Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

BEIRUT: This evocative title, which conjures up images of the iconic Silk Road, is only a foretaste of what you experience in the book. “Beyond That Last Blue Mountain” recalls the extraordinary journey of Harriet Sandys. At 19, realizing she was completely unqualified, she wondered what a girl from her background could do. Hearing about her brother’s trip to Afghanistan and reading Wilfred Thesiger’s “Desert, Marsh and Mountain” and Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” fired her imagination, and she decided to make that journey.
Four years later, in 1977, a letter inviting her to visit the archaeological sites of Afghanistan changed the course of her life.
After learning how to repair oriental carpets, she worked for the Afghan Refugee Information Network and decided to assess the situation of Afghan refugees at the North-West Frontier. Touched by their extraordinary stoicism, she organized exhibitions of Afghan embroideries and carpets and opened a shop.
However, many of the NGO carpet-weaving programs produced rugs of inferior quality which were unsellable. Harriet wanted to find an alternative project that women could do at home. The Ikat silk-weaving project was born. Over 12 years, she traveled through Pakistan, setting up the project despite problems and setbacks. She miraculously recovered from bacterial meningitis and pursued her humanitarian aid projects in Iraqi Kurdistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After her departure, the silk-weaving project, contrary to all expectations, thrived thanks to the courage of Saleh, a 17-year-old boy she had trained in Peshawar. He brought the project back to Afghanistan and became a master weaver. The Afghan fashion event held in London in 2011 highlighted one of his creations, a stunning dark-green silk evening dress decorated with calligraphy.
“Oriot,” as she was affectionately called, defied danger, traveling in and around war zones with almost no financial support.
“Had I pondered too long and too hard on all the dangers and difficulties I might have encountered … I would have remained a secretary, regretting missed opportunities,” she said. Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story.


What We Are Reading Today: A People’s Constitution

Updated 15 November 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: A People’s Constitution

Author: Rohit De

It has long been contended that the Indian Constitution of 1950, a document in English created by elite consensus, has had little influence on India’s greater population. Drawing upon the previously unexplored records of the Supreme Court of India, A People’s Constitution upends this narrative and shows how the Constitution actually transformed the daily lives of citizens in profound and lasting ways. This remarkable legal process was led by individuals on the margins of society, and Rohit De looks at how drinkers, smugglers, petty vendors, butchers and prostitutes — all despised minorities — shaped the constitutional culture.
The Constitution came alive in the popular imagination so much that ordinary people attributed meaning to its existence, took recourse to it, and argued with it. Focusing on the use of constitutional remedies by citizens against new state regulations seeking to reshape the society and economy, De illustrates how laws and policies were frequently undone or renegotiated from below using the state’s own procedures.
De examines four important cases that set legal precedents: a Parsi journalist’s contestation of new alcohol prohibition laws, Marwari petty traders’ challenge to the system of commodity control, Muslim butchers’ petition against cow protection laws, and sex workers’ battle to protect their right to practice prostitution.
Exploring how the Indian Constitution of 1950 enfranchised the largest population in the world, A People’s Constitution considers the ways that ordinary citizens produced, through litigation, alternative ethical models of citizenship.