Writing the Wrong
The Accessible Diva
Musings at the Start of a New Decade
It is that time of year again, another new year begins, a sense of renewal, second chances and of course a fitness regimen that will transform all of us into the Victoria's Secret models we truly are. So naturally, I think about death. It's my Woody Allen tendencies. I can't help it. Every year at this time I think about what people will say about me at my funeral and work myself into an advanced state of self pity because of course, I was SO misunderstood in my lifetime. Oh, and utterly unappreciated for my obvious genius.
Then I got to thinking ( which for me is always a dodgy proposition) and I decide to write my own eulogy. It will be an exercise in self awareness I tell myself, and I will take it a step further: I will write TWO eulogies, one from the point of view of a loyal friend – essentially what I hope to be viewed as, and one in the voice of an arch nemesis, uh, I mean detractor. Yes, even sunny, Gandhiesque moi has one or two enemies. I would imagine that those who find us the most offensive, well they may be on to something at times. Enemies are gurus, that Lao Tzu sort of thing.
Eulogy number one: The Ally:
I have known Sharbari Ahmed for nearly forty years. We met at a literary conference in Ithaca, NY. By then Sharbari, fresh off the success of her best selling, award winning novel Bombay Duck, was a well known name in most circles. She was, simply put, a phenomenon, having also written and directed the film version of her novel, which broke box office records, both domestically and internationally. One would think that such a talented, engaging and lauded woman would be inaccessible, not so! I remember she was giving the key note address at the conference, where she also presented Salman Rushdie with the lifetime achievement award, and that was when I realised how funny she was, matching Mr Rushdie wit for wit.
(Here, the speaker pauses, allowing audience members to chuckle, and reflect on my stellar sense of humour)
Afterwards people thronged her and she spoke to each person as if she knew them intimately. Sharbari often said that she did not believe in strangers, that no one was really a stranger to her as we were all connected in a symbiosis that helped to sustain us. She also would say there was no such thing as a boring person because everyone had a story to tell. Was she an eccentric? Absolutely! That was what made her so delightful. Her childlike sense of wonder and romantic idealism set her a part in this cynical world. She was not afraid to show her soft underbelly – this is where she would have made a joke about her abdominal muscles – (More low, soft laughter, punctuated by someone weeping) and always said in one's vulnerability and willingness to show it lay one's true strength. This was the essence of her spirituality, and she was a deeply spiritual being. Born a Muslim, she fashioned her own take on God that was not exclusionary.
She was a glittering talent, yes, but what I remember her for the most was how much she loved her friends and her family and her students. Her beloved son, Anjay, who inherited her sense of humour and love of the written word, her six grandchildren, a myriad of nieces and nephews and siblings and of course, her devoted partner, Clive (as in Owen, a much acclaimed actor, who sobs uncontrollably throughtout the address) were the joys of her life. She had friends in every corner of the earth. The two thousand people who have gathered here today are testament to how much she was loved. She was, above all, loyal and self effacing and brave. Sometimes to a fault. She knew when to laugh at herself. She was a larger than life presence, a force of nature, if you will, but always an accessible diva. She left us how she lived, with style and enthusiasm. I know she is holding court wherever she is, making St Peter laugh and maybe even God herself. You shall be missed everyday, Ms Ahmed, and we are all the better for having known you.
Eulogy number two: The Enemy, printed in a publication like the NYT.
Sharbari Ahmed was a much lauded writer, and filmmaker, at times hailed as a genius of great wit and complexity. She was nothing if not balanced. Her talent was undeniable, though overrated. What was also undeniable was the gargantuan ego that accompanied the said talent. She had many admirers and an equal measure of people whom she offended en masse by her solipsistic, self referential prose and presence. Her legendary wit and sense of humour could just as easily become acerbic weapons devised to cut down and cripple one's self esteem. In fact, I remember clearly one such incident when Sharbari challenged a young woman to a public verbal throw down because she was clearly threatened by the latter's youth and beauty. The young lady, who was by no means, equal to the task of sparring with her, was reduced to tears and Sharbari felt no remorse. Thus, her ignobility came to the fore. I speak from experience, having worked with her on a film. Sharbari was tyrannical when challenged herself, not to mention conniving when she felt she was losing control. Her authority was absolute. She would laughingly call herself a benign dictator and I am here to say there was NOTHING benign about this woman! Malignant in the extreme, Sharbari used her intelligence as a shield from facing her own inadequacies as a friend, and colleague. Because she knew how to wield and fashion words she was excellent at flattery and lulling one into a false sense of intimacy and feeling as if they were cared for. The moment Sharbari was displeased, these words were used to wound and her legendary quicksilver temper would bare its fangs. She was at her most insufferable when she was on her self-righteous soap box, pontificating on the symbiosis of all humanity, and claiming to love everyone, from all walks of life. She was a teacher, so she loved to lecture, and lecture she did, at every turn because she was the resident expert on nearly every topic. If opinions could be mined and sold on e-bay, then Sharbari Ahmed would be the mother lode!
Some called her eccentric, well I am here to say the woman was completely insane towards the end. A believer in the occult, she claimed to be psychic when really all she was was a brilliant observer who used information as power. Some described her as attractive in her youth, yet all I can remember is a round faced, black gummed jezebel who thought she was much more appealing to the opposite sex than she actually was. This brings me to her deluded notion of her own importance in many people's lives, including my own. I admit, there was a time when I was taken with her charms, but I learned quickly that Sharbari's first and foremost loyalty was to herself, and her own needs. She hungered for attention and sought it whenever she could. She leaves behind a much beleaguered common law husband, one son and several grandchildren. How she managed to find someone to love her is a mystery, but she did. Several times. It is not in my nature to be so negative but as the saying goes, the greatest trick the devil played on the human race was convincing us he did not exist. Well I am here to say, that he/she does. They manifest themselves in seemingly nice people, chalk full of talent when all they are are narcissistic freaks. She may be gone now, but there are others like her trolling the earth. Forwarned is forearmed.
Happy New Year!
(R) thedailystar.net 2010