We have met the enemy...

Friday, 29 October 1999

'And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.' — Nietzsche

DO you ever stop to think about the sort of people we choose as our friends? Do you ever consider how often those friends are completely different to what we are and what we aspire to be? Why do we still embrace them?

I've got one such friend.

The last time the world saw him was in 1988 when, as a student in the US, I edited a magazine for South African students in North America. The cover of the magazine featured a map of South Africa with a fist emerging from it surrounded by Mandela, Sobukwe, and Biko. The cover, layout, and design of the magazine (said the credits on the opinion page) were by Nam Naidoo.

Three years earlier, I had been working as a political writer on the Durban weekly Post. I also wrote two columns; one on show business, the other on radio. Eventually, I got tired and decided to take a couple of weeks off.

Nam Naidoo came on board as a fill-in columnist. Over the next couple of weeks, he proceeded to tell Post readers exactly why Kanthan Pillay did not have a clue as to what was happening in the real world. He reviewed music I usually ignored, was scathing of political correctness, listened to (and watched) fluff instead of the more serious material I espoused. In short, he took my weekly soapbox and turned it upside-down.

When I resumed my columns two weeks later, I was quite put out to discover that while there were some letters calling for my return, there were as many suggesting that Nam should replace me as a full-time columnist.

Nam stuck around for a few more weeks, filing the odd news report and record review. When a new nightclub opened in Umlazi outside Durban, he came along for the ride, and I wrote about the fact that he was the first to dive for cover at the sound of gunfire. (The club was showing Sylvester Stallone in First Blood on a 16mm projector in a room adjacent to the dance floor.)

A day later, a Warrant Officer de Wet from C R Swart Square police station called to speak to me. "Mr Pillay," he said, "we're trying to get hold of a Mr Nam Naidoo. Do you know where we could find him?" Difficult to say, I answered. Naidoo comes and goes, and I have no idea where he lives. Freelance writers are that way.

Editor Dennis Pather (now editor of the Mercury in Durban) had had enough. "Nam has to go," he said. "I do not want to see his byline here again." Nam went.

Five years before, I had sold my first story (on actor Cameron Mitchell's "impromptu" appearance at a Durban North coast shopping centre which was re-written to remove my objections to actors who defied the cultural boycott).

Nam's first story also appeared in that very issue — a detailed personal account of the effects of Mandrax featuring hallucinations with a suddenly animated Playboy centrefold and culminating in throwing up over the balcony and passing out. "Nam Naidoo," said the byline, "(Not his real name)".

I've thought a lot recently about whether Nam would be returning to the world of journalism, and discovered that in many ways, I have grown closer to him. For some months now, I have been writing a cooking column for Cape Town's trendiest publication, Top of the Times, which could well have carried his byline.

I designed a cover for Top of the Times featuring a nude model and a giant glass phallus and thought he would have approved. I've returned to photography as a fun pastime, chasing the artistic rather than the journalistic portrayal of people. I've been spending more time up on the mountain looking down and taking delight in just how breathtakingly beautiful this city … my city … is.

So, this is the last ever Pillay's Perspective.

To those of you who have stayed with me over the years and given me support and criticism, my thanks. I am leaving to find my friend and spend more time with him. Perhaps he knew something all those years ago that I didn't … or maybe I just didn't listen. It was nearly always difficult to take him seriously.

After all, he is only a nom de plume.