My last conversation with Aamir Zaki
KARACHI: It’s a small bunglow in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. A new music venture is about to be launched and all the key players are waiting for the proceedings to begin.
But they can’t – not until the man of the hour shows up.
No one wants to say that Aamir Zaki is in dire straits and that his pick and drop is being covered because he literally can’t make it without help, both physical and financial. Everyone is singing songs of his genius yet no one actually knows what might be bothering him this time.
Seemingly carried by the wind, Zaki’s slender frame enters the drawing room. Everyone stands up to greet, be it Faakhir or the kid who doesn’t know who he really was.
The host, as expected in most interactions with Zaki, starts off by singing praises of his success and of how well suited his skills were for a project they were about to launch.
Zaki keeps on smiling and looking in no particular direction. With an unlit cigarette in hand, he scans the room very carefully.
Everyone shares their share of anecdotes about Zaki’s brilliance but its guitar virtuoso’s silence that is deafening.
“I am sure you are engaged in a very deep thought process. Would you mind sharing it with us earthlings,” asks one of the hosts, the question greeted with loud laughter.
“Nothing special… just tell me where I can smoke this cigarette,” answers Zaki. Everyone shares a loud laugh as he is shown to the basement.
He winks at me in what is an offer to join him. “I need to talk to you about something,” he says. I, like a loyal servant, open all doors that lie in our path to the basement until Zaki is settled in an arm chair, with his cigarette now lit.
“You do realise I never smirk… I only smile,” Zaki says. He is referring to an interview of his I conducted recently. As I try to defend my choice of words to describe his expression that day, he remains adamant.
“You want me to open the dictionary right now? Because, unfortunately, we can’t replay a particular moment that has already passed… much like the better part of my life.”
There is an awkward silence as I try to ascertain if I should apologise to him for using that particular word or sympathise for the sense of regret in his tone. Both have their own failings so I settle on a third option: “Excited about the new venture?”
“There is nothing new about any venture. It’s just a bunch of people telling you how great you are as they try to make the most of it. Now how do you explain anything to these people?” he replies.
“But wouldn’t it be unfair to judge the intentions of someone who is trying to get you some work,” I ask him.
“Of course not. They are great kids, but the problem is with the society we live in. To be honest, I am done here… I have no money in my pocket and I am not doing that well. All I need is some support and I am not going to beg anyone for that,” he gives me an affirming look.
By now his cigarette had almost extinguished. He was struggling to light it up again with every joule of energy in his body. Before I could get up to help him through, he was smoking again.
“Now I’m in not that bad a shape,” he quipped.
“The thing is I am bipolar and I suffer from depression… but don’t share this with the world now. Share it after the project materialises – or if it fails to materialise,” he pleads. “If you share it now, no one will sponsor it.”
“And you know why? Because admitting you have problems is problematic for this society. All I have to do is appear ‘alright’ and hide the darkness in my soul, and the sponsors will love me! It’s pro-business you know,” he adds.
Thinking that maybe Zaki is trying to justify his reclusive, anti-social attitude, I tell him that things don’t work like that.
“They do. If society allows you to be who you are within the four walls of your home, then perhaps you can survive with an occasional smile. But this society doesn’t. If I break my guitars in my apartment one day, people label me the next. What is your problem man? People just want to make everything about themselves.”
But so does Zaki by seeing in everything a grand scheme to keep him from achieving whatever it is he wants to achieve. “Aren’t you suffering from the same problem as this society according to you?”
“I am done, like I said before,” replies Zaki. “This mentorship programme, Coke Studio, appearance for [designer] Arsalan Iqbal… these are just ways to kill time. The system has sucked out whatever juice I had in me. Yes, people think I am capable of a lot more, but not with these present circumstances.”
I ask him if he’s seeking any help. “I am taking some very hard medication for depression and that has made my face swell. I am not doing hard drugs any more but I think I am growing weaker by the day. With or without drugs or medication, the end is pretty much the same.”
Just as we were getting somewhere, the host interrupts, telling us dinner is ready. As me and Zaki walk back to the drawing room, he reminds me that ‘smirk’ was the wrong word to use and that no matter how much I try to reveal what is going inside him, it will not change how the world sees him.
“Like a fallen hero, a guy who poisoned his own potential or someone who can’t work with people. I wish people understood better but perhaps it’s too late.”
The music venture Zaki and I discussed in my last conversation with him was ‘Sing with Aqeel’. Aqeel Ahmed was one of the few musicians – perhaps the only one – who Zaki was in touch with before his death on Friday.
“Aamir bhai called me two days back. He needed some money. He said he had managed to pay the rent somehow by borrowing money but he was worried about the future. He said he shivered out of depression everyday upon waking up and that he also needed some money to take his mother to the doctor,” Aqeel told The Express Tribune.
He got teary eyed upon recalling the phone call and wished he had lent Zaki some money at that time. But it was literally too late.