Hosting a high-profile dinner party is no joke, especially when you have guests arriving from the dead – that too from all over the world. When I first heard about the old psychic in Saddar sending out invitations to the land of the dead, I was sceptical. That is, until the lockdown came into effect and I found my mind wandering more than usual. Out of sheer curiosity, I visited the mystic as soon as the lockdown eased and witnessed his powers myself. I had not yet decided whom to invite before I got there as I didn’t think it would work, but hastily named four people I always wanted to meet without considering the fact that we would all be at the same table a week later.
To make the best possible impression I made reservations at the iconic Metropole Hotel and decided on an array of dishes that would interest my guests, after researching their favourite foods. Beef short ribs with onion sauce and Texan chili con carne for those with a taste for American cuisine; tagliatelle al ragù as the Italian main; and biryani and dum qeema with parathay for those who want a taste of the local specialties.
The first to arrive was Freddie Mercury, dressed in a white tank top and trousers. He removed his bright yellow jacket (the same one I saw him wearing at many concerts) and handed it to the concierge, as I led him to the dining hall. Freddie always inspired me by the way he interacted with live audiences from the podium. It triggered the ad man within me; the way he built his persona and engaged with people on such a mass level. “I’m just a musical prostitute, my dear,” he casually said to me when I admired his skill as he sipped on his Moёt & Chandon, which I went to great lengths to procure as the hotel does not serve this particular drink.
Our conversation about his stage persona and four-octave vocal range was interrupted when we realised that we were in the presence of a statesman whose very aura exuded power (and tension). Niccolo Machiavelli had entered the dining hall wearing his elegant diplomatic robe, looking around and silently judging the environment. He shook my hand and took his seat before proffering a compliment: “You would make a fine prince.” Then turning to Freddie, he continued with “while it appears you are a ‘queen’ already.” Before Freddie could say anything, I swiftly steered the conversation to a subject of common interest: capturing the attention of an audience.
Ever since I read The Prince, I had fallen in love with Machiavelli’s assessment of human nature and its manifestation in politics and statecraft. I was inspired by the passion this Florentine Renaissance diplomat and philosopher brought to diplomacy when I learnt he had written The Prince as a letter to Lorenzo de Medici to gain his attention. He ended up gaining the attention of many of the most powerful people in the world, even today.
“Ah, just what this party was missing! Come in, my love. You look as ravishing as you did in The Seven Year Itch!” Freddie commented, as Marilyn Monroe made her entry. Clad in an ivory cocktail dress with a plunging neckline, she made heads turn throughout the evening. What fascinates me most about Monroe is how her persona led her to become a pop icon. Her image of pure innocence, yet strongly seductive appeal is what gained the admiration of so many people, and I wanted to learn from her about this contradiction in personality. Although not formally educated, she was a smart woman who knew what to do in order to capture the interest of the people who could benefit her. “Oh darling, a wise girl knows her limits, but a smart girl knows that she has none,” was her comment, as she daintily took a bite of short ribs.
My last guest arrived just in time, excusing himself and explaining he had to finish a piece about No Man’s Land before leaving. Upon meeting everyone, he shared the news that he was finally let off the hook by authorities for his writing. “I am a sensible writer; it is society that is not sensible,” he commented, reaching out for the dum qeema, before continuing: “Machiavelli, we both write about the dark realities of human nature.” I have always admired Manto for his raw writing style that attracts widespread attention through its strong shock-effect. We chatted about everything he knew about making a difference through impactful writing.
From Freddie’s exuberance and Monroe’s captivating ambition to Machiavelli’s hunger for power and Manto’s fight for the truth – the evening was long, very insightful and absolutely delicious!
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising programme at SZABIST-Karachi.