Phew! Its been a long time since I put pencil to paper – and it shows! Picked out Amitav Ghosh’s “In an antique land” to read and loved the cover art so much I decided to sketch it. Though the rustiness of skills are evident I still liked the outcome –
The book itself is an ethnography based upon the author’s stay in Egypt & his interactions with the people, at the same time discussing the relationships between India and Egypt during the medieval times by tracing the life of the Jewish Merchant “Abraham Ben Yiju” (utilizing the documents from “Cairo Geniza“). The multiple parallel timelines and locations in the book are a bit difficult to keep up with, however once one gets used to the style, one realizes that narrative is designed to bring out the numerous contrasts of the two eras –
The rich multi-lingual, multi-religious trading ethos of the medieval times, to a generation where relations are broken to the point of ignorance of others’ existence, religious intolerance and warring nations.
From a time when the Indian Ocean Trade enriched the cultural and economic aspirations of all the countries involved in the trade, to a generation where a country’s progressive aspirations are measured by the number of weapons of mass destruction that it can accumulate.
An era when just communication and travel used to take days and months, to a time when a few years changed the financial and economic situation of a village for the better.
From the observation of how the military might of the west ruined the peaceful nature of the Indian Ocean Trade, to the observation of how western education and progressive ideas overtook the agrarian village society changing the lives and lifestyles of the inhabitants.
The book gives a graphic description of Egypt and its transformation over the centuries – the medieval times, the modern times and the build up and discovery of the Cairo Geniza. The stories in the book left me with a deep sense of loss – the loss of not knowing a culturally rich era and the loss of living an era of war torn nations and religious intolerance.
P. S.: The cover page is the work of Viren Desai & Bena Sareen and is used (it seems) only for books sold in the Indian Sub-continent.