Soon, some of them paid a visit to my office. They told me to get down from my "ivory tower" and join them in their cause - to fight for true democracy in Thailand.
At the risk of looking like a moron, I asked them how. At the time, I was earning a meagre salary of Bt1,250 per month. I took the bus to work, or sometimes when I ran out of cash at the end of the month, got a ride with my father, who worked at the nearby Ministry of Commerce. I worked my tail off preparing for classes, so much so that I started talking in my sleep. My lunch every day was a bowl of chicken noodle soup that cost Bt3, but I had very little left for anything else because of the so-called "social taxes" - birthdays, cremations, religious occasions. And being an "ajarn" or teacher - a supposedly well-regarded part of the institution, I was obliged to pay these taxes.
Looking at my life, I didn't think I lived in an ivory tower. But if they insisted, and I was gullible enough to believe, I felt guilty.
"You can buy us a rattan ball [for the game of sepak takraw]," they told me nonchalantly during one visit to my office. "If you want, you can join us in our discussions."
I gave them the money to buy the ball for the game after class, and continued to ponder where the ivory tower was. For almost two years at the university, I was traumatised, both by fear and by guilt.
Then came the October 14, 1973 student uprising. Many of the students at that corner went on to become the movement's leaders. That day, the world around me seemed to spin out of control and turn on its head. I walked home from the university in the blazing sun, and in a daze. It took me almost the whole day. We were told that democracy had won the day. I thought at the time, maybe this was the Thai version of the Prague Spring. The difference was of course, the Czechs revolted against Soviet domination. Here in Thailand there was no outside power forcing itself upon us. It was just us - one people, one nation.
October 14 gave the students a sense of absolute empowerment and they used the new-found power liberally. Every day, their voices grew louder, the demands more frequent and more unreasonable. The public was told that this was democracy we were gaining, and we should prepare gladly to pay the price, for the sake of future generations, of living in a bona fide democratic society, freer and fairer.
I never doubted the intentions and ideals of the students who marched that day and those who sacrificed their lives in the most savage retribution against our own on October 6 two years later. I deplored the witch-hunt that ensued.
But just as I failed to catch a glimpse of the "ivory tower", I still find the notion of democracy in Thailand as elusive as ever. It is not that our monarchy, or the military, or the establishment have been sabotaging it, as some Western scholars and some Thais like to tout, but maybe we did not get it right in the first place.
Democracy in Thailand has been a top-down initiative. In 1932, the general population had no clue of what was happening and what the "revolution" meant. The Thai masses had always been a silent majority. To a large extent, we still are. Maybe this is not a unique problem in Thailand, but in many developing countries trying to grapple with the Western notion of democracy.
Thai governments have always been so preoccupied with their own political survival, and the greasing of their own palms, that they have failed at every chance to educate and inculcate the people with all the prerequisites of democracy. Little concern has been given to better education, transparency, good governance and the constructive means to get involved through collaboration, communication, openness, respect for the rule of law and responsibility.
True, we have achieved to date one important milestone in democracy - namely, citizen participation in the democratic process. But the bigger question is what kind of citizens are we? Vote-buying is the norm; nepotism and corruption are willingly accepted.
Looking around our region, we see better citizens in less "democratic" countries in terms of them being well-informed, better educated and honouring accountability and commitment to building an equal opportunity society, with less or no tolerance for irregularities.
It's always easier to point the finger at old establishments like the monarchy as impediments to the Thai democratic progress. The truth of the matter is, they are not - and it is myopic to believe that they are. We the people never have a real chance at democracy because all politicians do not care for it. They use it as lip service, as a means to legitimise their agendas and their looting. If they believed in it, we would not be where we are today.
So, to those Western "scholars" who say Thailand is now less democratic than at the time of the 23rd prime minister, please think again. Press freedom was much greater after his departure than during his tenure. The vicious protests that spring up all over the place these days have never been dealt with harshly. Our judicial system is not more politicised now than then. And, to a researcher at Oxford University, there is no democratic parliamentary rule against a coalition government formed by the party without the absolute majority. Kukrit Pramoj once formed a government with 18 members of parliament of his Social Action Party.
President Obama may have started the age of e-democracy in the US, but in Thailand we are still struggling with the a, b, c.
Anyone who spreads the notion that Thailand's democracy is taking several steps backwards is not speaking the whole truth, but speaking largely to serve a personal agenda.
They would like to say we are in the fifth inning; the fact is, we have barely finished our first.
As Tom Waits says: "All your cryin' don't do no good .... Come down off the cross, we can use the wood."