughter typed and the one copy of my translation in paperback form that I own (see Birth pains (2) as to how and why), I took the express boat to Nonthaburi and then a local bus to said ministry. Perfect weather, nice outing. The relevant lady there consulted her database and said, ‘Nothing to do with us. We have no author under this name.’ Looking at the paperback, she added, ‘That’s a nice cover, but I see you’ve reproduced a picture of the royal decoration on it: have you sought permission from the Palace?’

Back home, I wondered what to do next. But wait! How stupid of me: Klet Thai must have been in contact with the heir(s) in order to republish! I called Klet Thai. Klet Thai put me in touch with the editor of the reprint, an a-jarn in Chiang Mai. Through him, I learned that ML Bunluea had had a daughter, Khun Nim (a nickname – he couldn’t remember her real name), and was provided with her portable phone number.

I called Khun Nim. Khun Nim explained that the rights to the novel were with the ML Bunluea Theipphayasuwan Fund. The Fund, she understood, had already asked a Thai professor to translate the novel for serialisation on the internet for a new website (something that sounded like Ee-reng). The professor in question was apparently late in the delivery but the matter rested with the Fund. What she would do, Khun Nim said, was pass on my phone number to the Fund for them to contact me.

There was no contact.

Serialisation of a Thai political novel in English for a magazine on the Net? How bizarre. A Google search led nowhere, neither for Ee-reng (or variations thereof) nor for the ML Bunluea Fund. The only reference to the Fund I could find was its awarding critical film reviews … I asked around. Someone said it was at Chulalongkorn. I asked my Chula-student daughter to locate it: she drew a blank. Someone else said it was in fact at Nakhon Pathom University. I asked a friend of mine who teaches there: she drew a blank.

After about a month, I called Khun Nim again. She was a bit embarrassed, but volunteered no new information.

I gave up temporarily: the website was creeping into existence at a frustratingly slow pace.

At the beginning of October, however, days before it went online, without a call or a flutter from the Fund, I called Khun Nim again. The same voice as twice before – of the kind that says ‘Sawatdee Kha’ instead of ‘Hello’ – answered me that, though the number was correct, there was no person by that name at such a number.

I was so taken aback I merely apologised and hung up.

Picked up the phone again and called a friend. That friend called the same number and got from the person whose name was no longer Khun Nim the full address of the Fund.

For the record, the Fund’s postal address is at Chulalongkorn University, although the university’s website makes no mention of its existence.

The next day I got my daughter to type another letter in Thai asking the Chairman of the Fund for permission to sell worldwide through the internet an e-book version of my English translation of Thutiyawiseit, pointing out that my work didn’t in any way impede the Fund’s right to commission other translations.

I posted the letter with AR on 10 October.

Three days later, the new formula of came online, hours before I flew to France for a week. The teaser pages of Thutiyawiseit in it bore and still bear the watermark: WAITING FOR PERMISSION TO PUBLISH.

Three weeks have gone by and not a ghost of a reaction from the elusive Fund. Maybe once Halloween is over the outfit will condescend to make its presence felt. Saaaaathu!


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