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]


Ivy Loh said...

I'm sorry that your friend has to leave a teeny bit too early.
That was a lovely write-up to honour his existence.
For at least, I now know him remotely, though I must say that he did had a good life, living it the way he deemed fit.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautiful write up. It sums up my feeling of him.

I wrote this short obituary on my facebook wall to him :-

It was a short relationship we had Feroz Dawson, less that a year but it was an interesting and enriching one. Although we never met physically, was glad we clicked in this virtual world. Will miss you dearly. Have lost a buddy to discuss politics and life. I always enjoyed that we agreed to disagree. Glad you are in a better place and the pain is over. Cheers buddy!

Dr Joseph Jesudasan

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I was hoping that there's someone out there that would writing a fitting eulogy about Feroz.

I had the pleasure of working closely with him over the past year an a half. Feroz would turn up at my office once maybe twice a week unannounced carrying a small leather briefcase with 2 cans of beer and nothing else inside. He would proceed to slowly get high and we would have the most amazing conversations and heated arguments about film, politics and life.

We were working on adapting an original story he wrote some years ago into a screenplay for a film. He didn't take it too kindly that I changed the structure of the story but in the end he gave in reluctantly. But once he did, he poured himself wholeheartedly into it... during those rare moments of sobriety. There were times when i thought he wasn't there at all and then there were moments of pure genius that blew me away.

Eventually i was looking forward our afternoon meetings where we will sit an yak for hours. Everyone at my office found him to be a lovable character as he would accost every female that walked past by asking them.. "Are you married?".."No? I'm available."

He will also jump into any conversation and get all worked up and heated if he didn't agree with a particular point-of-view. Once many years ago I had Feroz over for lunch and there were a few friends and we were discussing the current political situation. Anwar had juts been arrested and the reformasi movement was in full swing. In one corner stood Feroz and in the other corner were five to six of us, and Feroz stood by Mahathir like hew was his own father. Defending the man and his actions and swearing by the man's legacy. He truly believed in Mahathir despite everything we knew to be true about him. Feroz stood his ground despite the rest of us relentlessly attacking him. He has since recanted everything in a recent conversation where i reminded him of that day.

You've gotta admire the man for standing up for what he believed in despite how unpopular it made him in certain circles. But we all still loved him for it.

I also reminded him of the day when he came over to my house one afternoon many years ago and we cracked a bottle of Chivas. After a couple of hours of drinking and talking, he gets up, picks up MY bottle of Chivas and walks out of the house saying thank you.

Feroz went under the radar on June 12 which was when i got my last message from him about a re-write he was supposed to submit. He had walked out of my office with a bottle of single malt in hand a week before that and i had not seen him since then. "Gimme a few more hours. It won't take long. I'm writing longhand. Then typing. I know I am way over schedule. I apologize again."

I never head from him again after that but I was quite sure he would surface again, as he always did. I put it down to another one of his dark writer's binge that he always embarked on. I was quite sure that we were going to have another crazy afternoon where he would be his usual acerbic self. But i guessed wrong….

I will miss you my friend and I promise you, I will get the film made for you..


SFGEMS said...

A lovely piece which I believe is a perfect reflection of who Feroz was.

To me, he was a nice guy and we had some fun on FB and the two occasions when we met for a meal and coffee.

Underneath all that tough and rough exterior, was a very kind soul.

dain said said...

Thanks Anonymous,

Your own honesty here is a very fitting, and moving eulogy. Thank you for sharing, a slice of your insight, into a man, that was not always easy to get to know, but we feel the gentleness and kind sould behind the dark, and yes often, ascerbic persona. And me and him, it was always fleeting, our relationship, but I know there was a lot of love and respect between us, as there is in yours as evidenced in your words.....( I'm sure I know you)

Respect, and thank you,

Dain Said

Vijay Veerappan said...

Thank You Antares, he would have liked this. Peace.

Anonymous said...

RIP Feroz, my one time FB friend. Until the day he unfriended me and called me a prick. I really pray that I do not rot in hell for not parting with him in the best of terms because I always had the utmost respect for the man. - Dennis.

Starmandala said...

That's right, beneath that prickly and often abrasive exterior, Feroz was an absolute mushball, capable of supreme tenderness (which I'm sure he lavished mostly on his feline and canine children). His insistence on reclaiming the Dawson name deserves in-depth study as a classic instance where the divisiveness of politically imposed racial and religious profiling can result in massive confusion and anger within a sensitive and intelligent hybrid. As I bade Feroz Dawson farewell at the hospital I found myself thinking: here lies a Malaysian Gulliver, an incarnation of Prometheus, a freedom-loving god bound down by Lilliputian concerns, his liver devoured by angry birds of social convention.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Antares for a great piece. He may have change a little, but he was still that people's person. I taught him in the mid 80's in SMK Sultan Abdul Samad,PJ.and I still remember him as the happy go lucky guy who mixed well with his peers in school. They were a great bunch of guys who loved cricket. Rest in peace dear Feroz, you will always be in my thoughts.

Vijay Veerappan said...

Hi, I have set up an impromptu memorial over here:

Feel free to stop by and say a few words.

Thanks guys.

Best regards,

Siva Kumar Ramanathan said...

Very sad to hear..Feroz was my buddy from primary school - Sri Petaling and remember hanging out at Faridah's place along Jalan University... i think the house is still tehere and always remember when I drive pass..farewell my friend and will always be in my memories..

Siva Kumar Ramanathan

Sarah Joan Mokhtar said...

There should be a new type of non-fiction : compilations of random facebook posts that paint a portrait of the personality. I like what I've read so far. May he rest in peace.

Pat said...

I only knew Feroz Dawson as a friend of my friend, Lita, on Facebook. I'd often read his comments and wonder who he was, and whether he was at all related to Leslie Dawson of the magnificent Voice!

Lita told me about your post, and I am glad I'm here. He sounds like someone I'd have enjoyed knowing - both from what you've written, and from the little notes left here by his friends.

I hope his soul has finally found the peace he so deserves.

Starmandala said...

Can't resist adding a brief footnote: People seem to take the "R.I.P" found on many old tombstones a bit too literally... as though "rest" and "peace" are forever the inevitable lot of those who pass through the veil to "the other side." I doubt our friend Feroz is all that keen on either peace or rest - he was always turned on by sheer audacity, funkiness and anything truly astonishing. I can just picture him getting himself thrown out of heaven as well as hell - and reincarnating as an entire brewery, just to piss everybody off ;-)...

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