Sikunder Burnes Talk, Saturday 26 November 11am, Yunus Emre Cultural Centre, London 26

I am giving my first ever talk on the subject of Alexander Burnes on Saturday morning, as part of the Open Eurasian Literature Festival. You need a ticket, which you can purchase here for £11.21 and gives admission to the entire festival, which aims to connect people with an interest in the cultures of Central Asia. I am contributing at very short notice to support the endeavour, so I expect my audience will be pretty intimate, but I am not unhappy about that for my first stab at a lecture on this particular topic. If you are coming, I suggest you consider getting a copy from Amazon first to bring for me to sign, as pretty well everywhere else is out of stock (the book is reprinting again on Friday). The Yunus Emre cultural centre is at 10 Maple Street, London W1T 5HA.

The full festival runs from tomorrow for a full week, and whether you are reaching out to new cultures or reconnecting with familiar ones, it is well worth the effort.

I recently came across a remarkable testament to Alexander Burnes’ stature as an intellectual and a scientist, a facet of his character which has surprised many who have read the book. This article relates to a possible breakthrough in spinal cord injury research at Griffiths University in Australia.

Research supervisor at the university, Dr. Hames St. John, explains of this method’s impact on spinal cord injuries as, “Allowing cells to grow in this 3D format dramatically increases their growth and function and is particularly useful for spinal transplantation repair in which cells are transplanted into the injury site.”
Any proposed solution to spinal cord injuries is groundbreaking for the community because there is currently no single cure to remove paralysis after the spinal cord has undergone complete damage. And the number of people who stand to benefit grows everyday, with 12,500 new people experiencing injuries each year in the U.S. alone.
This promising approach to spinal cord repair stems from research on the transplantation of a specialized cell from the olfactory system. These are the cells that form your sense of smell.
“Successful partial regeneration of a completely severed spinal cord in a human was achieved recently in an overseas study, thus demonstrating this therapy can work,” says Mr Vadivelu.”What is now needed is to make the transplantation therapy more effective and suitable for patients with a range of different spinal cord injuries.”
This method of 3D cell growth means transplanted cells have a better chance of survival at the site of spinal cord injury, ultimately meaning better integration and overall more effective and rapid spinal cord regeneration.
The “floating marbles” mentioned above, are actually just liquid marbles and, according to Dr. St. John, are a remarkably simple way to culture cells in 3D. These marbles were observed nearly 200 years ago, by a British explorer named Alexander Burnes. As he travelled through Pakistan in 1830, he noted that while watching the Indus River merging with the sea, “round globules filled with water” could be seen floating on seawater, and formed when “the freshwater detached sand from the sand banks.”
Dr. St. John explained of his method:
“A droplet of liquid that contains the cells is placed upon a carpet of teflon powder to create a liquid marble which can then be floated on cell culture medium. By having an air interface between the liquid marble and the cell culture medium upon which it floats, the liquid marble easily rotates. This allows the cells within the liquid marbles to freely associate to form natural structures without the confines imposed upon them by other 3D culturing methods.”
What’s next?
Of course, this is still relatively new research, and it will be some time before it is being carried out on patients. It does, however, demonstrate promising advances in the field of spinal cord injury research.
Many researchers and techniques have been publicized in recent years, and with growing recognition and funding, even more time and money can be spent on similar techniques and ideas which may, in the near future, be a treatment you or a loved one experience on the road to spinal cord injury recovery.

The extraordinary thing is that Burnes made and wrote up this scientific discovery at a time when he was in great physical danger and seeing the apparent destruction of his career hopes, as his flotilla was being physically blocked from proceeding up the Indus by the Amirs of Sind. It is entirely characteristic of Burnes multi-faceted mind that he should behave in this way.

Doubtless I am doomed for the rest of my life to learn new things I shall wish I knew at the time I wrote the book!

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26 thoughts on “Sikunder Burnes Talk, Saturday 26 November 11am, Yunus Emre Cultural Centre, London

  • Alan

    I finally got Paypal to work and ordered the book despite it telling me three times I had my own email address wrong 🙂

    • Alan

      Oh Craig, I forgot to mention that when I was a teenager, my best mate was named Burns, so I’ll tell him about your book, if I can. Hey, maybe his whole family will end up buying a copy 🙂

  • Demetrius

    I may well jhave mentioned Turner Macan before and I suspect that if they did not meet they must have been aware of each other. Macan has a memorial in the Church of Ireland St. Patrick;s Cathedral at Armagh. His widow remarried to William Henry Whitbread, executor to Macan;s will and she wes closely connected to The Court and a range of people involved in Asiatic literature etc. Macan was also Master of the senior Lodge of Bengal in Calcutta and hence possibly the senior Freekason in India. He was personal Aide to the Governor’s General.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Hope it goes well, and wish I could attend.

    And finding things about persons and things one has written extensively about it not being doomed.

    It shows that one was really right to write about it in the first place.

  • Habbabkuk

    O/T, but an important post from the previous thread (1st and only page). From Sharp Ears and OK with the Mod

    “May I put something O/T here.

    The execrable Kamm is attacking David Morrison, a friend of Peter Oborne. The usual stuff – Srebenica related. Peter Oborne is defending his friend.

      • Habbabkuk


        Hardly monitoring ‘cos that very important and significant post was only from yesterday.

        But of course you’re absolutely right, in the normal course of events one should just smile to oneself and deliver the occasional rebuke. However, I’m concerned about the reputational damage to Craig’s blog; as you know, people are often (alas!) judged by the company they keep (no one knows that better than Sharp Ears, who’s always going on about the company political figures and people in the public eye keep)

  • KingofWelshNoir

    From The Art of Fiction by David Lodge:
    ‘There is however another aspect of the art of fiction, known only to writers…and that is the Missed Opportunity. Inevitably, in the course of reading one sometimes comes across echoes, anticipations and analogues of one’s own work long after the latter is finished and done with, too late to take advantage of the discover.

    He then goes on to cite as an example a wonderful couplet about a Kingfisher that would have been perfect for his novel Small World, but seen too late. The couplet was originally in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land but had been cut on the advice of Ezra Pound. Lodge only found the lines when he came across the facsimile edition of the original drafts of Eliot’s poem.

    You’re in good company.

  • BrianPowell

    Enjoying Sikunder Burnes, and was drawn in by the Montrose history and connections, as I have family there and along that coast. The writing style makes the history enjoyable reading, and bringing in the personal lives of the players expands the picture of life in India. Much of Sir Richard Burton’s work was destroyed by his wife because she didn’t like so much personal and sexual detail, which she thought would damage his reputation. The details of personal life makes possible a greater understanding of the person.
    I have always liked the whole approach of the Orientalists, such as Burnes, and their wiliness to take part in the life of India. The later middle-class Victorians of the Raj stifled any understanding of India.

    There can always be a revised edition to include the new info!

    • bevin

      Never mind a new edition. Craig cut 80,000 words out of the draft, which sounds to me like a volume of essays in the future. Essays which will only be improved by this steady stream of new information.
      “Wiliness”, a Freudian slip?

  • music stand


    Here’s an interesting quote from a French philosophe that I’ve just found.

    “What is the cause of England’s extreme power? Its government.
    But what is the cause of the extreme poverty of Scotland and Ireland?”

    Claude Adrien Helvetius

    • music stand

      Misread it slightly. The second question was put by Denis Diderot to follow the first question and answer by Helvetius. Just as interesting.

      • Habbabkuk

        Diderot’s question was a good one and I don’t have the answer, of course.


        Diderot’s dates are 1713 – 1784. Let’s say he put the question in middle age – perhaps in 1756.

        So whatever the answer is, it be “England” – unless you’re willing (and silly enough) to believe that England drove Scotland into extreme poverty in a mere 50 years (Act of Union = 1706).

        No, the causes of that extreme poverty must lie further back – probably from the time when Scotland was independent and free and governing itself….. 🙂

        • music stand

          London government had much negative influence over Scotland with the union of the crowns in 1603 until the union in 1707.

          • Deepgreenpuddock

            Am io being naive in thinking that extreme poverty in Scotland may have a lot to do with the climate-(colder and wetter/stormier), the landscape (difficult to develop/mountainous etc), the nature of the soils and geology-not very nutrient rich/rocky thin topsoils/ except in a relatively few places and often difficult to husband and cultivate.
            And the midges. Once, traveling in the West Highlands, I remarked to a local about the relatively less well kempt gardens compared to the east coast. He suggested that working outside in the summer months (te gardening season)was inhibited by the midges. Don’t underestimate the scourge that the biting chironomid represents.
            Finally, the drainage. Many descriptions of Scotland of the time were of an extremely boggy. I think there may have been countless drainage and improvement schemes since that time.

  • Tony_0pmoc


    I will not be meeting you on Saturday, though under other circumstances I might well have done. I would just like to make the following observations, some of which are about bureaucracy and borders.

    Two ladies – coincidentally almost the same age, though one of them is over 60. One of them is just over the border – though only by about 50 yards. She pays her council tax to a different council than my wife, though no one actually asked the question. They were both in the same ward at the same time as a result of accidents. One of them got knocked down by a car. One of them got knocked down by their own large dog (we have cats). Both have broken bones.

    So they are both ready (well not really) to go home.

    Now, I assumed, I would have to buy support kit – like commode, zimmerframe, crutches (I had some experience of this for my mum 20 years ago). The hospital asked me what I had got. I said – well I’ve ordered a commode – but its not turned up yet but it should be Tuesday or Wednesday.

    So the hospital provide absolutely everything – these 2 ladies need to cope at home. The hospital needs their beds – for other ladies who break their hips, legs etc..

    So all you think under the circumstances would be fine…

    But no. They sent the kit out – to the other lady that lives over the border…and the delivery men – saw her bins. Wrong Council. We can’t deliver it here…and so they brought all the stuff back. She is still in hospital – whilst her husband goes round all the mobility shops trying to buy all the stuff he needs for his wife.

    Meanwhile all these highly paid hospital and council managers getting paid an absolute fortune hold crisis meetings to discus the fact that they a bunch of w@nkers.

    These two ladies are in contact. When the stuff that I ordered privately on ebay eventually turns up, if she still needs it, I will personally deliver it to her home. I do not want any money for it…

    So I thought I would check who was in control of their council..Tory, Lib or Labour ?

    None of the above. The Residents Association.

    Yeh – well your Resident is occupying an NHS Bed. Is your Council Tax cheap? I think the NHS should charge you a few grand.

    Brill to have my wife home – and thanks everyone who helped save her life…and the hundreds of personal supportive messages she got. She can’t reply to them all yet.


    • John Spencer-Davis


      I am assuming this hospital is NHS. The hospital has a responsibility to ensure that the other lady is discharged with a sufficient after care package to keep her safe at home. This may mean up to six weeks of monitoring, plus relevant equipment. The hospital should have a social work unit attached with the responsibility for arranging this. If the lady belongs to a different council to the one in which the hospital is situated, then the social work unit should be liaising with that council’s social work department and with the hospital’s occupational therapy unit to ensure that that package is delivered.

      First person the husband and lady should speak to is her consultant, asking him or her to assist in seeing that the after care package is delivered. Ask to see someone from the attached social work unit.

      There will also be a NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in the hospital. May well be worth talking with them.

      Finally, you will probably not have to pay VAT on anything you buy in these circumstances. Do look into that.

      I wish your wife well.


  • bevin

    “What is the cause of England’s extreme power? Its government.
    But what is the cause of the extreme poverty of Scotland and Ireland?”

    The likelihood is that Diderot, if he referred to ‘England’s extreme power’ will have done so after 1756. It was not until the triumphs of the Seven Years War that that power was likely to be found ‘extreme.’

    As to Scotland’s relative poverty it will, undoubtedly, he related to the discriminatory trade rules under which it lived between 1603 and the Act of Union.
    The really interesting question, which the discussion above (17.42) ignores, is the explanation for the “extreme poverty of Ireland”. Of this there can be little doubt. It was the first victim of English imperialism. Anyone with any knowledge at all of Irish history will know that, by the mid-C18th, Ireland had been systematically plundered by waves of, often genocidally inclined, invaders from England.

  • giyane

    It is mentioned in the Qur’an that brine and fresh water don’t mix in natural conditions. Western Science in 1830 although fully energised was over 1000 years behind on this.

  • bevin

    A Canadian friend who has spent much time in Central Asia, writes:
    “…I knew about this British adventurer, who also went by the name of “Bokhara” Burnes, but didn’t realize he was so multi-dimensional and personally fascinating. I recall seeing a print of an oil portrait of Burnes and (I think) his wife in Bukharan dress.

    “These Great Game guys must have been a wild bunch but once when I was in Bukhara, I got what might have been a snippet of the story of how things might have looked from the other side. I was asking a local historian about one of the other major Great Game players, the Hungarian Arminius Vambery. Both he, Burnes and other European “spies” claimed to have had “impenetrable” disguises that fooled everyone in Central Asia, including the emir of Bukhara at the time. In fact (said the local historian) the emir and everyone else knew exactly who everyone was, enabling them to game the gamers at their own Game.

    “The Burnes book isn’t available in Canada until Feb. 17 ($52.42) but since the Kindle edition is available now for $13.79, I’ve just ordered it. …”

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