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Cairo’s main souk in the crowded Islamic district, shop owners seek out Indian Tourists with friendly hails of Amitabh Bachchan

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A pyramid in Egypt, VOA
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– by Tarun Basu

April 19, 2017: At Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s main souk in the crowded Islamic district, shopowners seek out Indian tourists with friendly hails of Amitabh Bachchan! Shah Rukh Khan! Welcome!! These two actors are by far the most popular Indians in Egypt, a testament to the enormous soft power of Bollywood.

When Bachchan came to Cairo in April 2015 for the Indian Culture Festival, he was mobbed like a rockstar wherever he went. And when he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, he reportedly remarked in jest that he was so overwhelmed by his fan following in the country he might even think of contesting a presidential election — and perhaps win it!

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With so much goodwill in Egypt for Indians one often wonders why the two countries are not closer partners and why friendship with Egypt is not talked about in India in the same vein as other countries with which New Delhi shares close political, economic and cultural ties.

With the ascent in both countries of two strong leaders, Narendra Modi and Sisi, came a change in the strategic calculus through a series of quick meetings between them — in New York and New Delhi.

The New York meeting, where something evidently clicked between Modi and Sisi, acknowledged historical bonds, found common ground in counter-terrorism cooperation and investment opportunities, and set the ground for future meetings. It was quickly followed by a visit by Sisi to New Delhi for the India Africa Forum Summit and then, within a year, with a state visit where the two leaders talked of working towards robust security cooperation following a major convergence of views on regional and global issues.

India and Egypt shared strong chemistry in the 1950s and 1960s, with close personal and political ties between their independence leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser, founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. But after their deaths, ties slumped with President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 40 years, not having the same comfort level with the Indian leadership. Although Mubarak did make a visit to New Delhi in his later years, the turning point in perceptions in many ways came during the short-lived rule of the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood and the visit to New Delhi in May 2013 by President Mohammed Morsi.

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Although Morsi was ousted — and arrested — within a month of his return to Cairo, and the visit was criticised by many as ill-timed with New Delhi seen as being a little out of touch with the region’s political realities, the growing importance of India for Egypt was beginning to be realised by its policymakers.

With the Middle East in upheaval and relations with the US looking uncertain, Cairo, that was used to putting all its strategic and economic eggs in the Western and Arab baskets, is looking, like other regional powers, at Asia and, more particularly, China and India. While China is a source of expanding investment in the region, India’s salience as a major economic and geopolitical power has increased in Egyptian eyes after the recent high-level visits and close strategic ties forged by New Delhi with key powers like the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

India has been holding a major multi-city cultural exposition in Egypt, called imaginatively ‘India by the Nile’, bringing in musicians, dancers, artists, street performers, not to mention Bollywood stars, that enhanced significantly the image of India in the Egyptian consciousness.

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Indian companies have found Egypt a good destination for business. Over 50 Indian companies are present in Egypt with an investment of $3 billion, providing employment to about 35,000 Egyptians. And Egypt’s recent discovery of gas, its upward looking economy following a currency float and growing foreign investment have added impetus to growing ties.

Companies like Kirloskar with their water pumps and Dabur and Monginis with their personal care and confectionery products are household names in Egypt, and many firms recognise the Suez Canal area as a potential hub of future expansion because of the country’s economic arrangements in the Arab world, Africa and the European Union. Even though there are only three Egyptian companies in India, bilateral trade has grown 60 percent over the last five years to touch almost $5 billion.

The current thinking in New Delhi is that if Cairo plays its cards right, a stronger Egypt could play a more moderating role and help in restoring regional stability and security. India is therefore investing a lot more in Egypt not only to shore up its profile but also to use the goodwill it builds up in projecting a larger role for itself in North Africa and the Arab world.

With a political foundation of friendship from the sixties India has the ability to tap into popular sentiment and cultural affinity, an advantage that few countries enjoy in Egypt, remarks Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador in Cairo.

And the ‘India by the Nile’ show is by far the largest such exposition in Egypt by any country here in recent times.

Despite recent terror attacks, India is demonstrating a major vote of confidence in the Egyptian government’s ability to deal with Islamist extremism by not cancelling music and dance shows as part of the festival in Alexandria, one of the two cities where minority Coptic Christian churches were targets last week.

The future of bilateral ties look promising and there is much expectation in Prime Minister Modi, who has shown personal interest in shoring up ties, making a visit there later this year. (IANS)

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Harivansh Rai Bachchan: An Unforgettable Name

"Mitti ka tan, masti ka man, kshan-bhar jivan– mera parichay"

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Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a Padhma Bhushan awardee for his contribution in Hindi Literature. Pexels
Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a Padhma Bhushan awardee for his contribution in Hindi Literature. Pexels

Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a poet. That’s what most of us know other than the fact that he was the father of Amitabh Bachchan. However, he was more than that.

He was born in Allahabad, British India on 27 November 1907 to a Kayastha family. Being the second Indian to get his doctorate in English literature from Cambridge, he had also served in All India Radio. After which he was working in the External Affairs Minister, during these ten years, he was majorly associated with the evolution of Hindi as the official language. In 1966, he was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

Bachchan is still known as a person who enriched Hindi through his translations of major works. Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, Shakespeare’s Machbeth and Othello and even the Bhagvad Gita.

Honored with Padma Bhushan for his lasting contribution to Hindi literature, with Saraswati Samman for his four volume autobiography, the Sovietland Nehru Award and the Lotus Aware for his unique work in the world of letters, his most famous poem is one his early works ‘Madhushala’. He was famous as a rebellious poet of Nayi Kavita literary movement.

He was famous as a rebellious poet of Nayi Kavita literary movement. Pixels
He was famous as a rebellious poet of Nayi Kavita literary movement. Pixels

Poems by Harivansh Rai Bachchan

1. Madhushala

“मृदु भावों के अंगूरों की आज बना लाया हाला,
प्रियतम, अपने ही हाथों से आज पिलाऊँगा प्याला,
पहले भोग लगा लूँ तेरा फिर प्रसाद जग पाएगा,
सबसे पहले तेरा स्वागत करती मेरी मधुशाला।।१।”

2. Agnipath

“तू न थकेगा कभी,
तू न रुकेगा कभी,
तू न मुड़ेगा कभी,
कर शपथ, कर शपथ, कर शपथ,
अग्निपथ अग्निपथ अग्निपथ।”

3. Ruke Na Tu

“धनुष उठा, प्रहार कर
तू सबसे पहला वार कर
अग्नि सी धधक–धधक
हिरन सी सजग सजग
सिंह सी दहाड़ कर
शंख सी पुकार कर

रुके न तू, थके न तू
झुके न तू, थमे न तू”

He used to introduce himself by saying- Mitti ka tan, masti ka man, kshan-bhar jivan– mera parichay. Pixabay
He used to introduce himself by saying- Mitti ka tan, masti ka man, kshan-bhar jivan– mera parichay. Pixabay

4. Poorv Chalne Ke Batohi

“पुस्तकों में है नहीं छापी गई इसकी कहानी,
हाल इसका ज्ञात होता है न औरों की ज़बानी,
अनगिनत राही गए इस राह से, उनका पता क्या,
पर गए कुछ लोग इस पर छोड़ पैरों की निशानी,
यह निशानी मूक होकर भी बहुत कुछ बोलती है,
खोल इसका अर्थ, पंथी, पंथ का अनुमान कर ले।
पूर्व चलने के बटोही, बाट की पहचान कर ले।”

5. Kya Karu Samvedna Lekar Tumhari

“मैं दुखी जब-जब हुआ
संवेदना तुमने दिखाई,
मैं कृतज्ञ हुआ हमेशा,
रीति दोनो ने निभाई,
किन्तु इस आभार का अब
हो उठा है बोझ भारी;
क्या करूँ संवेदना लेकर तुम्हारी?
क्या करूँ?”

6. Koshish Karne Waalon Ki Har Nahi Hoti

“लहरों से डर कर नौका पार नहीं होती
हिम्मत करने वालों की हार नहीं होती

नन्ही चींटी जब दाना लेकर चलती है
चढ़ती दीवारों पर सौ बार फिसलती है
मन का विश्वास रगों में साहस भरता है
चढ़ कर गिरना, गिर कर चढ़ना न अखरता है
आखिर उसकी मेहनत बेकार नहीं होती
कोशिश करने वालों की हार नहीं होती”

7. Vishwa Sara So Raha Hai

“हैं विचरते स्वप्न सुंदर,
किंतु इनका संग तजकर,
व्योम–व्यापी शून्यता का कौन साथी हो रहा है?
विश्व सारा सो रहा है!

भूमि पर सर सरित् निर्झर,
किंतु इनसे दूर जाकर,
कौन अपने घाव अंबर की नदी में धो रहा है?
विश्व सारा सो रहा है!”

His pen was a mighty one in the world of Hindi Literature. Pixabay
His pen was a mighty one in the world of Hindi Literature. Pixabay

8. Teer Par Kaise Ruku

तीर पर कैसे रुकूँ मैं, आज लहरों में निमंत्रण!
रात का अंतिम प्रहर है, झिलमिलाते हैं सितारे,
वक्ष पर युग बाहु बाँधे, मैं खड़ा सागर किनारे
वेग से बहता प्रभंजन, केश-पट मेरे उड़ाता,
शून्य में भरता उदधि-उर की रहस्यमयी पुकारें,

इन पुकारों की प्रतिध्वनि, हो रही मेरे हृदय में,

है प्रतिच्छायित जहाँ पर, सिंधु का हिल्लोल – कंपन!
तीर पर कैसे रुकूँ मैं,आज लहरों में निमंत्रण!

9. Dekho Toot Raha Hai Tara

“नभ के सीमाहीन पटल पर
एक चमकती रेखा चलकर
लुप्त शून्य में होती-बुझता एक निशा का दीप दुलारा।
देखो, टूट रहा है तारा।”

10. Mujhe Pukar Lo

“इसीलिए खड़ा रहा कि तुम मुझे पुकार लो!

ज़मीन है न बोलती न आसमान बोलता,
जहान देखकर मुझे नहीं जबान खोलता,
नहीं जगह कहीं जहाँ न अजनबी गिना गया,
कहाँ-कहाँ न फिर चुका दिमाग-दिल टटोलता,
कहाँ मनुष्य है कि जो उमीद छोड़कर जिया,
इसीलिए खड़ा रहा कि तुम मुझे पुकार लो”