By Eric Lim
M R Kukrit Pramoj (1911 – 1995) a former Prime Minister of Thailand led a long and illustrious life. A man of many talents, he was a banker, soldier, journalist, writer, traditional Thai dancer, university professor, actor, radio narrator, TV commentator, politician and the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand.
Mom Rajawongse or M R for short is a royal title granted to direct descendants of Chakri kings who were not in the line of succession. The titles run for three generations; Mom Chao, Mom Rajawongse and Mom Luang after which they end. M R Kukrit Pramoj was the great grand nephew of King Rama II.
Educated in Bangkok before proceeding to Trent College and Queen's College, Oxford University, he started his career as a civil servant in the Ministry of Finance and later went on to banking.
In 1945, M R Kukrit Pramoj started the Progressive Party, the first political party in Thailand under the constitution. The Siam Rath, a Thai daily was initiated by him and he continued with the paper after his retirement from politics.
He was instrumental in rewriting the Thai constitution in 1974, a year after the October Revolution. Later, he founded the Social Action Party in 1975 and entered parliament in the same year.
Of his literary achievements, he is best remembered for Four Reigns the 1953 Thai classic which stands out as the crowning glory in Thai literature. The historical novel traces the life of Mae Phloi, a lady-in-waiting in the palace, who lived through four reigns of the Chakri kings from King Rama V to King Rama VIII.
He has written more than 30 books but the only other book that's been translated to English is Many Lives a tale about how the lives and past deeds of a group of people caught up with them one fateful night on a boat trip to Bangkok.
His royal background provided the insight into life in the royal court that was to be reflected in his writing. But he didn't lack the common touch either. His characters of ordinary people reveal a profound understanding of their lives, aspirations and weaknesses.
Some of us may remember him and Marlon Brando in the 1960's film "Ugly American" which was based on the book of the same name.
In the film, he played the role of the Prime Minister of an imaginary Asian country embroiled in a Communist insurgency. His role in this film was portentous.
He was to become the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand in March 1975 during a painful period in Thai political history when the nation was still reeling from the trauma of the October Revolution in 1973.
1975 was also a crucial year for Thailand. In April 1975, the victorious North Vietnamese had entered Saigon, the Americans were gone, the Khmer Rouge were rampaging in Phnom Penh.
With the Vietnamese days away from Bangkok, M R Kukrit made the momentous decision to go to China. He had a historic 58-minute meeting with Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. On 1 July 1975, the day after the meeting, formal diplomatic ties were established between Thailand and China.
An avid patron of the arts, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, who was actively practising traditional Khon dance in his younger days, initiated the Khon Thammasat Troupe to promote a better understanding and appreciation of this ancient dance form. The masks for the Khon dancers are still on display at the M R Kukrit Heritage Home.
In Oct 1995, M R Kukrit Pramoj died after a prolonged illness. With his passing, Thailand lost one of her most illustrious sons. But his legacy remains, the legacy of his heritage home, in the wisdom of his books and his efforts in the preservation of the traditional arts.
UNESCO award for M R Kukrit
On 24 October 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) named Mom Rajawongse M R Kukrit Pramoj as a World Historic Important Figure.
M R Kukrit was chosen from a list of 90 names submitted for consideration by the Selection Committee of UNESCO in April 2009. The results were announced on 24 October 2009.
The award is in recognition of his contribution to education, culture, society and media.
MR Kukrit will be honored during the celebration of UNESCO’s Anniversaries of Great Personalities and Historic Events for 2011, the 100th anniversary of birthday.
To return to the Home of M R Kukrit Pramoj.