December 1, 2011

Thai Literature

Posted in Susan's Blog tagged , , , , , , , at 7:50 am by Susan

For my blog this month, I asked Thai scholar Verita Sriratana to recommend her pick of Thai writers. She has chosen three, well-known in Thailand not only for their literary impact but also for their engagement with Thai society and politics.

Naowarat Pongpaiboon (1940- )

‘Pongpaiboon is known for his poems written in traditional metre and rhyme scheme and full of beautiful assonance and alliteration. Circulated in daily newspapers and magazines, his political poems make him one of most influential poets in Thailand. Below is a sample of his work. The translations are mine (though I do regret not being able to capture or translate his perfect rhyming, assonance and alliteration).’

การเมือง (Karn Mueng) “Politics”


Politics is not all about business


Politics is not about wanting to gain


Politics is not about profit-making


Politics is not a game


Politics is not all about power


Politics is not logic


Politics is not oppression


Politics is not only about “me”


Politics is not a playground


Politics is not shredding each other into pieces


Politics is not about going with the flow


Politics is not about flowing down the drain


Politics must be about sacrifice


Politics is everyone’s duty


Politics is getting involved


Politics must fight for the mass


Politics must have “dharma”* as its compass


Politics must have a common awareness


Politics must be transparent


Politics must be overflowed with people’s faith


Politics must respect different opinions


Politics must create and uphold rights and freedom


Politics is the power to purge poison

การเมืองคือชีวิตประชาชน !

Politics is the life of the people!

Thommayanti (1937- )

‘Thommayanti is a prolific and controversial woman writer whose historical romance novels have been adapted into numerous films, drama series, and musical theatre. Her most famous novels are คู่กรรม (Khu Kam) or Sunset at Chaophraya and ทวิภพ (Thawipob) or The Two Worlds. Khu Kam or Sunset at Chaophraya is about a Thai woman and a Japanese soldier who meet and fall in love during World War II in Thailand. Thawipob or The Two Worlds is about a woman living in the late twentieth century who travels through an old mirror back in time to the Siam of King Rama V era (mid to late nineteenth century). The novel depicts the time when Siam was turned into a buffer state between England and France, the two imperial powers vying for full authority over the South East Asian region. The most celebrated adaptation is the 2004 film The Siam Renaissance.’

Win Lyovarin (1956- )

‘Lyovarin is known for his novels and short story collections which are fresh and experimental in both content and style. In terms of theme, his eclectic works explore the grey area between science and superstition, between truth and falsehood in Thai society and politics. In terms of style, his graphic books are considered to be groundbreaking.  See this sample extracted from his short story collection หนึ่งวันเดียวกัน (Nng Wan Diaw Kan) or A Day in a Life published in 2001.’

* ‘Dharma (in Sanskrit) or Dhamma (in Pali) literally means “to fasten, to support, or to uphold.” In Hinduism, Dharma means “duty” according to one’s caste, class, and gender. For readers familiar with Plato’s concept of “virtue”, Dharma is similarly that which propels one to be “of use” – to realise one’s full potential for the good of the state. However, unlike “virtue” which tends to be defined by one’s state or society, Dharma is more of a spiritual concept. In the Upanishads, for example, Dharma is defined as the universal law issuing from Brahman (“God” or the universe’s unifying spirit) and therefore stands as a moral principle of the universe. It can also be referred to by the Sanskrit word Sat (Truth). One who lives according to Dharma also lives in harmony with Brahman. “Dharma” in Naowarat’s poem means more than “moral sense.” The word in a Thai context encompasses all of the above: a true understanding and awareness of “truth” or the law of the universe. Dharma, in laypeople’s terms, therefore means upholding “righteousness” in thoughts and actions so as to achieve harmony with self and nature.’