Wednesday, April 15, 2009


From my apartment window I can see a group of celebrating Songkarn. Yes, it is supposed to be the last day of the festival. But because of the political troubles in Bangkok over the past one week, celebrations in the last few days were quite muted. Now that there is some kind of peace, the revelers have come out.

Songkarn is the time of the Thai New Year. People celebrate it by smearing a white paste and throwing water on each other. The white paste is supposed to ward off evil and water is a symbol of purification – by throwing water one cleanses the self of all sins.

SO during Songkarn, one finds groups of people in street corners armed with water sprinklers, small buckets backed up by huge drums and bowls of white paste – stopping vehicles and exchanging New Year greetings. Yes, invariably there is some racy music playing in the background and when there is a lull in the number of passing vehicles the revelers have a dancing session on the street. There are also these mobile revelers on pick-up trucks – families, children pile up on the back of their pick-up truck accompanied with a big drum of water – washing sins and getting their sins washed as they cruise across the city.

Coming from Delhi, I invariably remember Holi during this time. I also remember how I used to dread the approach of Holi – from atleast ten days before the festival, one had to become guarded, be on constant guard against the attack from water balloons. One could not venture out on foot without being hit. The worst was when you were going out in the morning – going out for work and then getting drenched. And sometimes the balloon hit you in the eye, or the stomach or the backbone – and it was so painful.

But there is something about this group of people that I am watching now. I see a few people riding motorcycles do a small 'wai' (a gesture with folded hands) perhaps indicating that they do not wish to be drenched and the revelers return their wai by refraining from throwing water on them. They don't throw water on motorcycles driving at high speed. They also don't throw water on people walking on the road and whose clothes are dry. Though standing on the road, they seem to celebrating with those on the motorcycles and pick-up trucks who want to celebrate with them. There is even one person with a whistle – guiding traffic as they stop pick-up trucks.

Yes, there are a number of deaths during Songkarn because of the use of high-powered water guns on unprotected drivers. There are cases of sexual harassment as well. In some cases, people by evening get a little drunk – and their dancing together with the music gets a bit raunchier. My fear of holi is too great – I am wary of venturing out in the streets. But the few times when I have ventured out in the streets during Songkarn, I have not had any bad experience.

It is rather fun watching the people behave like that – deewana and mastana… I could not find any English words to describe the spirit – getting intoxicated by the act of throwing water on others and dancing and singing…

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The incongruity of it all

The Thai New Year festivities begin today. From my apartment I hear cars with blaring music zipping by. I hear the joyous shrieks of people, perhaps they are spraying water on each other. Occasionally I can also hear gangs of motorcycle riders passing by boisterously. And since morning someone behind the building is playing music constantly – seems like a party is going on.

Sitting in my home – it would appear that Bangkok is celebrating. But when I log into the internet the newspapers speak about a different drama unfolding in different parts of the city.

Sample this:

13th April: POLITICAL TURMOIL , CRACKDOWN BEGINS: At least 77 were injured as troops, firing tear gas and shots into the air, moved in to retake the Din Daeng intersection near Victory Monument from protesters.

13th April: 10: 53 am: Metropolitan police warn petrol stations against attacks by protesters: Metropolitan Police chief Pol Lt Gen Worapong Chiewpreecha Monday instructed police to warn all petrol stations against possible attacks by protesters.

13th April: 10:45 am: Protesters seize cooking gas tank vehicle and release it to warn troops to stand off: Protesters seized a cooking gas tank and placed it in front of the Din Daeng flats and threatened to blow it if the troops advance to disperse them.

13th April: 10:28 am: Protesters drive cooking gas tank into King Power head office: Protesters droved a LPG gas tank vehicle into the compound of the King Power duty free shop head office on Rangnam Road at 10:25 am Monday, raising fear that they would blow up the tank.

And the update goes on. All train services from one of the major train stations in Bangkok was cancelled today morning. A State of Emergency is in operation since yesterday– meaning if more than 5 people gather in a public place, they are liable to be arrested. As far as I know, red shirt protestors are still gathered in the government house. An hour back the red shirts chased the media out of the protest area – accusing them of biased reporting. So, it is difficult to know what is really happening. To go back a few more days – on Thursday the red supporters were able to block one of the major traffic hubs in the city leading to exasperating traffic congestion. In response the PM declared Friday to be a public holiday. The red shirts then set their target on the ASEAN meeting to be held in Pattaya, an hr from Bangkok. They managed to breach the hotel security..there were clashes with 'blue shirts', local people mobilized to prevent any disruption to the meeting. One would wonder – why not the security forces? What was the need to mobilize local people? The ASEAN meeting had to be cancelled. The PM was embarrassed in front of the world. Infuriated he ordered the arrest of the person who led the invasion into the hotel. The red shirts retaliated – how come one of them could be arrested while the yellow shirts who led the closure of airports last year were not?


Anybody who has been following the situation in Thailand would know that this is a continuation of the events which led to the coup in 2006. Last year the yellow shirt protestors led mass demonstrations, took over the government house, successfully shut down airports in the different provinces and also invaded the international airport in Bangkok resulting in its closure for almost a week. They called their protests – 'pro-democracy movement'. The leaders were never arrested.

And yesterday I received a forward of a mass email sent by Prof Ji Ungpakorn, who has fled to the UK cause of Les Majeste charges against him. From UK he writes: No to the State of Emergency! No to the Military Crack-down! Return Thailand to Democracy Now ! …Thai Red U.K., the association of Redshirts in Britain, condemns the declaration of a State of Emergency by the illegitimate government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. We condemn the Military's use of tanks and live ammunition against protestors. We say no to another coup. We also condemn the arrest of Redshirt leaders and demand that all of them be released. … The behaviour of Redshirts in surrounding the Prime Minister's car or breaking into the hotel in Pattaya to close down the Asian Summit, did not result in serious injury or serious damage to property. This is in contrast to the actions of the Yellowshirts. Both in terms of "Means" and "Ends" the Red and Yellow shirts are opposites. We call on all freedom-loving people throughout the world to support the fight for Democracy in Thailand. We support the recent comments by Redshirt Jakrapop Penkair, when he says that the Thai people have the right to mount a Peoples' Struggle for Democracy.

Some call this 'revolution', some call this 'civil-disobedience' and all sides of the conflict are trying to justify their actions by saying they are true protectors of democracy. I am trying very hard to understand now - what do people mean by all these terms? What is this thing about 'means' and 'ends'. The yellow shirts justified the airport closure last year – generally saying that their 'end' of getting the government to resign was important for Thai society.

This is what the red shirts are saying today…










Thursday, February 12, 2009

I have moved

Dear all, I have moved my blog to a different location. Please click HERE to access my new address.