Archive for November, 2006

The Original Pundits

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Spying for the Raj, Jules Stewart 2006.


The northern boundary of South Asia is and has always been protected by a formidable barrier of mountains and ferocious tribes. This is the story of attempts by the British, primarily in the 19th Century, to learn more about the geography and trade possibilities of this fascinating region.

Knowing that white travelers could never survive in this region, the British Survey Office, located in Dehra Dun recruited and trained native spies in fine arts like learning to walk with a measured stride and counting their steps on prayer beads (modified from the normal 108 beads to 100) for measuring trekking distances; mercury thermometers and barometers for determining altitude, and sextants for measuring location.

These early 007’s were primarily gatherers of information for mapmakers, though each received a secret code name like NA, RN, PA, GK, GM, GNM, etc. They were given the honorary designation of Pundit, meaning scholarly or wise and were the model for Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

The spies were often native and spoke the languages and were intimate with the cultures of their target territories. To avoid official discovery, they disguised themselves as religious pilgrims or occasionally native doctors. Some were lamas so the religious disguises were authentic.

We follow amazing journeys through Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Tibet, and even China.

The most effective spies were Pundit Nain Singh, Pundit Kishen Singh, Pundit Sarat Chandra Das, and the illiterate Pundit Kintup

Deaf-Mute History of Persia

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

My Fathers Notebook Kader Abdolah 2006.

My Father’s Notebook

The main character, Aga Akbar, in this original novel is a deaf mute living during a period in Persian (Iranian) history from the first Reza Shah through Khomeini and the rule of the clerics. Aga Akbar guides foreign scholars to visit the cave in Senejan where ancient cuneiform reliefs are found. No scholar has been able to decipher the cuneiform writing. Given a notebook by his father and encouraged to write, Aga Akbar invents his own written language that looks like the cave writings. It is the self appointed task of his dutiful son to learn to read the father`s writing and produce a book based on his life.

Cuneiform digital image by Fung Lin Hall

The author was a left wing student and activist during the reign of 1953 CIA’s Shah Reza Pahlavi and was forced to leave Iran for the Netherlands when the clerics came to power. The book was originally written in Dutch.

Included is a brief history of Shiite Muslims and the twelfth successor Mahdi who still sits in a well on Saffron Mountain waiting to be called (like the Christian second coming of Christ). This novel is a good readable introduction to Persia with numerous interesting characters.