Right on track

Two plays adapted from short stories by celebrated author Sri Daoruang

Author Sri Daoruang, her husband, magazine and literary editor Suchart Sawadsri and their son live by a rail track and use the train as their main mode of transport. The deep connection this literary family has with the train is well-known. And the train track figures prominently in many of Sri Daoruang's short stories.

Phap Luang Ta Ti Neun Mafeung runs from today until Sun,March31at7.30pm (with3pmmatinees onSaturday andSunday). Tickets are 350 baht (300 baht for students). Call 081-929-4246 or 084-174-2729. Visit www.crescentmoontheatre.org.

To celebrate the author's 72nd year, Crescent Moon Theatre will stage Phap Luang Ta Ti Neun Mafeung, where two short plays adapted from Sri Daoruang's short story Phap Luang Ta and novella Neun Mafeung, will be featured back to back.

"Her writing is not overwrought; it's not vociferous. Her language is not aggressive. It's slow and gentle. But are her stories controversial? They're very controversial," director Sineenadh says of Sri Daoruang.

In both stories, the action takes place near the rail track and on the train. Both stories feature women as the central characters.

"I love female characters," Sineenadh says. "And what I love about Sri Daoruang's female characters is that they are quiet and subtle. Sometimes you don't even realise until much later that what she talks about is choice. These women choose these lives for themselves."

Phap Luang Ta comes from a short story collection of the same name written in 1989. Sri Daoruang weaves different perspectives together to tell a story of a woman, her husband with whom she has a child and her lover.

"Single mothers were rare in the 1980s. I was interested in how the character in Phap Luang Ta decides not to remarry and instead becomes a single mother," Sineenadh says.

Neun Mafeung revolves around a group of teenagers whose lives intersect at the train track that cuts through the titular rural town.

"The main female characters [in Neun Mafeung] didn't wait for their father to choose for them. They didn't wait for their lovers to help them. They decided for themselves.They made their own choice," Sineenadh says.

Sineenadh has been reading Sri Daoruang since her university days. And it's the way the author writes about women that excited the young Sineenadh.

The first story by Sri Daoruang that Sineenadh read was Matsi, about a young woman arrested for abandoning her child at a bus stop. In 2002, Sineenadh adapted the story into a short film in collaboration with Thammasat University's master's programme in Women's Studies. The story is, in a way, a re-telling of the tale of Prince Wessandorn (the last incarnation of Lord Buddha before his final one as Gautama) who gives away children to Chuchok after the latter asked to give them to his wife as servants.

In the original tale, Wessandorn's wife Matsi says nothing of her husband's action and continues as a devoted wife. The modern day Matsi, as depicted by Sri Daoruang, tries to make the police officer see the justice in her abandoning her child and the injustice in the social expectations of women and motherhood.

"I was like, 'This is the voice of women! This is so feminist!"' Sineenadh recalls.

Known for her quiet and soft-spoken ways, Sri Daoruang (nom de plume of Wanna Tappanont) was born to a father who worked at the train station and a mother who was a hawker. She left school after grade 4 to start working in Bangkok and went through a series of odd jobs _ from being a maid to a factory worker.

Her first short story was published in 1975, and the publication launched a speculation about the true identity of the author. Many thought the author was a man, and some even speculated that Sri Daoruang was the pseudonym of her partner Suchart Sawadsri, whom she had met during the Oct 14, 1973 student uprising. It was not until four years later that Sri Daoruang revealed herself to the public, and only after someone else had claimed to be her and announced that he was coming out with a collection of short stories.

Social realist literature had an important influence on her early work, in which she often depicted the reality of factory workers. She later turned to domestic issues and gender relations.

Private and indifferent to fame and recognition, the writer remains a quietly respected literary figure for certain generations of readers and writers, especially female ones. Some think that she deserves more attention and accolade than what she has been getting. On the international scene, several of Sri Daoruang's short stories have been translated into English, and her work has been studied by academics in the UK and the US. In Thailand today, her books have become extremely difficult to find in bookshops.

Not too unlike Sri Daoruang, Sineenadh is also a consistently hard working artist, committed to women's issues and to shining the spotlight on female artists. While many of Sri Daoruang's stories contain autobiographical details, Sineenadh recognises her own life in them as well.

"Neun Mafeung reminds me of my childhood, of my friends when we were these characters' age," Sineenadh says.

The director recalls the time when there was still no electricity in the rural town where she grew up, when her classmates had to quit school to work in the fields. "And I never saw them again. I don't know how they've ended up. I'm the lucky one. I got to finish school, and my life went in another direction. But what about the rest of my peers, especially those in the agricultural sector? Some of them really struggled with money."

Sineenadh also consulted Sri Daoruang about her stories and even sent her the scripts, but the director said the writer didn't say anything about the adaptation, except that she would come to see the plays. "She said something adorable though. She said, 'I'm already 72. I wrote [these stories] a while back, and I'm starting to forget what I wrote. It's great that you're doing it. I'm going to go back and read them again, too."

About the author

Writer: Amitha Amranand
Position: Reporter