By Adiela Akoo
When it rains, it pours!!
These last few days epitomized this, with no less than four family members being rushed to the hospital, two requiring urgent operations!
The usually effervescent energy of the family chat group quickly shifted to a somberness that weighed heavily on the chest, often causing laboured breathing! The lighthearted posts were replaced with constant updates from the hospitals, messages of mutual support, and prayers … lots of prayers…
Then… this afternoon, the dreaded news…
I remembered that Saturday morning when he had called, requesting that I attend the Maritzburg unveiling of his book, “Mandela In Focus” at the Nizamia Hall. I remembered being in awe as he addressed the audience
I had attended primary school at Nizamia, as did my parents, uncles, aunts and many cousins. And so did he, as I surprisingly learnt from his speech! But never before had I encountered the history of the school as he told it! Even the school governing body later commented on the need to document it!
After his speech, he made a bee line towards me, with the visible joy of one reconnecting with a long lost relative. He even stated that he now “recognized the family forehead”! He then quickly rearranged the row of chairs where we sat, into a circle and promptly summoned and introduced me to two other relatives, who had accompanied him to the unveiling.
The last we had met was when I was a little girl, on holiday, at my uncle and aunt’s home in Durban, where he was a frequent guest, up until my uncle’s passing. Our paths never crossed again until January this year, when he had approached me with an invite, to be a guest on his talk show. It was only after providing a short bio for the show, did he make the connection
and delightedly stated, “We’re family!”
Even after the unveiling event, the handful of us stood out on the school grounds as he continued exuberantly chatting, clearly explaining exactly how my grandfather was his uncle, and my mother his cousin.
He pointed across the field to the house in which my grandfather once lived, next to the mosque. He said he had spent a lot of time there and could still clearly remember every detail of that house… every fruit tree in the garden… everyone who lived there… and everyone who visited… He spoke of how my grandfather “presided over the community” and how we needed
to co-author a book about his life. His love for my late grandfather was visibly evident.
By this time, Kevin Joseph, the photographer of “Mandela in Focus”, and the school principal had joined in the conversation. He introduced me as his niece, to which Kevin quickly inquired:
“No! This one REALLY IS my niece!” he emphatically proclaimed.
I later discovered that he habitually adopted people as family. All the cars in the parking lot had by now long dispersed, except for ours…
Over the coming months, I received regular phone calls… a caring uncle watching over me… a seasoned mentor…
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to tales about his friendship with Muhammad Ali and Barbra Streisand, the lavish dinners, the times when her home was filled with people, at the height of fame… and other things… He always ended his calls with a bit of parting wisdom…
He also spoke about the book he was writing, documenting his experiences as a journalist and activist. He mentioned the title he was considering … “The Man They Couldn’t Gag” … and asked me to write a short poem for the foreward. I obliged with “Lion of the Pen”
Lion of the Pen
He feared not
the hunter’s bullets
in his quest to be heard
And a deafening
ROAR it was
From his written word
At the time of writing this poem, I never once thought that barely six months later, I would be writing this piece! It’s only been a few hours since that dreaded news, and it still feels so surreal. The reality of lifelessness in one normally so full of life is quite jarring!
From the influx of messages being posted on social media, the positive impact that uncle Farook had on the lives of so many people, is clearly apparent. Combined with this, was his wonderful talent of making each person feel uniquely special! He will, undoubtedly, be sorely missed…
Part of my own treasure trove of memories is this autographed copy of his book, “The Goodwill Lounge”, in which he wrote this message in bold letters:
“TO ADIELA, WHO OWNS THE SKY”
And that is exactly how he made you feel! Like nothing was impossible! You could take on the world like he did!
They say that when an elder dies, a library burns down.
These words have never rang truer than in the case of my uncle, Farook Khan.
May you rest in peace, Lion of the Pen! (10 September 1944 – 3 October 2019)
Category: Nonfiction, Poetry