x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A commoner meets a great man and goes away smiling

I personally never really cared for celebrity autographs, but I stood for at least two hours waiting for a chance to ask for Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi's signature on his latest book.

Hundreds of years ago, when many of the  "commoners" couldn't write or sign their name except with an X, autographs were produced by only an elite few.

Nowadays while pretty much everyone has their own signature and has to sign something or other, signatures of important people still carry more weight and are sought after and even auctioned off.

I personally never really cared for celebrity autographs, as I don't feel that acting is much of an accomplishment. I have witnessed many stars acting all snobby and rejecting the slightest effort to give a random fan an autograph. Sure, they may be tired of it, but it is the fans who made them famous in the first place.

But opera singers, scientists, army generals, and certain politicians and royalty always appealed to me and I sought out their signatures if they happened to cross my path.

Most of the time I am told by the people surrounding these great figures to forget it, that I am a nobody, not VIP enough to ever get anywhere near the icon.

But while it could actually hurt to ask - by being reminded of your insignificance - I'd rather have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

At the sidelines of the Sharjah Book Fair, I stood for at least two hours waiting for a chance to ask for Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi's autograph on his latest book, Hadeth al Zakera (Conversation with memory), his memoirs of his first couple of years as the ruler of Sharjah. Ruling families do attract a crowd and everyone wants to meet a sheikh, but for me, I am actually a fan of his books, having read 33 out of the 35 that he wrote on everything from theatrical plays to the history of the UAE and Oman, to pirates and legendary Arab heroes whom many of us have never heard of.

How many rulers do that? Preserving history for future generations to know, and for the world to know as well since his books are always translated into several languages.

The minute he arrived, and for the next two hours, he was surrounded by his entourage, relentless media, and crowds of people from all walks of life.

It looked hopeless. People working within his circle told me to give up.

"You are not a VIP, he will not sign your book," they kept telling me. But I refused to budge. Instead, I stood and started reading bits of his book.

Then, as the crowd grew and the security guards started to push me away, a tiny pathway was suddenly made for me and I was standing right next to Dr Sheikh Sultan. A nod from his head allowed me in.

Of course, we plan in our heads what to say. But when it actually happens, one becomes speechless.

He looked at the book, and then he looked at me, and smiled.

"Um, can I have your autograph?" I mumbled. He replied: "Of course!"

The minute he sat on a little plastic chair, people started shoving books at him to sign. I stood nearby, holding my book open. He signed one for an ambassador, and then another for a minister, and then as yet another man was asking for his signature, he laughed and took mine instead.

I can't describe how annoyed that man looked, as well as many others in attendance.

A commoner has broken through. Even I couldn't believe it.

He wrote me a personal dedication, different from what I saw him sign in other books, and I will keep what he said to myself. But let me say this, it was inspirational and addressed to me personally. I thanked him, and he said "You're welcome, and good luck!"

The Crown Prince of Sharjah was standing nearby, and when I came out of the mass surrounding the ruler, he saw me beam, and he smiled in return and said: "I am glad you tried and got your chance."

It seems someone told him how long I had been standing and how I refused to give up. It may sound trivial to some, but for me, it was like meeting a revered teacher who has helped me understand this country and its history better.

rghazal@thenational.ae