NO, I DIDN’T WATCH THE OSCARS. It’s somehow lost its pizzazz for me. I think it’s the social media, celebrity bash ‘thing’ that it has become today as opposed to the fabulous, aloof, diva glamour that it used to be that leaves me – cool. I did see the movie of Bohemian Rhapsody when it came out, however, and thought how the young Egyptian/American actor deserved the Oscar. Did you spot original footage from Band Aid? I did. There are times when only Freddie can be Freddie, and I caught a couple of moments. Remind me to tell you of when I was on the red carpet in the 1990s in Berlin at the Silver Bär … now that is a story (!).
Freddie however would have loved every fabulous dancing octave of it, especially as rock music’s only true spectacular, scintillating star from the East. Born in Stone Town, Zanzibar to Parsi parents originally from India, he spent his childhood and early years in Mumbai, privately educated at British-type boarding schools which would explain his polished, cut-glass British accent.
Zanzibar is one of the most exotic places I have ever visited, where I sat at the port in Stone Town and sipped a cup of coffee under a breezy, flapping canopy, staring out to sea, imagining the heady sumptuousness of the Arab, African and Indian traders arriving across the Indian Ocean and docking with their stupendous array of wares and spices. I remember thinking this 40-carat ruby of an isle ABSOLUTELY defined the word “paradise”, with the outer Bahamian Islands coming in a close second. And oh, the beaches!
In 1964, Freddie’s family fled the revolution (independence from the British, like so many of the African states were achieving in the turbulent late 50s and early 60s); and came to England as British subjects and settled 7 miles from me here. Their house was near Heathrow Airport so that is why, I assume, he took an early job a a baggage handler while he considered what to do with his life (!). Indian families were starting to arrive in London (and in the north of England) at that time because of Kenya’s independence; Ugandans and Bangladeshis came in the early 1970s. (The Bangladeshis are the former East Pakistanis; highest majority are Muslims.)
Apart from the shock of the weather, the cold, British mentality after the warmth – in all senses – of Indian culture, life would have been the starkest monochrome opposite to the flamboyant colour of his East. The British would not have been at ALL welcoming. Snooty, indifferent and class-obsessed, the Brits knew how to humiliate and cast a hapless, coloured foreigner asunder. Pompous racism was sky high; ‘Paki’-bashing was becoming commonplace, and Freddie would have felt profoundly dislocated and very much the outsider; not only having to integrate into a xenophobic, jingoistic London with his elite British accent, but also, and most certainly, as a nuisance and second-class citizen from the far-flung colonies. I can’t even bear to think of how he was treated. Those of us living in London understand this better perhaps than my global readers; it’s almost impossible to put into words, so icy shivers will have to do.
For EmW, Freddie’s extraordinary achievement was not only his unparalleled virtuosity in music, specifically rock (but it could have been opera with his superlative 4-octave reach), but it was the fact that he took on a tired, hackneyed mantle in the toughest business on the planet – to be a rock star of satellite proportions in the 1970s in London as an Indian Parsi. His talent would HAVE to be have been greater than your average Joe, because his colour and origins would have been a major, impenetrable wall.
Self-belief? He must have had. Nothing to lose? Probably. What’s the worst that can happen? Back to the carousel at Heathrow and busking at local gigs. My point is that NOBODY noticed he was an Indian when he was at his peak; he transcended it all with his superstar charisma and flaunting, provocative talent. And, as EmW ALWAYS seeks to show you, naming and labelling is a mind game; if we are transported by great music or art, we just don’t care about unimportant facts such as colour and race. We don’t even remember ourselves either which is even more of the Absolute truth as it emerges, and as EmW always aims to show.
It will have been very difficult for Freddie to face his devout family and then to lead a complicated double life as he sought to build his iconic superstar persona. He had to find a tangent line to unleash his volcanic talent by letting it run loose from Queen’s first hit, Seven Seas of Rhye, into the ultimate all-time musical code-breaker, Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only had Freddie become the epitome of Bohemia but he was also apparently rapturous in doing so. And he paid for it, ultimately, in those days when we were all shrinking from the terrifying and indefinable evils of the HIV virus which also claimed Nureyev.
As I wait for somebody to tell me if Rami Malek has won the Oscar (Malek is a Muslim name as you know), I have this to say to you, dear Freddie. Your abrupt departure when you had been in your physical and professional prime left us reeling with shock and disbelief, and your insuperable talent has never been superseded, and never will be, although Adam is close in his enthralling emulation of you.
You thrilled us, you enchanted us, you stunned us with your extraordinarily, unparalleled talent and derring-do, and dear God, you were attractive in all sense of the word. Indeed, you were beautiful.
Other-worldly comets often hit the Earth when we are least prepared, and sometimes they burn out early because of supersonic energy which sizzles in the phosphorescence of its own light just as the heavens flash with blinding, X-forked lightning. You did just that, and although you were probably watching the entire affair last night, with a glass in one hand and a fat, Havana cigar in the other, may I thank you for changing the world through your magnificent music, and even more, that you took on the West as a true oriental star on the ascendant from your own exotic East. You see, you transcended it all and showed the world too. I hope they noticed.
Please, I request of you, return soon somehow, and finish your glorious, unfinished song.
Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, poet and Jnana yogi.
Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.
Free copies of her books are available for download here: https://www.emwpeace.org/publications/
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.