Silk Road Books & Photos

Silk Road Books Literary Review

April 2014 


  • Great read
  • Thought provoking
  • Good
  • Could be better
  • Utter rubbish

Books Reviewed:                                                                                          

Warrior Poets Guns, movie-making and the wild west of Pakistan by Benjamin Gilmour

Publishers: Pier 9  2008 Price £10.99


Rating: Great Read

Gilmour produced a film called Son of a Gun in Dara Ahmed Khel the historic gun making town in Pakistan's tribal area and also in Kohat. Gilmour initially responded to an advert on the net promising a full film crew in exchange for teaching for 3 months on film making at a University in Lahore. The fact that Gilmour had never made a film before did not stop him from offering his teaching services which were accepted. The first hundred or so pages largely concern Gilmour's stay in Lahore. Gilmour visits some sufi shrines, at one of which a lot of hash is being consumed and Gilmour reaches new found heights there. Sadly after three months teaching his Pakistani University contact failed to deliver on the promises of a film crew. Gilmour was not discouraged and hired a film camera and camera man and proceeded to meet a Pashtun resident of Kohat, which is a stone's throw away from Dara Ahmed Khel.

The Pashtun friend pointed out that making a film in Dara would be difficult since the ISI were subjecting this town to a high level of scrutiny. Gilmour appealed to Pashtun sensitivities by stating that the production of the film was a matter of honour for him. In Kohat Gilmour is put through his paces and taught to walk like a Pashtun, spit in the street and more importantly attend to his crotch with a good scratch in public. Gilmours' efforts pay off and on his travels with his mature beard, shalwar kameez and white hat, Gilmour is thrilled to find that local people address him in Pashto. Gilmour's film uses local amateur actors, who improvise the dialogue, based on broad themes set by Gilmour.

Gilmour's book is rich in anecdotes of Pashtun life including that of a lady who believed she only had a  month left to live so wanted her husband to have another wife to look after him: "The second wife was, in Hayat's opinion, stunning in comparison with the first. But problems began when a month had passed and the first wife had not died. In fact local doctors declared her miraculously cured and said she was healthier than ever. Sadly her husband had in the meantime fallen in love  with the new wife to whom he now devoted all his attention. The cured servant woman told Hayat about the hatred between the two wives, confiding in him that she wished she'd died of her illness after all".

Gilmour attends the Pashtun hujrah or guest house where some alarming chemicals were being developed, "The hujrah of Zor Kalay lay adjacent to a small, simple mosque overlooking a row of workshops: one for the  reconditioning  of rifles one for making revolver triggers and another in which bullets of all calibres were put together on simple foot operated apparatus. The last workshop of the four seemed to contain a larve, noisy machine that pumped and hissed away relentlessly behind closed doors. When I enquired about the type of weapon that was produced in this workshop, Bakhtiyar almost looked to nervous to ask.

"That"' replied Saidu Khan via a reluctant Bakhtiyar, "is where the most secret weapon of all is made".

Could it be that in Darra Adam Khel other types of weapons, chemical weapons, were being manufactured in primitive laboratories just as illicit drugs are back home? There was no way I could leave my curiosity on the line like that.

'Secret weapon? What secret weapon?' I pressed him.

Saidu Khan hesitated for a moment, and then with that dry Pashtun humour he replied, 'Coca-cola'.

There was a general babble of amusement among the crow as the malik entered what was indeed a contraband soft drink factory and came out holding a freshly  refilled glass bottle of Coca-Cola....Few he insisted, could distinguish it from the genuine recipe. Frontier shops would then buy the bottles for much less than they ever could from the Coca-Cola company."

In one amusing incident with potentially tragic consequences, Gilmour walked towards some Pashtun men and twisted the end of his moustache with his fingers, the men reached for their guns. Luckily Gilmour was saved by his Pashtun host who hurriedly explained to the men that Gilmour was his visiting cousin from Germany and did not understand Pashtun ways. Twisting the end of one's moustache was taken as a challenge to the men for a gun duel.  This book is a riveting read and I had difficulty putting it down until it was finished.

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