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noblesse oblige DORKMAI SOT



© THAI MODERN CLASSICS Internet edition 2008 | All rights reserved Original Thai edition, Phoo Dee, 1937



1 The big, brand-new automobile, the classiest model of the day, moved away from the front of the house as smoothly as a boat going with the flow. A young lady whose every feature well matched the elegance of the car turned to smile and wave at the young man who was her brother and then the vehicle turned past the gate of the family compound and was gone. It motored along a gravel road whose pitted surface far from matched the slickness of the vehicle but increased its worth as the driver thought of the old car whose steering wheel he had held for years plying the Phya Thai district and whose bumpy rides were not easy to forget. The young woman who sat behind him seemed to have thoughts akin to his. She asked him, ‘Well, Jui, do you miss our old Morris?’ Pleasure appeared on the driver’s face, but he did not answer. His young employer went on: ‘Don’t forget to stop by Miss Sutjai’s house.’ The car motored on for quite some time before it stopped in front of the main gate of a house. ‘Hoot the horn, will you, Jui,’ the young woman ordered. The hoot resounded at once and then Jui left his seat with the guarded manners of a trusted house servant NOBLESSE OBLIGE | DORKMAI SOT

4 and went to stand composed beside the car, ready to listen to further instructions. The young woman looked at the house in front of her. It was a two-storey wooden house, so old that you could hardly guess at the colour of its original paint. All windows within sight were open. To one side flapped some white cloth. From the front of the house you couldn’t see clearly what it was, but an observer could tell that it must be pillowcases or bed sheets. By now it was about four twenty in the afternoon; the sunlight was still strong enough to cleanse the washing or else the housekeeper was still busy with other tasks and hadn’t had time to tell the maid to bring it in. ‘Jui, hoot the horn again.’ The driver did as he was asked. Just as the hooting stopped, a young woman’s head appeared at a window, peered out at the car, and then pulled back. When the woman below saw her, she uttered a faint cry of surprise. Then she stretched out her hand to grab the handle to open the car door but couldn’t do it. Jui was the one to open it, after which he went to open the gate. This set off loud chimes. The woman in the house peered out of the window for the second time and saw the person entering the gate. ‘Oh, it’s you, Wimon. Whose car did you come in?’ ‘Well, mine actually,’ was the answer. ‘How come you aren’t dressed yet?’ DORKMAI SOT | NOBLESSE OBLIGE

5 A middle-aged lady walked out of a first-floor room and said in greeting, ‘Oh, Young Wimon. Such boisterous shouting. I was wondering who it was.’ The young woman laughed lightly. ‘I’ve come to pick up Sutjai, Auntie,’ she answered. The older woman nodded. ‘She’s getting dressed. I don’t know how come she isn’t ready: she’s been at it since morning.’ Wimon looked up through the window again. She didn’t see Sutjai, so she walked on and went up the flight of steps, telling the older woman, ‘I’ll go and help her,’ then climbed the stairs leading to the second floor. At the top of the stairs, she walked the length of a rather dark veranda past the doors of two rooms. She didn’t try to peer inside as she was used to the general untidiness of the house. It was only when she reached the third room that she turned and went through its door. The first thing that she saw was Miss Sutjai’s face in the mirror and then that picture moved as Sutjai turned round to face Wimon, her hand holding a red lipstick close to her mouth. She said, ‘Just a second. I shan’t be a minute. I’m almost done,’ then turned back to the mirror. Wimon went to stand beside the dressing table, looked at Sutjai closely and saw beads of sweat seeping through the cream and powder on her forehead. So she said charitably, ‘No need to hurry so much, you know.’ Then NOBLESSE OBLIGE | DORKMAI SOT

6 she asked further, ‘How come you’ve only started to get dressed after I‘ve arrived so you have to hurry like this? Look at you: the weather is rather cool, yet your face is all sweaty.’ ‘As well it should,’ Sutjai answered, sounding annoyed, ‘what with having to do so much. I’ve got to do everything myself. Look at this.’ She turned her back towards Wimon. ‘Do you see my blouse? Right here, at the waist. Can you see?’ Wimon looked at the blouse critically. She saw nothing wrong that should upset its owner, so she said, ‘I can’t see anything wrong with it. There are only these two pleats, which look fine.’ ‘I had to pleat the blouse because it’s rented, that’s why,’ Sutjai answered. She dropped the red stick on the table, picked up a black stick and high-lined her almost inexistent eyebrows. ‘I meant to take a bath by three thirty to be ready by the time you came, but as soon as I took this blouse to iron it, Mother wanted me to iron hers as well. So I had to iron her two blouses before I could iron my own. That devil of a blouse tore, so I had to stitch it. How could I not be late?’ Wimon listened resignedly, her eyes on her relative’s eyebrows that had been drawn into a half-moon-like curve. Sutjai dropped the black stick, picked up a comb and combed her hair, then put some oil on, then combed some more, then arranged her hair with her hands to perfect its permanent wave. At the same time, she DORKMAI SOT | NOBLESSE OBLIGE

7 turned round to look at Wimon briefly. As soon as their eyes met, she turned back to the mirror and, with a hard-to-decipher smile, said, ‘I have this picture of you when you get dressed. You almost don’t have to lift a finger to do anything. You think of a blouse and the blouse comes out of the wardrobe; you think of shoes and the shoes come out… It isn’t the same with me.’ ‘The main point is,’ Wimon answered with a laugh, ‘I don’t have to lift a finger to put lipstick on, draw eyebrows or draw anything like you do.’ ‘Don’t tell me. You are pretty enough as it is,’ Sutjai answered petulantly, dropping the comb and springing up from her seat. Wimon laughed again and then asked, ‘Ready now? Shall we go?’ ‘Hey, wait a minute, Miss. I haven’t put my shoes on yet.’ ‘Oh? I thought you already did.’ Then Wimon looked around. ‘Where? Where are they?’ Sutjai looked for them too. When she couldn’t find them, she said, ‘I haven’t taken them out yet. They are in the wardrobe.’ She walked to the wardrobe, opened its lower door, opened one of the cardboard boxes stacked in there, then opened another three and still couldn’t find what she wanted. It was only from the fifth box that she picked up a pair of shoes, which crackled as the bits of gravel stuck to them fell onto the cardboard. Sutjai tapped the shoes NOBLESSE OBLIGE | DORKMAI SOT

8 against the floor, then raised them up and blew on them, then with the tip of her fingers wiped dust off their exposed parts. She put the shoes down on the floor, slipped her feet into them and threw the box into the wardrobe and banged the wardrobe door shut. ‘Ready now, right?’ Wimon asked. She walked up to the mirror. ‘Just have a look at my face. Isn’t it a bit dark?’ ‘Oh, come off it. As pretty as you are and you still have to worry about being a bit dark?’ Sutjai said as she bent over to fasten the buckles of her shoes. With a laughing voice, Wimon answered from the front of the mirror, ‘Pretty enough, you are right. No need to powder again. It’s a waste of time.’ ‘This is my new car,’ Wimon uttered when her female relative walked past the house gate. ‘Father brought it from the garage only yesterday. He invited the old abbot to go along to bless the car and then took him for a ride and drove him back to the temple. He hasn’t taken it to go anywhere yet and here I am using it already.’ Sutjai plopped herself down on the seat heavily, then her eyes swept the inside of the car with a strained look. Wimon went on saying, ‘It’s most comfortable, you know. You hardly feel any bumps as you ride, just a little bit of sway.’ ‘Janphein will love you all the more,’ Sutjai claimed. ‘Why? For what reason?’ DORKMAI SOT | NOBLESSE OBLIGE

9 ‘For the reason that you have a new, posh car, that’s why.’ ‘Eh?’ Wimon shook her head. ‘I still don’t understand.’ ‘Oh, don’t pretend to be stupid. Everybody loves wealthy, posh, respectable people.’ This time, Sutjai’s relative laughed gaily before she said, ‘In the next hour or by the time we get to Janphein’s house, I’ll be wealthier or posher than five years ago, is that it? How odd! If I knew that my friends love me because they think I’m posh or wealthy, I’d rather stop seeing them.’ Sutjai laughed knowingly and answered, ‘In any case, Janphein only chooses to go around with posh people.’ Her interlocutor shrugged as if she couldn’t be bothered to pursue the matter. The two of them were silent. After a while, Wimon felt Sutjai look at her. She turned her head and saw that it was as she felt, so she asked with laughter in her voice, ‘What are you looking at?’ ‘I’m looking at a beautiful woman,’ was the answer also mixed with laughter but with a very different tone of voice. Wimon shrugged. ‘How is your grandfather?’ she asked. ‘Oh, it’s maddening! He won’t get better and he won’t die. And we are spending a fortune on medicine…’ ‘What exactly is the matter with him?’ ‘I don’t know. One doctor says it’s this, another says it’s that. And it always ends up costing money. He NOBLESSE OBLIGE | DORKMAI SOT

10 changes doctors and drugs almost every day. A Thai doctor comes: eight baht, ten baht. A foreign doctor does a check-up: five baht, ten baht. And seven, eight baht for medicine, no matter which doctor. Oh, it’s great fun. My parents don’t feel guilty. As for me, I work non-stop at Father and Mother’s beck and call. And when I want some money to do something, for instance cut myself a dress or buy a pair of shoes, it’s endless questions and complaints every time.’ Wimon looked at the speaker pensively. She had heard this kind of comment dozens of times from Sutjai. Sometimes she would sigh in sympathy, but at other times she felt that Sutjai complained more than was warranted and there were also times when she wondered whether, if she happened to be in the same situation, she would control her heart better than Sutjai did or not. Sutjai stole a glance at Wimon’s blouse, pencil skirt and shoes once again and her eyes shone with resentment as she went on, ‘You and I have the same paternal grandfather, that’s true, but we are as different as chalk and cheese. Ah, ah! Where is justice in this world? Father likes to berate me for being unfair to my sisters. He is always saying, ‘Be fair! Be fair!’ Good grief! His own father was unjust with him before, so that’s why he is like that, and that’s why I am like this…’ Displeasure began to appear on her listener’s face. For Wimon, Grandfather was a god, a person of great merit, but she had grown decades after his time; besides, she had DORKMAI SOT | NOBLESSE OBLIGE

11 received a good education, so it was only natural for her to think that Grandfather might not have been right in everything; so she didn’t protest against what she heard. ‘I’d very much like to answer Father, Never mind; I’m not as wonderful as he is. In this world nobody can be pure-hearted. Everyone in turn, when there is no justice in the world.’ Sutjai’s resentful tone increasingly irritated Wimon. She couldn’t help saying, ‘I don’t see the point of criticising the dead. No matter what, he was our fathers’ father.’ ‘Oh, you can talk. You were his favourite granddaughter, and Khunying’s∗ too! Have you ever known hardship in your life? Put yourself in my shoes, do, just for a month or so…’ ‘If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t bother myself with things that happened before I was born. I would only think about the present. Everybody says Uncle is a good man, who has only one wife, loves only his wife and loves his children equally. Given all this, shouldn’t you give him your respect and veneration?’ ‘Well, I’ve always acknowledged that you are a wonder. From your first baby cry, Grandfather put you on a pedestal. As you grew up, everyone helped coddle you. And when you were old enough, your father made you his housekeeper, with a huge amount of money at the end of the month and everyone under your thumb. If ∗ Khunying, honorific title for a woman, still in use; equivalent to ‘Dame’


12 you didn’t like your father, you’d be fouler than a beast. Whereas I am the eldest child, I do all kinds of work, my father’s, my mother’s, my sisters’, I do it all alone. Father should think of giving me more things than the others. But he is so stingy! No way can you part him from his precious money, he’s always complaining of this and that.’ Wimon was silent for a while then she asked, ‘Tough luck! You asked him for money to make a dress for today’s party, didn’t you, and he refused, right?’ ‘Hah! He always refuses,’ Sutjai answered evasively. ‘It’s Mother who takes care of things behind his back.’ ‘No wonder,’ Wimon thought. ‘In that case, go ahead and complain.’ Before long, the car turned into a house compound where a party was taking place. Wimon looked at the group of people in front of her. The car stopped alongside the lawn. Jui turned his body to open the back door on the right side. Sutjai stepped out of the car at once, holding in her hand a package that had been left on the back seat. Janphein, a young woman with an attractive face, ran to the car and told Wimon, ‘How come you are so late? What a beautiful dress! And a smashing car! Oh, that silk goes so well with the pencil skirt. Yuphadee is here too, etc.’ And finally she said, ‘Well, aren’t you getting out of the car at all?’ Wimon laughed lightly and shifted as she looked for DORKMAI SOT | NOBLESSE OBLIGE

13 the present she had prepared for her friend. When she didn’t see the package, she asked the driver, ‘Jiu, is there a package on the front seat?’ ‘It’s here,’ Sutjai answered from the back of the car. She handed it over to Janphein, who took it with a question in her eyes. Sutjai said rapidly, in a voice much lower than before, ‘We came together, so we give together.’ ‘Thank you very much,’ Janphein said, then turned to her other friend: ‘Thank you very much.’ And then the three of them walked to the main garden, where Janphein’s friends sat together. All of the young men and young women greeted and teased each other cheerfully.



2 At dawn, pale golden light suffused the sky and filtered through the eastern window, gradually revealing the beautiful flowery pattern of its curtains. The crystal ware on the dressing table began to sparkle with sundry hues. The human form fast asleep on the bed took on the appearance of a gorgeous girl. The roses of various colours in the vase decorating the writing desk trembled under a gentle breeze and the letter lying beside the vase rustled gently. The letter was meant to be seen by writer and recipient only but if the sun or the wind had human eyes to pry with, they would find its content as follows:

Dorkmai Sot is the pen name of ML Buppha Kunjara [pronounced kun.chorn] Nimmanhemin (1905‐1963), a moralising romantic novelist who penned a dozen groundbreaking novels before and after the Second World War as well as a couple of plays. Her best work, Noblesse oblige (Phoo Dee), has been part of the curriculum in Thai schools since its publication in 1937. Dorkmai Sot means ‘fresh flower’, as does Buppha.


noblesse oblige | dorkmai sot  

The values of true aristocracy, as seen by a Buddhist Thai writer

noblesse oblige | dorkmai sot  

The values of true aristocracy, as seen by a Buddhist Thai writer