Mothers: from “In the Land of Madness”

Shortly after the 2014 military coup, there was a surge of the lèse-majesté cases in Thailand. During that turbulent period, two members of the production team of “The Wolf Bride” (2013), a satirical play about Thai politics, were prosecuted under lèse-majesté law or Article 112 of the Criminal Code which states, “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years”. Siam Theerawut, a graduate from Ramkhamhaeng University and a cultural activist who also participated in the play, fled into exile. His family and friends have not seen him since then.

This excerpt is from “In the Land of Madness” (2021), a collection of anecdotes by “Ratch”[1] (pseudonym), a journalist who has witnessed numerous criminal charges against the Thai government’s political dissidents throughout the past 10 years. While reporting the “facts” about these cases, she kept the emotional side of the news inside her personal “bag”.  The book, as she said in the preface, is the result of her attempt to prevent it from exploding. This short extract, translated by Sulakshana Lamubol, recorded a sorrowful gathering of Siam’s friends to commemorate his 32nd birthday at his house in absentia. It may not be long after this event that Siam was reported to be arrested by Vietnam’s government officers in 2019 and allegedly repatriated. Until this day, no one has heard of him. Kanya Theerawut, his mother, has been trying unsuccessfully in whatever way she could to call for the government’s attention to her son’s disappearance. Alongside Siam’s friends, she visited the EU Delegation, the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission), the OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) and the Embassy of Vietnam to request for possible help. This May, two years after the alleged abduction, Kanya and groups of activists went to the Government House of Thailand to ask, yet again, for the authority’s action regarding the disappearance of several political dissidents including her son.

“I’m still hopeful that my son is still alive. But where has he been kept? I love him so much; he is my son” – cried the mother. https://www.matichon.co.th/politics/news_2711277

[Click here to go to the publisher’s page about the book]


“I always think that he is still alive. The fortune teller told me he would return in 3 years.”

The mother whose eldest son had been missing for more than 2 years said to others.

The entire room was silent. No one believed what Mother believed.

About a dozen friends gathered to organize the 32nd birthday party for the one who was not present at the event. It was a birthday party with a bizarre atmosphere.

People were crying as if they were at a funeral. Only the mother did not shed one tear; she was all smiles for the guests.

Mother, with a still face, kept staring at the mat in front of her as her son’s friends were giving speeches about him, as if they were some sort of eulogies.

When the ceremony came to an end, she looked up and started bringing out the food that had been prepared for the guests.

Mother’s lilt was endearing; it accentuated her authenticity and sincerity.

She and her husband owned a small repair shop. In lieu of her son who had some years ago escaped from this country, she became the main assistant to her husband. The father was not a very talkative person. It took him a long time to start talking to people as normally as before. He and his son were very close as they had been working as a pair for many years. Therefore, the disappearance of his son affected him deeply. 

He was a young man with thick glasses who obsessively studied his subjects of interest, namely the Khmer language and traditional Thai music. He became interested in politics after [the coup in] 2006 when he joined an activist group advocating for socialism. He started having more friends as well as spaces to express himself, and gradually solidified his principles and commitment to the struggle for social justice. Nevertheless, he remained polite, timid and not quite confident in himself.

//

3–4 years ago, friends tried to persuade the young man to enter the world of theater to boost his confidence, which seemed to work. He acted in many plays, always performing as if he were reading off a script. All theatre pieces made by this theatre activist group presented sharp political issues. Protest sites or common public space served as the theatre space for them. This street theatre group was trying to make art the most accessible for the lower class in terms of content, location, time, and costs (free).

//

Due to the open-and-then-closed-again nature of our society, it may deceive us into being happy with moments of “possibility,” but later on strike us with tragedy. In the lifetime of the modern era, if one looks closely, one will find that it is mostly dark and constricted. It was only a short period that the sky was open enough to let a thin ray of light shine through, and then people thought the ‘Golden Sky of Glory’ had come. Various flowers, just like the street theatre group to which the young man belonged, sprang from the soil showing off their dazzling colors to prove that liberty does exist.

Without any forewarning, storms came, and all the flowers were uprooted and destroyed.

He managed to escape and lived with his comrades who reunited outside Thailand’s territory. They used new tools to continue their political activism. The sky at home remained pitch-dark; the campaign against flowers continued ruthlessly. Still, the people whose patience had been ingrained in them for many generations continued to be patient even though the end was not known, comforting themselves with the free voice from afar before going to sleep.

The damage was widespread, only those who have opened their eyes can see.

In the first couple of years, the content that people from afar created was just criticizing various political players. It was only later that their political thoughts got more radical, in step with the endless violent destruction of flowers, the long duration of darkness, and the sense of despair under others’ compromises and adjustments. Finally, their thought leveled up from making changes to the existing society to the complete change to a new society—a Republic.

The modest timid young man had become a threat to national security.  Only those who have opened their eyes will see that it was the ‘nation’ that created the ‘threats’ with their own hands, and molded it with the flesh, blood, and soul of generations of people before them.

The birthday cake remained in the middle of the gathering. Three candles were lit.

But the song sung was not Happy Birthday. It was a song that a musician friend wrote for him and many others who were lost during the journey to the ‘stars’ of their ideology.[2]

“One day we will meet again, dear friend.

It won’t be long as long as our feet are still on the ground.

Even though we are under the sky, destiny is written by people on the ground.

Before the body turns to the ground, butterflies will fly to the stars.”

Tears were flowing on the faces of many friends as they were singing together. The lead singer tried to control his voice from breaking and sang the same verse again, this time replacing the word ‘friend’ with ‘child’.

“One day we will meet again, dear child…”

My eyes could no longer hold tears. Mother was still staring straight at the mat laid in front of her.


[1] The word “รัช” in Thai, borrowing from Pali, has two paradoxical meanings. One refers to the kingly status; another means “dust”.

[2] A reference to the red star symbol of Communism.

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