MY FRIEND JABBAR
As I come close to the ending of my novel, SHADOW OF THE LION, I am saying goodbye to friends (characters) who have been with me for a long time, many years in fact. So it's a nostalgic time for me. Perhaps that's why writers find it difficult writing those last few chapters, knowing that when they come to THE END they will have lost those 'friends' who have lived with them and taken over their lives, for such a long time.
It's that way with real-life friends too, who have to leave whether they leave by their own choice, or if you have had to part from them by your choice, or if for some sad reason they have departed this earth.
For about ten years now I have been friends with a very talented man, an Iraqi artist, Jabbar al Janabi. From the first moment we met I knew he was actually a character I had written into my novel, the character of Nabarzanes, the Court Advisor from Babylon. Nabarzanes is a fictional character but one I have grown to love, so when I had to exile him (rather than kill him because of Olympias' jealousy), it was a difficult goodbye. Now, my real friend Jabbar (who I always call "The Babylonian") is leaving, because of the drastic cuts to the Arts in my Province. It will be our great loss, Toronto's gain. An interesting typo on the program of his show last night said he was 'going to Toronto for god" and perhaps this was an omen of good things to come for him.
Jabbar is an exile from Baghdad (Babylon) and has lived here since the '90's, a very talented artist who was well known in his own country before he had to escape from the evil Sadaam. He always says he is Sumerian, and if you see the ancient wall carvings you will see the likeness in him -- a regal figure, gentle, kind and handsome. Every year for the past several years he has directed a show called ANU, which is symbolic of the Sumerian sun god. The performance takes place in a circle with visual artists, musicians, singers, poets and dancers spontanteously performing when the spot-light shines on them. It's a unique form of theatre. Each year it has a new theme. This year's ANU, which will be Jabbar's last (although another person is taking over for him) was "With Love from Iraq" and featured all Iraqi performers.
THE ISHTAR GATE
There was traditional music and singing, poetry and visual artists creating while the performance went on. I was delighted to see that one of the artists was actually rebuilding the famous Ishtar Gate that was a feature of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon. The Gate is mentioned in my novel too. And there is was -- blue and gold, with the guarding lions and bulls. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw this, along with the haunting music and the spoken word. I was, in my imagination, transported to the Babylon I have written about, and connected with my character Nabarzanes. When I thought of him, and how I have now said goodbye to him -- a character I had become so fond of -- and how now I must say goodbye to my real friend Jabbar, I felt so sad that it was hard not to start crying.
It's difficult saying goodbye, whether it's to your written characters or the real friends you have made over the years. I am full of nostalgia and melancholy these days as I come to the end of Alexander's world. But at least my characters will still live on the pages. And I know that my friend Jabbar, The Babylonian, is going to a city where he will be accepted and successful as the truly great artist that he is. Goodbye, my friend. I will cherish all the memories that I have of our wonderful friendship. And when I get the novel published, you (Nabarzanes) will be sure to receive a copy of it because you have been such an inspiration.