Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Truth About Giza

If I had known it would be such an experience, I wouldn't have minded working twice as long in the western desert. Never before has something managed to stand up to hype of such tumultuous magnitude surrounding it; the great pyramids of Giza simply stood-up and delivered, the way they have been doing for the past two millenniums, when their time came.

The knowledge that each block of the great pyramids weighs over two tonnes should be reason enough to be overawed by the tremendous structure, but it goes beyond that: to build such a massive pyramid wouldn't be an easy task even on this day! And then, let's try building something like that without cement. So, when somebody tells you that it's just a set of rocks and that they'd do it themselves if they had enough slaves doing their bidding, it gets rather irksome.

One of the lesser known facts about Giza itself is that it's not 'Giza' in the first place! Well, in Egypt, it is... but that's only because they replace every 'ja' in Arabic with 'ga'. So, 'Al-Jizah' becomes the world famous Giza! Another thing people hardly notice is the anachronism that the mighty structure is. Unlike in India or in any place boasting of an ancient civilization, where the great examples of erstwhile architecture are surrounded by small settlements of people having some roots, at least, in that period, the pyramids of Giza stand alone. I suppose it is mainly due to the broken history that Egypt has: the major periods being (1) the Pharaonic state, (2) the coming of the muslims and (3) modern Egypt, the world wars etc. Almost all symbols of the Pharaonic empire have been thoroughly eliminated over the course of history.

Interestingly enough, there is probably a logical explanation to all this and it lies in the Old Testament. When Moses led his people out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and into Israel, he kick-started three different religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The people who formed these religions were the slaves who were part of the great Exodus. And since it was the Pharaoh's wrath that they'd always feared and his self-indulgence and pompous arrogance that they had disapproved of, when subsequent dynasties of Christians and Muslims ruled the land, they slowly eroded away the Pharaoh's people. The Pharaoh, who held the whip on thousands of slaves, was a villain after all.

Modern day Egypt has roots in the beginning of the last millennium and one would be lying if he said that it is more ancient than that. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the day Egypt becomes a really wealthy nation (a la Saudi Arabia or UAE), they would want to have nothing to do with the pyramids at all! It's just something which fills their coffers up pretty well.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion (not something Arabs believe in much), but I'd want you to think that every nation must be proud of every bit of its history, even the 'darker times'; for it is our history that makes us. I'm no fan of Indian Governments seeking out roads named after British viceroys and generals, and renaming them 'Rajiv Gandhi Road'. The British were in India for two hundred years, for better or for worse, but they were there alright. And you cannot change that. So, it goes without saying that a country which depends so greatly on these spectacular architectural feats should do better than asking its people to be indifferent to the Pyramids.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I'm No Jogger

At 3:25 p.m. the final bell would ring and I’d be among the first lads to run out of class, while most people remained focused on packing their bags. I’d sprint all the way to the autorickshaw which would be my ride home. It paid to get there early as we always beat the rush. Getting home at 3:45 always felt good, and I’d take a shower, have a snack and immediately sit on my homework. Usually, everything would get done by five and I’d run out of the house with my new cricket bat and Cosco ball. Aashrai would follow me out usually, albeit unexcited by the games humans play.

Tennis (or rubber) ball cricket is probably the most widely played sport in India and I was its most ardent fan for the best part of four years; I fancy myself a pretty good spinner even today. Years later, when the days of cricket really did end, it was in favour of a more spirited and I suppose ‘manly’ sport: Beach football. While I can’t defend for my life, I’m pretty good when I’m supplying that final flighted ball for my strikers to finish. Then again, being quite selfish and short-tempered on field, I’d probably go for the shot myself.

The days of regular football did end too, mostly because most of the other kids I’d grown up with no longer thought playing in the sand was what ‘men’ did. Too grown up, that they’d become, they moved further away from the water, closer to the road, closer to the girls… Soon, I was no longer addicted to physical exertion and the sportsman in me died. Roorkee probably burned his remains completely, seeing me play four or five times a semester!

At the end of it all, the mind wants to rekindle the excitement of sport and the thrill of winning but the body fails to come through. Stamina is dead and Strength is left wandering in the desert. While people consider gymming a way out of their misery, it remains to me a poor excuse for your inability to play. However, it is better than nothing at all.

And hence I championed gymming for all of six months, until they decided to throw me into the middle of nowhere. Well, Schlumberger does provide five-star facilities considering the location we are in, but even they are unable to provide us a Gym, it seems. And hence, I decided I will run anyway.
And thus, when fellow Field Engineer and Delhi’s track-champion geared up for his evening jog, I made it clear that I’d be tagging along. “I run in the open desert,” he told me. “Near the road, it’s mainly rocky… Little bits of sand.”

The desert is a funny place. You can see far away objects but you’ll never figure out how far they really hour. They could be a kilometer away or they could be ten, you’ll never know. So, when he pointed at an oil-storage location, “Hah, how far will that be,” I thought. And I ran.

I kept running until I was out of breath and then I ran some more. We reached the oil-station an eternity later when track-champion says, “Hey, we’ve been running six-minutes. Why don’t you wait here? I’ll finish my run…” I looked back an saw the caravan I had started out from at a distance. As I told you, you can’t figure out distance in the desert: it could be a kilometer away or it could be five. Let’s say two. I was damn proud of myself.

It was while running back to the camp that I took note of the most wonderful thing. You never need music while running in infinite space. You’re never fiddling with your iPod searching for ‘Brothers In Arms’ while trying to maintain your pace. You don’t have to change the song to fit your mood. All you have is the wind. And it’s always singing the most perfect notes.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Izzai ek, Habibi?

"Sabbah Al Khair", "Salaam Aleikum" and all that stuff. Ever since I've come to Al-Masr, most of my vocabulary has been rendered pointless - the English vocabulary at least. Some basic Arabic verbs, pointing and grunting help you fare better than elaborate expressions in English. In fact, in the very beginning, I could converse as well with a camel as I could with an average Arab here. And hence, in a desperate attempt to obviate (or at least delay) the onset of the "Me Anirudh; you who?" stage, I write this post.

The past two weeks have been a learning experience to say the least. From picking up basic phrases in Arabic and learning concepts which govern occurrences sixteen-thousand feet down-hole to mastering the art of picking up pipes which are heavier than most dumb-bells I lifted in the Roorkee Gym, there has been a fair amount of inflow into the grey-cell area. It has been a great knowledge sharing experience for the people around me too! For example, the other day I had to explain to a fellow that Hind was not near Mexique but near Pakistan. He found the information hard to digest but he managed a smile at the end of it all. And then, there have been numerous occasions where I've had to inform fellow members of the human race that Islam and Christianity aren't the only two religions available to mankind. Another stunning fact, no?

As ignorant as they may seem, Egyptians are really friendly people. They make an effort to talk to you slowly and explain things again and again until finally you gather the essence of what they're saying. They're open and warm too. In fact, Egyptians impose their opinions upon strangers all the time. It's not something they consider rude. And they can barge into your room and then ask you  if it's okay to come in. You can do the same to them, of course. They're a welcome change actually after all the stuck-up foreigners we get to see.

And then, there's the food! Salads and salads and a few salads more... There's olive oil, rice, bread and meat. These guys eat everything - from camels to pigeons. My 'bland' diet alarms them as much as a Vampire's would. I never thought I'd say this about salads, but they're quite delightful.

It's all a mix of the fun of discovery and the discomfort of change - something every travel is about, I suppose; the same bittersweet feeling that passes through you when the sun is about to set over a lonely oil rig in the desert. You know it's going a brilliant sight. But then again, it's going to get so cold!