On New Year's eve, we bought 1 pair Sandak chappals, 1 pair Hawaii chappals, 1 chicken biryani and 1 copy of Sowing The Wind in the vicinity of Paradise(1) and wended our way home to Begumpet, through the reveling throng. It is debatable as to which purchase resulted in maximum pleasure, but the book is rapidly rising to the top.
"Sowing The Wind" (about Rs. 500 in paperback in India) is about the mismanagement of the Middle East between 1900-1960, mostly by the British, the French, and the Americans, but with generous dollops of aid from the Turks and the peoples of Egypt, the Levant, Palestine, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Arabia and so on. Having blitzed through the first third of the book, it appears that Keay has once again come up with a wonderfully readable account of the origins of many of the conflicts in the Middle East (including Israel-Palestine, Kurd-Iraqi, Shia-Sunni, Iraq-Iran). Some of the reasons why the Western powers felt the need to meddle in these parts
- The British wanting to control both sides of the isthmus of Suez, so as to keep their short cut to India and the Far East bits of the 'empah'. Ergo, they mess around in Egyptian politics, and are desperate to see some form of 'friendly' government in control of the Sinai peninsula
- The combined concern of the Western powers for the
HolyOily Places [thanks, Sir Hmphrey]
- The British wanting some form of control over Iraq and Iran (oil!)
- And consequently wanting some control over a sea port (Haifa) in the eastern Med from where they could lay a railway line over Palestine, Transjordania and on to the Tigris-Euphrates doab
- General guilt in Christendom over their treatment of Jews for oh 1500 years or so
- The French being...well...French [thanks, Eddie]
Keay brings his trademark dry, dark humour into this work, as he does in all his writings. For example
...anticipating a much later solution to the Kurdish problem, Churchill even proposed the use of chemical weapons as he wondered whether 'some kind of asphyxiating bombs to cause disablement of some kind' might not be the answer...There's a lot more, in this vein, absolutely delightful stuff. The way he treats Lawrence (of Anakapalli, in case you were wondering which one) and other larger-than-life characters of the World War I etc. periods is chuckle-inducing. You also learn that the Middle East was full of the most unlikely personalities (Gertrude Bell, A.T.Wilson, King Faysal of Syria/Iraq), and some incredible incidents (remind us to tell you about the mile long railway train that took 5 days to cover 60 km)
The book is a keeper, rock on John Keay.
1. Paradise, contrary to popular perception, is not some ethereal version of Brindavan Gardens, replete with gurgling brooks and coy, lute-armed seraphim and cherubim, and nubile damsels/utes who keep you satiated through a system of underarm bowling [thanks, Larry] involving the bunging of the occasional grape (or grapeshot depending on your misdeeds and their mood) in the general direction of your mouth, as you recline on an Ottoman type thing <2 minutes silence in memory of the poor Ottoman yokel> with your remote control.
No sirree. Paradise, is an establishment in Secunderabad which serves as an old age home for destitute chickens. Destitute c. arrive here and are rehabilitated and moulded into finer things (biryanis) and sent on their merry way. That this merry way is usually down someone's GI tract is something that the d. chickens don't seem to be too concerned about, if you believe the latest surveys conducted among adult destitute c. populations in South India.