Saturday, August 29, 2009
Thai writer Ob Jayavasu's life as the famous 'Humorist'
from the article,
From his very first piece there, Ma Jing Jing Pen Yarng Rai (What Exactly Is a Horse?), Ob carved for himself a distinct genre of humorous writing, one that is a mix of wit and subtlety and has little to do with vulgar innuendoes. His command of the Thai language is second to none, and being quintessentially Thai in nature, often makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to translate. Every now and then, though, there is even a tinge of melancholy, or one could say, dark humour cloaked underneath the so-called comedy.
Another constant trait in most of Ob's works is the presence of the character "I", or layers of "I", which allows the writer to play with the blur between what seems to be drawn from his personal life and his imagination, mocking his own sense of identity and importance.
In Ekkaphot Burut Thi Nueng (The First Person - Singular), Ob continues to play with the fluidity of this stock character. From the outset, he stresses how the "I" in the story is not the same as the "I" whose name appears as its writer. Written in 1947, the plot is a mischievous postmodern (if one could apply such a term) satire of how a writer discovered fame after he has been presumed dead by the public.
"If, say, after we died, and people started praising us tremendously, we become hugely famous, our works greatly admired, shouldn't we die then and there? Wouldn't death be better than being alive?"
At 81, Ob confided to an interviewer that Ekkaphot Burut Thi Nueng was his favourite piece, for it reflects the truth about a writer's existence as accolades usually come only posthumously.
In retrospect, however, Ob had quite a blessed life. Despite the minor glitches in his teaching and journalism careers, the man was recognised for his scholarship and contributions to the corpus of Thai language. He was declared a National Artist in 1986 and received the prestigious Phra Kiew golden award from Chulalongkorn University for his role in promoting the Thai language in the same year.
In the past couple of years, some of his works have been reissued. A collection of seven short stories has been put on the "one hundred books every Thai should read" compiled by the Thailand Research Fund.
It remains to be seen how many of Humorist's works will continue to be appreciated by the Thai public. In fact, a number of Thai writers have acknowledged the man's unique, well-polished prose as being influential in their formative years. Among them is SEA Write laureate Prabda Yoon.
"His life and works represent perfect humanism in my eye," Says Prabda. "His works are fun, humorous, stinging, witty, modern and diverse. They reflect the society, and the [writer's] mastery of language, both in Thai and English, someone who can convey messages breezily. He does not set himself up as a scholar or leader, nor does he try to impose any particular set of ideology on anyone. His personal life was quite colourful. He befriended all the interesting figures of his time. But he also had a peaceful side - he stayed quietly at home, had a good family and died of old age. I cannot think of anyone who enjoyed a better life than this."
Posted by Chris Mansel at 10:49 PM