Sunday, 3 January 2010

Rhymes and reasons

One of the few things I’m grateful to technology for is that it is possible in this day and age to fly four hours and land in a city where you can sit comfortably in your T-shirt and ogle all you like at East European girls tanning in the Arabian sun, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Paradise, in fact.

The problem with paradise is that it’s temporary: You don’t belong here and the neighbours are nobody you care to know, so it’s only blissful for a week or so. You’re in a country that depends on a dozen tombs built by men of another era out of a faith that you don’t share. You look around at the highway, the temples, the mausoleums, the curvy streets of houses, your hotel, you find nothing that would look out of place in your own hometown; which is exhilarating to some people but not to you. You expect the week-long trip to turn out to be another of those ordeals that fail to capture your imagination. And yet, it does.

Mankind is at its best when engaged in the endless heroic quest for whatever — truth, love, literary excellence, supremacy in tennis, a perfect 10 — and relaxation makes them dull. It’s true. Deep down, we’re all hunters. It is the pursuit of goals that keeps us alive- an eternal hunger that feeds on itself to push us towards whatever it is that we have set out to achieve.

The fundamental religion of most of mankind is the faith that God has revealed Himself to us and not to the non-believers. Our faith is the one God chose and so if we vanquish the other tribes and rain fire and destruction on them, we’re only carrying out God’s Will.

Now, eating pickled cheese under the Saharan sun, I am sliding into hedonistic pantheism, slouching down the Nile towards Luxor, on a quest to make my parents and brother happy until the money runs out and we regain our senses and head home.

Back in R-Land, as I go about the unenviable ritual of chronologically arranging my grade sheets, I realize that it is faith, or rather the lack of one, that lies at the heart of the downward spiral I have been on. I suppose that is what growing up is all about- the gradual loss of faith, be it in a Higher Force, the system, and eventually, yourself.

The 31st of December has a delightful habit of catching me on the wrong foot. On this occasion, much to my own surprise, I find myself on the banks of the Nile, observing the remains of a long defunct civilization. In the run-up to D-day, H-hour, a fancy sound-and-lights show has been set up in Giza, in an attempt to extract a few precious pounds from an overtly-enthusiastic crowd. Five minutes pass, and the event gradually begins to arouse my interest, as it impressively takes on the arduous task of condensing Egypt's three thousand year history to a forty-five minute show.

The show makes up for what it lacks in style with substance. A spectacular flare of red and yellow goes up in the sky to depict the accession of Khafren and the dawn of the Age of Pharoahs. Shadow-figures turn up in the middle of the sky, clutching non-existent bricks in a hapless attempt to depict the construction of the Pyramids. Quite aptly, Beethoven’s String Quartet No.16 is played in the background. ‘Es muss sein’, a voice bellows, ‘ja, es muss sein.’

‘It must be. Yes, it must be.’