I’ll live out a hundred lifetimes, but they won’t have my forgiveness

Interviews by iLaw & In the Name of Peace and Order
Translated by Peera Songkünnatham

[คลิกที่นี่เพื่ออ่านบทสัมภาษณ์ต้นฉบับ “ตายแล้วเกิดร้อยชาติ เฮาก็บ่อโหสิ”
และคลิกที่นี่เพื่ออ่านบทสัมภาษณ์ต้นฉบับ “#คืนอิสรภาพ #อุกอั่งคั่งแค้น”]

We present two interviews with Patiwat Saraiyaem, a northeastern folk singer-poet known in Thailand as Molam Bank. The first interview, conducted in 2019 by Anon Chawalawan of iLaw, tells the story of Patiwat’s early political awakening, the lead-up to his imprisonment in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, and his feelings after serving two years for a lese-majeste conviction.

Under our current theme, the English word “madman” does not necessarily refer to someone with alleged mental illness, but rather someone with uncontrolled, intense, dangerous, or reckless behavior, as in the phrase “like a madman.” The second interview, conducted the evening of Patiwat’s release from detention in October 2020 by the Facebook Page In the Name of Peace and Order, captures how the former and potentially future political prisoner channels the madman’s energy within him so that it doesn’t break out in a frenzy of rage.

Patiwat: Even if I can’t do anything to you, I put a curse on you every day, yes, I put a curse on you every day. And from now on others will join in on the cursing.

Interviewer: You sound so, so vengeful, Older Brother.

Patiwat: Well it’s a way to alleviate vengefulness. I don’t go kill them. I channel that vengeful energy to the cursing ritual. Release my emotions through cursing.
Report this so it reaches their ears, that this Molam is smirking. Serves you right, putting me in prison for 10 days has done nothing to make your process look better. On the contrary, it accelerates that ruin, closer and closer yet.

Patiwat’s invocation of ritual cursing and the apocalyptic recalls the millennarian Meritful Persons (phu mi bun), some of whom were also folk singers by occupation. More than a century ago, many such phu mi bun and the people united under their banner were crushed by the Siamese state, and were named kabot phibaa phibun in the mainstream historical record. There are three steps to this naming operation: first, characterize them as kabot (‘rebels’); second, otherize them by collapsing phu mi bun into phibun (‘apparition of merit’); third, belittle them by tagging the near-reduplication phibaa (‘crazy’) to the front of phibun. The result both demonizes and trivializes the masses’ insurgency.

Transliterated copies of phu mi bun letters circulated among villagers in the margins of the Siamese state around the turn of the twentieth century. Images from the National Archives of Thailand, as featured on an article by Suwit Theerasasawat on Silpawattanatham Magazine.

This naming can be read otherwise, however, as has been done by Ranajit Guha in Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (published in Thai by Illuminations Editions, 2021). Reading elite discourse against the grain, Guha writes, with Thai renderings in parentheses following Preedee Hongsaton’s translation:

…a reference to any ‘dacoit village’ (หมู่บ้านซ่องโจร) (as one comes across so often in the Mutiny narratives) would indicate the entire population of a village united in resistance ot the armed forces of the state; ‘contagion’ (ระบาด)—the enthusiasm and solidarity generated by an uprising among various rural groups within a region; ‘fanatics’ (พวกวิปลาส)—rebels inspired by some kinds of revivalist or puritanical doctrines (มีความเชื่อเรื่องพระศรีอาริย์หรือผีบุญ); ‘lawlessness’ (ไม่มีขื่อมีแป)—the defiance by the people of what they had come to regard as bad laws, and so on.

ตายแล้วเกิดร้อยชาติ เฮาก็บ่อโหสิ
I’ll live out a hundred lifetimes, but they won’t have my forgiveness

I am from Sakon Nakhon. Since I was a little kid I saw the debris of a local police station, so one day I asked my grandma how come it got burned to the ground. That’s how I learned of the Communist Party of Thailand, that my hometown had once been a Red Zone. That sparked my interest in politics, so I sought out books, including those on Kru Tiang Sirikhanth and Kru Krong Chandavong. And at that time of the Yellow Shirts vs the Red Shirts, I bought the magazine Voice of Taksin and shared it with people in my village. To put it simply, my eyes were opened before the others’ were. When I was in secondary school, Yellow Shirt protests were happening, and then a coup. A teacher of mine who sided with democracy told us who Sonthi was, who the People’s Alliance for Democracy were, how come the military took power, why do it when Thaksin was so freaking good. I myself grew up in the era Thaksin was Prime Minister, and saw the fruits of his policies like the Village Fund and the 30 Baht Universal Coverage.

Once I graduated from secondary school I came to Khon Kaen to study the performing arts. The fact of my early political awakening doesn’t mean that every breath I took was spent on politics. I had other interests, too. Like music: I was still a fun-loving guy playing pong lang and other Isan instruments, writing flirty molam songs, and drinking like a typical village boy. When I enrolled at Khon Kaen University around 2010-2011, politics was in a tight spot. I was doing activism with an independent student group, but the group split in the end because of the Yellow Shirt-Red Shirt conflict. Some friends were against Thaksin, saying they rejected corrupt capital. I rejected extra-institutional means, I said. You people resorting to a coup d’état, really? Then those who didn’t think like me left the group and started another activist club with a new name. I didn’t regret losing some friends. It was actually a good thing to find out who was who. Recently, some of those friends who had broken from the group came to me to unburden themselves with their remorse over this and that. I told them, for things back then you don’t have my forgiveness, and get it through your thick skull that the country has gone to shit all around you, untold numbers in prison or dead, because that day you took the easy way out. But we see eye to eye now; we’re back to being good friends. We can see eye to eye today because their own lives have gone to shit.

When I was doing activism, I made friends with activist groups in KKU like Dao Din, with groups from other universities like Maha Sarakham U, Ubon U, Thammasat U, Kasetsart U, Chula U, and with people from Prakai Fai Theater. Around 2013, I went to a seminar in Ratchaburi and exchanged numbers with them in case of future collaborations. One day they called me asking if I wanted to come join them in a play. I said I’d pitch in, not suspecting that that would lead me to prison. To this day I keep asking myself, why did this happen to me? I didn’t rob nobody. Didn’t hit no dog; didn’t tell off no old lady.

The play Prakai Fai invited me to be a part of was Wolf Bride. There were two showings actually, one on the 6th of October event and one on the 14th of October event. I told them the 6th conflicted with my singing gig at a fair, but the 14th worked and I would go help them. Close to the date, I went to Bangkok for rehearsals. I got the villain role of a cunning brahmin. Personally I like playing the villain because it takes power to perform. When I saw the script, I didn’t sweat it. But during rehearsals some friends pulled out. The day of the event, many Red Shirt people came to see the play, and the show sent them into fits of laughter like they really enjoyed it. After the show I returned to Khon Kaen with no worries. I learned later that someone filed a police complaint that the play was defamation and a violation of Article 112 [the lèse-majesté law]. But nothing came of it; I went to classes and lived my life like normal.

Some time after Prayut took power, a dean at the university called me on the phone saying military officers came to see me. I went and they asked, are you an activist? I said yes, sir. They went on a sermon saying put a lid on your activism, the military had to take control to preserve peace, this and that. I didn’t say anything back, just yes, yes sir’s. Several days later, the dean called me saying the military wanted me to go sign an MOU. But it struck me as odd that he repeatedly insisted I go alone, that no friends tag along. I consulted with payroll staff at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts and they agreed that something was off. They then consulted some professors I respected, who decided to accompany me to the meeting. Once we got there, both the officers and the dean didn’t at all expect that I would bring faculty members with me. The plainclothes then closed around me. An officer showed me an arrest warrant and asked, rudely: is this you? The picture on the warrant was of myself performing molam. So I said: yes, that’s right. They cuffed my hands right then.

The professors who accompanied me asked the police and military officers there what I had done, why put me in handcuffs. Everyone was caught by surprise. The police said, we’ll talk later at the police station. At the Khon Kaen Provincial Police Station, the officers took me to interrogation, asking if I really did it, if I really acted in the play. I told them I would remain silent until I met my lawyer who was already waiting for me in Bangkok. As I didn’t say anything, they grabbed me to go sit in front of the press for them to give statements, then took me in a van to Bangkok that same afternoon.

I departed from Khon Kaen around four in the afternoon and arrived past midnight. During the ride, one of the officers said to me, you’re a university student, how can you do this? I could only nod and respond politely. The lecture went on the whole way. I could only think to myself, keep yapping! Even if the corners of your mouth rip from so much yapping, I won’t be swayed. Even my mom, the one who pushed me out, couldn’t sway me that much. One guy in the van told me, don’t be mad at me, Little Brother, I’m your paisano, I’m from Ubon, I’m doing my duty. I thought to myself, keep at it until you die, but you won’t have my forgiveness. He tried to console me, oh you’ll get out soon. But I’d like to repeat here that you won’t have my forgiveness. I knew a thing or two about Article 112. I’d read the stories of Ah Kong [Ampon Tangnoppakul], of Da Torpedo [Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul], of Ai Somyot [Prueksakasemsuk] especially: I had been following him since the days he made Voice of Taksin, following him to the point of imprisonment, one might say. I was also part of the campaign to amend Article 112 in Khon Kaen. I kind of knew that a release on bail was hard to come by. In Bangkok, I was jailed overnight at the Chana Songkhram Metropolitan Police Station, then taken to court in the morning and put in prison from that point on.

The first day in prison I met Ai Tom [Dundee], Ai Somyot, Ai Jeng Dokjik, and Ai Prasit [Chaiseesa]. We stayed together in Zone One of Bangkok Remand Prison for a month or so before they scattered us into different zones.

Me being in prison did not stop them from harassment. They went in there with a diagram of people and told me to identify which ones were involved in making Wolf Bride and to point where the money came from. In the center of the diagram was a picture of Thaksin’s. They asked me if I knew him. Of course I didn’t know such a big shot. I only knew the ones performing with me in the play. The authorities who came also told me that if I could convince my friends who had fled abroad to return, they would release me, they would reduce my sentence.

The day of the court appointment, I got to meet Kolf [Prontip Mankhong], the one who was tried in the same case as me. I saw Kolf and just felt sorry for us. I thought, you fuckers put me in prison, I’m already suffering, what possessed you to go to the extent of hounding me in prison. I talked to Kolf that they were already bent on throwing the book at us; they showed no signs of leniency. So we made a joint decision to confess so as to fast-track release, for the preservation of our lives, our breaths.

Two plus years in prison were quite long. There’s not much to do in there. Eat, sleep, repeat. So I had time alone with my thoughts. Finally I had an epiphany: ah! this is how it is, I was on the right track, my fight was on the correct path, that’s why they put me here. It strengthened my resolve in sticking to my ideas about the powers that be, about the societal system as it stood. It fueled the fires of my rage, to the point where I thought, even if you grovel before my feet, you won’t have my forgiveness, I’d rather the consequences be passed on down the generations. Those two years I kept telling myself to preserve my life and my breath, to bide my time so I’d get to see the shit hit the fan for them.

When my release date arrived, as was normal I was happy to get out and meet friends. I had freedom again, but I was disoriented. In prison I could fall asleep at nine in the evening. Out here, it turned out, I couldn’t. My eyes were wide awake till morning, like they’d gone out of order. After I was out, I asked myself what to do next. At first I considered abandoning molam. My former clients probably weren’t going to hire me again after years in prison. So I was going to look for a factory job. In the few weeks after release I hopped around staying with various friends. Once I returned to Khon Kaen, my molam teacher said something that made me come to my senses: she told me to go back to being a molam, it’d be a waste of all the learning and the skills gained. So I decided to return to my life as a molam in Khon Kaen.

If you asked what prison took away from me, I’d say confidence. When I was fresh out, I was paranoid about being hated or shunned by friends. I was afraid my friends would say this fucker is going to cause trouble for me, isn’t he? he’s going to drag me to prison with him, isn’t he? My confidence was gone. Ultimately, time helped. Nowadays, I think I’m back to the same me. But it took me quite some time with the doctor to get to today.

These days, I think my worldview has changed. Two plus years in prison woke me up, opened my eyes more to the ways of the system. Friends who used to blow whistles [calling for a freeze on elections and ultimately another coup in 2014], now come crawling back to apologize. I can only say, I told you so! That it would turn out this way; that it would go to shit this way. For my friends, I probably won’t forgive them for their thoughts and actions during that period. But if anyone changes their way of thinking, I’m willing to go back to being good friends. As for the authorities or those with power who made my life go to shit, even if I live out a hundred, a thousand lifetimes, they won’t have my forgiveness. Saying I do what the law requires, I follow orders, I do my duty, is nothing but excuses! Say, I order you to go die, are you gonna do it?

#คืนอิสรภาพ #อุกอั่งคั่งแค้น
Freedom returned. Smoldering with rage.

Our brief interview with “Bank” Patiwat Saraiyaem, stage name “Patiphan Luecha,” some hours after his provisional release from Bangkok Remand Prison on the evening of October 30, 2020. He spent ten days in prison for charges that were incomprehensible to him.

Q: How are you, Older Brother?

A: (in English) Everything is so good… (switches to Isan) Evvverything is good! (true to Bank’s style, always trying to lighten the mood no matter how difficult the circumstances)
How am I? Well I am here… It’s nothing. Ten days after and here I am still upright and not shaken in the slightest. Look. It was the worst kind of stupid for you to put me in prison. You couldn’t even answer me what crime you put me in prison for.
You know what, when we arrived at the Border Patrol Police Region 1 HQ, I saw them take a copy of Mike’s brief and replace his name with mine. I saw it say “Patiwat Jadnok,” hohohoho. What begins in Patiwat must end in Saraiyaem, you know?

Q: Did you get to eat the food we sent?

A: Every meal. It also went to several other detainees and sustained us very well. I got to eat, to fill myself with food every meal.  I don’t know who the sender was, but tasty it was. I gained weight, you see, I didn’t get thinner.
Eat and sleep was all it was. My fellow prisoners from robbery and manslaughter cases, too. We enjoyed our time together. Everybody came to cheer me up all the time. The prison guards weren’t too bad either. Doing their duty, no bullying.

Q: You ate with P’Nattawut, right?

A: Yep! I ate with P’Ten every day. We’ve got to cheer each other up. And P’Ten would always pat me on the head and always crack jokes. And Penguin being all pensive would get to laugh too.
The last meal I had with P’Ten was a salad.

Q: What salad?

A: S’laaadin’ out of prison!

Q: Why did you look so startled right after you came out?

A: Cause there was a struggle right outside the iron bars, the prison bars. And I went, heh..! What are they up to, leaving their van’s backdoor wide open like this. I was the first one out, you see.

Q: Why didn’t you help your friends?

A: (voice cutting) “Get out, get out” so I walked out. And I came hollering outside, all startled and spooked.

(That evening, the court ordered Bank, Rung, Mike, and Penguin’s release but there was chaos at the time of release. Bank came out alone, while the rest were rearrested. Penguin and Mike also got injured in the police van due to an accident.)

Q: How’s your morale?

A: Not shaken in the slightest. In prison I had good morale, because among prisoners we understood each other. But I won’t go to prison for something this stupid ever again.
The most scary for me was the police in Khon Kaen. I asked them who gave you the order? They pointed up to the sky and laughed at me.
When I’m back in Khon Kaen I may rent a car with loudspeakers to go park in front of the Investigation Department around the City Hall and ask them, that gesture you did in my face, who do you mean by that? And is that funny to you?

Q: Any words for your fans before we let you go?

A: I’d like to say thank you to all of you who followed my case. I maintain that I will not forgive any act of evil and cruelty that happened to me. There will be no forgiveness until you die and leave me for good.
Every night before I went to sleep, I’d put a curse on them for putting me in prison. This was to underscore the fact that I couldn’t rely on the courts, I couldn’t rely on science, I couldn’t rely on logic, therefore I had to rely on the occult. In prison, there’s a Buddha image they call Luang Paw Po, who has sacred powers. I performed the curse in front of Luang Paw, did it out loud, with no fear of censure from the guards. I cursed: sadhu der, sadhu der, may your family be wrecked and ruined.
Actually my cursing was just make-believe. I said it so the guards and the other prisoners heard it.
In the name of peace, they did that to me with such…calm. They came and arrested me with no expression on the face, no feeling in the heart, and put me in prison just like that.
When I go back to Khon Kaen, I will do a ritual at an ancient shrine seven days in a row. I will do it in the form of art in my own way. I will bring some chili peppers and some hexing salt under a Chinese date tree (bak tan), so that the curse takes effect at this very date. (Tan means “in time.”) Then another ritual under a corn plant, so that the curse becomes so overwhelming just like corn (khao pot). (Pot means “too much.”) And I will curse in verse.
Even if I can’t do anything to you, I put a curse on you every day, yes, I put a curse on you every day. And from now on others will join in on the cursing.

Q: You sound so, so vengeful, Older Brother.

A: Well it’s a way to alleviate vengefulness. I don’t go kill them. I channel that vengeful energy to the cursing ritual. Release my emotions through cursing.
Report this so it reaches their ears, that this Molam is smirking. Serves you right, putting me in prison for 10 days has done nothing to make your process look better. On the contrary, it accelerates that ruin, closer and closer yet.
Being an activist leader is above Molam Bank’s head. I’m not kaen nam these days. I am kaen nua.

Q: What’s kaen nua?

A: Nua is zaeb, nua is nua, nua is muan. Scrumptious, smooth, fun.


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