RECENTLY, I was rummaging through a pile of books and journals I had received in recent months to see if there was some readable material among them. At random I picked up a little book titled Egyptian Times: A View from the Nile River that had attracted my attention. The authors were Saroosh Zahid and Nediyya Zahid. The two were unfamiliar names to me. But I grew curious when I found the foreword to the book was written by Dr Khurshid Rizvi.
Dr Rizvi is known to us as a distinguished scholar of Arabic. He is now engaged in compiling a history of Arabic literature starting from the period known to us as the Jahilya period. No scholar from among us had ever cared to write for us in a serious way about this period but Dr Khurshid has already published a big volume covering this period in detail. It is an account written with a sense of objectivity and authenticity.
This is what he says about this book and its authors: “It was really amazing to see the draft of Egyptian Times: A view from the Nile River written by two young writers Nediyya and Saroosh [aged nine and six respectively] whom I have known from birth. In my eyes they are too small to write books and I was amused to find them say in the opening sentences of the book ‘we were very young at that time’.” The two little authors, as he tells us, accompanied their parents when their father joined Al-Azhar University as professor of Urdu and Pakistan Studies: “The family stayed in Egypt for three years thus undergoing a lot of exposure. As such I have no hesitation to admit that I found the book quite informative and learnt a lot from it.”
“Here and there in the book, the reader may spot an error of tense or article etc. This tempted my teacher’s instinct to make a few corrections. Better sense, however, prevailed soon and I realised that the original rawness of this innocent piece of writing has great value and should be left untouched.” The two girls go, first of all, to the pyramids. “We also visited Sphinx and the adjacent temple of the Pharaohs. Sphinx is a big statute having a man’s head and a lion’s body. We conceived it as a big cat.” Sphinx is a big cat: interesting. “We offered our Zuhr prayer in a temple adjacent to the Sphinx. It was a memorable journey.”
After this memorable journey they pay a visit to the Cairo museum. And so continue visiting historic places one after the other. They are all praise for the Edfu temple. The other temple which impressed them most was the Karnak temple: “The word Karnak means the house of Amun.”
Moving forth from prehistoric times Nediyya and Saroosh gradually enter the Islamic period and start describing monuments built in the Fatimid period such as the Al-Azhar mosque and tombs. “Fatimid period includes tomb of Syeda Zainab, Syeda Nafeesa, and Ras-al-Hussain. We visited these places several times, every time we saw people waiting and praying.” And they add: “Imam Shafi’s tomb is one of the most considerable places to visit in Cairo. It is situated near Amr Ibn al-As mosque from where we once bought two sparrows.”
Thus they continue narrating their visits to historic sites in a simple way. And describe temples, tombs, mosques, and churches in an unprejudiced manner. They know that Ramses II was a really cruel and self-centred person, but the feelings of hatred and love on the basis of faith have not yet taken root in these girls. So their journey from temples to mosques transitions smoothly. It appeared to be a pleasant journey and travelling in the company of these two innocent souls was a pleasant experience for me too.