In an antique land The cover proclaims IAAL “History in the guise of a traveller’s tale,” and the multi-generic book moves back and forth between Ghosh’s. Once upon a time an Indian writer named Amitav Ghosh set out to find an Indian slave, name unknown, who some seven hundred years before had traveled to. In An Antique Land is written by the anthropologist, Amitav Ghosh and the publishers marketed it as ‘..a subversive history in the guise of a.

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The basic gist of the book is that Amitav Ghosh has been given some cash to pursue his PhD in social anthropology and, at a loss what to study, he comes across the mention of a slave in the letters of a Jewish businessmen living in Egypt in the 12th century.

As a parallel to the story of his research, Amitav Ghosh relates anecdotes and musings about his life in a poor Egyptian village where he improves his colloquial Arabic necessary for deciphering old scripts and generally gets a better understanding of what the Middle East is all about.

Fortunately, this makes up the bulk of the book and the academic bits can be skipped without missing much. Ghosh reveals himself to have an accomplished turn of phrase and a humble voice that lends itself to evoking the values and beliefs of a poor, peasant society. It makes the reader wonder why he attempted the dual narrative approach at all.

He relates how an English academic came to Cairo to plunder a cache of ancient documents and who, in his letters home, complained of all the baksheesh he was obliged to pay to the natives. Ghosh comes into his own as a travel writer with his character descriptions that have the read grinning or scowling along with him as he paints his landlord, Abu-Ali, the richest and most influential man of the village.

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Faking a leg injury in his youth, Abu-Ali was allowed to go to school rather than work in the fields and, due to the contacts he made there, he was given a monopoly to sell all the essential goods in the area. Now he spends his days lounging on the porch, patting his enormous belly and watching the traffic go by. Somehow the vehicle stands his enormous weight and:.

And do they really burn their dead? And, in a hushed whisper, is it true that the men and women there are not pure uncircumcised?

In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale

Ghosh is lectured time and time again about the primitive practices of his people who follow no prophet mentioned in the Koran and he takes it all with a humility of his calling.

He allows himself to be thought a heretic or a simpleton and rarely takes it personally, instead looking beyond his own chagrin to understand the point of view of the Egyptians he studies.

So when the learned elders interrogate him at xmitav wedding and refuse to believe that India could be as poor as Egypt, he realises that they see themselves as the bottom rung of the development ladder. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the time Amitav Ghosh spends in the Egyptian village is when he returns 7 years later and sees the changes. The kids who used to pester him have now grown up and many are working in Iraq to send money back home.

The Iraq-Iran War meant that while Iraqi men were at the front, young Egyptians were called to go and work in construction and make comparatively big bucks.

The money they sent home means that most homes now have novelties like refrigerators and television sets. When Ghosh visits his former landlord Abu-Ali, trays of electronic calculators, transistor radios and lighters with a torch at one end are paraded before him as a display of wealth.

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The mud huts have largely disappeared and bungalows have sprung up in their place. Yet the young men working like dogs in Iraq pay the price. Seen as parasites by the locals, they hide away at night, sharing crowded rooms to cut costs and working only to send money back home. A friend recently back from Baghdad tells Ghosh:.

Amitav Ghosh : In An Antique Land

Amitav Ghosh ends his tale there and tries to wrap up his historical thread also, drawing tenuous parallels between modern times and a story that he is largely obliged to guess on the basis of some ambiguous letters. He includes some explanations on the nature of ancient slavery as a social institution rather than a crime and he also sheds some light on the destructions of Arab-Indian trade due to the conquering navies of Europe who, seeing that no one else claimed the naval traffic for themselves, reasoned that it must be up for grabs.

The only shame is that he overstretched himself with the dual narrative theme, a challenge that few ever manage to pass off successfully and even more unlikely a stunt when dealing with ancient anthropology.

The snow glistens with the array of coloured fairy lights. The smell of fresh gingerbread and grilled bratwurst wafts over…. An Indian anthropologist made fun of by the Egyptians. Somehow the vehicle stands his enormous weight and: A friend recently back from Baghdad tells Ghosh: You may also like The voice of Pakistan.

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Last modified: July 31, 2020