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Sunday, 16 February 2014

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In the land of pharaohs

It was the morning of January 1, 2000. The sight that greeted my eyes across the window as I awoke just puzzled me.

"Welcome to the 7th millennium" a banner dancing in the morning winds read. Was there a miscalculation? Then I remembered that I was not in my own resplendent island that was probably celebrating the dawn of the 2nd millennium but in the land of the pharaohs across which flowed the amazing blue river Nile. Specifically we were in its capital, Cairo.

To put it bluntly, Egypt was just laughing her sides out at the rest of the world whose two feet had been covering themselves with fig leaves while she was building her giant pyramids and dams and castles.

That encases a very long story which gets displaced by my own short story.

Just across the hotel was a small well-kept fruit shop that we, the tourist group from Sri Lanka, used to hang around in the evenings. The woman who ran it was known to make cute and camouflaged parcels of fruits for foreigners to carry home and at very subsidised rates so that everyone was eager to keep contacts with her. One dusk when I sauntered there I saw a woman at the entrance looking utterly miserable. Though language barrier prevented our dialogue, she knew some English words. Egypt forbids beggars but she was doing some sort of begging under cover.

Hip

"Hip bone", she would tell me pointing at her hip. "Broken. Hit by husband". Well, Egypt despite its fabulous past was no extra terrestrial land but just a part of the world where women are often assaulted on domestic issues by the stronger species despite international organisations.


Giza Pyramids

I put a few coins in her palm and as I came close to her my nose got burdened with a strange odour. I tried to decipher it and was startled to find it, some sort of a miasma of death. Surely the woman could not be dead however desperate she looked. Anyway I forgot all about her as I had to maximise my travel experience for the exorbitant money paid. Even the Giza Pyramids I climbed with the help of the tour guide, Yusuf.

He had picked me for he was in the same trade as I was and may be I was minus the tinsel of many a female in the group. Tour guiding was just his pastime for he was a lecturer in Egyptology at a university in Cairo and after a tete-a -tete with him when I revealed my own educational qualifications the young man was always keen to help me. That is how when the females of my age just stared at the way the Giza pyramids rushed to heaven and shook their heads, Yusuf volunteered to help me if I agreed to climb up. I was just dying to do it.

Mummies

In my ignorance, I was expecting to see the mummies entombed up there. "The mummies are all in the Cairo Museum", Yusuf said to the group and laughingly added that they were the only ancient artefacts not robbed.

All the rest that included all the gold and silver utensils that contained stuff to make the voyage to the unknown Great Beyond comfortable, the unscrupulous vandals had robbed not caring a two pence whether the dead, the kings, queens and all the entourage, went hungry all that way to the other world. They were academics who do not believe in this after death life. Die and that is the end. There is no after life.

But not all was smooth sailing. Yusuf had explained about the mummies in the Cairo Museum which I hope are still intact there despite the recent Arab spring that infected certain countries in making the hoi polloi go berserk and ruin the heritage. It is the same famous or infamous world.

There were 40 mummies or more specifically dried carcasses of humans in the museum, terrible to look at. Only the teeth and hair gleamed with a mysterious vibrancy that defied millennia. A guide trailed behind us and explained the history of each mummy. They all sounded such bizarre tales and he sounded so shaken, that I suspected that he was fabricating something.

Desire

The jingle of cash in the pockets is any tour guide's desire. More fantastic staff you relate more the jingle. But I too tend to be sceptical much to my own discomfort.

He came to mummy No. 30 or 31 0r 33,I forget which, when he announced that this is the mummy, a female, with a hip bone fracture. What happened, someone in the group wished to know. "Anything is possible, Sir, except being run over by a motor car because despite all their pyramid feats our people, never knew how to make one."

Someone else butts in. "Maybe, the husband assaulted her on the hip for unfaithfulness. There was laughter. "Quite possible" agrees the tour guide, "Because this one carries a more miserable leer than the rest". Miserable leer! I remembered the woman at the entrance of the fruit stall. Her leer too was extra miserable. We were to leave the following morning for our homeland. I went to the fruit stall for my parcel and as I approached the place that terrible smell assailed my nostrils. And then I saw her, disappearing just across the street her hands on her broken hips. Concluding that she was in and out of the place. I inquired from the son of the vendor -woman about her. He was surprised. Never seen her, he said.

She said, "Our country allows no beggars", The mother now intervenes as I let out that she had a hip bone fracture. "Look in the museum", she said.

She giggles. Still I have not solved the riddle of that giggle or remark or the cause of that stench. But one thing I know, is that the males who flex their muscles to helpless women come down the line from 4000 BC to present times.

And they may belong to royalty or to the lowly stock. Even the maids of the queens sometimes went up to pyramid tombs.

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