Dreaming Impossible Dreams, Thanks To My Father

by Zain Verjee June 21, 2015

Published in Zain's Updates

My father Johnny is the most charismatic, beautiful spirited, gentle, funny and loving person I know.

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He championed me to be everything that I am today.  Our life’s theme music together has been from The Man of La Mancha,  “To dream the impossible dream… To reach the unreachable stars.”  At a young age he introduced me to Shakespeare and extrapolated life’s lessons for me.

Among his favorites from Julius Caesar: “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much, such men are dangerous”.   

He is always moved at the end when Mark Antony speaks of Brutus. I have heard this line countless times in my life:  “His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world ‘this was a man’.  I remember my dad quoted this last to me when Mandela died. 

From the Merchant of Venice, “Senor Antonio, many a time and oft in the rialto you have rated me. About my money and my usances…” My mum, Yasmin, my brother Irfan, and I have laughed hysterically his excellent acting skills.  He’s also a great rock and roll dancer, a tennis champ and has a brilliant creative mind.  IMG_1530-1

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He has helped me build out the characters for a novel I am writing about a Kenyan detective called Lucy Onyango.  We’ve built her life and character together and he’s come with me to all the locations of the action (Langata Police Station, Nairobi Racecourse… and we’ve created a world in our imaginations.)

He is a huge Sophia Loren fan and makes all of us watch Mambo Italiano on You Tube constantly. I’ve learned so many wonderful songs from him: all of Elvis’ songs ever, Blue Danube, April in Portugal, Bernadine, Granada, Halfway to Paradise, Lipstick on Your Collar, Massachusetts (the list is endless.) 

He loves every single movie Julia Roberts is in, and watches them all repeatedly especially Pretty Woman and Notting Hill. My father’s love for me has galvanized me to believe that I can do anything.  He tells me always to “be brave, be bold and be beautiful.”   

While I was at Capital FM in Nairobi hosting radio shows for four years, he listened to every single program and laughed with me at 1am and beyond, when he came to pick me up from Lonrho House in town. He would also drop and collect me from Nyayo House in downtown Nairobi when I was anchoring at Kenya Television Network early in my career.  

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“Papa’s here,” everyone would make fun of me (you all know who you are!)  My father is emotional and passionate, and he really loves good food especially Kenyan BBQ meat called Nyama Choma.    

He loves Kenya.  His family has lived here for more than one hundred years.  Suleman Verjee was one of the Indian pioneer families that came to Kenya in the late 1800s, sailing from India to the coast of Kenya on a Dhow.  Tubman road in the city was once called Hussein Suleman Verjee Road.  If you look at the famous Norfolk Hotel’s collection of old photos in the restaurant, you will see his grandfather in there.   If you read the book ‘Out of Africa’ you will see in the opening pages where the flags are flying at half-staff, the line “Hussein is dead but’ Verjee’ is alive” is there.

He is proud of his family’s historical and present day contribution to Kenya and encourages me to do the same, to contribute to the society in which we live to make it better.  He has taught Irfan and I to “drink life to the lees” (Tennyson), to experience everything, every drop, and regret nothing.  

He’s been with me on my whole CNN journey, and now as I embark on building an Africa focused media company, aKoma: stories made@africa, he is cheering me on. He has also just agreed to be a beta tester along with other key folks. 

Today on father’s day, my dad emailed me to please read this poem that he was thinking about as he looked at some of the photos I sent this morning.  I never heard of it. It’s by Ralph Hodgson and goes like this: 

Time, You Old Gypsy Man

Will you not stay, 

Put up your caravan 

Just for one day? 

All things I’ll give you 

Will you be my guest, 

Bells for your jennet 

Of silver the best, 

Goldsmiths shall beat you 

A great golden ring, 

Peacocks shall bow to you, 

Little boys sing. 

Oh, and sweet girls will 

Festoon you with may, 

Time, you old gypsy, 

Why hasten away? 

Last week in Babylon, 

Last night in Rome, 

Morning, and in the crush 

Under Paul’s dome; 

Under Pauls’ dial 

You tighten your rein — 

Only a moment, 

And off once again; 

Off to some city 

Now blind in the womb, 

Off to another 

Ere that’s in the tomb. 

Time, you old gypsy man, 

Will you not stay, 

Put up your caravan 

Just for one day?

Love you mingi sana papa.  

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