A Very Interesting Interview with Farah Ahamed
"Dr. Patel" by Farah Ahamed
Farah Ahamed Joint Winner of the Inaugral Gerald Kraak Award
"He parked in the empty car park and decided to wait until he saw other people enter the apartment block. He usually made a point of seeing his mistress at a time when everyone was coming home from work. He’d alight from his car holding his phone to his ear, and lean against the door with a pre-occupied air. Initially, the neighbours used to nudge each other and snigger. This gave him much pleasure, while he remained intent on his phone conversation. Now they no longer reacted, but this did not bother him. His reputation as a virile lover had been established."
One of the greatest pleasures of book blogging for eight years has been posting on the work of writers just beginning their literary efforts, seeing them develop their talent and receive recognition. During June I hope to post upon six wonderful, highly perceptive, elegant short stories by Farah Ahamed. All of the stories but one can be read online. As I go on in my posts and hopefully increase the depth of my understanding of her work, I will try to talk a bit about why I admire her work so much and what I think she may have to tell us. In my first of these posts, on her "Dr. Patel" I see a masterful depiction of a man completely mired in a deep miasma of self-deception, unable to see how he appears to others, desperately seeking admiration. I will try to show how Ahamed creates a very real man in a well developed social environment in just a few pages.
We meet Dr. Patel on the way to a wedding reception of young man from one of the wealthiest families in Niarobi. I will catalogue his deceptions, of self and others. Firstly he is not a doctor, either medical or academic. It is just a title he sort of gave himself and thinks others call him that out of respect. After twenty years working for Amber Investments he has become Human Resources director. As anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world knows, this is a job normally reserved for time serving lackeys (W. B. Yeats would call him an errand boy). Dr Patel is wearing his club tie, with the crest of an elite organization of which he is not a member.
Many of those at the party have inherited their wealth, Dr. Patel tells himself he did not inherit his position. At the reception he sits at a table near the family, hoping others will take this as meaning he is a close family friend. He got the groom a job at Amber Investments at the request of the father of the groom and was short sighted enough to request an "administrative fee" for this, thus reducing himself to a petty dishonest minion where honesty might have made him a true family friend.
In a very acute and funny scene, a couple as Dr. Patel if they can join him at the table. He tries to impress them by saying it is for family only, the couple exchanges a look that Patel misses that says "who is he kidding". He makes a big show in front of them of putting money in an envelope along with his business card, which he gives to everyone, it seems. He asks the woman what is the bride's name, I laughed out loud when she told him and he believed it that her name was "Bindi", a bindi is a cosmetic mark in the center of the forehand, any body with any real culture would know this and the fact that the woman feels secure telling Patel this shows the depth of her contempt for him.
When people at the party he has previously met don't recall him, he attributes it to their weak memories, is there end to his self-blindness?
Dr Patel is a huge man, when he orders just a small salad from the waiter The couple exchange looks like who is he kidding. They ask him if he has come alone, he says his wife did not come and he thinks how in twenty years she is still not comfortable in high society.
Dr Patel leaves the party, heading for the apartment of his mistress, an employee of Amber Capital. He wants people to see he has a mistress as a proof of his virility and affluence. The scene between him and the woman are just masterful. She comes to the door in a negligee, obvious to all but the oblivious Patel that she is expecting someone else. We learn all he ever does in her apartment is watch TV news.
I have told a lot about this story but first readers will still delight in the skill of this story. The close of the story in which Patel has no idea who the young man who emerged from the elevator in front of her apartment reminded me of the moment in Madame Bovary where Bovary sees a man climbing
over the fence of his house, on his way out as he unexpectedly returns home and thinks, "oh, now I know who has been stealing apples from my trees".
Ahamed has brilliantly presented a man completely oblivious to the reality of his life, a shallow fool out of touch with his true nature. She also presents a sharp picture of social class distinctions
This story first appeared in the Out of Print Magazine, September, 2015
Farah Ahamed is a Kenyan lawyer with a Creative Writing Diploma from the University of East Anglia. She currently lives in the UK. Her short stories have been published by Kwani?, Bridge House, Fey Publishing, New Lit Salon Press and The Missing Slate. In 2014 Zoloft for Everyonereceived a commendation at the Winchester Writer’s Festival, and 1972, was nominated for the Caine Prize for African writing. In the same year, she was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize for a collection of short stories. Red is for Later was nominated for the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing and the 2016 Pushcart Prize.