My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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20 May 2006

Walking in Memphis, like an Egyptian

Awww.. I've missed you guys. And blogging.

Egypt was fantastic, but I have so much to say, I hardly know how to contain it into a single blog post. Travel is mind-broadening, and sorta figure broadening too, I must say, I'm a couple of kilos heavier, which sucks, but the amount of beef I ate is all worth it.

Oh, the pyramids! And the colours! Egypt is all about colours--the blue blue blue blueness of the Mediterranean Sea, the hot yellow brightness of the Sahara desert, the green reptileness of the Nile. And that's only their geography. All over the skyline there are green domes of mosques, and every hour on the hour, there's the call to prayer. People stop to pray everywhere, spreading cardboard on sidewalks, sitting with their hijab-clad dates at coffee shops, over the rattle of the train, and not at all self-concious or disturbed by the noise and the clamour around them.

And the hijab. All the women wore scarves around their heads, little sundresses with a full-sleeved bodice and jeans underneath, some even in heavy burkahs, with only their eyes visible. The Lonely Planet told us to dress modestly, and we did, modestly, in t-shirts and long skirts and still eyes followed us, men attempted to get familiar, women tittered to each other about these bold, bare-headed foreigners from the land of Amitabh Bachchan (who they adore), who looked so much like them, but were so shameless.

Are you Muslim, is another question that I was asked over and over again, that and do you have a husband? Both of which I answered in the negative, to which they looked puzzled. Hindusim is a concept not understood at all there, most people haven't even heard of it. One man asked me my name and when I told him, he said, "That is not an Egyptian name. My name is Mustafah, that's not an Indian name." "Yes it is," I said, and he started. "You have Muslims in India?" Even our guide, a strange horrible man called Mohammed said, "I bet you have no Muslim friends in India." "We do, actually," we replied, but he still looked disbelieving, even when we broke it down into figures and statistics.

The ancient Egyptians are more or less forgotten in all this, spoken of only as history lessons. No one worships Amun-Ra or Horus or anyone anymore, which is sad, especially when you see their breathtaking temples, and look at 3,000 year old heiroglyphics, still shiny and new looking. When we were making thingummies out of clay over at the Indus Valley, they were making marble statues, and coins and they had gods for every possible thing, including the god of sex, who is always depicted with a massive hard-on and whom Mohammed pointed out without fail at each temple. "That is his benis," he said (Arabic doesn't have the letter 'p' so all we heard was "bictures" and "barking" and so on), "Have you ever seen a benis?" This to me, right in front of my mother. "A lady never answers these questions," I said, as frostily as I could, but he just cackled and said, "That means you have!" Jesus.

More stories in the next post. So nice to see you all again.

8:51 pm, update: Happy Day was the name of the falluka that took us gently across the Nile. Our cruise ship was called, appropriately, I thought, Le Scribe, but fallukas are things of Cleopatra, with huge sails and two laughing men, who teased me and Small and picked me a handful of water weeds, which I then gave as an offering to the Nile, which I have fallen madly in love with.

At sunset, our falluka drifted close to the marshes and we were very still, listening to the loud opera of frogs and watching as kingfishers darted suddenly across the water. It sounds like a tourism plug, even as I'm writing this, but it was so, so magical, and witchy that I don't think I can do it justice.

As a marked contrast to that, let me offer you the story of a young man in the marketplace, selling glass bottles of coloured sand. "You know Tupac?" he asked me in this strange Brit accent, which sounded so odd in contrast to his long kurta like outfit (that they call a gabbaleya). When I nodded, he said, "Well, he my brother. And Craig David? He's my son."



What we saw

* The Pyramids (overwhelming)

* The coffee shops (encouraged spending)

* The food (kebabs and kushari)

* The belly dancers (almost in a sari)

* The whirling dervishes (whirly)

* Khan-el-Khalil bazaar (pearly)

* Camels called Michael (who almost smiled)

* The Philae temple (in the middle of the Nile)

* Moses' spring (where he was found)

* An old mosque (the dome was round)

What I read

The Lonely Planet Guide To Egypt (excellent for anyone making the trip, I always find the LP even more informative than the locals)

In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh (I picked up most of my Arabic from this book, my proudest point was saying Al-Hindi (for India) to farmer's kids and seeing recognition across their faces)

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk (Okay, not about Egypt, but good reading anyway)

Khul Khaal (About five Egyptian women, telling their life stories. Did you know most of them had clitordectemies?)


  1. lol. thanks for sharing ur trip - it sounded lovely - specially the lat bit was hilarious ...

    btw, have you? ;)

  2. Very sneaky. Give us a taste and vanish.
    (So now we know, when you publish a book, it will be serialised.)

    MORE! NOW! (hammers on desk)

  3. and i was beginning to wonder if you were ever coming back..would chk the blog at work everyday waiting for a news post...and NOTHING!!!
    anyways, this one though short makes up for the arid season...

  4. Sorry to sound grumpy about it, but the reason they were managing to build massive marble statues was that they were an autocratic, theocratic, slave economy. Give me the little clay thingamijigs any day. Somehow I feel much more proud of that.

  5. Eeesh. Unfortunate, the guide.
    But waiting for the next post. :)

  6. Yay! You're back!

    What a great desciption of your trip so far. More please!

  7. Welcome back! Egypt is definitely on my must visit list, once I get South-east Asia out of the way. BTW, you seem to have picked up some Egyptianisms, substituting "g" for "j" :).

  8. The sex god-with-massive-hard-on is actually common in a lot of countries in that general area, though I suspect it originated in Egypt. We encountered statues and paintings of him in Turkey, including "happy" and "sad" depictions of him on postcards (i.e. hard and limp) Mum and I were thinking of taking back a set for Dad...he's an andrologist and urologist so they'd be terribly appropriate.:)

    Welcome back, etc.!

  9. Yes mss. Right you are. As Sahir Ludhiyanvi had said about the Taj Mahal

    Ye imarato mukabir
    ye faseelien, ye hissar
    ye munakkash daro-deewar
    ye mehraab ye taak.

    Ek Shehenshah ne daulat ka sahara le kar.
    hum gareebon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazaak.
    mere mehboob kahin aur mila kar mujhse.

  10. Good to have you back. Looks like you had a great time.

    This is to your "...if you've been lurking and un-commenting, then come out of hiding already and say hello...".
    So. Hello em.

  11. drink bebsi and eat bobcorn after braying...

    the non-gulf arabs really talk funny. not that the gulf ones aren't funny, but not quite so.

    i look forward to the rest.

  12. I am soooooooo jealous. Egypt was to be our first holiday abroad. We had done the research, bought the Lonely Planet and were on the verge of booking tickets when I found out that I was pregnant and was advised not to travel there. The Lonely Planet is still lying in my bookshelf and taunting me. One day...

  13. The Arab men, almost as shameless as the Indian men! I couldn't stop laughing at the "benis".

  14. So nice to have you back!
    When I think if my trip to the place- all I can think of are the sheer magnificence of the pyramids and the men leering at me :)

  15. Well, I must say Arabs are a real crude and bigoted lot. What conservative dressing is in India, its considered vulgar there. No wonder , with a long skirt and Tshirt, men were staring and asking you stupid questions. You oughtta be careful out there.

    I recall, my aunt once had to visit Saudi from Dubai. She actually bought all that heavy burqas and hijabs. You might be caned in public if you go without burqas.

  16. Hey,

    Good to have you back. Err, could you please post a few bictures( No, not the ones of his benign benis..:) )?

  17. Welcome back - more more more about Egypt, please! Sounds wonderful.

  18. I did Egypt in Nov-Dec last year and your post is bringing back all the memories!! I agree it's just awesome.

  19. Welcome back. Did you see anyone who looked like the baddie from The Mummy while you were there? I think his name's Arnold Vosloo and he's unconventionally sexy.

  20. sneak peak into a seemingly amazing journey......mmmmm i wud like to go to egypt too ...inspite of my immense dislike of heat...uh wonder wen these dreams will come true....

  21. I'm sorry, but this is to In-The-Shadows: Don't be ridiculous. To begin with, theres a pretty large diversity within Arab societies concerning how women are expected to dress: Lebanon, for instance, solidly trumps India, and while the hijab is increasingly popular in Egypt and the Levant, most women do not wear it. In any case, you think a long skirt and t shirt discourages Indian men from hassling women?

    I agree, the treatment of women doesnt give liberal Arabs much to take pride in. But if you're going to sound off, start by complaining about your own society, at least that way its constructive.

    Or were you being ironic?


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