OF A NONCONFORMIST
On May 26, 1985, an unusual meeting took place in Bangkok. On the eightieth birthday of M.R. Seni Pramoj, his seventy-four-year-old brother, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, came quietly to his home at 219 Ekamai Road. Kukrit, as casually elegant as Seni but more like a bear than a bird, bowed slightly, and pressed his palms together in a wai, the Thai gesture of respect similar to the Indian namaste. It was the first encounter in many months between the two leading civilian political figures in Thailand over more than four decades. (The next time Kukrit came to Seni's home was exactly four years later, on May 26, 1989, when he had lunch with Seni and his family on his elder brother's eighty-fourth birthday, marking the auspicious completion of his seventh twelve-year cycle.) Each brother is known as a democrat and a royalist in a country dominated most of that time by military politicians. But each was always at pains to tread a path separate and independent from the other.
"The two of us had lunch right here," recalled Seni a few months after their 1985 meeting as he sat on his unpretentious verandah. "He gave me a wai—it was proper for a younger brother."
If the two brothers talked about political matters that warm day, Seni did not say so. They probably confined their animated conversation to more civilized topics: family, mutual friends, the food, the weather, the arts, the changing Bangkok scene. It was enough that the "Pramojes"—as bemused political officers at the U.S. Embassy once called them, deliberately mispronouncing the j literally instead of saying it correctly as d—simply met. This underscored that Thai politics need not be violent and confrontational, that differences can be tolerated and even savored.
Such a notion runs counter to a long-held American myth about