Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

by Farrukh Kidwai on October 24, 2013

Author: Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2006
ISBN: 9780141034263
Rating: ★★★★☆
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 Three Cups of Tea is about a Westerner learning about the other side of the Islamic world; the remote, inhospitable mountain villages filled with friendly, hospitable villagers, and how he translates his new-found understanding and empathy into something constructive.

In the eyes of the world, a denizen of Afghanistan or tribal Pakistan is one with a long beard, holding a Kalashnikov in one hand and a Koran in the other. Three Cups of Tea tries to break this stereotype by presenting another picture; that of a remote village buried in the mountains, whose peaceful, generous inhabitants are left to their own meagre devices to try to better themselves. It insists that these people need books, not bombs.

The protagonist Greg Mortenson successfully manages to capture his readers in the same way as David Gregory Roberts impressed his readers with ‘Shantaram’. What Shantaram did for Mumbai, Greg did for  a remote village in Pakistan.

The book’s title is from a Balti proverb: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…”. It tells the story of an ardent climber whose abortive attempt to climb Mount K2 in memory of his sister, Christa, lands him in an idyllic village named ‘Korphe’ in Karakoram Range, weak and at the last reaches of exhaustion. He is taken in by the village head, and cared for by the villagers. The book has a lazy start and may appear mundane, but gradually picks up speed as the protagonist makes the promise to village chief that, in return for the hospitality they showered on him, he would return to build a school as a token of gratitude.

The book successfully describes the penurious circumstances of the Baltis. The Baltis of Karakoram are analogous to the Sherpas of Mount Everest. The author highlights the herculean challenges of their lives and the unforgiving living conditions they endure.

Greg‘s struggle to arrange capital to build the school, while living an austere lifestyle himself, is captivating. He continues to keep the reader glued with the Kargil conflict, abduction in Afghanistan and circumstances during and post 9/11. I really loved the colloquial fashion of writing when a man came running to inform him: ‘A village called New York has been bombed’.

The author does not gloss over certain harsh ground realities. He takes a dig at the hard line fundamentalist Wahabbi Muslims who have established madarsas in a bid to churn out terrorists. He also throws light on the oppressive regime of Taliban. The book also touches a throbbing nerve when it delineates the post war circumstances of Afghanistan.

Unlike other masala novels which can be classified as “read it and forget it”, this book compels us to explore areas beyond our parochial thinking and reconsider our opulent lifestyle. The book will touch those whose hearts beat for the poor and the oppressed. Ultimately, it is about the universal nature of humanity.

Written by Farrukh Kidwai

Love to read Non-Fiction, Auto biographies, A software programmer but not a very good one, an adventurist

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