marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘Kukrit Pramoj’

A literary milestone

In English, Reading matters on 26/01/2012 at 8:34 pm

So, it’s finally come through the post after a long wait: วรรณมาลัย (Wannamarlai), an anthology of outstanding Thai short stories written between 1932 and 2010, officially published last September by the Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture. Apparently the ministry’s website is still suffering from the Great Flood, as it has yet to announce the birth – and there’s no picture of the flowery cover to be culled anywhere on the net.

Of course, even more eagerly awaited is the second tome: the same stories translated into English, to be published … later this year, budget willing.

Also in the OCAC pipeline: English translations of three novels: ฝั่งแสงจันทร์ (Fang Saengjan – The moonlit shore) by Prachakom Lunachai, ปลายนาฟ้าเขียว (Plai Na Fa Khiao – literally Green sky at the end of the rice field) by Wat Wanlayangkoon and ชะบน (Chabon) by Thirayut Daojanthuek. The latter almost made it into my list of ‘the 20 best Thai novels’ some two decades ago, along with Nippan’s Pheesuea Lae Dorkmai (Butterflies and flowers): I found it a bit too narrow in scope and at times long-winded, even though it’s written beautifully.

Forget the cheap paper and the cramming of its 560 pages with print too small for tired eyes: this is a treasure trove of some of the best short fiction ever published in Thailand in the eyes of a dozen Thai literary luminaries. Besides, it’s free.
Get yourself a copy while stocks last, through

This ‘literary garland’, as the title translates, lines up 41 stories by 41 writers, only six of them female. Many of the names are well known and feature in all anthologies, but here with an alternative story. For instance, Dorkmai Sot has a one-page story rather than her regular ‘Phonlamueang Dee’ (The good citizen, which I featured some time ago in my bilingual blog). I’ve just read that page and am left perplexed: was that her next best effort?
Others are less known but will welcome the exposure (and incite jealousy). A few I’ve heard of but have yet to read, and who is Nat Sartsongwit? No matter how I spell the name in English, Google won’t tell me. I’ll read his story next.
There are some surprising absences – major writers of the past such as Yacob, Malai Choophinit and Humorist, all, I’m told, dismissed under the far-fetched claim that they borrowed most of their plots from western stories (what is Kukrit Pramoj doing here then?); and top contemporary short-story writers as well, none of whom more laughably dismissed than Chart Korbjitti as allegedly having penned no outstanding story!
Ditto for Wimon Sainimnuan or Thatsanawadee, among others.
The lengthy, informative introduction protects the selection committee from controversy over absent worthy writers by claiming problems with copyrights. Yeah, right, I sympathise: Bunluea is another noticeable absentee.

To the future volume of English translations I’m to contribute four stories, translated at various times in the past fifteen years: Seni Saowapong’s ‘The lone sunflower’ (available on my bilingual blog); Sila Komchai’s ‘Blood buds’ (published in Caravan in 1994); Phaithoon Thanya’s ‘A death in the month of October’; and Chatcharin Chaiwat’s ‘Boy’s reporter’ (at OCAC’s request) – the latter two featured in 11 Thai short stories – 2011 now available at
I was surprised by the listing in the anthology of a fifth story, ‘The wish’ by Prachakom Lunachai, a rather corny short story I translated some time ago for the Bangkok Post. Obviously, it’ll be translated by someone else, and it’ll be interesting to compare the two versions.

The downside of this volume for me is that, promising as it may be in its scope, variety and literary quality, I may not translate those stories I find most interesting, unless the translations to be published are dismal. I reckon we’ll have to wait and see.


Farewell, Duang Jai

In English on 21/12/2010 at 4:47 pm


.This morning’s Bangkok Post tells me of the death early yesterday of Prathoomporn Vajrasthira [pr. wa.], a person in whose debt I am. Although I had only known her in the past three years – a time during which she made no mystery about fighting the cancer that killed her – I came to appreciate her dedication to Thai letters and willingness to stick her neck out for what she considered worthy causes. She was a retired international relations lecturer at Chula and, as such, helped mould generations of high civil servants and ‘her views were often featured in the media’ (Bangkok Post). In her younger days, she had been a celebrated romance writer under the pen name Duang Jai (Sweetheart), notably for a novel entitled Ratthamontree Ying (The woman minister). When I read about it in an old issue of Chor Karrakeit a couple of months ago, I called her up and asked for a copy, but illness must have prevented her from forwarding it.

She had contacted me in January 2008 following my interview with the Bangkok Post telling about my perennial visa and publishing troubles. She kindly offered to help me regarding my status here and, more importantly, over the fate of my translation of Kukrit Pramoj’s See Phaendin, Four Reigns, notably by convincing MR Kukrit’s daughter, ML Visumitra, who holds the rights to the novel, to give me permission to publish. Going through our exchange of emails, I find this:

On 12 August 2008:

Dear Ajarn Prathoomporn,

Here is a short sample of translations of Four Reigns by Tulachandra and by myself, as you requested last night.

Very early the next day, her answer was:

Dear Khun Marcel, this is my quick reply at this hour : how did you transplant the body and soul of SP into English so beautifully. I feel like having Mom K. talk to me slowly in Thai-accented English as I used to hear him years back. So beautiful and nostalgic indeed. I’ll try to find M.L. Visumitra and let her read the printout. Congratulations. BRGD, PV.

Her last email to me, on 13 July this year, read as follows:

Dear Khun Marcel, I have talked with Ambassador Tej Bunnag, Tulachandra’s son. His explanation : he has the copyright of only Tulachandra’s translated work of See Phandin, English version. His personal opinion was that it is acceptable to have several versions of any translated work. To his knowledge, there are already more than one versions of English translation of See Phan Din, one by a Japanese translator who gave lengthy and informative footnotes. In short, if anybody wants to do the translation from the original Thai version, he doesn’t need to be informed and in no position to give the permission or otherwise. I then called M.L. Visumitra several times to no avail, only advised to leave messages which was no need because my name and number would be shown by all means. No return call until now. I will try again. So this is the latest update to have you informed. Best regards. Prathoomporn

How can I not be grateful for all those efforts, fruitless though they were? That ‘Her last wishes were that there should be no flowers and no mourning colours’ (Bangkok Post) makes her all the more dear to my heavy heart. Farewell, Duang Jai.

Four Reigns under the fifth

In English on 06/09/2010 at 10:44 pm


Should I rejoice or cry?
Here they are on my desk: five hardback copies of Marcel Barang’s translation into English of See Phaendin, pace Kukrit Pramoj who, way back in 1994, had the arrogance to deny me permission to translate his novel and thus a citizen’s right to translate whatever he or she pleases, pace ML Visumitra Pramoj, his daughter and heir holding the rights to her father’s novel, who has – as is her right, however regrettable – denied me permission to publish it (see ‘Of guts and gutters’, 28 June), and pace that other member of the Pramoj extensive family, who reads this blog and in mid-July contacted me to help get my translation published if at all good, thus asked me for both paper and e-book versions, which I promptly provided, and since then apparently hasn’t found the time to assess them.
These five books, the printing of which I paid for out of my own pocket, I intend as gifts to selected persons, are clearly marked as ‘complimentary copies’ and – some consolation – will gain value as time passes as collector’s items.
Next year Thai society will celebrate with pump and circumstance the hundredth anniversary of MR Kukrit Pramoj’s birth. Might it not be a good idea to find a way to bring his most famous novel to the attention of the world in an authentic translation rather than the adaptation it has had to make do with until now?

The same day brings news of the SEA Write Award going this year to Zakariya Amataya, a fine choice. This will only increase traffic on my blog: as the word spread on something called Facebook that I was now putting Thai poets to the question and had the temerity to distil some of their tears, in the last few days traffic has doubled and then trebled and it now looks like fa bor kan (the sky is no limit), as old Khamsing would say! Those lovers of literature who wish me well say that some worthy publisher out there might in the process become interested in my production and print or reprint those Thai Modern Classics and other novels which deserve a wider distribution than the one can provide. What a great idea!
This being said, pity poor Siriworn Kaewkan, who more than deserves that SEA Write accolade denied to him for half a dozen years now, whether as a poet, a short story writer or a novelist. His consolation is that quite a few of the best writers never got the Nobel. But obviously, this year is not his day.

Four Reigns: de profundis

In English on 01/07/2010 at 6:37 pm


Three days ago I finally managed to get ML Visumitra Pramoj’s phone number and left a message on her portable to the effect that I wished to ask for permission to publish my translation of her father’s See Phaendin or Four Reigns. I understand she inherited the rights to the novel at Kukrit’s death in 1995.

‘Khun Paem’ (as ML Visumitra introduced herself) returned the call this afternoon. She had been in Chiang Mai.

The outcome of a twenty-minute conversation – retracing my relationship with her father since 1976 and with Khun Sondhi since 1974, the TMC programme started in 1994, and the difference between ‘adaptation’ and ‘translation’ – was that…
…I can put my translation away in some drawer and forget about it.
She needn’t even see a copy: her eyesight is bad these days and she can hardly read.

The existing English version by ‘Tulachandra’ (pen name of husband Tulaya and wife Chaemchand – Tun and Jaemjan in Thai pronunciation) was approved by the author, you see. She understood that he had participated in it along with the dear couple and had insisted that there should be no other translation of that work. That book, recently reprinted, is making money – mine would be in competition with it. If I published my translation as an e-book only, perhaps this could be considered, but it should generate revenue – ‘What are your terms?’

The end of the conversation went something like this:

‘You shouldn’t have translated it into English. Why didn’t you translate it into French instead?’
‘Because I happen to be employed by Khun Sondhi on an English-language literary translation programme, and no French publisher has expressed interest in this book anyway.’
‘Actually, we should be the ones hiring you for a translation and then publishing it: it’s more rewarding for us this way, wouldn’t you say?’
‘! … So how should we proceed regarding the e-book?’
‘We’ll think about it and we’ll get in touch with you. Goodbye now.’

Ah, well, only another thirty-five years to wait before the work falls into the public domain and delivers us from greed.

Of guts and gutters

In English on 28/06/2010 at 10:33 pm

Seventeen years ago, I undertook to select, translate and publish the twenty best novels of Thailand under the label Thai Modern Classics.
One of those twenty was See Phaendin (Four Reigns) by Kukrit Pramoj.
So, prior to publication of my anthology (the 20 best novels of thailand, TMC, 1994 – revised edition 2008, see that started the TMC publishing programme, as I did with every author or their heirs, I sent the relevant chapter of it to MR Kukrit for permission to publish. Each chapter consisted of a biography of the author, a presentation of the story with substantial excerpts, and my own assessment of the work.
As a journalist during the previous decades, I had known MR Kukrit, indeed in the early days (1976) had been briefly his neighbour in Soi Praphinit and had witnessed his fabled residence being ransacked by drunken police officers, had interviewed him a couple of times and failed to please him and his dog Samsee.
To my consternation, the author had his secretary send me a short note in hemiplegic Thai denying me the right to translate his work on the grounds that my translation approach couldn’t possibly do justice to his work.

No need here to retrace the history of Thai Modern Classics, its premature demise in 1988 and resurrection in due time, but as a set of eBooks available on Suffice it to say that, by early 2009, having translated all but two of the twenty novels and having decided not to retranslate Nikhom Raiyawa’s Taling Soong Sung Nak (very well translated already by Richard C Lair under the title High Banks Heavy Logs) I was left with Four Reigns.
By then MR Kukrit was long dead.
As the yearly pilgrimage for visa renewal took me for the last time to Soi Suan Phlu in March 2009 I just sauntered over to Kukrit’s Heritage Home, as it is now called, and was lucky to find there its managing director, ML Rongrit Pramoj, who, in the course of a most pleasant conversation around his father and this book, declared himself wholly in favour of my translating the novel. He told me, though, that the copyright holder wasn’t him but his sister, ML Visumitra. He called her on his portable (she was in England that day) and I briefly talked to her, to the effect that she was concerned about possible complications given the existence of another book in English purporting to be a translation of See Phaendin, which was being reprinted.
That book, Four Reigns, by ‘Tulachandra’ (the pen name of a now deceased husband and wife team who were distant relatives of the author’s on his mother’s side) is, as I explained at length, an adaptation in English of Kukrit’s novel, written in their own style and at times quite at odds with the original. It is by no means the faithful literary translation such a masterpiece deserved and I proposed to undertake. I left and got to work.

Sometime in late November, having completed Book I (‘First Reign’, amounting to almost half of the entire work), I went to leave a copy for ML Rongrit and ML Visumitra at Kukrit’s Heritage Home, with a letter welcoming comment, suggestions and corrections. As the taxi neared the house a late season downpour blinded us. There were a few women in the reception pavilion. To my shame, I was racked with colic and had to use the loo. I was told to take my shoes and socks off and was provided with an umbrella: the loo was just beyond a cataract from adjacent gutterless eaves.

I went on with the translation of Books II, III and IV and rounds of checking against the Thai, English editing and, on June 14, with a printout of the 350,000-word-long translation ready in Word format, I called ML Rongrit.
I reminded him of our conversation of fifteen months earlier, told him I had completed the translation and would be happy to come over and give him a printout of it, and what did he think about Book I anyway?
What Book I? When? Never heard of it. He’d inquire about it. He did mention again the Tulachandra book objection and ended the conversation by saying he must consult with his sister.

That was two weeks ago.

Last week, I got fed up waiting for an answer. Mulling things over, I decided: to hell with the right to publish – let alone the right to translate, which is mine regardless. Maybe I’ll get it eventually. In the meantime, I’m going to format the book and get it printed, at my own expense, in just a few copies with the mention on the cover: ‘Complimentary copy – not for sale’.
I’ll drop one at Kukrit’s Heritage Home. I’ll reward my four editors with one each. I’ll give one to my boss, Sondhi Limthongkul, without whom I’d never have been able to translate not just Four Reigns but the whole TMC series anyway. Perhaps I’ll keep a copy to present at the October book fair to the Crown Princess, who has been known to complain that See Phaendin has never been properly translated. And I’ll keep a copy or two for me to gloat over and leave eventually to my daughter as keepsakes.
That’s what I was busy with these past few days: formatting 908 pages and a cover ready to go to print. Now you know.
Tomorrow, I’ll get in touch with the printer.

PS: On that same day, June 14, I called up Prof Nittaya Masawisut, after hunting her phone number, to find out what was happening about Thutiyawiseit and permission to publish by the Bunluea Fund now that the red storm is momentarily over. She told me they would meet on June 23 and let me know about the modalities of the contract. I’ve just realised today is June 28. If only I could afford a secretary!


In English on 09/06/2010 at 1:41 pm


That’s how I felt this morning reading the ‘Letters to the Editor’ column in The Bangkok Post: one John C Brown reacts to ‘Life in the capital’, Wanich Jarungidanan’s short story published in the Outlook section last Monday, in exactly the way I hoped readers would when I decided to translate this particular ‘stunning story’ (his words) for publication right after the fratricidal events of the past months.

First, it’s always good to know one has at least one reader [place a Smiley here].

Second, it’s even more gratifying finding one who has enjoyed the story and understood its import thoroughly.

Mr Brown writes: ‘Reading this powerful story might help to bridge some of the gaps that we can see between the urban and rural populations in Thailand today. It might remind everyone that they all have, that they share, these kinds of connections.’

Precisely. Too bad, though, that too few of these ‘urban and rural populations’, your average commuters in the story, will have or have had the opportunity or leisure or inclination to read it, in English or even in Thai.

On another front: Kukrit Pramoj’s Four Reigns, all 350,000 words of it in my version, is, as of 3am today, ‘in the can’. I’ll print it out presently to offer a paper copy to the writer’s heirs for perusal and permission to publish.

 If I say so myself, this literary masterpiece of royal propaganda reads beautifully: while subbing it, I caught myself alternately with a smile on my lips and a lump in my throat.

One of the amazing features of this monumental work is, as the author was well aware, that, from start to finish, it revolves around a heroine, Mae Phloi, dear Phloi, who must be the most stupid of them all in the history of world fiction – and we love her! If I had time, I’d count the hundreds of references to her not having got a clue about what’s going on around her.

The formula is perfect: it allows the author to (mis)shape the world and history to her perceptions and preconceptions, and thus makes even outrageous praise of royalty credible, and it allows the reader to feel superior to or at least at ease with a next-door-neighbour kind of protagonist who, in truth, is anything but run of the mill.

Thai to English…

In English, Reading matters on 03/06/2010 at 9:48 pm


I’ve just gone through the (pre) final French version of Chart Korbjitti’s Phan Ma Ba, to be published in November by Asphalte-Editions, Paris, which runs to 140 000 words or, as the French have it, a little over one million signs. The French title has yet to be decided on.

I translated that novel into English at various times during the 1990s and published it (as an e-book) earlier this century under the title Mad Dogs & Co.

It might be instructive to compare the two translations from the Thai, over the first couple of pages, even in the absence of the original text. For this, I need two postings.

Here is the English version:


The sea at that time had turned pitch-black and glossy. Bulgy monsoon clouds blurred the sky above. Vicious blasts of wind pounced on the beach, relentlessly driving rain and waves to the shore. An army of huge waves, gloomy walls of coiled-up water, crashed thun­der­ously on the seafloor upon reaching the shore. Wave after wave crashed in a ceaseless, caroming cannonade, assaulting the beach and forcing it to recede, but the beach stayed put and refused to yield. Instead, they retreated in a sizzling slush of seawater, leaving behind white foam that smeared the sand with telltale signs of defeat, but still more impetu­ous waves came rolling in, doomed yet undaunted.
The sun had gone into hiding, as if it didn’t want to know what was raging on below.
There wasn’t a human soul in sight on the wide-open stretch of the beach, which was strewn with driftwood, torn nets, plastic bags, rotten fish and garbage swept up and thrown onto the sand, as if the sea meant to tell the beach it didn’t want any of this rubbish.
Three or four local dogs were foraging for food on the beach, undeterred by the raging downpour. The smallest of them stood gnawing at a dead fish while snarling at the other dogs and soon a war started under the pelting rain.
Way beyond the beach luxuriant rows of green coco­nut trees bowed low in terror of the wind. It was as if they were putting their last energies into a fight to sur­vive the monsoon and make it to the next dry season, when they would stand still, merely flicking the tips of their fronds as they played with the breeze.
Amid the shaking coconut trees a little hut nestled in a recess of the hill. It seemed to be trying to keep out of sight, but the wind and the rain were unrelenting. At times, violent gusts made its thatched roof flap.
A small red-earth track ran from the main road to the beach, parting neatly the long rows of coconut trees into two sections. In the hot season, this track was full of tourists of all nationalities, but now the rain was its only custom.
At a junction, down the better part of the track to the beach, was a large lean-to that had been turned into a food shop. Only the kitchen at the back had walls. The thatch of the roof had been covered with nets as protec­tion against the wind. The floor had been built at a slight­ly higher level than the road. A thick, dark-green awning was stretched across the side of the shop ex­posed to the rain, and the wind shook and slapped it deafeningly.
A short distance from the food shop was a small gift shop that sold souvenirs to tourists. It was so simple it looked more like an ordinary hut. On the red-earth land­ing in front of it, an ancient motorcycle stood basking in the rain, leaning on one side. Its paintwork was so flaky it was hard to see any trace of the original red.

…et du thaï au français

In English, French, Reading matters on 03/06/2010 at 9:47 pm


Et voici la française, à partir d’une version thaïe plus récente légèrement « émondée » par l’auteur :


La mer à cette heure est d’un noir d’encre chiné. Au-dessus d’elle, le ciel n’est qu’un magma glauque de nuages de mousson. De violentes bourrasques poussent sans cesse averses et vagues vers le rivage. Une armée de vagues géantes menaçantes, en rangs serrés, sans arrêt déferlent, s’enroulent sur elles-mêmes aux abords du rivage et s’écrasent en un vacarme assourdissant. Les unes après les autres, en un grondement continu, les vagues se ruent vers la plage en un assaut incessant, comme pour la forcer à reculer. Mais la plage, placide, tient bon et, loin de reculer, renvoie l’eau d’où elle vient. Les unes après les autres, les vagues doivent refluer vers le large à la façon des vaincus, laissant seulement un peu d’écume blanche sur le sable en signe de défaite, mais de nouvelles vagues montent à l’assaut, inlassablement.
Le soleil à cette heure se voile la face, comme s’il ne voulait rien savoir de ce qui se passe.
Pas la moindre âme humaine en vue sur la longue étendue de sable jonchée de bois flotté, de filets en lambeaux, de sacs en plastique, de poissons pourrissants et de quantités d’autres déchets que la mer a balayés et jetés sur le sable comme pour dire à la plage qu’elle ne veut pas de ces ordures.
Trois ou quatre chiens de race indigène tournicotent sur la plage en quête de nourriture, sans se laisser démonter par le déluge ambiant. Le plus petit d’entre eux ronge une tête de poisson tout en montrant les dents aux plus grands qui, l’œil torve et le nez frémissant, s’approchent à pas de chiens, et bientôt une guerre éclate sous la pluie battante.
Très en retrait de la plage, des rangées de cocotiers luxuriants ploient, terrorisés par la force du vent, comme s’ils luttaient à la limite de leurs forces pour survivre à la mousson en attendant la prochaine saison chaude, quand ils se dresseront, fiers et robustes, remuant seulement le bout de leurs palmes pour faire joujou avec la brise.
Entre les cocotiers, une hutte est nichée dans le giron de la colline. On dirait qu’elle essaie de passer inaperçue, mais le vent et la pluie s’acharnent. Par moments, son toit de chaume se soulève et retombe sur un coup de vent.
Un chemin en latérite reliant la route à la plage coupe au travers des longues rangées de cocotiers qui cernent le rivage. À la saison chaude, ce chemin fourmille de gens de toutes nationalités, mais à présent seule la pluie le fréquente.
À un croisement en haut du chemin de la plage se tient un appentis de bonne taille transformé en restaurant. Seule la cuisine à l’arrière est murée. Le chaume de la toiture est recouvert d’un filet de pêche pour le protéger du vent. Le plancher du restaurant est légèrement surélevé par rapport au chemin et le côté exposé à la pluie est entièrement tendu d’une épaisse bâche d’un vert terne que le vent fait claquer puissamment.
Légèrement en retrait du restaurant se trouve une échoppe, une boutique de souvenirs pour touristes, si sommairement construite qu’elle ressemble plutôt à une simple hutte. Dans la cour en latérite sur le devant, une motocyclette antédiluvienne, de guingois sur sa béquille, prend un bain de déluge. Sa peinture est si écaillée qu’il ne reste guère trace du rouge originel.

PS: I’ll busy myself for the rest of the week and some of the next, I expect, with a (pre) final smoothing of the 350 000 words of Four Reigns in English.

A short lecture on politics, Thai-style

In English, Reading matters on 19/03/2010 at 11:19 am

 The master (politician) said it best, half a century ago.

‘…Tell me, Ort, what is this new thing that has come and interfered … You call it “politics”. What is “politics”? I’ve never heard of it. You must teach me…’ Phloi raised her hand and stroked her own brow as if to wipe away obscurity and then went on saying in a low voice, ‘I’m very old, Ort … much too old! I don’t know what anyone is up to. You must tell me, Ort, so that I can adjust properly. Please tell me what this “politics” is about. How do they go about it?’

‘It’s very hard to say, my darling mother,’ Ort said in a low voice as if he too was talking to himself. ‘I don’t know how to explain it properly. Before, there was no such thing as politics. Everybody went about doing the work they had to do. Whoever had a duty performed it. Whatever views they held were within the frame of their work. Like Own: before, if he thought about something it was military matters; An thought about legal matters. There was no way the two of them would disagree, because the ideas they had were in different fields. But nowadays, the scope of both Own and An’s thinking has grown much wider, which is that they have opinions regarding public affairs, the common good. As the two of them think about the same matter, not different matters as before, if their thoughts are the same that’s good, but if they are different, it creates problems, as you have just seen. If you want me to define politics for you, I can’t tell you, because politics is too extensive a field to be defined in just a few words. I can only tell you that, on the positive side, politics broadens people’s perspectives, makes them high-minded, gives them perseverance, resistance to sorrow and readiness to sacrifice their own happiness to reach the goals they think are correct. It makes them feel their lives have meaning, they are their own masters, they are able to control themselves. Seen in a positive way, politics is something very good. But if you look at it negatively, politics is terrifying, because it makes people fight and kill each other, fathers quarrel with their children, husbands row with their wives, brothers and sisters are waging war. Politics brings strife between people which may lead to being on bad terms and vindictive for a lifetime. Sometimes, politics brings you lots of friends but at times it may make you lose them all, perhaps lose all property, be sent to jail or even lose your life.’

‘But when they know it’s a bad thing, why do they insist on having it?’ Phloi asked dubiously.

‘When it’s time for it to come, it comes by itself. Nobody looks for it and nobody can prevent it,’ Ort answered and then heaved a sigh. ‘Politics is like people: it shall grow up and change. If it doesn’t today, then some other day for sure. What worries me is that when it comes round like now, it brings trouble to many people.’

‘Why does it have to be like that, Ort?’

‘Do you remember, Mother, once when I was still little?’ Ort said and then looked ahead as if he could see into the past. ‘I called you over to have a look at the pond near our house because that day the fish were jumping and wriggling all over it. You told me it was because the tide was rising and the water was new so the fish were rejoicing, but before long some people came along with seines and swings and caught plenty of them. What I remember you can compare with what is happening now: the new politics is like new water, many will rejoice and if they are not careful will find themselves in danger like those fish in the pond.’

‘An did tell me once that we must be careful now because we were still at what he called a turning point,’ Phloi said as it suddenly came back to her.

‘An is right,’ Ort said. ‘But I am still worried about that turning point of his. I can’t think of how long it’ll take, tens or hundreds of years perhaps, before we are past that turning point and start walking straight. I only know that as long as we are caught up in it, there will be people left by the wayside.’

‘Never mind those,’ Phloi stated firmly. ‘I’m only concerned about you, my children.’

‘And I only about you, Mother.’

From ‘Book 3: Third Reign’ of Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj, 1954

June 1932

In English, Reading matters on 18/03/2010 at 3:05 pm


‘But on matters like these who knows what people think? People like you and I don’t, but who is to know? Whether they’ll succeed or not is a different story. Thinking about it, I’m not happy. I don’t know what they are up to. If they succeed, I wonder what it will be like. But if they don’t I won’t feel happy either.’

…Everyone in the capital seemed to be on their guard and did not venture outside. Bangkok was holding its breath, waiting for the next development, but no-one dared to risk a prediction or venture a guess as to the likely turn of events.

…On the second day, Phloi started to hear rumours, and they were all bad, all thoroughly disquieting: the King was going to send in provincial forces to quell the revolt, and fierce battles and bloodshed were only to be expected; the rebels were going to put all the Royals in a boat and sink it in the ocean; all properties belonging to aristocrats and other rich people were to be confiscated – all rumours seemingly designed for the sole purpose of instilling fear in the hearts of listeners.

From ‘Book 3: Third Reign’ of Four Reigns, by Kukrit Pramoj, 1954

As I go through an almost final polishing of the translation of this very book, I can hear, carried across the river by the wind, the buzz of red anger from Sanam Luang and Ratchadamnern. Plus ça change…