I bought it because of its punning title, untranslatable to its full meaning with one punch: Khaek Nai Barn Tua Eng – Guests in their own house or Muslims at home.
It’s a rather patchy collection of fifteen short stories out of the South of Thailand written over the past sixty years. It starts, however, with a 1947 tale by Manat Jan-yong, a native of Phetchaburi, which is hardly the land of khaek. The story does take place in the South, but almost incidentally.
Most of the stories are run-of-the-mill, with southern frills and genuflexions, or else on the heavy side of symbolism, like too many I’ve read out of the Philippines (a predisposition of the God-Allah-Yahweh-etc.-driven?).
The two outstanding ones in my view are the well-known ‘Cat of Buteh Kruesoh’ by Kanokphong Songsomphan and Siriworn Kaewkan’s a bit too lachrymose ‘The late April afternoon when boiling water rained down’ (I shortened the title). They breathe Southern dismay.
Another that took my fancy because of its structure is Bandhit Suphakitbancha’s ‘It happened on Eid al-Adha’ of 1984, although it lacks muscle under its tattooed skin.
The last story, though, by some Abdul Razak, a borrowed (pen) name, is ludicrous. Uet-atjai (Suffocation/Uneasiness) is about an imam asked to attend a meeting on southern reconciliation who must of course comply with requests of the lay (Thai Buddhist) authorities as his religion instructs but is most upset at the idea of perhaps, as on previous occasions, missing prayer time or having to eat non-halal food, oh dear. This could have been an understated comical piece – isn’t the prickly saint defeating by his reaction the very purpose of the meeting? – but all indications are that the story is meant in earnest: poor imams are being victimised in their very selves, and this one is not only alienated but proud of his inch-Allah alienation and hungering for more of it.
Reading this last story made me think of the red-shirts currently pining and struggling for restitution of their beloved Preposterous TV, their fix of daily lies – them in the name of freedom of information, the blessed imam in the name of the edicts of a religious crank in a land of goats and sand a thousand and five hundred years ago.
Now, mind you, to be fair, the government brainwashing channel NBT I’m listening to right now in the background – just in case our Adonis calls it quits or some muddled strongman begs our pardon for the inconvenience of a coup, which seem to be the only instant-coffee options of the day [Past midnight postscript: neither happened, so I switched off this particular instrument of torture] – is just as noxious, and the fare at official hops may well suffocate you with their blandness.
And come to think of it, I too am proud of my addiction to cigarettes and feel suffocated when I have to do without them. The difference, I suppose, is that I don’t make a song and dance or killings about it and, if I have to, say, spend twelve hours in an airplane, I take a sleeping pill and that’s that.