Who would have thought that Bangkok being proclaimed World Book Capital 2013 would prove itself bookish after all a year later?
For the past couple of days, we’ve had here in Bangkok studious groups of four sitting down on the ground in public places and silently reading on their iPads or whatever George Orwell’s 1984. Better late than never, I say.
And for the past couple of days, quite a few more, including otherwise normal muddled-class housewives, have taken to silently (or not) raising three middle fingers of a hand to their lips and then into the air.
A puzzling gesture, that.
The meaning of the one middle finger raised in the air is perfectly clear, wouldn’t you say. But three?
I took it to be some arcane Thai custom even I had never heard of yet. So this noon I asked the taxi driver who was driving me to lunch. ‘It means the Army, how they salute,’ the fellow said cryptically. How come, I thought: the military salute is all five fingers shooting rigid at your temple and you standing brain-dead forever after, not three fondly kissed and then offered to high heavens.
Tonight, I find the explanation is, yet again, to be found in a book, a recent one, and an obscure one at that, but one that’s begotten a recent spree of sci-fi movies: The Hunger Games (2008), a novel by American novelist Suzanne Collins. Suzanne who? Ah yes, that Collins!
What’s with the three finger salute/wave?
From the book: “Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.” Later, Katniss uses it as a similar sign of friendship, respect and goodbye to Rue. The crowd in Rue’s District 11 sees her doing it on the screen, and immediately copies it. However, they seem to interpret it as a sign of defiance … and by the next movie, the salute has been adopted as a sign of silent protest.
Some kind of ‘petite quenelle’, in effect, then? But isn’t that what the French Interior ministry in its current socialist intemperance deems anti-Semitic and extremist as an inverted Nazi salute?
Anyway, I wish there’d be more of such ‘signs of silent protest’ here: I’m all for the spread of literature nurtured by sane reading habits among the masses, and silent reading and pantographic posturing are such a welcome break anyway after the shrill mass whistling that drowned reason in Bangkok streets until very recently.