By Azeem Khan
Key Themes: Fiction, Novella, Bipolar disorder, Manic depression
The Nature of Flames is an experimental novella about Omar, a manic depressive experiencing a breakdown as he desperately tries to fly to Marrakech from Gatwick to join Aisha, his Moroccan wife, to whom the Home Office is not granting a visa.
It is 2007 in Ken Livingstone’s rough, ethnically diverse suburban town of Ilford, in East London. Omar, a failed Asian film director who has been bi-polar for 19 years, is on the spiral of a breakdown, having thrown away his meds. His psychiatrist Dr Top visits him with a social worker, and wants to section Omar, but he threatens them and throws them out of his chaotic and filthy council flat.
Omar decides to go for a walk in Ilford, wearing his dressing gown and slippers – but he has locked himself out. After spending a lonely and bitter night on the streets, he decides to fly to his Moroccan bride Aisha in Marrakech that very day. They had enjoyed a blissful Arabic wedding only two months before in Morocco, but the British Embassy in Rabat declined Aisha a spouse visa to join Omar in the UK, and the emotional trauma of their separation is killing him.
After a psychotic deterioration, Omar withdraws his cash, and taking only his British passport and credit cards, heads for Gatwick airport. Omar believes he will soon find happiness in the southern sun with Aisha.
After getting ejected from Gatwick airport by security guards, he throws away his British passport and destroys his cash and cards. Becoming increasingly desperate, Omar ends up living rough in the forest, eating grass and drinking rainwater. He decides he will survive “like Ice Age Man” in the wilderness of England, without material possessions. At one point he has an exchange with hundreds of ‘aliens from outer space’, as he sees it, and almost drowns whilst crossing a river in the middle of the night to reach them.
His descent into hell is graphic and bizarre, before he gets arrested by racist police officers who mentally torture him before banging him up in a cell overnight. Omar is duly sectioned and placed in a psychiatric hospital.
Months later, he has recovered greatly. It is time for Omar to meet his Moroccan bride, who has finally been granted a spouse visa by the Home Office. Omar goes with his parents to Gatwick, the scene of his horrific experience, where he is finally reunited with Aisha, who has just landed on an Easyjet flight. It is the start of something beautiful and new for Omar, as he takes stock of his life and begins life as a married man.
About the Author
Azeem Khan was born in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1965, and is the founder of Azko Films. He began his career as a copywriter and film director of TV commercials, after graduating from film school at Manchester Metropolitan University. Working with J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather in the Indian Subcontinent, he produced ads for Pepsi, Philips Whirlpool and over 30 other clients.
On return to the UK, Azeem worked in BBC Radio 4, producing a unique documentary portrait of Derek Beackon, the former BNP councillor, before producing and directing a range of television documentaries for the BBC and ITV. He was also a journalist, writing articles for The Asian Times and Eastern Eye.
Amongst his credits, he introduced Jeff Mirza, then the only British Asian stand up comic, to an ITV audience in Soft Target, in a do-or-die gig at Essex’s Circus Tavern. He made a biographical documentary on Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam, also producing the music promo video to the artiste’s first single in 17 years away from pop music, which aired on MTV and GMTV. He also gained access into Pentonville Prison in Faith Inside, for an exclusive BBC2 documentary which investigated the unparalleled spread of Islam in the jail.
Post 9/11, Azeem worked for BBC2’s First Sight, in investigating key London Muslims and their links with the U.K. This resulted in a documentary film about Shazia Mirza, the hijab-wearing stand-up comic, for BBC2. In 2002 Azeem was runner up at Channel Four Television’s Sheffield Pitch Prize for Documentary.
Azeem directed a documentary about Gulgee, Pakistan’s leading artist, shortly afterwards.
In 2008, he wrote and directed ‘Open Secrets’, a semi-autobiographical drama about the stigma and shame of mental illness in an Asian family, starring Saeed Jaffrey and Valmike Rampersad. The film won the Best Film prize at the 6th Buffalo-San Black & Asian Film Festival, held at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, London, in 2008, as well as having official selection at a number of other film festivals. In April 2009 Open Secrets was screened on the Community Channel on Sky and Virgin.
During 2010 Azeem wrote, produced and directed 5 short films: Crazy in Love, Lithium, Afghan Girl, Disorder, and Pakistani, British & Proud. All were screened at international film festivals, including Kinofilm Manchester European Short Film Festival, Leith Short Film Festival, and Tongues on Fire. His first novel, ‘The Nature of Flames,’ and his first feature length drama screenplay, ‘Hidden Colours’, are due to be published by Chipmunka.
Azeem is currently in development with ‘Poison Lullaby’, his first feature film, an action-thriller.
He lives and works in Redbridge, in North East London.
Top knows fuck all. He’s public school and sweats like a nine-month pregnant cow whenever he sees me. Freud protégé thinks he’s clever. I’ve seen his signature on a letter he sent me, and I swear his handwriting’s like a twelve-year old’s. So I guess he never grew up. I’m not even sure how pukkha a psychiatrist he is, though I’ve had my fair share over the past nineteen fucking years. He’s a greasy fifteen stone baldy, a little taller than me, but soft in the underbelly, just like his wet dream Jung, so if I had to nut him I know I could. I asked him if he was married and he wouldn’t say, so I reckon he might be queer as well. Dr Charles Top – the cunt’s a consultant for the whole of Loxford ward and cock sure with it. Says he’s gonna call round at fucking two p.m. Well, I’m waiting. 31 minutes to go.
My lounge looks like a horde of Eurasian wild boar live in it, and I don’t remember the last time I used the hoover. I don’t even know where the fuck it is. I know things are going to shit, but I know I’ve got to hang in there till it all blows over, which it will do, I just know, I feel I’ll be OK. Just that Goodmayes is involved now, and I know from previous shit how grey and scabby it can get. I look down at my carpet, which is beige with stains of mud and grease from too many shoes coming in off Ilford Lane, ass hole of the London Borough of Redbridge, possibly all of Ken Livingston’s fiefdom, too many Asians, even though I’m Pakistani myself, I say it with pride, there’s too many low-calibre fucking Asians in Ilford, they’ve spoilt everything since they started moving into the area in the 70’s. Fuck knows these Pakis are pig ignorant and from the backward Mirpur area of Pakistan, which even the ordinary Pakis look down on. Too much inbreeding of cousins makes them brain dead inbred retards. No wonder Indians are streets ahead at school. Mind you, these Krishna-loving vermin from India ain’t too bright the way they go around the place, tearing it up in their souped-up sports cars up and down Ilford Lane all hours of the day and night, their stereos turned up to two hundred decibels, blowing their fucking horns till I’m sick in the bum cheeks, and stoned out of their too-clever-by-half Gandhiheads. And these young Sikh gits are worse still, they’ve got no fucking manners. The latest horde to invade Redbridge is the Romanian gypsies, and they hit south Ilford over-fucking-night: one day the area was clean, relatively speaking, and the next we had hundreds of the Eastern European bastards, with their women in their long colourful skirts and their gold teeth, and the men with their pot bellies and guffawing donkey voices. They none of them know how to speak English, let alone speak in a decent tone: they shout and bawl across the street, and communicate like farmyard animals. They’ve taken over the patch of green grass with a bench off Ilford Lane, opposite S.S. Supermarket, and there are legions of the overweight cunts milling around the place. They all get Income Support or JSA, because as far as I know, Romania’s part of the EU, and none of the fuckers work. If I had my way, I’d line the lot of them up against a wall and squeeze the trigger…It would be ethnic cleansing of Ilford Lane, but in a positive way. Having made an exception for my own family of course, who despite their drawbacks are decent bourgeois Pakis who’ve read Chaucer and get The Times delivered daily, and know how to behave in public (nobody apart from me’s ever been arrested in my family).
CDs of Oasis and Nirvana and Coldplay litter my floor, along with plates of stale food from previous nights, and take away kebabs and empty bottles of whisky and vodka, and dozens of chucked away fag ends and crumpled up boxes of red Marlboro. No newspapers though, because I hate to read nowadays, can’t seem to get the fucking concentration especially with liberal-fascist shite like The Guardian, even The Sun bores me stiff as the tarmac on the M25. Things are so bad that I don’t even switch on the television any more. All I do is play music through my Wharfedale cinema surround sound system, really fucking loud, and I don’t get any complaints from the neighbours. Nobody ever complains, and to be honest I’m not thinking of the neighbours, only getting through the moment. I need the nicotine hit again, so I light another Marlboro and inhale, it feels so good inside, smiling in heaven, ecstasy smiles and the filter tips smell like expensive perfume, I can’t ever get enough. It’s been 1½ fucking years since I had a smoke, and the last few days have been paradise since I started again. Allen Carr’s a stiffy, died of lung cancer even though I read his boring book on how to stop smoking, and the poor bastard must’ve felt like the pits, when people like me take it up again. But I don’t give a shit about Carr or anyone else, I don’t need anybody now I’ve got my fags. Marlboro reds will see me through.
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