Sunday, August 23, 2020

For Feroz, my free-flowing feral friend who loved felines...

Feroz Faisal Merican @ Feroz Dawson (17 February 1966~12 August 2012)

On August 4th I found out that Feroz Dawson was in hospital. Apparently he had been admitted to University Hospital a couple of weeks earlier, after his mother (my old friend Faridah Merican) found him unconscious at home.

I hadn't seen Feroz for many months, but he took delight in trolling his friends on facebook. More than once, I had been amused by Feroz's habit of saying rude things to people he didn't even know. The young man had a big chip on his shoulder, that's for sure. Pretty much the same chip his old man, Leslie Dawson, had carried around for years.

Leslie Dawson and Faridah Merican were married in the mid-1960s and Feroz was their genetic legacy. When Feroz was 3 his parents split up. Imagine growing up as the offspring of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Both parents were exceptional actors, utterly passionate about theatre; and both had been radio personalities. 

I got involved with local theater in 1976 and two years later found myself acting alongside Faridah Merican in an epic production titled The Battles of Coxinga (originally a puppet play by Chikamatsu, translated into English by Donald Keene). Early rehearsals were held at Faridah's spacious home in Petaling Jaya - and it was there that I was introduced to the 12-year-old Feroz.

In 1990 I had the great honor and privilege of sharing the stage with Feroz's legendary father, Leslie Dawson, when we did a 3-man one-acter by Israel Horovitz called The Indian Wants The Bronx, directed by Joe Hasham (who married Faridah Merican and inaugurated The Actors' Studio in 1989). Leslie turned in an absolutely unforgettable performance in a role that had hardly any speaking lines. Little did any of us know at the time, it would be Leslie Dawson's theatrical swan song.

Fast-forward to 1993 or thereabouts and meeting Feroz again as an aspiring writer, returned from studying in the U.S. (where he married a young lady from the Midwest whom he greatly adored, even though it turns out they had little in common). Feroz shows me a few of his short stories and I'm impressed by his acerbic, shoot-from-the-hip style. His head is full of ideas for screenplays. However, he finds himself recruited into the advertising world as an apprentice director, and subsequently gets assigned to a production house in Jakarta. 

"I don't like the fact that most Malaysian writers are journalists, lecturers and lawyers. For our literature to be vibrant we need criminals, maladjusted youngsters and psychotic housewives to write fiction. Then we'll raise some eyebrows." ~ Feroz Dawson

In his princely domain with a "French bulldog" (posted a week before his 46th birthday). 
Is there a difference between French and British bulldogs, a friend asked; 
and Feroz's response was: "Yes, the French complain more."
Truth be told, I didn't have much contact with Feroz, although we had lots of mutual friends. Like his father before him, Feroz sought his spiritual highs out of a bottle. There was always a feral, rebellious streak in him that inclined him towards a species of sardonic existentialism. He also relished the shock effect he had on the sensitivities of those easily offended, especially when it came to social taboos and religious dogma. He made an artform out of raising eyebrows and rocking the boat. In short, Feroz was well equipped to be a literary and cinematic enfant terrible.

"Finally the lovers get what they want, a dead husband, life insurance, all the property he owned, assets, bonds and cars, and the two girls escape to Mexico, one step ahead of the law. With no paw prints..." (caption for one of Feroz's famous feline portraits posted on facebook)

Call him maladjusted, a social misfit, a professional delinquent - a larger-than-life personality like Feroz Dawson is rarely appreciated or acknowledged for his talents and unique perspectives until he's no longer among us.

The last time I saw Feroz was on August 7th, in ward 12 of University Hospital, where I found him bound to the bed to stop him ripping out the feeding tube stuck down one nostril. His eyeballs were yellow - a sure sign of jaundice caused by liver malfunction - and he was startlingly bloated. But his life force was vigorous and I figured he stood a fighting chance of recovery. I think he recognized me, because he kept attempting to speak, though his words were barely coherent. I told him he was dearly loved by many, especially his mum, and he instantly calmed down. "It's really up to you," I said to him. "Sure, it will take some time to get back in shape, but it's worth the effort. Do stick around a while longer, please. At least get your collection of stories published first!"

"The husband, lonely and hungry for Whiskas Tuna and Sardine biscuits..." (from Feroz's facebook album)
Well, it looks like his stories will be posthumously published - and the rest of us will be reminded, once again, how easy it is to overlook thwarted genius while it's alive and kicking.

[First posted 12 August 2012]