An Idea-lised happiness with Farid Chehab
As the launching of Farid Chehab’s new book* nears on July 12 a question kept popping up in my mind: How can I interview him and make it worthwhile to read? The problem was easy to solve, I have his cell number, he calls me “friend”, we hang out together, whatsapp often enough… So where was my dilemma? You see, I have been involved and enamored with the book from day one. I am responsible for the English version, which will be published now that the French version has been in the market since October 2015, and I know every twist and turn in the book from working so extensively on transposing it as it was being written from one language to another.
So, the answer was simple, to make the interview challenging, I was going to play the devil’s advocate.
So far, the press has been in awe of the book, and it is easy to understand why. Filled with thoughts, extrapolations, hints, anecdotes, and a hoard of other things, the book stands as a testimony for the life, career but also conceptual mind of Farid (OK, I am dropping the pretense of calling him by his last name as I only did so once via email exchange and that happened before we even met in person).
One of the first elements that attracted my attention was the name of the book “Of Happiness and Ideas”. In a world of Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, happiness comes from shedding a few pounds, or owning a pet, so the word has been bastardised, and indeed what kind of happiness does he harp on when he speaks, I ask: “I thankfully have no pretention of approaching happiness in the way everyone looks at, I do so only via ideas; in my career I noticed every time I was fiddling with ideas or was surrounded by people who were, there was exuberant joy and happiness around me, so it was enough for me to go from that angle.”
Well, yes, it is easy to be happy to call home a semi-industrial duplex in a hip building, what’s there to nag about? The blue eyes sparkle and the smile flashes in return, “oh, happiness is not in the material things. As soon as you put the material aspect as a benchmark someone will come and top you; you bought a boat? Someone just moored an even bigger boat next to you, and you’d feel sad and deprived.” This reminded me of the first meeting I ever had with Farid in a café in Jounieh where he was showing me names of business people in Lebanon, “Look at those, they are ten times richer than I am. But it’s OK, you can’t have everything!” he added nonchalantly really meaning that part.
“Material comfort is not the aim, and I know for a fact that living in wealthy material circumstances does not bring in happiness, most of my life, I have been too busy cracking ideas to enjoy the material wealth they brought, and frankly, even till today I have to be very careful with my expenses when I travel, and trust me I am by no means a wealthy man.”
And the house? I insist. “Well, the house is a minimum requirement for someone who has been toiling all his life. I am not an investor, I do not believe in Return On Investment that my money brings. I actually despise money. The only thing I concentrate on is the creative mind.” But does it pay the bills? “Yes, because I speak not of creativity for the sake of creativity, rather I link it to onthe-ground productivity in a bigger economic cycle.”
Well, when Farid said “toiling all his life”, he meant it, as the book details trade-offs at school between his genius at drawing against ice creams and sandwiches. Should you wish to know how this landed him in hot water, just read the book (hint: erotic drawings were part of that!).
“Let us say I shall divide this between creative ideas and industries, any industry. My job is to sell an idea, which means to push