The Indian Tea Passage, by: Mohamed El-Oun
Novelists love to write about their surroundings. In The Indian Tea Passage, Mohamed Al-Oun was able to give a realistic picture about Egypt’s contemporary cultural life.
This is not a story that happened, but rather one that is still taking place. This is the innovation and the creativity that Al-Oun brought.
He intelligently caught how the cultural circles have been functioning in the past couple of years, observed the details and crafted them in a novel that brings hope and offers solutions for those who believe in their talent and work on refining them.
The main character, Ramez, lives downtown with his parents in the apartment in which he was raised - not an uncommon state for middle-aged, divorced men in Cairo. His apartment building is located in the Indian Tea Passage downtown; hence the title. Living downtown is a privilege that is envied by most of the writers coming from the Egyptian countryside. A good portion of the cultural life takes place there.
It is said that pain and suffering create great novels, albeit not in this case. It is a worthy novel that is built on overcoming problems, building self-confidence, finding the path in life, and trusting one's talent.
Ramez used to write his diaries, studied archaeology, works on restoring old buildings and is quite savvy on their history. He eventually meets a journalist who is interested in one of the old mosques he was working on.
Through this man he is introduced to the magical world of intellectuals; those who attend seminars where they read their poems, short stories or parts of their novels and offer a critical point of view about what they read.
Ramez’s character evolves; he works on what he has already written, refines his style, and is accepted and recognised for his talent by more seasoned writers and critics.
The part where Al-Oun excels is where he describes Ramez's state of love. The first was his ex-wife. She is a gorgeous woman, who believes she is always right, wants always to be the centre of attention and her idea about marriage is that her husband should always listen to her. The marriage was doomed to fail. She was a narcissist person who did not know how to love in the first place.
The second love story was when Ramez fell in love with one of the poets who attended the weekly seminar. For Ramez it was love at first sight, and she eventually liked him back and they got engaged. That girl was an inspiration for Ramez; he turned his diary into stories, out of the spirit of the moment and due to his overwhelming feeling of happiness and joy, after realising that she loves him back, he read one of the stories on his YouTube channel… and it was a hit. That was the beginning of a whole new career; he became a YouTuber.
The writer offered to write a solution to the writers of the 21 st century. It resonated among writers and social media users who wanted to get their work across to the newer generation and certainly a larger audience.
Ramez’s YouTube channel granted him status and success. He simply found himself.
Al-Oun was able to capture many details in the novel. The one character that is fascinating for the Egyptian reader is Martina, a European lady who has been living and working in Egypt for a few years, that happens to be Ramez’s neighbour.
The reader expects a relationship between the two, especially that she flirted with Ramez and expressed classy interest in him; she also showed jealousy when she realised he was in love. She is simply the dream lady for the downtown community. A good portion of young writers and poets would die just to meet Martina, Al-Oun wrote. He avoided this trap.
This novel is not meant to pass the test of time but it is a documentation of downtown's social life. Reading it feels like watching a movie about what’s happening in Cairo in the 2020s.