Egypt Via My Tunnel Vision

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.

Bheja Fry
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.

Wooden Heads
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.

Next Up
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?


  1. Quote

    Good to meet you here after a long long gap Priya. How do you always manage to find people who feed your cynicism ma’am!!!! It almost felt that you and Sukumar went to two different places for vacation.

    I don’t why, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems which i read when I was in school. It is called the Rock and the sea. The rock on the shore is telling the sea, how different they are, yet how inseparable πŸ™‚

  2. Quote

    Good to read about things other than history. This is my first reading on Priya Raju’s blogs. I liked the flow and easy writing. Generous dose of subtle humor. I never knew that Kannada fiml industry is called Sandalwood. Is it?

    Well…for the housing problem, I guess the govts can do something like how a stuid regulation has now been lifted in Mumbai.

    For reasons like increased work permits, F1 in 2008 and construction of integrated resorts, singapore is now experiencing an unprecedented increase in rents. Rents have doubled up in the last 1 year. But the govt has stepped in (ofcourse, after a long pause) to develop new residential buildings. It has also released many lands and has promised to build about 10000 housings by June 2008. It is upgrading the existing apartments, buiding additional floors etc. But to think of it, S’pore could be the size of Coimbatore and it is more easier for them to control.

  3. Quote
    priyaraju said December 3, 2007, 9:41 pm:

    Archana – Thanks for your comment.

    The negative aspects are there everywhere, you my dear, choose not to see them.

    If noticing negative things along with positive things is cynicism, I guess I’m a cynic. I’m the person that sees the glass as both half full & half empty. That’s the only logical thing to do.

    Sukumar wrote about ancient Egypt & I wrote about modern Egypt. How can they sound the same?

  4. Quote
    priyaraju said December 3, 2007, 9:49 pm:

    Mahesh – Thanks for your comment.

    I agree that the government can step in to monitor & regulate. But, expecting the government to solve all problems – that too in a developing country – is a big no-no. There are just way too many problems to solve in a 3rd world country.

    I, for one, will be happy if the TN government issues ration cards without so much bungling, within the applicant’s lifetime πŸ™‚

    25 years back, unemployment was a huge problem in India. It was solved by private enterprises. The government then started helping by setting up SEZs, easing taxes etc.

  5. Quote

    Hi Priya,

    Your post is like a whiff of fresh (and modern air):-)

    I am imagining Shoba De in Egypt having the same conversation with the male chauvinist driver. She would faint after shouting “SOB” a thousand times. πŸ™‚
    Sandalwood is nice. It has some originality. You are right about Drohi-kaal. (superbly screen-played “Drohi” in Telugu). I think it was a critically acclaimed flop. BTW if you had not yet watched, please check the movie “Hazaar Khwaishein Aisi”. I liked it a lot.


  6. Quote
    priyaraju said December 4, 2007, 1:23 am:

    Vamsi – Thanks for your comment. To be fair to Egypt, its a very moderate country, only slightly more conservative than India. I found the tolerance in Egypt very refreshing – more on this in my next post.

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll certainly watch “Hazaar…”.

  7. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 4, 2007, 2:58 am:

    Hey Priya ..Nice to have u back….
    I totally agree with Archana it seems that Sukumar and you went to different places πŸ™‚

  8. Quote
    priyaraju said December 4, 2007, 3:24 am:

    Karthik – Thanks for your comment.

    Modern Egypt has very little in common with ancient Egypt, except the location. So, its inevitable that our accounts differ πŸ™‚

  9. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2007, 3:29 am:

    Nice post Priya. Both Archana’s and Karthik’s comments have captured the stark contrast between the lofty pharoanic Egypt and the low income modern Egypt. I also respect the moderate nature of the contemporary Egyptian society. I hope they identify the killer app for themselves soon like India did with Software and BPO.

  10. Quote
    ayshwarya (subscribed) said December 4, 2007, 4:57 am:

    Priya: Nice post. Totally agree to the Bollywood bit! My guide even had hindi songs in his mobile and he very proudly played the same to us.:-) Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai are the other popular actors from India.

    I am waiting to read ur post on Shopping! Especially the haggling bit! Even for a bottle of water you had to bargain!

  11. Quote
    priyaraju said December 4, 2007, 5:15 am:

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment. I wish Egypt will find a way to improve the living standards of its people.

  12. Quote
    priyaraju said December 4, 2007, 5:18 am:

    Ayshwarya – Thanks for your comment.

    Argh, how can they talk about AB & SRK in the same breath? πŸ™‚ AB is in a league of his own. I actually expected to catch some Egyptian movies when we were there. But unfortunately, their movie industry isn’t doing well these days.

    Yes, haggling. I can’t wait to write about that.

  13. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 4, 2007, 5:38 am:

    Priya …Sandalwood πŸ™‚ ROFL….where did get it ….

  14. Quote
    priyaraju said December 4, 2007, 5:58 am:

    Karthik – Thanks. I read a few online magazines that review film music. “Sandalwood” is how they refer to the Kannada movie industry. Not sure how prevalent it is in BLR, though.

  15. Quote


    Good to see your post after such a long time. I think the last time I read your post was on CH1B. Haha..Its really good to see the Modern Egypt through your writings.

    Looking forward for your post on Women and shopping πŸ™‚

  16. Quote
    priyaraju said December 6, 2007, 3:36 am:

    Saraswathi – Thanks for your comment. My next post would be ready in a couple of days.

  17. Quote
    joekorah (subscribed) said December 6, 2007, 10:15 am:

    Nice post Priya. Glad to see that you have kept your satirical humor even during retirement πŸ™‚

    Have you seen “Bollywood Calling” by Nagesh Kukunoor ? – I know that it will make your blood boil as it fosters the “Bollywood” stereotype – but worth watching.


  18. Quote
    priyaraju said December 6, 2007, 10:27 am:

    Joe – Thanks for your comment. See, post-retirement, one can keep their figure or their sarcasm. I wisely chose the latter. BTW, why are you envious of my “retirement”, as you call it?

    No, I haven’t seen the movie. Thanks – I’ll rent it.

  19. Quote
    joekorah (subscribed) said December 6, 2007, 11:33 am:

    I think lot of us would be envious of your retirement. You have achieved what most of us could only dream of. I tried to broach the subject of retiring at 40 with Nisha & she gave me a long cold hard look that I decided that it was in my best interest not to broach the subject again till I was 70.

    Jokes aside, I know that you would be working even more now that you are “retired”.
    Best of luck with your new venture.


  20. Quote
    priyaraju said December 6, 2007, 11:44 am:

    Joe – I was just kidding πŸ™‚ I know, some people can’t comprehend why anyone in their right mind would quit their job. Well, who said my mind is right? πŸ™‚

    Right now, I’m not doing much for the venture. Just trying to tie some lose ends at home & trying not to get even more insane than I am now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get started in another week or so.

  21. Quote

    Saturday afternoon. Super lunch by my grandmother, music by Rehamn in the back ground and a post by priya raju. Aaah!! Heaven. πŸ™‚
    its so good to have u back priya. i really miss u on ch1.

    Coming to this post. I read this post and i read all the other posts below by sukumar about ur trip to egypt. Hilarious. how different ur perspectives are. i agree with archana. it seems like u guys went to two different Egypt’s for ur vacation. sukumar seems to have visited the egypt of mosques, of museums, of pyramids, of citadels and churches and temples (anyone who wants to visit egypt can just read all of sukumar’s posts on egypt.. its like a travel guide to egypt written to perfection) and u seem to have visited the egypt of people who have bollywood actors in their mind, bollywood songs on their lips, dance to the tunes of bollywood and have the same problem as any middle class indian does. both of u together have i think covered all aspects of egypt!!

    after reading sukumar’s post i fell in love with egypt and its rich culture, after reading ur post i have fallen in love with the people of egypt!! i cant wait for ur next post and ur take on shopping!!
    write more often!! πŸ™‚

  22. Quote
    priyaraju said December 11, 2007, 4:16 am:

    Revs – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    I think what you perceive as different perspectives is related to coverage & writing style, that’s all. Yes, I positively need to write more often. I enjoy writing.

  23. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 11, 2007, 8:43 am:

    Thanks for your kind words Revathi. As i said before i think the contrast is mainly due to the fact that i covered Ancient Egypt which is awe inspiring to say the least and Priya covered modern Egypt which is a developing economy.

  24. Quote
    Sriram (subscribed) said December 24, 2007, 1:27 am:

    Isn’t it amazing to learn how other people look at us ? Nice post of your experiences Priya. The bollywood and AB stereotypes do seem to be omnipresent. btw, have to disagree with one thing.. point of brit education was to raise a class of english-speaking ppl to populate the indian civil service and work as clerks for the company and later the Raj.. think i’ve got my history correct.

    Sukumar is an EB?? πŸ™‚

  25. Quote
    Priya Raju said December 25, 2007, 11:58 am:

    Sriram – Thanks for your comment.

    I think why the British introduced English education in India is not very relevant. Almost all our front-line leaders of that period were educated abroad. And they determined what the policies of the country will be. We need to take responsibility for our blunders: license-quota Raj was created by Indians for Indians.

    We love taking credit for everything & the blame for nothing. I mean, we can’t be proud of Sunita Williams (whose connection to India is tenuous at best) & refuse to take the blame for the socialist setup that choked entrepreneurship.

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