ADVENTURES IN BUKHARA — Tales of Khoja Nasreddin by Leonid Solovyev (Part 2)


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Adventures in Bukhara are tales told with irreverent wit and earthy wisdom. Tyranny is its villain; liberty its hero. Like Robin Hood, Khoja Nasreddin is the champion of the poor and downtrodden who cannot champion themselves. There is no danger he will not brave, no disaster he cannot avert, no villain he cannot bring to ridicule or destruction.

These zestful tales are set in ancient Bukhara, then a great centre of Islamic power. Nasreddin, masquerading as a beggar, returns taxes to the oppressed, rescues a lovely maiden from the Emir’s harem, and with ingenuity confounds usurers, hypocrites and all tyrants. He outwits his enemies even at his own scheduled execution.

The Nasreddin stories are known throughout the Middle East and have touched cultures around the world. Superficially, most of the Nasreddin stories may be told as jokes or humorous anecdotes. They are told and retold endlessly in the teahouses and caravanserais of Asia and can be heard in homes and on the radio. But it is inherent in a Nasreddin story that it may be understood at many levels. There is the joke, followed by a moral – and usually the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realization.

The anecdotes attributed to him reveal a satirical personality with a biting tongue that he was not afraid to use even against the most tyrannical rulers of his time. He is the symbol of Middle-Eastern satirical comedy and the rebellious feelings of people against the dynasties that once ruled this part of the world.


WHEN KHOJA Nasreddin reached the other end of the town he stopped, handed his ass to the care of a teahouse owner and hurried without loss of time to an eating-house.

It was crowded, full of smoke and the smell of cooking food. The stoves glowed hotly, and the flames lit up the sweating backs of the cooks who worked stripped to the waist. They bustled, shouted, jostled each other and boxed the ears of the kitchen-boys who dashed about wild-eyed, adding to the general crush, noise and confusion. Huge kettles bubbled under dancing wooden lids; thick steam gathered near the ceiling where clouds of flies were buzzing. In the smoky haze butter hissed and puttered furiously, the sides of red-hot braziers shone and the fat that fell from the spits on to the coals burned with a blue and smoky flame. Here they were cooking pilau, roasting shishliks, boiling tripe and baking pies stuffed with onion, pepper, meat and sheep’s-tail fat which melted in the oven and boiled in tiny bubbles as it seeped out of the pastry.

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THE GREAT GAME — A Russian Perspective by Grigory Lvovich Bondarevsky. eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

THE GREAT GAME — A Russian Perspective by Professor Grigory Bondarevsky, ISBN 978-1-873976-17-3

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Much as today in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, the battle for control over Central Asia and the Near and Middle East in the 19th century was fierce and bloody. Sometimes it was conducted in secret, sometimes in public; sometimes it created a great stir, at other times no one noticed. It was fought throughout the nineteenth century by the foreign ministries of Great Britain and Russia and the armed forces of the East India Company and then the British Empire on the one hand, and sections of the Russian army commanded from Tiflis, Orenburg and Tashkent on the other, together with mobile and highly qualified spies on both sides posing as scholars, travellers, merchants and clerics. The story of this battle is told in thousands of newspaper articles, hundreds of books, and hundreds of thousands of secret reports penned by the actors in this great drama, which was played out in the course of a century in lifeless deserts and mountain ranges whose peaks were sometimes over three and a half miles high. This unique Russian account of Kipling’s  ‘Great Game‘ — from a strictly Russian perspective — takes the form of a chapter by chapter review, by Professor Grigory L. Bondarevsky — a Russian academician (Oriental Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Social Science) who played an important part in defining post-war Soviet policy in Central Asia and the Middle East — of Peter Hopkirk’s excellent study The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia. The review initially appeared over a matter of months in the journal Central Asia and the Caucasus in World Affairs (1995 — ed. S. Christie). This book is not only a secret service history, or to be more accurate a history of the rivalry between the secret services of the British and Russian empires in the nineteenth century; it is also an entertaining account of the geographical discovery of unknown and sometimes forgotten countries in Central Asia, which was then a mysterious place.

Professor Bondarevsky was murdered in Moscow on 8 August 2003. (NB: A complex character, Bondarevsky had fingers in lots of disparate pies as I later discovered — to my cost — in Baku, Azerbaijan. See the 2003 obituary in Lyndon Larouche’s Executive Intelligence Review)