No Heaven for Gunga Din by Mirdrekvandi, Ali, 1965

No Heaven for Gunga Din by Mirdrekvandi, Ali

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In order to put the novella No Heaven for Gunga Din: Consisting of the British and American Officers Handbook, by Ali Mirkrekvanki Gunga Din into perspective, its probably important to know what Kipling was trying to do with his poem Gunga Din. This novella, whose provenance is none too clear, seems to me to be an attempt to magnify the irony of Kipling's work from the corporeal to the heavenly. It makes its point, but not in a novel way, and barely legibly. Two out of five stars.

It should be noted first that the author of this work, Ali Mirdrekvandi, a.k.a. Gunga Din, is actually the main character. There is an introduction and a preface, but the preface is also "written" by a character in the piece, and the introduction is by a friend of his. Sound confusing? It was to me too. And still is. Too bad that it gets worse. The author of the introduction, Major Hemmings, labels himself as a British army officer stationed in southern Iran during the height of WWII. Stationed outside of Terran, the British and American military bases drew a constant influx of illiterate Persian youths seeking work and income. Ali Mirdrekvandi was such a youth, but he presented himself to the major and asked to be taught English so that he would be able to get a better paying job. The major was startled by the lad's seriousness, and took him under his wing. During the next few months Hemmings taught his written language to the boy, who preferred to go by the name Gunga Din, and at the end of the employment the boy sat down and wrote this story as an exercise of his new linguistic abilities. Subsequent to that the boy disappeared, never to be seen again. Hemmings notes in his introduction that he held on to the manuscript until it was published in the UK by Victor Gollancz in 1965. Not only because the story sounds preposterous, but also because the lad's tale closely follows the tone of Kipling's eponymous poem, I believe the back story to be nothing more than an element of the story, and the true author to be anonymous. I could, of course be wrong, but there is absolutely nothing on the internet to confirm my belief.

No Heaven for Gunga Din is the story of a party of American and British officers, along with their water boy, Gunga Din, as they wander through the afterlife looking for Heaven. All of the men were killed in a battle in WWIII, called the Harvester-Living War, in 2084. After death they began to wander the Milky Way, which is seen by the author as a road. During their journey they come across a wide variety of creatures that inhabited the realm, which attended to the business of managing the Earth. The realm was enormous, and had destinations that were millions of miles apart from one another in every direction, including up and down. As the officer's party encountered new groups of God's functionaries they always started out by politely asking for help, and then invariably became offensive, and even in several instances became violent. Gunga Din just followed along, never questioning what he was told to do, and never questioning the offensive conduct of the rest of the party. After causing much trouble outside the walls of Heaven the whites were allowed in, but Gunga Din was banished to Hell for his sins, none of which seem anywhere near as serious as the sins of the others.

Kipling's work was a rhyming narrative that was told from the point of view of a cockney soldier in India. In it the soldier is wounded in battle and saved by Gunga Din who later himself died. Despite the sacrifice made by Gunga Din in Kipling's poem, he is treated as a sub-human because he was not British or caucasian. No Heaven for Gunga Din essentially relies on the same notions of racial superiority, and is told in the pidgin English of its title character. The officers go through the realm in their search for Heaven acting exactly as if they were still men of power back on Earth. The take offense easily, they have no sensitivity to others, they are aggressive, bossy, solipsistic, and they treat Gunga Din, who is journeying to Heaven with them, as the slave they had on Earth as if they expect his reward to be an eternity of service to them.

The oddness of this story really does not end there. The story is told from Gunga Din's point of view. He is a young servant boy in the employ of caucasian conquerors, and does not really question his lot in life. He describes the realm he has been taken to in very militaristic terms. For example, the weather of Earth is run from a place where "God's Holy Commanders," keep their offices, one of which controls snow, one controls rain, one controls wind, and so on. Heaven itself is guarded by "Holy M.P's" who try to turn away the party until they can get the required "Freedom Pass" which allows entry, and denizens of Heaven even salute each other as a sign of greeting. Viewed from a few steps back, these elements seem to me to be the Persian "author's" attempt at describing a white dominated afterlife from the point of view of a humble, illiterate servant boy who defined himself by the tasks he performed for his military masters. In other words, the little pathetic brown boy has been indoctrinated into the vision of Great White Hope. All of this syncs well with the motifs first put forth in Kipling's poem, and are kind of interesting here, but just were not convincing enough for me. That is to say, I just don't buy that a Persian male with any length of experience with caucasian invaders would continue to redefine his entire world based on the invader's culture. Perhaps that is evidence of how dated this work really is. Perhaps this is they way things would have happened in Persia before the Shah and the Ayatollah came along, but as I sat re-reading this book in the Seattle airport I just could not reconcile it with what I know of the current universe of Persian/American cultural conflict. Coupled with the odd language that the tale is told with this book left me with a mixed feeling of satisfaction and confusion. I understand that this is probably a caucasian's attempt to shine a light on the idiocy with which Britain treated cultures in South Asia and the Persian Gulf during their long time there, but I still dont get that this was the best way to do that, I suppose, and I worry that the wrong message was sent. Give this one a try only if you like the odd little stories that reference literature, and don't mind if the story goes nowhere in the end.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)

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