Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Passing through Cairo

There are few cities so fascinating as Cairo, the capital of modern Egypt. Nursed by the Nile and guarded by the towering pyramids, this city with its pleasing climate, luxuriant vegetation, lovely streets and picturesque buildings, has an unceasing attraction for the foreigner. But how few of those who repeatedly pass in and out of the Suez Canal have been to Cairo!

Thanks to the arrangements made by the Lloyd Triestino Company, we could leave MN Victoria at Suez, drive by car to Cairo, spend a useful day there and catch the boat again at Port Said. By 9 pm on the 16th January, 1935, we were at Suez. The ship anchored at a great distance from the shore and we had to cross over in a ferry. It was a moonlit night. The vast expanse of water was brightened by the rays of the silvery moon. All around us were gleaming the lights of the town of Suez and of Port Tewfik with their starry reflection dancing in the bosom of the sea. Passing the customs barrier, we got into the car which was to carry us to Cairo. Soon the town was past and we were in the heart of the desert, rushing northwards. A companion of ours was expecting some adventure at the hands of desert Bedoins, but he was disappointed. There was peace all along the way - endless sand on both sides - the road running straight ahead and the pale moon shedding its lustre from the canopy of heaven. It was past midnight when we reached Cairo. In the stillness of the night, the brilliantly lighted streets of Cairo with their stately buildings looked enchanting.

The next morning we made our trip to the pyramids. The air was cold and a biting wind was blowing as we crossed the Nile and rushed to where the world-famous pyramids were silhouetted against the morning sky. Soon we arrived at their foot and began to gaze upwards. So these were the monuments of stone that had fired the imagination of even a soldier like Napoleon! The French Emperor had drawn up his troops near them and had stirred up their tired limbs by reminding them that 5,000 years were looking down upon them. The appeal had worked like magic and the Mamelukes had been scattered like dust before the wind. Round the pyramids we walked and in and out of the several excavations, wondering all the time what the pyramids had to teach us. Yes, we also could feel an inspiration. Standing before those towering giants against the background of the endless and dreary desert, one could realise the majesty of man and the immortality of the soul. The authors of those edifices had defied time. They had enshrined themselves in stone and whoever had any inwardness of perception, could hold communion with them.

Near the pyramids was the Sphinx with its eternal riddle. One massive work of stone, the searching eyes gazing at the rising sun - what idea did the Sphinx embody? One of the guides ventured an explanation. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the Sun-God and the Sphinx was either a symbol of the Sun or a representative of Sun-worship. But who knew? The soul that had built the Sphinx did not speak and the riddle remained unsolved. A little bird was sitting motionless on the head of the Sphinx. "That is the soul of the Sphinx," said a guide, to tickle our phantasy, "that comes every morning to greet him." Looking more closely at the face of the Sphinx, we found that the nose had been blown off. That was another problem, we thought. But the guides were not to be daunted. "It was a cannon-ball of the Emperor Napoleon that did the havoc," said one of them. Connecting Napoleon with the pyramids, we were prepared to be convinced. But another guide protested. "It was the Arab iconoclasts who had done it," he said, "to spite the ancient Egyptians."

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