It’s known that Amitabh Bachchan is popular in Egypt but the extent of this can only be gauged when an Indian lands in Egypt, the land of pyramids and one of the world’s oldest civilisations, just like India.
Soon after this IANS correspondent landed at Cairo International Airport one hot April afternoon, the local guide introduced herself with the greeting: “Welcome to Egypt, my Indian friend! You are from the land of Amitabh Bachchan.”
Asked if the Big B was that popular in this north African nation, she said: “For us, Amitabh Bachchan is India and India is Amitabh Bachchan. I am 34 now but I have been watching Amitabh Bachchan films since I was 16-17 years old.”
What about the likes of Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan? “Well, Salman is an active one (meaning action hero) but Amitabh Bachchan is Amitabh Bachchan,” she said. She was not alone. From Cairo to Alexandria to Luxor to Hurghada, from airport trolley-pullers to hotel bellboys to hawkers to cabbies – the sight of an Indian immediately invoked the Bollywood megastar’s name.
Traffic on Indian roads chaotic? Try Cairo
The traffic on Cairo’s roads immediately reminds one of Delhi. Lane jumping and horns blaring are just as common in the Egyptian capital as in Mumbai or Delhi. And peak hours see long lines of vehicles crawling at a snail’s pace – just as in Indian cities. The Soviet-era Lada cars might be a thing of the past and the butt of jokes in the West – What is the difference between a Lada and a golf ball? You can drive a golf ball 200 metres – but not in Egypt.
In the Mediterranean resort city of Alexandria, Lada Rivos are ubiquitous as yellow and black taxis of Mumbai. The cars are well-maintained despite the model being phased out and add to the beauty of the quaint city. When in Egypt, can one miss out on sailing down the Nile?
The same was the case with this correspondent who went on a falluka – sailboat – cruise on the Nile in the southcentral Egyptian tourist town of Luxor. Ably controlled by a local boatman, the cruise was a gentle one as one munched on packed lunch. After a motorboat tugged the falluka to the middle of the river, the boatman raised the sail and sat down with a cup of mint tea.
The falluka was totally left to the gentle breeze, which took it to the east, the west, the north, the south – in short, in whichever direction it blew. It was 45 minutes of sheer bliss. The Sofitel Cecil in Alexandria, where this correspondent stayed in, is a boutique hotel located bang on the Mediterranean coast. Built in 1929, it has carefully and beautifully maintained its antique property including an open iron grill lift.
Among its prominent guests have been Agatha Christie, Henry Moore, Josephine Baker, W. Somerset Maugham, Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery – and Al Capone. A well-polished plaque in the hotel’s lobby bears all these names and more along with facsimilies of their signatures.