M. Farooq Shah, a weaselly, bespectacled, thirty-something diva-geek who was, in a decision Sajjad and I regret, recently named chief correspondent, usually strolls into the office around 4pm and becomes desirous of departure by 7. Apparently under the impression that his title has rendered actual reporting work superfluous, he’ll pop his head over my five-foot-high baby blue cubicle wall and, as if a news room is meant for idle chatter and not the urgency of recording the goings-on of our always-whirring metropolis, give me that goofy grin, “Hey, Dave, what’s going on?” As if I hadn’t already called him three times that day, wondering if he could help me out with a few phone calls to the environmental authorities or a visit to the psychiatric clinic to chat with mental patients, or what have you. “Farooq Shah! You made it to work today,” pleased as punch to see his silly face.
He is short, slightly hunched, mustachioed and married with two young boys, ambitions beyond his talents and fantastical dreams of lovely women, far off places, and impressive bylines. Swinging from dark to sunny moods almost daily, Farooq is also lazy, philandering, defensive, neurotic, and an absolute joy to be around. I can’t explain precisely why, but he has a certain impossible to deal with how the hell should we handle this bastard star quality about him. He is the best man, the perfect buddy, the one who’d buy the last beer if he weren’t a penny pincher and there happened to be bars in Srinagar.
Perhaps it is something to do with the way he seeks complements. “Dave, who’s the best journalist at Kashmir Observer?” he’ll ask me unbidden as we stroll over to the Tao Café, the primary haunt for Srinagar journalists two blocks from our office. “Ummm,” I’ll respond, pretending to ponder, “me?”
“No-ooo,” he’ll jump in, and here I have to mention the gorgeous lilting sing-song of his accent, with its echoes of the British and which sumptuously blesses words with an extra syllable or two, “no” included, with a high-pitched, urgent first sound and a lower, more poignant second. “Other than you, I mean.”
“Well than it would have to be M. Farooq Shah.”
And he’ll smile as if the praise had fallen into his lap without warning. “Thank you,” he’ll twitter.
Or maybe it’s the way he sprinkles his conversation liberally with three syllable “lovely”’s. “Dave, do you believe in God?” he asked me on the ride home from work soon after I arrived. Not wanting to offend a man who could be a serious Muslim I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Hmm, I don’t know,” I said, wanting to offer more. “I believe in love.”
“Ohhh, well I believe in sex,” he responded, forgetting Allah for the moment. “It’s just lovely.” Grinning in a way that suggested pride in his profundity and then giggling too at his salaciousness.
No, no, it has to be the way he oh-so-not-very-subtly asks for hand-me-downs that aren’t quite ready for handing down. “Dave, that is such a nice camera,” he said the first time he saw my Canon EOS, which was I guess Day Two at the office. “Thanks, I just got it.” “How much did it cost?” he asked, inspecting it more closely. “A lot," I told him.
“You’re probably a master with this thing, an excellent photographer I’m sure.”
“Not really,” I said, and he continued.
“I bet you're a pro. This looks like a professional’s camera.”
“No, actually it’s not,” I responded. “Most photojournalists have much better cameras than this.”
“Oh,” he said, turning it over in his mind. “So when you buy your new, better camera, what are you going to do with this one?”
“Uhh, I just bought this.”
“Yeah, but it’s not professional. You need something better if you’re going to be really great.”
“Yeah, maybe I do.”
“So maybe you’d sell it to me for a good price?” he asked, grinning now.
“Farooq,” I answered, finally grasping the ruse, “when I buy a new camera, I’ll give you this one.”
“Well, if you insist,” he said.
Oh, I do, Farooq, and the same goes for my laptop and that jacket you love as well.
Here he is hard at work as usual.