The Pamir Heights

By Sunil Kumar

Off the beaten track. Yes, indeed; such stuff is thrilling at times. Interspersed with evolution; history and geography; a talk by Vijay Crishna of the Godrej Group was interesting as it brought to the fore a country not usually part of the normal Indian consciousness; Tajikistan.

Theatre in Dushanbe, Tajikistan Тоҷикӣ: Душанб...

Visit Theatre in Dushanbe, Tajikistan Тоҷикӣ: Душанбе, Тоҷикистон (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Central Asia and its motley bunch of Islamic Soviet Republics are a strange, intriguing combination inspiring a quirky reaction in most people’s minds. The American “24” which routinely depicts fictional republics such as Kamistan et al probably draws inspiration from countries like this and the Middle East.

Mr. Crishna began his presentation with a history of the planet; evolution and migration. Continental drift; Gondwanaland, Pangaea and Tethys contributed to the current state of oil reserves in the planet; the crucible for 20th century geopolitics; according to him; which was quite true.

The march of empires; the Zoroastrian religion, the Macedonian Alexander and the Great Game factored in the talk which was a mix of hyperbole, engaging (marching) music and a vicarious visit to a country most Indians have and most probably will never be to.

If we were to discard the mythology of the world’s established religions; and buy into the anthropologist’s view on human migration; then the cross-country story of Sargon(Sumerian empire); ancient Indo-Iranian civilization, the Greeks, Egyptians, Mongols, present-day republics etc seem like logical historical progression.

Vijay Crishna sought to gave the listeners a historical backdrop to the present-day country. The Taliban, Afghanistan and drug money have also been instrumental in changing the landscape; according to him. For a country at the ancient crossroads of human civilizations; with a close affinity to India; there is a marked lack of interest from our central government; Crishna noted. Most of the questions from the audience reflected the current atmosphere of global uncertainty and mistrust; apart from homilies to Bollywood music and the country’s cultural influence.

The lecturer’s obvious nod to Western power games and India’s role as a British colony in the Great Game reminded me of the rarified anathema of social pretense. Although he rightly lamented the current situation; as an independent nation; India’s leaders have not shown a grander vision that would have been expected of them as an ancient, vibrant civilization.

Back to the trivia about the place; snippets gathered by his obvious interest. Although he mentioned the place as a country with a Shia Ismaili majority; other sources indicate that most of the people adhere to the Sunni version; the more mainstream version of the Muslim religion. Paranoia about Tsarist Russia led Curzon and other British adventurers to be paranoid about the boundaries of the then massive  Indian dominion; leading to their defeat in the Afghan war of 1842; some facts that percolate into the Victorian Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Soviets under Stalin redrew national boundaries on the basis of cotton-growing; leading to the familiar bouts over water sharing etc. Nurek dam east of Dushanbe is currently the tallest in the world. The city(Dushanbe) means “Monday” in Tajik; and has now recovered after years of civil war following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Crishna’s lecture also reminded people about a possible dystopian future; based on water shortages and global strife over essential commodities. Whether all of this would be a reality or overcome by wiser minds; is something only time will tell. The “Lonely Planet” version of Tajikistan however made for intriguing listening.


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