Thailand, the military-ruled nation cunningly disguised as a tourist idyll, appears to have it sorted. While an Indian vice-chancellor struggles to have a tank installed on campus to inculcate nationalist values, in Thailand, Children’s Day is marked by school excursions to military installations, to admire heavy armour and strike aircraft. But Thailand actually does not have it completely sorted. School students have innovated a non-violent, non-threatening mode of resistance against the military virtues of discipline and subservience — cosplay. They campaign for democracy dressed in Harry Potter outfits, use chopsticks for wands, and cast spells on Death Eaters. By playing harmless — anyway, schoolchildren are by default harmless — they are doing what pro-democracy muggles cannot, including using the three-finger salute from the Hunger Games series, a forbidden act of defiance.
Thailand has effectively been under military control since a coup in 2014, which brought former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha to power. Other former chiefs have found berths in his cabinet and even after elections, the military will continue to wield power. The pro-democracy groups will continue to resist it. By dressing up as Superman, if necessary.
In ancient times, India fired the imagination of Southeast Asia with its epics. Perhaps it is time to accept the return gift, now that the pandemic has taken the wind out of the sails of protest. And what a wonderful range of myths and legends India has, all fit for cosplay. Consider the possibilities of Vikram and the Vampire, an endless Möbius strip of story in which the monster is repeatedly captured, confuses its captor with a political narrative and escapes, to be captured again. What a delightful palimpsest on which to retell the story.