Once again, I lapsed into a period of silence – a silence, almost Omerta – which would have made La Cosa Nostra proud. I watched my husband frenetically type up our adventures in Egypt well into the night, on the teensy keypad of his blackberry. Really, this man Sukumar now – doesn’t he ever feel tired? He’s like the energizer bunny & just watching him makes me feel worn out. Here I was, lazing out & there he was, making me giddy with all his buzzing around.
Okey-dokey, I’ll stop doling out excuses. You guys know good old Samuel Johnson, the guy that created the dictionary? He could only work in fits & starts – long periods of indolence, followed by bursts of febrile activity. Just like me. Sadly, my resemblance to Johnson, the literary genius begin & end there.
Since Sukumar has written in detail about ancient Egypt, I decided to write some snippets about modern Egypt. So here it is – Egypt thru the jaundiced eyes of Priya Raju.
Wherever we went, we were greeted with shouts of “India!” and “Amitabh Bachchan!” by guides, drivers, waiters, shop keepers & touts. Nobody knew who the Prime Minister of India was, but they knew Amitabh. On our trip to Abu Simbel, the driver declared gleefully, “We love your Minister of Culture”. I didn’t know we had one! Pitying my ignorance, the man added, “Amitabh Bachchan, of course!”. I had a tough time convincing him that – No, Mr Bachchan is an actor not a minister. “Are you sure?” asked the driver sadly. I told him, “He was an MP once, but he isn’t part of the government now”. Not to be outdone, the driver shot back – “Well then, you should make him the Minister of Culture soon!”. I solemnly promised to rectify that lapse as soon as I landed in India.
Our guide Sami was obviously overawed by AB. He asked me, “Is Mr Bachchan a billionaire now?”. “Hmmm – No, he lost a lot of money producing movies. I’m sure he’s a multi-milionaire now”. He refused to believe me & started fantasizing about how much money AB must have in the bank. The adulation was a tad too much. Just to switch gears, I told him that Mr Bachchan was married to acclaimed actor Jaya Bhaduri, who quit acting after having kids. This was received with exclamations of joy – all nice girls quit their jobs after having children, don’t they? My feminist back bristled.
So much that by the end of our trip, I was sick & tired of the (usually) delightful Mr Bachchan. Adding to the Big B overload, I watched “Cheeni Kum” on the way to Cairo & “Shootout at Lokhandwala” (where AB plays a small role) on the way back to Chennai. Ooh, please save me from Amitabh Bachchan. He has invaded & taken over my brain.
After a trip to Karnak, we were having a cuppa in our hotel’s restaurant. The waiter, for some reason, was tickled pink. After serving us our coffee, he told us that he loved Bollywood dancing. “I especially love it that both men & women dance in Bollywood”, said the young man & looked at us yearningly. I was half afraid that he expected us to gyrate to a filmy number right then & there, with a heavy dose of Jhatkas & Matkas. “Thank you, that will be all”, I said firmly, much to the disappointment of the waiter.
Now, I hate the term “Bollywood”. That’s a derogatory term coined by Westerners for the moronic cinemas made in India. The subtext is this: Bollywood = Escapist fantasy with lavish sets, running around the trees, half naked women, ridiculously indestructible heroes & unimaginative stories churned by absolute cretins. They don’t use the term “Bollywood” to describe a well-thought out movie like “Droh Kaal”, for example. For some inexplicable reason – my guess is, because we are dumb asses who don’t know when we are slighted – we are proud to call the Hindi film industry “Bollywood”.
Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah also thinks its sheer idiocy on our part to use the term “Bollywood” unflinchingly (Source: Deccan Herald, July 3rd). And for the love of my sainted aunt, regional movies are from “Kollywood” (Tamil), “Tollywood” (Telugu), “Malluwood” (Malayalam) & “Sandalwood” (Kannada).
Woes of a Frazzled Citizen
Our Tour Manager Esam was a pleasant & polite young man.I asked him about the typical problems middle class Egyptians face. He’s getting married in April & he said that the biggest problem in Cairo is housing. “It is very difficult to find a house. Decent flats are expensive & the city has already exploded well into the desert”. I told him, “Yes, flats are expensive in Indian cities also”. He asked me, “Tell me, what’s the Indian government doing to solve the problem?”. I was completely taken aback. In my opinion, India already has a big, regulatory government that meddles with everything & solves almost nothing. I’ll be glad if the government doesn’t try to solve the housing problem. Aloud, I said, “Nothing, Essam”. Sadly shaking his head, Essam said, “Likewise. Our government isn’t taking sufficient interest in solving the housing problem”.
I stared straight ahead. A car with a bumper sticker, “Fuck the System” was directly in front of us. Why blame the system? India’s or Egypt’s housing problem can only be solved by private enterprises. A liberal dose of right-wing entrepreneurship is just what Egypt needs, I thought – but had enough sense to keep my own counsel. A socialist setup squeezes all enterprise from people & leaves in its wake a nation of clerks, waiters & miscellaneous order-takers. As a country, India has started recovering only 15-20 years back. It is ridiculous to blame the British education system for our lack of initiative, fostered under the “License, Quota Raj” – a beast of our own making.
That wraps it up for this week, folks. Watch this space. My next post will primarily be on Women in Egypt. And shopping. Why be cruel enough to separate the XX chromosomes from their favorite addiction?