Dolly Koghar reflects on mankind’s mammoth ego.
As a pimply, stick-thin, oily-pigtailed, four-eyed teenager, I’d somehow conjured a grandiose persona of my past life as an Egyptian princess à la Hollywood’s The Ten Commandments (1956) or as Cleopatra (1963). This and the preposterous notion that Egypt was calling out to me remained so much my reality that hubby dear, my kids, and grandkids enlisted on a mission to get me there, and consequently, some six of us landed in Cairo, at a time when the dissent and seething agitation under President Mubarak was already tangible.
However, all hopes of a déjà vu with my fancy past got dashed the moment the plane door opened; in rushed an intense and palpable darkness. It meant that I was no princess and more likely a slave girl who either died in drudgery in Egypt or crossed the parted sea with Moses as Ramesses II’s chariots closed in on our heels. Ok! I’m running ahead of my own imagination, but the melancholy remained throughout the ten-day trip and to me it felt as real as the all-encompassing sun that scorched the sands of Egypt. I reflected that it’s no wonder that the sun god, Ra, sits on top of the pantheon of gods, followed by those representing natural forces and some depicting animal features. The cycles of the river Nile did and continues to define Egypt, and so prudency and reverence for beast and nature is well instilled into their culture.
Despite the gloom that hung over me during that trip, I’d love to go back and re-experience the tranquil Nile cruise along the date-palm-studded banks, with the glaring sun playing hide-n-seek in the foliage, and wave to the traditional feluccas sailing by. Whilst being herded like cattle into the sight-seeing jeeps in the blistering heat, it was easier to give credit to aliens than to comprehend how the masons of yore hewed stones with so much precision, and then without cranes managed to lay these voluminous blocks one on top of the other to such astounding heights, that some, like the Pyramids of Giza, are visible from as far off as the moon.
The pharaonic monuments are beyond breath-taking; whether it’s the 137 massive, carved sand-columns in Karnak, or the temple of Hatshepsut. However, at the feet of the colossal rock relief figures of Ramesses II, standing guard to his own twin temples at Abu Simbel, was when I really gasped at the magnificence and the magnitude of this magnum opus reaching pinnacles of perfection beyond imagination, and a fitting tribute to mankind’s ingenuity and aspiration for beauty. Even my teen granddaughter was so lost in wonder that she lost her specs there.
Nevertheless, the sombre reality is that these wonders of the world are nothing but ego-altars, built in stone to echo into posterity the embellished glories of the Pharaohs. They reflected the monolithic and megalithic narcissism and vanity of the Pharaohs, who oppressed and abused and squeezed dry the blood and sweat of the abjectly poor masons, artisans, and slaves, amongst whom I may very well have been in that long ago past.
These monuments, like their owners, will eventually be obliterated from the history books and our memories. But though we each are but one insignificant grain of sand in the vastness of the universe, human ego knows no bounds, whether it’s the Pharaohs of yore or the U.S. thinly guised as Big Brother that jumped into the foray soon after our trip to Egypt. They went in to show-off their power and their superlative killing machines, costing the American taxpayers their savings and their sons. Though they brought the home-grown Big Bad Boy to his knees, they left the country in rubble and ongoing civil unrest. They understood neither the country’s religious mindset nor its unique traditions, and totally upturned its vague semblance of normalcy, however ‘ikigurushi’ (suffocating) it might have been. Suffice to say, we humans don’t learn from history! So, before we point a finger in anybody’s direction, we should peer into the depths of our own beings and check if their egos were not mere dwarfs in comparison to our own egotism.