It was January 2011. Farooq, our 4 feet 11 inch taxi driver, was Schumachering us madly through the streets of Cairo. “Where from you?” he asked, his head barely visible above the steering wheel.
“India,” we answered tiredly for the 1000th time, expecting the usual response, “Ah Eeendia, Ameetabh Baasshaan, verry famous man.”
Instead, Farooq said, knowingly, “Aah, Eeendia… Jackie Chan”…
He zigzagged his vehicle through the Khan-el-Khalili Bazaar, almost knocking over two craggy-faced cloth merchants and a rotund tent maker.
He waved a hand of apology at them, and they responded cheerfully.
“I have driven this taakksi for 41 years. In the day I make the money. In the night I keep my three wives happy,” he chortled.
From his rear view mirror hung a miniature blue scarab, the Egyptian symbol of good luck.
Most big cities communicate a central emotion. For me, Cairo gave off a vibe of unhurried calm.
“Are the people of Egypt happy?” we asked.
He touched the scarab and smiled.
What did he think of Hosni Mubarak. Farooq’s smile faded like a Cairo sunset.
“He has turned us into a country of beggars and thieves. He is not a good man,” the diminutive man said. Political discourse over.
This didn’t seem like a city of lawbreakers to me.
These were clearly a contented people. Poor, but proud of their heritage, down to the last hieroglyphic. United in their faith in Allah. In the cafes of Alexandria, the souks of Luxor and the ‘ahwas’ of Cairo, you felt their joie-de-vivre.
Always 30 seconds away from a joke, an anecdote, a theory, totally aware of the significance of their civilisation.
“When your aeroplane go into sky?” Farooq asked us on our last evening, as we shared a ‘shai’, soaking in the sun setting over the Step Pyramid in Dashur, Egypt’s oldest pyramid
I asked him if he’d ever been out of Egypt.
“No my dear, this is my country, it will take care of me.”
Which is why I was stunned when a week later, revolution ignited in Tahrir Square. I swear on Tutankhamen’s Tomb, I never felt trouble brewing in this most populous of North African countries.
Two years later, Mubarak’s regime has morphed into Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
A benign dictatorship has dissolved into bloodshed and devastation.
The Middle East is exploding and its people are expressing.
I’m in a Mumbai cab. Tamimbhai is my driver for the afternoon. The decor resembles the den of a 1970s villain, and the radio is playing Hemant Kumar.
I ask the old Muslim gent if he thinks we’d ever have a civilian uprising like this in India.
“Beta, Hindustan mein toh kayi shaitaan hain..,kiski khilaafat karein.”
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.