Sunday, May 24, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

What can we do as human beings?
If anyone of us is pondering over this question, this book might give you the answer. This is the story of Greg Mortenson, an American climber who embarked upon a different mission after his unsuccessful attempt at the world's second highest peak K2. He is the founder director of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which has built schools in Pakistan's and Afghanistan's remote hilly areas. Their emphasis is also on educating more girls as in these areas, girls are more or less likely to stay home than go into the bigger cities in search of jobs like boys. When educated girls stay home, they become community leaders and pass on what they have learned. Moreover, just because the founder is an American these schools do not make "young Americans" in Afghanistan. The curriculum includes a healthy mix of subjects with nothing that could be labeled "anti-Islamic" but far away from any kind of extremism.
When I write down this information, I can sum it up in a paragraph. However "Three Cups of Tea" co-authored by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is a book that makes you introspect. With every new chapter I read, I realized the potential of just one man to change the lives of so many people.
This is not a story of a rich and famous man who does not know what to do with his money. Greg was almost broke in the early years of the conception and execution of this idea. On his way back from K2, laden with disappointment at himself, he got lost into the small village of Korphe at the foothills in Baltistan,Pakistan. After a speedy recovery from K2 assaults under the care of the village head of Korphe, Greg spent some time understanding their culture. He was shocked to see the little kids of Korphe learning their lessons on the frosty ground with sticks on an open ground. They had no school. The teacher came from another town twice a week and the children were essentially left on their own during his absence.
This led Greg to make a spontaneous promise to the people of Korphe and he came back again and again with whatever money he could gather in America to give them the school that he promised.
To let his mission proceed peacefully, Greg became one with the culture. He learnt Urdu and Pashto. On one of his detours he was held hostage by the Taliban for a week. In a country where Americans are misunderstood with just one look at their passports, Greg had to cross many language and religion barriers to prove that he had peaceful intentions. In the end, his attempts were generously rewarded, even by the members of extremist groups.
This book also gives you a lesson in sustainable development. Local cultures and local people are the biggest agents of bringing about any change in a society. Impatience and hurry have no room in civilizations that have stood the test of tall mountains and hostile weather. This book also gives us an insight into what Greg learned from the Balti people.
All along it is also peppered with the magnificent descriptions of the tall mountains that surround this area of the Earth. Extracts from texts previously written about them and each chapter comes with an old Islamic adage just below the title or even something said to Greg by a common villager that is full of wisdom!
More than anything else, it brings forward the power of "the religion of goodwill" that is understood by followers of all religions.
For me, this book was a lesson in charity. Charity is not something you put off until you earn enough to donate and not be bothered. This man's struggle taught me that the willingness to help less fortunate transcends the boundaries of personal comfort. For months, Greg lived in his car to put together some money for his school. On his way back to Baltistan, he sold his car off and pitched in that money into the school funds. Fortunately he met a wealthy physicist Dr.Jean Hoerni who sent him $12000 with a note saying,"Don't screw up". :)
Dr. Hoerni left a million dollars for CAI but this was when the first school was built and running.
Whatever is written about America as a political force in Afghanistan is wiped away from your mind with every new page of this book. By the end you realize that in this "real world" it is not selfishness and ruthlessness that you need to survive. Kind hearted, sensitive and even outright impulsive attempts at making this world better still work wonders. What you need is just the patience to see them through!

You can help here.
Remember, even $10 is a lot of money for children living in these areas!

Why ponder thus the future to foresee
and jade thy brain to vain perplexity?
Cast off thy care, leave Allah's plans to him
He formed them all without consulting thee
Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat


शिरीष said...

Sai I will buy the book. Dont spend money in posting it.

Eeshwari said...

Nice review. Will check it out!

Raj said...

Nice review, Saee. I will buy the book when I go back.

Gandhali said...

Nice review. I found my next book to read on.!!! Thanks..I just checked and it is available in my public library. Yaeee!!!