Pich Tum Kravel
A GOVERNMENT official has become the first Cambodian to win a South East Asian Write
Pich Tum Kravel, an under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine
Arts, won the award after submitting three works for consideration - The Art of Writing
Poems, The Historical Event of Cambodia and The Khmer Shadow Theater Sbek Thom.
The 1999 SEAWrite awards were given to short-story writers from 10 countries in the
region: Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore,
Vietnam and Thailand.
Tum Kravel is a typical Khmer artist. His life embraces his art even down to his
name, which he changed after the Pol Pot times.
Tum is the name of a famous character in Tum Teav, a play in which he acted from
1960 to 1975.
Kravel means: "to make a hole in my ear to remember something in my life,"
he said chuckling.
He said his name change marked Cambodia's bitter history, particularly the Khmer
"This name is a souvenir of my life and my country. I took this name as a memory
of past events in our country," he said.
"You know how many times the regimes have changed in Cambodia? There have been
a lot of changes just in my life," he added sadly.
Tum Kravel uses a range of subjects for inspiration, even politics.
He has written poems about the land Cambodia lost to Thailand and Vietnam. And in
his book The Historical Event of Cambodia he criticized former Cambodian leaders,
including King Sihanouk.
He said a writer cannot be blamed for writing a true history - leaders should accept
the history of their country.
Occasionally he writes about himself.
An extract from his SEA Write submission reads:
"In my life, I have hardly seen the progress of Khmer culture.
" On the contrary, for the most part of my life, I have only noticed the deterioration,
the loss and the destruction of national culture by various destructive causes.
"Nowadays, although I am having difficulties in my living condition as well
as in my career because of the shortage of financial resources, I still have strong
determination, as an artist and contributor of developing Khmer culture, to help
improve the national culture to blossom as a diamond flower, and to participate in
establishing the garland of diamond flowers in Southeast Asia, ASEAN, with peace
and security and to become a part of the progressive world flower."
He said the SEAWrite is a good way for Cambodia to reintroduce her culture to the
world through the competition.
Tum Kravel said he did not believe he was a particularly good writer because he often
had to compromise his work to favor the leader or regime of the time.
He claimed that Cambodian writers in every generation had done so.
"I think that because previous writers were concerned for their own security,
that's why a lot of books of Khmer lore don't have the name of the writer on it,"
Tum Kravel said Khmer writers should be guided by their conscience to tell the truth
of the regime they live under.
He plans to ease off on his writing and do more research in an effort to improve
his failing memory, he said with a laugh.
He said he did not drive a motor vehicle because he was too absentminded. He said
he stopped driving in the 1960s after having too many near misses with other vehicles
as his mind drifted from the road to his writings.