There’s a song by David Bowie entitled ‘Starman’ and it goes: “There’s a starman waiting in the sky, He’d like to come and meet us, But he thinks he’d blow our minds”.
A fifteen-year-old me would play this one song on repeat when I was in hospital a few years back. The ward I was staying in was rigid in keeping with the rota. They had a programme and at 4.00pm everyday patients would come around for an almost ‘circle-time’ like gathering during which we were meant to discuss our feelings. Which is all cool and stuff I’m sure, except I’ve never been one to talk about my feelings.
This part of the programme, I had decided from early on, was not for me. So instead I’d be in my room, eyes shut, pretending that I was at home while Bowie’s ‘Starman’ played in the background.
Life has changed since then. For one, I have gotten better. Fifteen-year-old me didn’t think it was possible. But what I learnt about myself then, at fifteen, and would continue to learn, is that I really don’t give up, especially if something is challenging. And so, I put very noble efforts into making sure I got better – I even forced myself to go to those bloody alcohol anonymous-like circle time gatherings for goodness sake 😭.
And I did it. I got better.
And then I said ‘arrivederci’ to hospital and kept it moving. I had a life to live. Places to go and things to do. This was nothing but a pit-stop, a very necessary pit-stop, to get me on my way. And one that I didn’t have to talk about. Because while a lot has changed in my life since that time, one thing has remained the same: I’m still not one to talk about my feelings.
I’m sure a story will come, eventually. Flow from my mouth or something like that, but one can’t force these things. So for the time being, I have been listening to others’ stories. And this week’s blog focuses on a story that resonates with me a lot, for it is one to which I relate.
This blog piece focuses on the headline show of Hussain Manawer, an Ilford boy who sold out Scala with a night of unforgettable spoken word.
“Now I’m making the world feel feelings they forgot they had feelings about”.
Hussain Manawer first came to my attention three years ago after one of his poems won him a space flight, earning him the chance to not only travel to space, but also, to be the first British Muslim to do so. A theme that he is passionate about and which is prevalent in his poetry, is mental health.
A few weeks ago, Manawer held his first ever headline show and sold out Kings Cross’ Scala. Somewhere in the crowd, was a 5’4 Fahmida, waiting for the show to begin.
I went alone, which is very unlike me. If I’m at a gig or a concert, I have a drink in my hand and my friends beside me. But this wasn’t really a concert. This was spoken word, it was poetry.
I have one rule that I follow when I’m out in public. And that is to never read poetry outside of my home. Because poetry makes me cry. And having, in the past, cried listening to Manawer’s poetry at home, in the comfort of my own sheets where no one could see me, I knew there was like maybe a 20% chance I’d accidentally cry while listening to him perform live. I don’t think I can describe how discomforting that thought is to me. My friends definitely didn’t need to see that.
So there I stood, next to two random girls and waited for the show to begin.
Up first and opening Manawer’s show, was Jamala Osman, a new name and a new face to me. She was marvelous. Osman has a great big smile, the type to put you at ease. She’s lovable and earnest too. This I learnt very quickly, for she opened the show with one of her pieces before recounting her very own life story, delivering it with honesty and wit.
From her poetry, I learnt of a girl who lost her mother at a young age, experienced loss and had every reason to give up. Osman however, did anything but. She said: “I know that if my circumstances have the POWER to DEPRESS me, they also have the POWER to PROGRESS me”.
And so, I learnt of a girl who came from a similar working class background to me, walked into her very first ever interview in tracksuit bottoms and went on to become the U.K.’s youngest bank manager, aged just 21. Oh, and she’s delivered her very own TEDx talk too, in her spare time, sharing with a wide audience how she made it from the block to the bank.
The show so far, was going great. It was inspirational and I was loving it.
On next, came Shocka. Again – new face, new voice, new story. His story is what resonated with me most throughout the whole night. He spoke on life going smooth and then – a sudden hospitalization.
Before hospital, Shocka recounted being a band member of a then up-and-coming group, and then almost out of no where finding himself suddenly unwell. He spoke on how he felt during that time. It mirrored the feelings I had felt, years back, a fifteen-year old, rather perplexed, very dismayed, feeling dismal away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings.
He made me smile though, and reminded me that this was a night of positivity. And I learnt that once a band member, Shocka hadn’t given up his passion of singing. He sang his latest single ‘Self Love’ into the mic, singing “You give everybody else love, but you never give your self love. Don’t forget about your self love”.
I think that’s what the crowd needed at that point. The beat banged, his voice was lovely and I sung along, knowing Shocka was singing the truth. That if one is to progress, one must forgive themselves from the years mental health took from them, and above everything, remember to love themselves.
Song over, Shocka thanked the crowd, and made way for the headline act. And on to the stage appeared Manawer!
He told us we would be going on a journey with him that night, and that there would be everything from tears to laughter, and he was right. About ten minutes into his performance, just as I had dreaded, I found tears rolling down my cheeks. The club was dimmed out, thank God, and I was at the back upper ring corner, in the first row, not really in the middle and amongst people for anyone to notice.
The tears didn’t last long though because a minute or two later, Manawer moved on from a poem that collectively broke the crowd’s heart, to a, at times, very hilarious but nevertheless, deep and relatable spoken word piece on our childhood days entitled ‘Playground’.
As the show came to an end, I walked home thinking on the night I had just experienced. I put my headphones in, and Spotify was on shuffle mode. “There’s a starman waiting in the sky, He’d like to come and meet us, But he thinks he’d blow our minds”, Bowie sang into my ears.
I couldn’t believe the coincidence.
While Bowie sang to me from somewhere up above in the stars, that night I realised I had been in the presence of an altogether different idol. This was Hussain’s night. This was his show. And he killed it.
And I felt happy, reassured even, knowing that while my story was taking its time in coming out, someone else was out there sharing theirs and making a difference in the world. Someone else was doing their bit to end the stigma and raise awareness of mental health. And doing a tremendous job of it too.
Wow. What a star, man.