Translated by Mui Poopoksakul
Before it’s all too late, may I tell you, dear readers, that my name is not Marut? And I’m not sitting by the sea at all. If you want me to confess, I must admit that I don’t know my own name or what kind of landscape surrounds me. I might be standing in front of a train station. I might be walking in an untamed jungle. I might be sleeping in a spaceship that’s traveling to a faraway galaxy. The possibilities in that regard are limitless. I’m sorry—I might not even be a person. You might be reading the confession of a booger. Who knows?
There’s this guy. He likes to think that he knows it all. He bosses people around and creates their destinies as if he were God. Plus, deep down in his unconscious, he secretly believes that he’s so smart, that he’s a top-notch philosopher just about in a class of his own, that he’s attained all the Noble Truths of Buddhism, that he’s enlightened in the intricate workings of the cycles of nature, that he gives life and breath to cows and buffaloes that he molds out of clay, that he can shape stories out of emptiness. Watch out. He’s a major con artist. Don’t waste your precious time with his nonsense. He might amaze you. He might write some words that tug on your heart strings. He might have some unusual perspectives you find charming. He might lead you to believe he has something important to say. But believe me, every single thing that you think you learn from him in fact comes from you yourself. As the Thai expression says, grandma’s treats bought with grandma’s money. That’s what it is. People like him are the most dangerous people in society. He dangles your humanity in front of you for you to buy. The more you buy it, the more influence he has over your brain cells. Eventually, one day, without your knowing it, every sentence that passes through your head will have him puppeteering from behind the scenes.
You have to count yourself very lucky that you happen to be reading my exposé today. Let me tell you something—but don’t pity me once you’ve heard it—because it’s something that’s bound to happen sooner or later.
I can’t stay and continue with my exposé that you’re reading for long. In a moment, I’m going to vanish into thin air. And we shall never meet again. Therefore, you should maximize your time with me while I’m still here. It’s to your own great benefit.
Prabda Yoon, whose name appears below the pathetic and untrustworthy title above my message, that’s him, the guy I’m talking about. He’s the one who upped and decided that my name was Marut. He’s the one who wants to order me to sit by the sea. He probably thinks the title is so snappy and snazzy, “Marut by the Sea.” I want to laugh my head off. Did you know that when the incomparable Mr. Prabda dreamed up this title in the brain that, in his head, is massive, he still had no idea what the story was going to be about? Now that you know, what do you think? You must be thinking something like I’m thinking. This guy’s a scammer!
OK, for fun, let’s experiment and help this Yoon brainstorm. Suppose my name is Marut, and I have to sit by the sea for some reason. What should my emotions be when I sit and stare at the sea? Maybe I feel lonely. That’s the easiest feeling, either lonely or sad. People go to sit and look out at the ocean to let go of unhappiness, don’t they? The amount of water is huge. Plus it’s salty. It fits with the amount of sorrow that’s flooding inside, eroding the heart with a saltiness that’s hard to cure. How’s that? This kind of story is bound to tickle the emotions of one or two impressionable people. Moved as they read, these people fall prey to Yoon and become his emotional slaves. It’s that easy.
Or if we want to give Yoon a little more credit, maybe he’s not the type to dream up something so simple. Suppose the story is complex and full of artistic and linguistic refinement (yeah, right). Suppose we don’t know who Marut is. He’s not even the protagonist of the story. Let’s say the real main character is a child (to give off the impression that Prabda likes children). Let’s say it’s a boy named Asshole. (Oh, he likes these unusual names that get your attention). Befitting his name, the kid is a surly rascal. He doesn’t listen to his parents. If his mother touches him a little, he kicks her. If his father pets him a bit, he slaps him. He wins the award for the nation’s most ungrateful child. Then one day, little Asshole’s parents couldn’t put up with it anymore. They decide to stuff their evil child in a sack, throw him in the trunk of the car and head for a quiet sea somewhere to send little Asshole floating off far away from their eyes and ears. When they get to the seaside and finish their intended business, they get back into the car and prepare to drive home. Suddenly, a man walks by their car. It’s none other than Marut. He strolls along until he decides to plunk himself down on a spot on the sand. He looks straight out at the horizon. To have Marut sit by the sea, that’s all we need.
Believe me, Prabda’s stories don’t get any better than this. I myself could write ten or twenty a day. But I might kill myself first—it’s too easy. In particular, the examples I brought up, that’s his specialty. It’s the type where he comes up with a bizarre story and then makes it end cryptically in a manner where the harder it is to understand, the better. If you try asking Sir Yoon what the meaning of each of his stories is, believe me, he’d chuckle deviously, heh heh, before answering, “Why don’t you try asking each story yourself?” Or else, “The meaning? What do you think the meaning of your life is? The meaning of my story is the same.” Or, “If I knew, why on earth would I write?” Or, “Not knowing is the purest knowledge.” Listening to that makes me want to strangle him until his eyes pop out of their sockets. People of that sort deserve to die and nothing more.
Do you know what problems they have in life, those people who are writers or call themselves writers? Oh, they have a lot of problems. They’re the type who’ve had trouble integrating into society since they were children. They think everything is terrible. Ugh! They’ll comment on all sorts of things—from the cleanliness of tap water to religious wars in extremist countries. They know it all because they’re afraid of not being smart. They’re afraid people will think they’re retarded. They can’t stand to be labeled as stupid. Why? Because they hate stupid people to the bone. They complain day and night that world civilization is deteriorating. Who do you think is making it deteriorate? People like Prabda are at the crux of it. Not only do they not make themselves useful, they create only negative sentiment that is piling up thicker and thicker over time and causing society to be burdened with nonsensical deadweight. One day, it’s going to sink into the ocean.
Prabda, he acts as if he’s easygoing. He wears T-shirts, simple pants, and walks around on the street trying to look as down to earth as possible. People like him sometimes favor the local traditional wear or garment from some tribe or another, as if they’re trying to preserve some kind of phony culture. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find most of these people have nothing to do with said culture whatsoever. It’s largely trend-following that can be called culture only as practiced by corny artists, and it’s especially perpetuated by those who like to preach to the younger generations at bars from evening until morning. These people should have all their teeth pulled from their mouths, and then all the plucked teeth should be placed in a glass case and exhibited as a cautionary tale, so the public will realize the true cause of the decline of the world’s civilization.
You might have a book (or several) that you cherish as the book that will always have a special place in your heart. It might be a book that made you cry your eyes out. It might be a book that made you laugh. Or it might be a book that gave you hope and inspiration to continue living your life. Readers, believe me: take that book out of your heart and burn it. Don’t let a few hundred sheets of paper, a few cartridges of ink, or a few hundred thousand or a few million letters put boundaries on your life. You should comprehend by now, given my elaboration thus far, that whoever wrote that book dearest to you is no finer human being than anyone else. He has no clue what he’s done. Do you know how I got the opportunity to pop up and communicate with you today? The reason is simple. Prabda hasn’t come up with why Marut is sitting by the sea.
You might be thinking that I’m part of his genius. Don’t. You might be admiring him because he has creativity to spare. Because he uses deep and strange ideas to write stories that are complex and layered. I’m honestly not his character. He didn’t create me to fool around on this page. And as soon as he sees what’s happening underneath his fancy title, I’ll disappear from this world of letters immediately. He definitely won’t let me continue to roam free.
Don’t think I’m scared. I even want him to deal with me quickly so I’ll finally escape my worthless situation. I can’t stand playing a part like this in the imagination that fools the world. The faster he gets rid of me, the better. Hey! Come, buddy! Yoon! This way! I’m here, jerk! Can you hear me, stupid?
I guess he’s still sitting with his brain empty somewhere. So pathetic, don’t you think? He thinks he wants to be a writer, to move ideas from the world of imagination through writing. He can barely move feces through his rectum, never mind imagination.
While we still have some time, why don’t we help Prabda think about how he can improve his life? Is it possible for him to keep doing what he does with a purer heart? What can he do to stop deceiving people?
First, I think he absolutely must admit to himself and society that he’s stupid. Yes, his IQ is no higher than a duck’s (which is a reasonable IQ since ducks, as far as birds go, have pretty decent ideas), and he has no right to share the few thoughts that he has with other people. No, I don’t want him to sit at home doing nothing. He should spend most of his time sweeping public roads, watering plants under elevated highways, or wiping windows around the city until they’re sparkling clean, before he takes up the task of moving whatever he wants through whatever channel.
How do I know Prabda is stupid? Of course I know. I’ve known him since his brain was just developing. Did you know that Prabda likes to tell all sorts of people that he loves to read with his heart and soul? But does anyone know how many books he’s really finished in his reading life? Oh, the number isn’t that high in the double digits. The ones he really remembers are even fewer. He might talk a lot, as if he knows this and that work of literature aplenty. In all seriousness, if you make him take an exam to test his knowledge of the world’s influential literature, he might be able to answer two or three questions tops. The rest would be blabber, just as he has blabbered his way through life since he was kid. He might consistently be able to bring up authors’ names—he especially likes to refer to those known to write books that are difficult to read. Why? Because he knows the more challenging the book, the fewer the people who’ve made it through them. It’s a crafty strategy to cover up his ignorance. This is a sad fact that he has to face and accept before he can hunker down and create more work.
You might be thinking to yourself, why do I hold such a grudge against this young man? Oh, I’m no more interested in him than I am in dust particles in the air. But whenever I get the chance to come out and expose what I genuinely know, I have to use the time as wisely as possible. No matter what, Prabda has more influence than I do anyway—he’s out there; I’m in here. At the end of the day, I can’t compete with him. When I see the opportunity to exert some influence, I have to let it out as much as possible. Don’t hold it against me. You might even come to want to thank me at some point. I might be opening your eyes, be it a lot or a little.
I don’t even want to think about how Prabda’s future is going to turn out if he keeps behaving the way he’s acting now. Oh readers, let’s help him out a bit. Don’t let him wallow in his false beliefs. Let me tell you, he thinks he’s free, at least free in terms of thought. That’s what he said. I’ll tell you for your own good—you all should heed this, too, because there are many among you who think the same as Prabda—freedom, whether physical or mental, doesn’t exist. Physically, everyone is a slave to the air, the sun, water and food. Mentally, at least the majority of people are slaves to language, culture, tradition, etc. People’s servitude is so et cetera. So don’t make me laugh by saying that you’re a free thinker. Do you want me to prove it to you?
You see only that, and yet your mind can’t help but follow along. Everyone knows the word “appendix.” You think whenever someone utters the word “appendix,” you know for sure what the person is talking about. But how many times in your life have you seen an appendix? Some people may have never seen one at all. Nevertheless, you’ve made up your mind that you know what an appendix is. That’s enslavement to language. It creates an image in your head even though you’ve never had any first-hand experience with what’s behind that word. Don’t let me bring up the head or the heart. Otherwise it might get too deep, and we’d venture too far into Prabda’s favorite territory.
I know that I’m wasting my energy because the outside world to which you all belong is ultimately going to continue its course as before. What can I fix all by myself? Prabda will continue to be besotted with his own imagination. But please, I’m praying that he doesn’t become any more successful than this. May people increasingly discover his true colors over time and turn away from every single one of his letters. And when that day comes, he might go and do a bit of something that’s actually useful. I still maintain that he should go and sweep the streets.
There. I feel Prabda’s imagination creeping near. My surroundings are starting to get colorful, to take shape and form. I’m starting to see the outlines of myself. OK, come here, stupid! You can fool other people, but you can’t fool me. Here! Do what you want with me. Give me my face, layer on my personality as you want. Construct a storyline for me as you please. I’m always ready. At least I got to use the time up until now to humiliate you to my moderate satisfaction. Oh, it’s here. A square frame. A white box. Don’t tell me it’s a room. Oh! If I’d bought a lottery ticket, I would’ve won the jackpot. It’s really a room. What kind of room is this? There are purple curtains. How passé. There, a window’s popped up. A table, a chair, a bed, pillows, bed sheets, a blanket, a lamp, a door, a phone, a mirror, a TV. Hey, you! Why is the TV such an old model? A wardrobe, a refrigerator. Oh, there’s even a picture on the wall. How much are you going to promote the arts? Don’t tell me this is a hotel room. There, there’s even a white towel hanging on the back of the chair, too. Ooh! There’s even a balcony. Not too shabby. Aaah, my body is starting to acquire flesh and blood, dear readers. In a second, my face will appear. In a second we’ll know . . .
My name is Marut. What I see through the window in front of me is a boundless ocean.
The indigo water stares at my face without blinking.
Prabda Yoon gained prominence as the author who popularized postmodern narrative techniques in contemporary Thai literature. A key voice of urban Thailand, he is the author of multiple short-story collections and novels. He won the S.E.A. Write Award for Kwam Na Ja Pen in 2002.
Mui Poopoksakul is a lawyer-turned-translator. She holds an M.A. in cultural translation from the American University of Paris, where she translated Prabda Yoon’s short-story collection Kwam Na Ja Pen (Pen in Parentheses) for her thesis. She also studied literature as an undergraduate at Harvard and is Thailand Editor-at-Large at Asymptote. She is now based in Germany but returns to Thailand often.
Original text: Prabda Yoon, “มารุตมองทะเล” from ความน่าจะเป็น. Bangkok: Typhoon Books, 2013 (39th edition) (first publication in 2000 by Sudsapda Books).