Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Short story on a assistant destrict officer

Translator Marcel Barang has posted the short story "The Amulet, His Majesty, Father and Uncle" (พระ พระเจ้าอยู่หัว พ่อและลุง) by Thai author Arjin Panjaphan (อาจินต์ ปัญจพรรค์) on his Thai fiction blog, with the complete Thai text, his English translation as well as some translation notes. Though of course interesting on its own, this story and its translation fits into this blog for several reasons, the most obvious one is that the main actor in the story is working as a assistant district officer (ปลัดอำเภอ, Palad Amphoe) in Bang Len district, Nakhon Pathom. The story deals with his personal conflict dealing with his brother-in-law, a well-known criminal. The story is set in the reign of Rama VI, at which time police tasks were also assigned to the district officers.

Also interesting are the details in the translation. In several places the Thai word Amphoe (อำเภอ) is translated as district office, which normally in Thai is Thiwakan Amphoe (ที่ว่าการอำเภอ). For example, ไปอำเภอ literally means "go [to] district" becomes "go to the district office". The reason is that in Thai very often the obvious is left out, and as it is obvious that going to a district could mean any place within several hundreds of square kilometer, the district office as its central place is meant. In fact, the whole Thai text does not contain a single "Thiwakan".

It is also due to the skipping of the obvious that a second district mentioned in the text was mistranslated - in the second paragraph it said "ถึงเดิมบางนางบวช" (reaching Doem Bang Nang Buat). The word Amphoe was left out, and as the translator wasn't aware that there is a district with this name, he translated the word "Doem" (เดิม, old, original) as well.

Now this district, located in the North of Suphanburi province, has an interesting history by itself. Originally the district Nang Buat covered the northern part of Suphanburi, which is now the four districts Sam Chuk, Doem Bang Nang Buat, Nong Ya Sai and Dan Chang. 1911 that district was split, the northern half named Doem Bang and the southern part keeping the name Nang Buat - even though the subdistrict Nang Buat with the district office became part of Doem Bang. The souther part got a new district office in Sam Chuk, but it took till 1939 that the district was named after the subdistrict. In the same year, the northern part was renamed to Doem Bang Nang Buat, having the name of the old central subdistrict in its name again then.

Though the story has no explicit year at which it is set, indirectly on can notice that it is set in the reign of King Rama VI (1910-1926) or shortly thereafter. This however would mean that at that time the district was still named Doem Bang. However, as it is told as a story from memory many years after it happened, the glitch of using the historically wrong district name could be explained as being the name of the district when the story was retold.

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