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Kukrit Pramoj: หลายชีวิต (Many Lives)

Some time after World War II, Kukrit went with a group of journalist friends to the resort of Bangsaen. While there, they saw the aftermath of a terrible accident – a bus had crashed over a bridge and bodies were strewn all over the place. There was nothing they could do as the authorities were already there. One of the journalists asked what these people might have had in common to bring them to such a horrible end. It was suggested that they write a book, with each person contributing the story of a life. Kukrit wrote the first but none of the others made a contribution, so Kukrit decided to write the stories himself, only using a boat journey from Bangsaen to Bangkok as the background. Each story ends with the person’s death in the accident and how their body is seen. There are twelve stories as well as a prologue and epilogue.

If there is a connection, in terms of either background or karma, with these twelve, it is not clear, except that all the characters seem to abandon their parents. All of them have something in their background of which they might not be too proud but then virtually everyone in the real world does. One of them is close to saintly, others are very flawed people. They all come from different backgrounds, rich and poor. The original story that Kukrit wrote for the joint work is the first story here and is about Loi the Bandit. Obviously, he has a lot of bad karma. He was a foundling and Phrim, the woman that did find him, looked after him and really cared for him. Not only was he a ruthless bandit responsible for many deaths, including that of the bandit leader, he was also very much a ladies’ man. However, he was skilful in hiding his identity and his neighbours did not know who he was.

Loi is followed by the opposite – the Venerable Sem, a very holy man. He does leave his widowed mother to become a monk but she is well off. His other fault was that, in his early life as a monk, he tried to attains supernatural powers but was brought to his senses by a lowly beggar. The third story is another change of tone with Phanni the Prostitute. She was sold, as a girl, to a rich woman, who treated her badly so she escaped, as a fourteen-year old, slipping into prostitution was an easy way out and a profession she readily followed, . She was very successful at it. Lek the Prince who tried to disguise his royal origins, Phon the Actor, ruthless in advancing his career and also a man who abandoned his parents, Lamon the Daughter, tied to her mother, Nori the Writer who becomes a drunk, Linchong the Mother, with a mentally retarded child, Chan the Soldier whose career is successful but whose retirement is not, Thongproi, the thoroughly spoilt rich girl and Saeng the Doctor, who cannot defeat death, make up the rest. Kukrit does not mention in his epilogue what their common karma is, if, indeed they have one. So we must draw our conclusions. Leaving their parents and being unlucky in love seem to be the two main strands. Whether we are concerned about the karma or not, Kukrit’s tales are poignant and well-told.

Publishing history

First published by Khlangwitthayā in 1956
First English translation by Silkworm Books in 1996
Translated by Meredith Borthwick