My grandfather was born in the city of Ghazni, in Afghanistan, sometime around 1918. No records were kept and no one can remember. Some centuries ago a Turk named Mahmud plundered India each summer: to pay for making Ghazni one of the brightest jewels in the necklace of cities that hung from Kyoto to Grenada. But that was long ago, ``and besides, the wench is dead.''
My grandfather grew up without electricity, in a country where, looking back, no one could be sure just when the last son of a major tribal land-owner was born, a country with fewer people than southern California or Mexico City and less money than either. Through good luck - having been born talented, driven and priviledged - he came to attend land-grant colleges in the Middle West of These States on a scholarship from the Afghan government. He even spent a summer in Madison. It was a good time and a good place to be favorably impressed by Americans, and grandfather was. He went on to graduate studies at Columbia in New York. He married one of his classmates, the talented, driven, priviledged daughter of a progressive land-owning family from Tamil Nadu, in south India. They went to Afghanistan and my grand-father went to work for the government, which was why it had paid for his education.
In the 1950s my grandfather was part of the Afghan government's Helmand Valley Project. The dictionary defines the Helmand as a
``river 650mi (1046km) SW Afghanistan flowing SW & W into a morass on Iran border''The project was intended to bring hydroelectric power, roads, bridges, and modern agriculture to at least a part of Afghanistan, in the hopes of making what has long been one of the poorest places on Earth at least a little less destitute. My grandfather was sent to San Francisco as the Afghan consul. One of his main jobs was to work with the American principle contractor for the project. The other was to look after the interests of Afghans living on the west coast. This wasn't hard because there weren't many: some students at Berkeley, a colony of grape growers in Lodi, California, who invited him to the annual grape festival, with motorcade and beauty pageant. It was another good time and place to be favorably impressed by America and Americans. My grandfather was, so deeply that now he cannot stand either.
The Helmand Valley Project has, at long last, exceeded all hopes for bringing wealth to Aghanistan: the mujaheddin use it to cultivate opium poppies for export. My grandfather isn't very happy about this.