Monday, April 17, 2006

Dreaming of Walter Mitty

One of the most often anthologized American short stories is James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," about a hen-pecked husband who, while forced to run errands for his wife, keeps imagining that he is a war hero, flying a transport plane or bomber through heavy anti-aircraft fire, or racing across no-man's land under a machine-gun barrage.

An acquaintance recommended I read Thurber, and, finding a copy in Magrudy's (once the only major bookstore in Dubai, and still one of the best bookstores in the Emirates), I bought it. In 2000.

Finding it behind a pile of other books, I started reading last week, unfortunately: This morning, I started dreaming that I was in the middle of a war.

Conflicts and machine-gun fire are common not far from here, though the last time anything remotely resembling organized armed combat occurred in the UAE, the weapons were smooth-bore Martini single-shot muskets, which sound nothing at all like machine guns.

As usual in dreams, as the machine-gunner's aim improved and the shots were about to hit me, I woke up, but the sounds of machine-gun fire persisted.

Then I remembered, there is a new building going up next to my window, and the machines (which start promptly at 5:45 a.m.) make a racket not unlike the sound of a machine-gun in a Hollywood (or here, Bollywood) war epic.

So I guess it's a bit unjust to blame Thurber.

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