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320 pages

Sai Seema, a lawyer from the paddy fields,
has his work cut out for him helping his farming relatives

and convincing his lover's aristocratic parents

that he deserves her hand.

This prophetic, 1953 novel about the ghosts of time and rising radicalism in Thai society

is widely considered as a masterpiece of art-for-life literature in twentieth-century Thailand.

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1Her lover was an ordinary man. He had no especially attractive feature or noticeable deformity that would have immediately singled him out among other ordina-ry people. He was neither taller nor shorter than the average Thai man at large, and he came from a family of simple folk who had – to use her own parents’ expres-sion – no blue blood in their veins, whereas she, in the opinion of most, did not stand in the back rows of femi-nine beauty, and was born into an aristocratic family whose ancestors could be traced as far back as the Ayut-thaya kingdom. Yet when these dissimilar man and woman came to meet, befriend and love each other, her father blamed this unforgivable mistake on the modern way of life, which granted women too much freedom. Part of the problem was that women were allowed to study at the university together with male students. Even though access to the various university levels was restricted through high tuition fees and expensive books and services, it was not enough to ensure that only chil-dren of families of suitable or at least almost suitable social standing could attend. True enough, as a rule the children of the poor did not get past the gates of acade-me, but it happened all too often that some of them did manage to sneak their way in, and by mixing and
4socialising with this lowly lot, the other children devel-oped preposterous ideas and were led astray from ac-cepted behaviour, forgetting themselves, their rank and their dignity. And another reason was that women were given the opportunity to leave the house to work in offices, ven-turing out of safe and orderly homes into a wide, wild world full of trickery and deceit. Her father thought that because she had entered uni-versity and studied together with other girls and boys of the same age, some friends of the same sex who were never brought up in good families had put improper ideas into her head. As for the young fellows there who came from lowly families, he thought with contempt that they had no other purpose than to shed their skin and pass themselves off as gentlemen with these girls of good breeding and high standing through all kinds of artifice and fraud. Ratchanee’s grandmother had opposed sending her to senior high school because she could not bear the shame of having to meet and listen to these people and she knew that her granddaughter, who was now a fully grown woman, would have to wear shorts and raise her legs and thrust her bosom and wag her behind and squat and jump in public in what was now an adjunct to education they called ‘physical exercise’ or ‘sport’. She had successfully opposed Ratchanee’s elder sisters from doing the same, which explains why they only gradu-
5 ated at secondary-school level and stayed at their grand-mother’s beck and call for years on end doing nothing but waiting until a bride’s settlement took place and they passed from her custody to someone else’s. It was Ratchanee’s good fortune that she grew up much later than her sisters, and her grandmother’s ill fortune that she had aged so much that she no longer had the strength and stamina to prod and poke until her opinion prevailed and became the supreme law enforced over the whole family as was the case in the past. Ratchanee was thus able to escape from her frighteningly strong embrace. Her mother, who held slightly more advanced opi-nions than her grandmother because she was born a generation later, just kept her misgivings to herself, maybe because she was too weak to oppose her little daughter whom she loved and had always allowed to have her way, and because she could see that times had changed during her own lifetime. These were no longer the days of powder and turmeric but of all kinds of goods with foreign-sounding names that those overseas creatures made and sent over to sell, names so odd that a sheltered woman in her fifties could neither catch nor remember them. Her childhood was all topknots and anklets, and her adolescence had meant a belt of splendid brass. She still remembered the ceremo-ny of cutting the topknot, a magnificent and protracted affair which had left her sore and exhausted to the point
6of collapse. But these days such rites were all gone. Only Ratchanee’s two elder sisters had worn topknots, but the cutting ceremony had been so simplified as to be hardly a ceremony at all. Ratchanee was the only one who had not worn a topknot as a child, and when she came of age she did not show any interest in a copper or brass belt. She was satisfied with a mere leather belt that cost noth-ing much at all, and simply asked for different colours – red, green, brown, blue – to match the shirts and skirts she wore. Gone were the days of silk robes and chintzes and loose bodices and simple cloth wrapped around the waist or tied at the back; now it was all trousers for men and skirts for women. Gone also were the days of pow-der and turmeric and beeswax, replaced by creams and lipsticks and hair lotions. Ratchanee’s elder sisters were both married and had households of their own, which was extremely fortunate because it left only this youngest daughter to fuss about, and her mother looked at Ratchanee with constant worry in her heart, silently praying for her, hoping for some kind of miracle which would turn her again into the good girl she used to be, amid all the changes that were going on everywhere… When they first met, Ratchanee became interested in the young man for only one reason, which is that he did not show any kind of interest in her at all. When one of her friends introduced him, he did not utter a word, not even that he was pleased to meet her, as everybody says upon being introduced. Even though she was old
7 enough to know that the sentence usually carried no meaning and was blurted out automatically for the sake of politeness, she still would have liked to hear it, and she thought with contempt that that fellow had no manners at all. As he sat in front of her, he spoke very little and in a half-hearted manner. She believed it was for the man to strike up a conversation and that the woman should wait before pitching in. So she waited, but he showed no inclination to talk, and both remained silent. She looked at him repeatedly from the corner of her eye and sensed that he felt no less oppressed than she did. As she went to leave, her friend, who was the owner of the house, and who was busy chatting with the other guests, saw that he was sitting idly by, so she asked him to do her the favour of accompanying Ratchanee to her car, which was waiting at the entrance of the lane. ‘Thank you, that won’t be necessary, I can take care of myself,’ Ratchanee said with a sarcastic undertone when she saw him standing up. He did not say anything and looked as if he had not noticed her tone but he followed her to the door, so she turned around and looked him in the face in a way which meant ‘Didn’t you understand what I said?’ His impassive face seemed to show some sort of concern. ‘…unless it bothers you,’ he muttered. The fierce glitter in her eyes abated and he must have understood from her expression that she would not
8object because he went on following her quietly. She was not going to keep her feelings to herself any longer, so she turned to him and asked bluntly: ‘Why are you fol-lowing me?’ He looked at a loss. ‘Well, I’m seeing you to your car, aren’t I?’ ‘You don’t want to know me or even talk to me, isn’t that so?’ ‘I never said that, or if you think I did, then tell me where and when it happened.’ ‘Your behaviour is more telling than anything you say.’ ‘What!’ he exclaimed, then fell silent. Ratchanee thought that his remark, indeed his whole attitude, was a deliberate and outrageous provocation and she felt utterly offended. ‘You misunderstand my reserve and restraint,’ he said forcefully. ‘Restraint?’ Ratchanee repeated in a loud voice and thought that he was lamely trying to excuse himself. He nodded. ‘I’m restraining myself in front of you for two reasons. The first is that I know who you are, and the second is that you’re a beautiful woman and you’re well aware of it. You’ve seen enough men fall over themselves in their eagerness to approach you. Indeed you’re beautiful and I don’t deny it, but I’m not one of those men and, as for the first reason, you and I are as different as the sky and the earth.’
9 Ratchanee blushed deeply, seething inside. She had never heard such infuriating probing. ‘You only know that my name is Citizen Sai and my surname Seema,’ he went on. ‘You still don’t know who I am. Therefore you can’t understand my own restraint. People with different stations in life see everything differently. But this isn’t your fault, and anyway there’s one thing I appreciate in you, and that’s your frankness. When you’re upset, you say so without beating about the bush. That’s something that’s hard to find – I think that once you know me better, you’ll understand me better.’ Ratchanee shook her head brusquely, entered the car, slammed the door and drove away without a goodbye. That night, Ratchanee could not sleep. She kept think-ing of the man called Citizen Sai Seema with a feeling of hurt. He had said he and she were as different as sky and earth. Who was the sky? And who the earth? ‘Am I the sky? If I am the sky, does it mean that I may socialise and talk only with the other denizens of the sky? that I may not talk with the common folk? Or is there some-thing objectionable in me?’ Ratchanee, too, was aware of belonging to the aristocracy, an awareness derived from her domestic environment since childhood. She used to hear her senior relatives refer to some people as ‘com-moners’ or as ‘the rabble’. At first, she could not under-stand what this meant, but when memory took her back to the time when she had been old enough to think for
10herself, she found that much of what had happened to her since then gave the words a concrete meaning. She remembered that, as a child, she had been strictly for-bidden to play with the children of the servants or of the distant relatives who stayed in the house as half servants and half relatives, but she had always managed to do so anyway, because she had no other friends to play with. Her sisters were too old to enjoy playing with a little girl like her. There were times when well-groomed children came to her house in a car with their parents, and her own parents told her to play with those children while the adults talked. But this rarely happened and besides, the children would bully her and lay claim to her toys every time. Ratchanee thus could not help but sneak out to play with the children in the house. Were it not for them, her life as a child would have been very lonely and forlorn. She was aware that she dressed more beau-tifully and cleanly and had more toys, but these children never bullied her and never tried to take her toys, even though they had practically none of their own. She had a nanny who looked after her day in, day out. Whenever Ratchanee was caught playing downstairs, she would be taken away and given a good scrub and then confined to the house. The more she grew up, the more fed up she grew with her nanny. After she had sneaked out many times, she found that the children were trying to stay away from her as much as possible and looked scared when she invited them to play with her: the master of
11 the house had ordered their parents to forbid them to play with her. This edict proved more effective than trying to keep her confined in the house. ‘I’m now old enough to talk or socialise with anyone,’ Ratchanee thought, and she could not see how someone like her could be objectionable to anyone. ‘If there is any repugnance in social contacts, it’s only from upper class people towards the lower classes,’ Ratchanee thought further. ‘There is none from the low-er classes towards the upper class. But I don’t mind socialising with people of a lower social condition so long as they are good people. Isn’t goodness, rather than wealth, rank or lineage, the only yardstick to measure human worth? I have many friends whom I can call dear friends and who are much inferior to me in social stand-ing, and yet I hold them dear because of their goodness. But this man is so conceited!’ Memories of her childhood flashed across her mind. The apprehension of the chil-dren in her house who had not dared to play around and be on familiar terms with her made her feel uncom-fortable. ‘But then, actually, he looked straightforward and courteous enough, and I have a feeling that he spoke from the bottom of his heart. Perhaps he has been scorn-ed by some arrogant people in the past. There are plenty of conceited grandees always ready to look down on others, but I’m not one of them,’ Ratchanee told herself firmly. ‘I’m educated and modern enough to know what
12the true value of a person is. Status and money aren’t important to me at all. It is goodness that I respect and use as a yardstick in dealing with people at large.’ ‘He looked so straightforward, though. He said I was beautiful and men were falling over themselves in their eagerness to approach me. How dare he make such a sarcastic remark! I’m no movie or stage star, you know. “I’m not one of those men.” Who are “those men”? And then, who are you?’ Ratchanee asked resentfully in her mind and felt sorry to have let anger get the better of her before she could wrangle with him to the end. ‘Wait and see! When I meet you again, I’ll deal with you once and for all.’ ‘Oh, what an infuriating man!’