Everyone is entitled to serve someone, surely, but isn’t the pledge to serve “under the feet” of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej “in every life from here on out” a form of extreme self-derogation?
Well, whatever others think it is, Thais have embodied it proudly, albeit tearfully. In their grief, they have looked the outside world in the eye and defiantly demonstrated their uniqueness in the humblest way possible. They have challenged a few modern norms in their mourning of the beloved monarch’s passing. A remarkable irony materialised in the process, as the “under the feet” message adorned those supposed hallmarks of “progress” – skyscrapers, electric trains, giant LED screens at intersections and personal spaces on the social media.
The tears bewildered foreign correspondents, and the widespread sorrow made international analysts struggle to find answers. Most outsiders knew Thais loved their King, but they didn’t realise just how much. In the past, certain “experts” had pointed to legal measures, which they said kept criticism of the Royal Family to a bare minimum. That was a mistake, since laws shouldn’t have been mixed up with what Thai people felt within their hearts.
The past few weeks separated laws from feelings. People wore black not because the government said they must, but because they were sincerely in mourning. They did not cry because clips showing His Majesty’s activities were obligatorily broadcast, but because every time they watched, there was another trek, another project, another display of his talent and more words of wisdom. The solemn stream of black-clad visitors from all walks of life continues to flow to the Grand Palace not because they are forced to go, but because they want to be there.
The force of feeling has nothing to do with laws. After all, if laws could make people love a person like this, every country would require just one election and a strong parliament. And in the case of King Bhumibol, who ascended the throne when the concept of monarchy was being assailed by new ideals in many parts of the world, laws were simply overrated.
What mattered is what King Bhumibol did, not what the laws said. If the pledge to serve “under his feet” is questionable, it is because of the fact that it was him who did the serving. “In every life from here on out”, he would have done it again and again, and his people know that.
Thais who love King Bhumibol call themselves the “yellow dust”. The name stems from gatherings over the past few years in which well-wishers wore yellow shirts to display loyalty and reverence for the monarch, saying he would “see” them if enough “specks of dust” came together. The phenomenon is not complex. It’s just a matter of his sincere devotion being recognised by his people.
As the year drew to a close, the yellow dust wore black. Although the world stopped to pay attention, the yellow dust did not actually intend to defy anybody, which is probably why their inadvertent message was so loud and clear. They only cried over a “father” who gave so much and carried such heavy burdens. The tears were for a man who expected nothing in return for his artificial rain, who had no vested interest in any of the countless projects he initiated, and whose call for national harmony was never political rhetoric.
The yellow dust paid back sincerity with sincerity. It may seem awkward, or even appear overzealous at times, but it is heartfelt all the same. The world has been told that Thais have lost a father, not a ruler. They are not ashamed of how they regarded him, simply because of the way he regarded them. They are his children, and children have no qualms about kissing the feet of the fathers they love.
Life will go on and the tears will eventually subside. However, the yellow dust have left a strong message for the modern world. They have proved that a public figure can be loved wholeheartedly and unconditionally regardless of the surrounding political system. They have shown that real love and sacrifice is not be bound or monopolised by any ideology.
For practically defying the modern world with their humility and uniqueness, for transcending the textbook definition of human rights in honour of the one who they believe in their hearts deserves their honour, and for giving even the most ardent and perhaps powerful sceptics a thing or two to think about, the yellow dust are my Person of the Year for 2016.
Published : December 13, 2016
By : Tulsathit Taptim The Nation