Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sowing The Wind

Our favourite historian has delivered again. From the manner in which he delivers, one begins to imagine he is trained in the innards of Pizza Hut, or Dominos or somesuch. Or not. Practically the very first post at the choultry involved this man, and two years and many biryanis down the line, we find ourselves gushing over him again.

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 Holy Oily 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]
We haven't yet started talking about American interference in these parts, mostly because we haven't read about it yet.

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.


gudlun said...

blirriant, deal chap, blirriant! go and consume your 3.5 biryanis with aplomb.

Srin said...

I was trying to translate your tag ( because I have a german exam tomorrow) does it say "Whenever man cannot speak, then must man...only I can't remember what 'schweigen' is. Wotis?

Ludovicious said...

[glullun] Thanks velli much. Domo arigato. HAI! Much fun on your peleglinations too.

[srin tin tin] I'm not very sure how exactly it translates, meself! schweigen is to "be silent" or something. So your translation would read, "Whenever man cannot speak, then must man remain silent." or summat. The "cool" versions are, "What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence." and also "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." The transalations tend to sound quite Biblical, almost.

Happy New Year!

Srin said...

Happy new year to you too, 'schweigen' is silent. And would you consider removing word verification? It's a little redundant now. :)

Megha said...

I cannot read the rest of your post. Images of Paradise Biryani have rendered me dyslexic. Groan. And double-ka-meetha. Double groan. And shopping for 30-rupee Gult Ilaiyaraaja soundtracks at Sangeet Sagar.

You are a foul man for doing this to someone so far from it all. But happy new year, nonetheless.

Krishna Kumar said... one that! Nice insight into the book. Wish you had given the ISBN details to purchase it as well. Anyway... the last para was an absolute haaaruumping...laugh byte. The Chicken's Stairway to our Heaven after Paradise Biryani... is indeed chicken soup for those souls that can't reach Begumpet without the help of Hyderabad Express from Chennai Central Station.

Yes, schweigen is to be still or be silent or to shut up. Your tagline would translate - idiomatically, as rendered by someone from the land (no babelfish here, pure teutonic rendering!) - Things over which one cannot talk, one must refrain.

Srini, you're everywhere!

ludovicium said...

[srin] Ess, schweigen is 'silent'. But when you throw it along with the mann who is nicht sprechening and all that, we need to sound a tad more dramatisch, no?

Re: word verification - Not sure I verstehen or whatever. Are you saying word verification should not be necessary for members of who are logged in? Afraid that's outta my slimy paws. I turned the thing on because I started getting all these amazing, flattering comments from people who "...think that you have a really great blog and I'll bookmark it. Meanwhile, I am selling lugged sprockets here, so please come and visit..."

And since I continue to allow anonymous comments, I need word ver. QED?

[meghalomania] Fair is foul and foul is fair, as an old hag I used to know once said. <strictly> I hope you did read the rest of the article, and did not miss the reference to 'Lawrence of Anakapalli' and other such nuggets</strictly>. Besides, the point of the whole thing was the book, which is excellent. Do read!

Happy New Year too. Your duck pond post did bring back some good good memories. Must find a way to slime back to Beantown for a short time, somehow.

[krishna k] Thankoo. Methink ISBNs etc. are on the Amazon page (that I think I linked to). In any case, it should be findable easily enough in the history section at Landmark.

By a strange twist of fate, I actually was on Charminar Express last night headed back to Hyd from Madras. Couldn't stay away from Biryani Bibi for so long. *sigh* If you ever find yourself wandering in these parts, do intimidate me and I will do the (re)intro to said Lady Of The Fragrant Rice.

Srin said...

Ok, ludesh, whatever you say ludesh. krishna kumar, I AM NOT SRINI!! I AM NOT A SOUTH INDIAN MAN WITH A MUSTACHE AND GLASSES!!!

sorry ludo.

Krishna Kumar said...

Ludwig, I'll take you on that offer, if I ever trip on to Hyd from Sec'bad where I may through the looking glass travel on acc of a kin of mine. Meanwhile I have the Runs and Samcos and Paramounts, not to mention takeaway Minars and Royals and New Buharis... Have exhausted my Landmarking for 8 months together on my last visit amounting close to 5k (tuck in 1k off that to Odyssey and another half to Words&Worth at Bessie Nagar). So, will see if Samanth has and will bug him for it, though I doubt. He still owes me Orhan Pamuk and I had already purchased that one!

Srin... i...hee...hee... sorry for making you feel a South Indian and/or a mustachoied and/or glassed... and/or all of the above. Optical illusion, I call it. Or I musta bin misty optically on a saturday night. Natural, no?