By: Naeem Sulehri, M.Aslam Warriach
Naguib Mahfouz, in his story “The mummy awakens”, passes on an unbelievable tale narrated to him by a highly remarkable scholar, Professor Daryen, professor of Egyptology at Fu’ad the First University in Cairo. The narrator recalls a visit that he paid to the late Mahmud Pasha al-Arna’uti, one of the richest men in Egypt. Pasha’s huge country mansion, located in Upper Egypt, was the epitome of rich French culture. It was adorned with magnificent pieces of art, paintings, and statues. Pasha’ as described by one of his fellows, was three persons rolled in on: a Turk in origin, an Egyptian by nationality, and Frenchman at heart and mind.
His love for France was so much that his friends were always of French origin. He was known among his circles for being a lover of fine arts and poetry, whereas, the narrator found him to have a passion for culture. At the Pasha’s palace, Professor Daryen discovered many good friends, including Monsieur Sarot, the director of Higher College of Fine Arts, and Doctor Pierre, who was a specialist in mental disorders.
The day he visited Pasha’s mansion, Professor Daryen and his two friends suggested Pasha to get his palace a little modified, so that it could serve as a museum of French art and would help the students to get a better insight into French culture, without having to visit France. The Pasha agreed to the idea of modification and expressed a wish to bring more of the masterpieces of renowned French artists, but regarding the idea of making it a museum to support the education of Egyptian students, he commented very seriously by saying that Egyptians were peasants who had no right to benefit from a palace of such nobility, and if the palace was ever to move, it would go straight to France. Pasha had already been accused of squandering the money of Egyptian peasants, but he gave the cold shoulder to those allegations.
Pasha regarded allegations printed against him in Egyptian newspapers as ‘yell of the press.’ The newspapers accused Pasha of squandering the money of Egyptians in France. Such news was reported to Pasha by his friends like Doctor Pierre and Monsieur Sarot. After listening to them Pasha often replied, “As long as my own artistic conscience feels unhappy about the possibility of these wonders of art remaining here among this animal populace, you can rest assured that they will never stay buried here.” It was in Pasha’s blood to hate and despise Egyptians. Reports said that Pasha once rejected a prominent Egyptian doctor who had achieved the rank of Bey and had come to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The rejection was a clear example of Pasha’s hatred for Egyptians. He simply overruled the doctor’s proposal because of his being of peasant stock. He used to say about the Egyptians that they “are domesticated animals, docile by nature and submissive by temperament. For thousands of years, they have lived as slaves of the titbits from their rulers’ tables. Such people have no right to feel sorry if this museum goes to Paris.”
During the conversation with his friend, Pasha said gesturing out into the garden through the window, “a significant dig is in progress in the garden of my own mansion.” He told them that two days ago a well-known man called Shaykh Jadallah came to see him. Shaykh Jadallah was much respected and esteemed by the local people. He told Pasha that he had come to by dint of his spiritual knowledge and insight that a valuable treasure wad hidden beneath his garden. He requested permission to search for the treasure under Pasha’s own supervision. Pasha said that he laughed at his proposal heartily and was annoyed to the point of having him thrown out. But later he thought to go along with his fantasies and beliefs and granted him permission. He told them that Shaykh Jadallah was executing the dig and two of Pasha’s own servants were helping him. After listening to Pasha, Professor Daryen said that it was the same kind of superstition that led him to discover the tomb of priest Qumna.
They left the salon where they were sitting to say goodbye to the friend. Pasha and Professor Daryen decided to have a look at the Shyakh Jadallah’s digging. They had hardly walked a few steps when they heard a row. Their way was blocked by a group of servants. They were holding on to a local peasant and were beating and kicking him mercilessly. They pushed him roughly towards Pasha and told him that they had caught the thief stealing Beamish’s meat. Beamish was Pasha’s beloved dog and after it was the dog of his wife and children. Beamish was the creature of God whom Pasha loved the most in the world. There was a coterie of servants to look after it. The dog was given meat, bones, milk and broth daily. The thief in this case was a real local, easily distinguished by his features and ragged clothes. Pasha gave him a cruel stare and said how he dared bring himself there to invade the sanctity of his home. The poor creature was panting hard from the efforts he had made to resist the attack of Pasha’s servants. He replied,
“I was hungry, your Excellency, I saw the cooked meat spread out there on the grass and I just couldn’t resist. I haven’t tasted meat since Greater Bayram!” Pasha looked at Professor Daryen and said, and what he said is the height of satire. “Now you can get some idea of the difference between down-and-outs in our country and yours, can’t you? In your case, they will steal a loaf of bread if they are hungry, but here loaves of bread aren’t hard to get and so they are only satisfied with cooked meat if you please!” He turned back and gave a sound thrashing on the thief’s shoulders with his cane and ordered his servants to take the thief down to the police station.
They marched towards the spot in the garden where the dig was going on. Shaykh Jadallah and his assistants were totally engrossed in their work. They were pounding the earth with their axes. Determination and hope burnt from jadallah’s eyes. He was bursting with energy, faith, and imagination. Pasha and Professor Daryen were standing there and looking at the devout Shaykh. Pasha had a sarcastic smile on his face while the professor was lost his thoughts. They decided to sit on the veranda. They had just managed to climb the first flight of steps to reach there then the Shaykh came running up and cried, “Master, master! Come back and take a look…..” They followed the Shaykh who was already on his way back to the dig.
Pasha and Professor Daryen found the three men moving a large stone about a square meter in size. The stone covered a hole of about the same size. Professor Daryen and Pasha looked at each other the latter’s eyes were betraying the feelings of astonishment and confusion. They looked inside the hole and discovered a small stairway leading down to the hall. The Shaykh went into the hole taking a lamp in his hand. Professor Daryen also went after him. Soon they were in a hallway that was almost ten meters in length. They walked a bit forward and found their way blocked by a stone door. The professor hurried towards Pasha and told him what he had seen there. He told him that they had discovered the ancient tomb of General Hur, one of the key figures of the XVIII dynasty.
There was a short discussion about the opening of the door between the Professor and the Shaykh. Shaykh Jadallah wanted to open the door by using a sort of spiritual power. This was supposed to take a lot of time. So, they decided upon the use of force to open the door as they did earlier at the entrance of the hole. Pasha shouted at the Shaykh and they fell to work. This time Daryen was also working with them. They removed the obstacle from their way and found in front of them the entrance to the eternal resting place of Hur. Every one of them was utterly astonished.
First of all, professor Daryen went in. Mehmud al- Arn’uti the Pasha and Shaykh Jadallah followed him. The two servants who were working with Shaykh Jadallah first preferred to stay in the outside porch but when the light of the lamp vanished, they also rushed inside and lurked in a corner. It was a coffin room. The coffin itself was still in place. There they saw three life-size statues: one of a man (most probably Hur himself), the second of a woman whose position alongside the man showed that she was his wife, and in front of the two a small statue of a boy. On the opposite side, there were boxes with locks, colored vessels, seats, tables, and a number of spears. The walls were full of drawings, paintings, and symbols.
Professor Daryen was thinking about the boxes and was dead sure that they must have contained food, clothing, and jewelry. It was very hard for him to control his feelings. He also thought of the coffin that must be containing a mummy. All the things there were presenting irresistible temptations. The Professor’s reverie of thoughts was interrupted by a “Shh” sound produced by Shaykh Jadallah who had seen a bird hovering over the tomb. The others cast a look around and found no bird there. Professor Daryen said to Pasha in French: “Maybe that bird was the dead man’s soul, his ‘ka’ coming to pay him a visit along with us!”
Suddenly the two servants pointed towards the coffin whose cover had been lifted up and the mummy lay stretched in its shrouds right in front of them. Every one of them was riveted to the spot with wonder. The spectacle had transformed Pasha into a statue. The mummy moved and sat up in the coffin. It jumped gracefully out of the coffin and stood in front of them. Shaykh Jadllah and the two servants received severe nervous shocks. The object in front of them was no more a mummy. It was a living person full of vigor and vitality. He was wearing a white garment and his chest was decorated with gleaming medals. He looked awesome, frightening, and lofty. He had a great resemblance with the peasant who was thrashed by pasha’s servants for stealing Beamish’s baked meet.
The mummy stared at Pasha with glaring eyes and spoke to him. Hur spoke after a silence of three thousand years. Hur said, “Don’t you recognize me, slave?” “Why aren’t you groveling at my feet?” Hur went on addressing Pasha that he was fettered by the bond of death and was unable to move but he had been watching the incredible things going on in the world. Hur admonished Pasha over his stupid act of coming into the coffin room. “I was unable to come to you because my life is over, as Osiris decreed. But now you have come to me.” Hur said to him, “Have your overbearing arrogance driven you mad? Why haven’t you given thanks to those gods who have used death to keep us apart?”
Hur was very much aware of the plundering activities of Pasha. He knew that men like Pasha had been exploiting the poor Egyptians and squandering their wealth for their own ease. “What have you come to do, slave? Aren’t you content to plunder from my descendant? Is that why you’ve come to plunder from my grave as well? Speak, Slave!” Now Pasha was as helpless before the mummy as the beaten poor peasant was before him earlier. He was unable to utter even a single word before dominating Hur. He chided him as, “How is it you have nothing to say?….. Don’t you remember how I brought you here from the North during one of our successful campaigns? Do you pretend not to know me?….. your white skin which is a sure sign of your slave status gives you away.”
Hur got the impression that Pasha was unable to say anything because he was afraid of him beyond limits. Hur got angrier and said, “What’s happened in the world so that the mighty are brought low and humbles are raised up high? Have slaves become masters and masters slaves? Hur was very much in the know of the latest treatment meted out to the peasants. He referred to the incident of stealing meat baked for Pasha’s dog. He spoke of the subjugation of his descendants. He pointed out the cane that Pasha used to beat the poor peasant. Hur’s eyes turned into burning ambers and thundered at Pasha: “You beat him with your cane because he was hungry, and you forced his fellow human beings to the beating for you. Are Egyptians really starving in their own country? A curse upon you, slave!”
As soon as he finished speaking, he started moving towards Pasha. He roared like lion to pounce upon his prey. Pasha Mehmud al-Arn’uti could not gear it; he fell down and died at the spot. Shaykh Jadallah also fell to his face on the ground. The servants went mad. The narrator, professor Daryen expecting to receive a deadly blow on his head, peered into the darkness and lost consciousness. He later told that he was not sure about what he saw on that day whether it really happened or it was just an illusion. He said that Shaykh Jadallah was very much alive to retell the whole story. During the following days, the press published stories about the whole event. It raised questions about the two servants who had gone mad and the deserted mansion that was once occupied by the Pasha.