I first saw the name on Gary Westfahl’s vast science fiction reference and biographical site, World of Westfahl. But, does Westfahl know more than he is telling? Is Ali Mirdrekvandi really the name of a self-educated Iranian author of a 1965 book called No Heaven for Gunga Din, or a pseudonym for another writer?
The full title of the 128 page book is No Heaven For Gunga Din: Consisting of the British and American Officer’s Book, and while I had never heard of it, Verandah Books calls it a “Much-praised comic fable written for the amusement of officers in the mess at Teheran by a Persian servant.” Amazon.com calls the book, “A kind of Pilgrim’s Progress in which a group of officers wander about the firmament in search of Heaven.”
Someone called Phloighd included No Heaven For Gunga Din in a list of books “that made me think, or laugh, in a quasi-meaningful way…” and adds, “(I) think this was some sort of minor cult hit in the 60s. Blurb has Peter Sellers saying “it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read.”
The most complete and helpful summary of the book, albeit the least flattering, is by Gregory Tidwell on Omphalo Book Reviews. Tidwell, who gives the book two out of five stars, nevertheless gives the author credit for his intention, saying, “In order to put this novella . . . into perspective, its probably important to know what Kipling was trying to do with his poem Gunga Din . . . 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 (dead) officers go through (the Milky Way) in their search for Heaven acting exactly as if they were still men of power back on Earth. They 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.”
For reasons stated in his review, Tidwell believes “the back story (in the book’s introduction) to be nothing more than an element of the story, and the true author to be anonymous.”
Larry Weissmann, posting on the Book People Archive, says, “It’s a wonderful little parable and I’d recommend it. However, even though I’m no linguist, the writing style doesn’t fit at all with the way the putative author (Mirdrekvandi) is described in the forward (by “Zaehner”) or intro (by “Hemming”). My own thought is that all three names are fictitious, and the whole a beautifully done put-on.”
Some booksellers list John Hemming as the author of No Heaven For Gunga Din, but most of them list Ali Mirdrekvandi as the author and credit the Introduction to John Hemming. Most of them list a Forward by R. C. Zaehner.
I found two people named John Hemming on Google. One, a British politician, was born in 1960, so he was only five years old when the book was published. The other John Hemming, born in 1935, is a well-known explorer and one of the world’s experts on Brazilian Indians, the Amazon environment, the Incas, and Peruvian archaeology. It seemed like a good lead. I contacted Mr. Hemming by the email link on his web site. His quick and courteous reply was that he had never heard of the book.
Searching R. C. Zaehner yielded much better results. I found a PDF file on JSTOR called Zoroastrian Survivals In Iranian Folklore II by R. C. Zaehner, University of Oxford. In the Introduction to Zaehner’s paper, a Philip G. Kreyenbroek, University of London, makes reference to a J.F.B. Hemming, who was in possession of a long epic story called Irradiant, which was written by – guess who – Ali Mirdrekvandi!
To be continued . . . I hope . . .