Egyptian odyssey

The defeat of dictatorship in Egypt was accompanied by a victory for vandalism. Even as protestors in Tahrir Square proclaimed the power of the people, the renowned Cairo Museum nearby came in for barbaric attack. Looters desecrated the dead by destroying mummies, and — compounding ghoulishness with greed — made off with valuable antiquities.

I was saddened to read that statues of King Tutankhamun were among the stolen artifacts. Five months ago, I (along with a group of pilgrim-tourists to Egypt, Israel and Jordan) visited the aforementioned museum. Although unable to see every one of its hundred and twenty thousand exhibits, we admired the treasures that had been found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Our guide informed us that this discovery in the early 20th century was all the more remarkable because the splendour at the site was disproportionate to the relative insignificance of the young ruler. The fact that Tutankhamun lived only to his 19th year lent poignancy to the priceless possessions he believed would journey with him to another world.

Apart from the opulent objects that the king enjoyed during his 11-year reign, was a magnificent mask that adorned him in death. Of solid gold, it was apparently placed over the head and shoulders of the monarch’s mummy, atop the linen bandages in which the body was wrapped. While Tutankhamun himself reposes in the Valley of the Kings, the Mask is on public view. After our treasure-tour, I was confronted with a colourful replica of the mask, embossed on a big bag made of some fibrous substance. I knew the bag would prove cumbersome on my travels, since it could neither be folded nor fastened, but sense succumbed to sentiment. Parting with precious pounds, I told myself that I would return to Bengaluru with ‘Tutankhamun’ in tow! Before that I had ‘miles to go’, interspersed with tiresome checkpoints.

Crossing by bus from Egypt to Israel and Israel to Jordan, and flying from Jordan to Kuwait and back home proved an ordeal. Each time my luggage passed through a scanner, the contents of the overloaded Tutankhamun bag slid out under the dispassionate gaze of the security personnel. These souvenirs included a smaller — more malleable — bag, emblazoned with a pharaoh in his chariot. Undeterred by my ignorance of his identity, I had acquired him at the Khan-el-Khalili Bazaar, where I also added a Cleopatra towel and Nefertiti mirror to my collection of crowned heads.

If my Egyptian odyssey — supposedly a pilgrimage — seems marred by an unspiritual pursuit of princely personages, I do have a keepsake which shows a sovereign being sidestepped. In a painting on papyrus, Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus — fleeing the killer-king Herod — escape to the land of the pyramids. Those ancient monuments and the Sphinx are in the background, and an angel keeps watch overhead. This work of art is indeed a treasure, for — charmed though I am by the royals — I cherish my refugees!

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