Three Cups of Tea: Book Review

The first time I got to look at this book was at  Odyssey, sometime April last year I guess. I read the back cover and it seemed liked an unbelievably inspiring story. Just how inspiring yet…I had no idea then.

It’s been on my shelf for quite some time, and this Diwali break I picked it up finally for reading. It was on the list of four books that had to be wrapped up in those 3 weeks.

This is what the back cover says;

In 1993, after a terrifying and disastrous attempt to climb K2, mountaineer called Greg Mortenson drifted, cold and dehydrated, into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram Mountains. Moved by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return and build a school. Three Cups of Tea is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome. Over the next decade Mortenson built not just one but fifty-five schools in remote villages across the forbidding and breathtaking landscape of Pakistan and Afghanistan, just as the Taliban rose to power. His story is at once a riveting adventure and a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit.

This entire book, every page, every paragraph has been an inspiring read. I was particularly influenced by the beginning part of the story when he gets back to his country after staying in Korphe village for some time. He strives, every single minute, in every conceivable way to work relentlessly towards making that promise happen. A promise, he made to the headman Haji Ali in a remote village in Pakistan that did not even exist on any map at that point in time. This promise could have been looked back upon as a moment of weakness/getting carried away. But No, Mortenson nourished this promise with obsession. During a recent trip to Ahmedabad, this thing came up….to do that thing that you really really want to do; you need to have a sense of obsession. Passion is just not enough!.

One man's mission to promote peace...One school at a time.....


He wrote, No…. he actually typed out 580 letters, one after the other, on a battered old typewriter to raise money for that school. He received one check in return for 100 USD. His target was 12000 USD to construct that school in Korphe. His mother convinced him to present a slide show at her school and that led to the Pennies for Pakistan drive that led to a collection of 62, 345 pennies i.e. 623.45 USD. He was doing all this while working at the local medical centre and sleeping in his car to save money. He lived an extremely frugal life. He went though that for almost a year and thanks to one very generous donor, Mr Jean Hoerni, he did meet his target.

He went back to Pakistan and bought everything that was required to build that school, only to return to Korphe and realize that he needed to first build a sturdy cable bridge <replacing the existing fragile rope bridge>  to transport all his heavy construction material into Korphe. There started another fund-raising drive, another trip back home before he could start his actual work. To cut the long story short, he did build that amazing school. That bridge opened up the rest of Pakistan to the people of Korphe. And the school, well…….opened up a new world bringing in the light of education.

This extraordinary gentleman went on to achieve some great milestones in Pakistan and building schools was just one of them. And all this despite, the fatwa issued against him twice by some religious leaders in Pakistan. Nothing stopped this man; forget about stopping, nothing even slowed him down.

Over the past few years, a lot  has been written about Greg Mortenson in the international media. When the US was doing all the things it did in Iraq, here this American was busy turning stones into schools in an Islamic country. He believed that education is the best weapon against terrorism and the influence of Islamic militants.

 His rise to fame, as the book proceeds, clearly seems to not have affected him at all. That’s an amazing quality….. to be unaffected, unfazed by comments, criticism and also appreciation coming your way. And this is where probably  the obsession helps, it transports you to a different level of dedication and on that level validation from people does not matter anymore. The only thing that exists on that level is you and what you’ve chosen to do. Passion in some ways seeks adulation, maybe validation…Obsession does not, it is beyond all that.

My Takeaways from this book:

1. When you want to do something, something that you no clue about, no one in your family or friends had done it before, something that is a completely unknown territory, just go ahead and start. The ways will surface, things will work out. At that point in time, the most unthinkable thing to do would seem like taking that leap but that is also the most essential thing to be done. This seems to be in complete sync with something I’d heard Mr. Jayesh Patel say, “Service is like flashing a torch-light on a dark street, you can see only up to a certain point and when you get to that point, that light will flash gain, showing you the way ahead…… So keep moving.”

2. This man, concentrated on one thing : he wanted to build a school. He invested everything had into that one thing. That single-minded determination and focus translated into 131 schools in rural and volatile parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating over 58,000 children. Of course eventually he did a couple of other things as well, like empowering domestic women of the valley to set up stitching centres, help bring water to refugee camps, but that was after  he had a very strong base in what he was doing….after his primary cause and passion had gained a strong foothold. Many a times, we want to do this and that also. We want to have this super awesome job, we want to work with an NGO also, we want to volunteer with this another NGO also, we want to be in that X club, we want to participate in that Y event, we want to join that forum, meet this set of people, watch that play and the list goes on….. I mean, there is an insane need to do everything, to not miss anything. Doing one thing just doesn’t seem enough right now. But one lifetime doesn’t actually seem enough at actually bring out a change, and to be able to trace the trajectory of that change.

I was in awe of Mr. Anand Shah and his theory of randomness but I couldn’t connect with it. That is why I put down that piece exactly as it was delivered by him, not adding anything. But this, one thing at a time and that one thing for life, seems more like something personally I can connect to.

3. You roll up your sleeves and get down to doing something. There is a term that needs to be thrown out of the window now and it’s called: Work-Life Balance. Some people will be able to deal with the dynamics of your mind and your time schedules, some will not. Some will understand and maybe respect your overpowering desire to achieve what you’ve set out to, some will not. So simply put, there are bound to be a lot of entries and exits in your life in that initial phase. It makes sense to be prepared for them.

To me, Tara Bishop emerges as much a hero as Mr. Mortenson himself. To stand by someone with that kind of  fierce determination, takes a lot more than just love. It takes an incredible strength of character and a lot of courage.

So yeah, this has to be the most spectacular book to have graced my shelf. At the end of the book, certain ways are listed as to how you can help this cause. Blogging and spreading awareness about it was one of it. Unfortunately, Central Asia Institute does not accept volunteers due to various reasons, so this seemed like the right thing to do now….write about it.


2 thoughts on “Three Cups of Tea: Book Review

  1. Hey…seems like an awesome book…
    i will put it on my must read list…felt really nice reading abt it…

    • Yeah Anu, Highly recommended….

      It’s just awesome to look around and find people doing such phenomenonal work in transforming lives, functioning silently and consistently in the background…..

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