Thursday, May 14, 2009

Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense

Prof. Chinua Achebe: A writer of the people

“…Some religious upstarts and misguided elements want to recolonise our minds with their jaundiced… views on sexual morality”

Hmmm, Albert, have you heard the news?

What’s happening, Odili? Today is September 11. Have they struck again according to their threat?

No, it’s not that kind of news. I learnt they are planning to ban A Man Of the People, your satiric novel, as a textbook in Kenya.

Why? That’s impossible. My novel is not laden with bombs that could destroy embassies and high commissions. So, why are they banning it?

They say it is laden with sex bombs and they don’t want the next generation of suicide bombers to detonate them in children’s classrooms. They prefer the explosions to take place in their parents’ bedrooms.

Wonderful people. In fact, this is what I have been preaching since all these years, that Africa should wake up to take its rightful place in this ever competitive world. I am happy, indeed, that mothers and fathers in Kenya have woken up at last to their parental responsibility. Actually, I had thought that it would take them 100 years before realising that A Man Of the People is anti-people.

Believe me, Albert, I don’t really know what these people are up to. From reports reaching us, I learnt that both the Kenya Parents Caucus and the Catholic Mission are opposed to the inclusion of A Man Of the People as one of the textbooks for pupils in secondary schools because of what they describe as its pornographic contents.

Can you recollect the sex scenes that could have provoked the moralists to cork their guns?

Yes, I have reread the story but this time through the prism of religion and ethics and I’m tempted to agree with the ‘Kenyan Virgins Caucus’ and the Osama bin Ladens, who are campaigning for the ban of the novel, that it is, indeed, sexually explicit and explosive.

Odili Samalu, are you right upstairs? You are not sounding like Odili, the narrator. What has happened to you? Are you a Born Again or what?

Albert, that question does not arise. As intellectuals, we should be able to take a critical and non-sentimental look at issues no matter what is at stake or who is involved.

So, why not look at the matter through the prism of art?

There you go again. You want to exhume the unending controversy over the functionality of art in contemporary society and create another literary explosion?

Give me a break, Mr. Samalu. I don’t want us to lose our focus, which is the raison d’etre behind the plan to ban A Man of the People from Kenyan schools. I, therefore, concede your right to look at it from the prism of religion or ethics or whatever.

Sure, I’ll try to recollect and tell you why I think I must have been carried away by youthful exuberance in those days. I’m sure the Kenyans and the clerics are not happy with the narrator’s first sexual encounter with Elsie, the student nurse, whom he took to bed in chapter two within one hour of his knowing her. Apart from creating an unedifying record in the Guinness Book of Records, he must have dealt a devastating blow on the image of nurses, many of whom must be parents of pupils in Kenyan schools. Mistake Number 1. His next encounter is the one with the adulterous American woman, Jean, who practically lured him to bed in her matrimonial home while the husband was away. In this particular episode, the narrator must have stepped on the Pope’s toes when he made reference to Holy Communion while describing Jean’s cool manner during the unholy union. Mistake Number 2.

So, you now consider all these as mistakes? You, Odili, my co-pilot in the flight of fancy that took us to the Hall of Fame, you have connived with the critics to label those archetypal sexual shenanigans as literary mistakes? Just because you have become a Born Again? Wonders will never cease!

No, don’t think like that. I know you meant well within the context of the prevailing social environment at the time you wrote the novel. It’s only that time has changed everything.

What has time changed? You are just a bloody hypocrite. Sex is a reality of our existence and from time immemorial, it has been a recurring spice to pep up the entertainment value of life both in prose and poetry. In my own case, I have used it in A Man of the People, No Longer At Ease and Girls At War and other Stories to signpost the moral depravity in the society.

But are you not worried that the fate that befell Salman Rushdie, of the Satanic Verses fame, may become your own albatross, too?

Tufia! You mean 37 years after the novel had been published, some latter-day religious bigots and misguided parents would suddenly wake up to declare a fatwa on my novel? I pray they do but before they sign the death decree, they must also ban all other novels, books, dictionaries, magazines and even newspapers that have any references to sex, no matter how remote. They must start with the Great Book in which there are sexual anecdotes like that of the two daughters of Lot, in Genesis chapter 19, who raped their father after drugging him. Yes, the holy book too must be banned if A Man of the People is allowed to be banned.

Albert, I don’t seem to know why you are so angry.

I’m not. My fear is that there are still some Africans who are more catholic than the Pope. My aim in my earlier novels was to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of colonisation which virtually disrupted our cohesion and violated our pride as a people with a rich, deep culture before the white man stumbled on our territory and scattered everything. Now that Africa is gradually waking up to the reality of its independent existence, some religious upstarts and misguided elements want to recolonise our minds with their jaundiced and patently hypocritical views on sexual morality.

Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense, I’m a ‘Born-Again’!

Pupil, I concede to you the inalienable right to be born against your people’s traditional beliefs and culture and whatever that is good in Africa but I hope you’ll reciprocate in the same vein by conceding to me the right to give expression to my creativity and write according to my conscience.

This Opilogue was first published in TELL, October 6, 2003. It is an embodiment of the creative essence of Opilogue.

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