A YEAR IN READING – PROFUNDITY EXTRAVAGANZA

A YEAR IN READING – PROFUNDITY EXTRAVAGANZA

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“So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.”  – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Give me a thinking man and I will sup at his table.  This is what reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me feels like. Coates’ words drip from a tube of nourishing reservoir bag, coursing evenly through the body in slow sipping motion, it’s hard to imagine ever thirsting again. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues for TheAtlantic.com and the magazine. His book Between the World and Me released in 2015 won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Coates also received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2015.

In Between the World and Me, Coates meanders but not aimlessly on the issue of race in America, the place of the black man and the social order long imbued in the history of the most powerful country on the face of the planet. Like a jab at the heart of a man coding, Coates’ aim was a jolt from the delirium, a snap back to reality, a reality that nothing would be offered to the black man on a platter of equality or equity with his fellow white. This isn’t so much a rallying cry than it is a book of self introspection – the laying down of one’s own experience and ideas. Sometimes it feels like the laying down of a wreath, at other times it feels like the smashing of a gauntlet.  You’d have to decide for yourself.

Between the World and Me was one of those blockbusters everybody was talking about in 2015. President Obama had it on his summer reading list  that year too. Many a times blockbusters and intelligent books don’t reside in the same pod. This one’s a double whammy! It is written in the form of an epistolatory piece from father to son, which makes it the more poignant. It is confrontational in tone, addressing race in America. It touches on that almost-forbidden paternal love from a black ‘endangered’ American father trying to protect his son from a fate, even he really doesn’t have the remedy for. The father’s existence in itself is hung  thinly by a cultural thread that regards him as inferior to his fellow citizen. Coates in this book wrote on social justice, the civil right movements and sundry other topics. This mint size book (compared to many others on this list) is fascinating in its scope and sheer profundities, the beauty of the prose and the superbly crafted sentences that bring home a message that is a grim depiction of an America so polarized by a racial fissure deeply etched into its foundation.

I couldn’t help thinking how universal truth is and how it can be deployed here in Nigeria. Instead of us trying to bury the past, that has refused to stay buried, shouldn’t we just un-clutter the dark basement of our history once and for all and see what direction we find.

This is not a book to talk too much about. The book talks plenty about things in its small fist punch. Here:

“I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago—the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth—loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts.”

“Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

“You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”

“I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”

“One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.”

“The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term “people” to actually mean.”

“My mother and father were always pushing me away from secondhand answers—even the answers they themselves believed. I don’t know that I have ever found any satisfactory answers of my own. But every time I ask it, the question is refined. That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”—as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.”  – this quote left me reeling.

“Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body. We could not get out.”

“You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this.”

 

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A YEAR IN READING – NO, YOUR HEAD IS NOT CORRECT

A YEAR IN READING – NO, YOUR HEAD IS NOT CORRECT

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“The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

You would think that reading this book with all its expositions would make for a lifestyle change, or at least slow down internet surfers, you would be wrong.  I don’t figure the author set out to do any of that other than to lay bare the facts; a mission he accomplished convincingly. Affected as I am by this book, I still wake up in the morning scouring for tidbits of what happened in the interval that I was dead to the world. I’m constantly flitting between twitter and Instagram and blogs and the many apps on my phone trying to keep up with what’s trending.  But in all of these, I’m now acutely aware of the overpowering influence that has taken hold of me. This fact, as exculpatory as it may sound is not, the knowledge of it offers a path for amendment. Like learning a new language or dieting or exercising, the speech zones and the body system and the calf muscles can no longer be unaware, they all have been drafted into that campaign of self–improvement. A relapse isn’t a dead end  as there is a clear conscious path to recovery. Win or lose, these charted courses have been sensitized to their own abilities.  While sci-fi pictures like AI, I, Robot, tend to portray an apocalyptic order of a machine age, The Shallow seeks to remind us of the obtrusive, meandering influence of the internet on our brain, which does as much as a gully for the patterns of our thoughts rivaling the deft power of our will mostly to guide us to safety and well-being. What we choose may not be as simple as foregoing one for the other but in asking ourselves truthfully of what has been eroded in the way we process information.

“We become, neurologically, what we think.”

“Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.”

“In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”

“Culture is sustained in our synapses…It’s more than what can be reduced to binary code and uploaded onto the Net. To remain vital, culture must be renewed in the minds of the members of every generation. Outsource memory, and culture withers.”

“Even though the World Wide Web has made hypertext commonplace, indeed ubiquitous, research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.”

“The Web provides a convenient and compelling supplement to personal memory, but when we start using the Web as a substitute for personal memory, bypassing the inner processes of consolidation, we risk emptying our minds of their riches.”

“Everything that human beings are doing to make it easier to operate computer networks is at the same time, but for different reasons making it easier for computer networks to operate human beings.”

I wasn’t so enthused about reading the The Shallows at first. The sub-title threw me off. I didn’t think the internet was doing anything to my brain, so what could the writer be yammering about. I mean, if something was happening to my brain, wouldn’t I know? It has to be Carr’s brain that is doing skoin-skoin. My own head correct!

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Frankly, I picked up this book as a cynic hoping to do a cynic’s work. I sought to tear down its high-faluting theories, because I thought I knew. To my surprise there were no theories there; just historical bits built block by block to espouse the facts . Many of these facts I know and can see.Suffice to say, my highly-held opinion fell flat and lost its premise.

This is not to say that everything in the book is absolute but I know I will not be loud in the defense of the integrity of my ‘ internet-surfing’ brain if that argument comes up in the future. For example, I can attest to how short my memory is these days. It never was like this in the past. While age itself diminishes capacity, I can’t shake the feeling that my lack of attentiveness- something akin to ADD (which should be the forte of aging) is likely fallout of my internet-addled brain. And there’s that noisome pestilence that has gripped a population of social media users; barreling their way through arguments with little or no substance, that lends credence to many of the things Carr talked about.

Frankly, this book has thought me so much about open-mindedness, and it isn’t even a book on that subject.  There’s a whole story behind how this book made the list (I won’t go into it now). For we men of study, we like to think that we know and that what we do not know we can extrapolate from what we do know. Half of the time we are wrong, as not all knowledge are deductive. There is this saying that when men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken and to state one argument, is not necessarily to be deaf to all others, and that a man has written a book of travels in Montenegro, is no reason why he should never have been to Richmond.

True. true. true. This is all very true.

With the advent of a new technology, the old order often has to give way eventually. But with the digital readers in all of its flat scrolling variants, the place of the book is still very relevant. How long this would be, remains to be seen. The story of e-book vs. real book might one day be animated for all the gizmo-lovers and the traditional book lovers to battle it out, and this battle would be fought in the arena of the brain. If Nicholas Carr’s words prove true, then we may want to keep our shelves and those beautiful book nooks when designing our twenty-first century edifices.

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Nicholas Carr in The Shallows dug into the genesis of literacy,  the history of books, writing, alphabets and the impact of technology on the way we read and our cognitive capacity. He propped up the brain – that center of human consciousness-  and put it on the spot, mapping neuronal circuits in the traditional  and the internet age, observing the re-ordering of pre-synaptic patterns by habits and the closed loop by which these actions are reinforced in a rut of internet addictions with a myriad of consequences, many of which are all apparent in our world (lives) today.  This is not a proposition of a return to the pre-technology era. Carr acknowledges the good the internet has brought to us, but like a fastidious researchers he lays it all on the table, flipping the subject up and down, left and right for all sides to be caught in the gleam of reality.

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The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr is an education, a well-rounded one. You may or may not agree with it but you can’t ignore the facts. Take a dig into this marshmallow of science, history, psychology, sociology, neurology, technology and let the juice work its magic on you. What’s more, you don’t have to be a geek (or a foodie) to enjoy it.

 

A YEAR IN READING – EXPLORING A CAVEAT

A YEAR IN READING – EXPLORING A CAVEAT

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From the Navy Regulations;

Article 184.

UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

It is conceivable that most unusual and extraordinary circumstances may arise in which the relief from duty of a commanding officer by a subordinate becomes necessary, either by placing him under arrest or on the sick list; but such action shall never be taken without the approval of the Navy Department or other appropriate higher authority, except when reference to such higher authority is undoubtedly impracticable because of the delay involved or for other clearly obvious reason. Such reference must set forth all facts in the case, and the reasons for the recommendation, with particular regard to the degree of urgency involved.

Article 185.

CONDITIONS TO FULFILL.

In order that a subordinate officer, acting upon his own initiative, may be vindicated for relieving a commanding officer from duty, the situation must be obvious and clear, and must admit of the single conclusion that the retention of command by such commanding officer will seriously and irretrievably prejudice the public interests. The subordinate officer so acting must be next in lawful succession to command; must be unable to refer the matter to a common superior for one of the reasons set down in Article 184; must be certain that the prejudicial actions of his commanding officer are not caused by secret instructions unknown to the subordinate; must have given the matter such careful consideration, and must have made such exhaustive investigation of all the circumstances, as may be practicable; and finally must be thoroughly convinced that the conclusion to relieve his commanding officer is one which a reasonable, prudent, and experienced officer would regard as a necessary consequence from the facts thus determined to exist.

Article 186.

RESPONSIBILITY.

Intelligently fearless initiative is an important trait of military character, and it is not the purpose to discourage its employment in cases of this nature. However, as the action of relieving a superior from command involves most serious possibilities, a decision so to do or so to recommend should be based upon facts established by substantial evidence, and upon the official views of others in a position to form valuable opinions, particularly of a technical character. An officer relieving his commanding officer or recommending such action, together with all others who so counsel, must bear the legitimate responsibility for, and must be prepared to justify, such action.

“This life is slow suicide, unless you read.” – Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny

The Caine Mutiny started with a caveat, like a loose seam in a parchment of rigid rules. If you were straining for the main gist in the book with a psychic’s lens, you’d have it right there on the first page without a hassle. But really, you’d be selling yourself short on an incredible novel if you think this book is all about Naval Regulations and bureaucratic rules.

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And you can take that to the bank!

As the author tried to explain himself, “It was not a mutiny in the old-time sense, of course, with flashing of cutlasses, a captain in chains, and desperate sailors turning outlaws. After all, it happened in 1944 in the United States Navy. But the court of inquiry recommended trial for mutiny, and the episode became known as “the Caine mutiny” throughout the service.The story begins with Willie Keith because the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.

Before I fell under the spell of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, it was The Caine Mutiny that first had me, and still has me for an entirely different reason. Herman Wouk won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1952. The book has since then be adapted into a broad-way play written by the author and into a successful feature length movie starring the iconic Humphrey Bogart. The successes of these adaptations are so popular that they are often mistaken as parallel originals when it all started with this brilliant book.

So how about we start with the source, the real McCoy.

In The Caine Mutiny, there were bold, well rounded characters that really made this novel fly. There was the sadistically rabid Captain Queeg; Commander of the navy minesweeper, the impressionable swashbuckling second-officer, Lieutenant Stephen Maryk; and the narrator through whose eyes the story is told, Willis Keith. Other supporting characters prop these centerpieces to such glowing plaudits. The story reached a climax when Stephen Maryk upset the chain of command by challenging the sanity of the Commanding Officer on the USS Caine at a very critical moment. Through the participation of the other members of the crew, Maryk was able to oust his Commanding Officer in a clever ploy that was soon to explode in all their faces. In the aftermath of the attending Court Marshall, all judgments pronounced, the rest was left to every single witness in this grand spectacle of calumny to re-examine the veracity of their earlier claims and to carefully examine the roles they played in the final analysis.

Beyond reasonable doubt is a powerful phrase, and reason in the rigid structure of naval discipline had always been a contentious one, thorny for Willis, and especially unwarranted for Maryk in the context of military leadership. How then could reason hold forte with such a shaky foreground in the trial of a contemptible superior, with an arm- long log of patterned exhibit?

“The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you are not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one. All the shortcuts and economies and common-sense changes that your native intelligence suggests to you are mistakes. Learn to quash them. Constantly ask yourself, “How would I do this if I were a fool?” Throttle down your mind to a crawl. Then you will never go wrong.”

“With the smoke of the dead sailor’s cigar wreathing around him, Willie passed to thinking about death and life and luck and God. Philosophers are at home with such thoughts, perhaps, but for other people it is actual torture when these concepts–not the words, the realities–break through the crust of daily occurrences and grip the soul. A half hour of such racking meditation can change the ways of a lifetime.”

“Remember this, if you can–there is nothing, nothing more precious than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you haven’t. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end–only in the end it becomes more obvious.”

“Money is a very pleasant thing, Willie, and I think you can trade almost anything for it wisely except the work you really want to do. If you sell out your time for a comfortable life, and give up your natural work, I think you lose the exchange. There remains an inner uneasiness that spoils the comforts.”

“You can’t understand command till you’ve had it. It’s the loneliest, most oppressive job in the whole world. It’s a nightmare, unless you’re an ox. You’re forever teetering along a tiny path of correct decisions and good luck that meanders through an infinite gloom of possible mistakes.”

The Caine Mutiny is a book that explores the grey zone between motive and propriety, opportunistic intent and ambition, the burden of military leadership and by extension every form of leadership. This tale is a turntable that positions you on all sides of the table like a revolving table.

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Word!

The Caine Mutiny explores the legal conundrum in a Catch-22 situation with the storied fleck of quintessential characters. Within the natural span of this book you are offered another side of the kaleidoscope that you might not have considered. And now you’re sitting down thinking, “What the heck!”

For me, give me a bit of law fiction and you will have me nibbling from your palm. Throw in fine prose, and you’ll have a dog to a bone. The Caine Mutiny is not like any of the books I’ve earlier reviewed in this series. If you thought there was a pattern to my selections (and I can’t tell you there is), then this is clearly a break from the norm. So cleanly tangential, it would have you mesmerized with freshness.

Being a sucker for court-room dramas, I must say that this is not one of John Grisham’s legalistic tropes.  Yes, the story bears strongly on establishing facts, recounting tales and analyzing characters.  But beyond all of these is an enthralling book that isn’t bogged down by the bombastic techiness of first-hand experience (the author actually served on a ship during WWII) nor is it a floundering recount of America’s history. It is also about honour, truth, loyalty, class, group politics, naval life and love (you didn’t think this was a buffy, testosterone-muted tale, did you?).  It offers a stark image of the conflicts that do arise in the regular prosecution of military jobs – bureaucratic minefields in the military, courage in the face of peril, the corruption of intelligence e.t.c. This is a very intelligent book I assure you.

 

A YEAR IN READING – THE KHATCHADOURIAN TORTURE

A YEAR IN READING – THE KHATCHADOURIAN TORTURE

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“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.” ― Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

When people ask me ‘Why do you read so much?” I’m often torn among a thousand and one responses.  Mostly I’d say ‘Because it helps me make sense out of life”

Only with a few people have I had to re-direct this statement to offer a deeper aspect of this habit. I suspect the people who’d prodded for more are themselves readers of some sort or are inclined to some solitary pursuit or the other.

I love stories where extraordinary things happen to ordinary people.  Maybe a stroke of luck that turns the tide, maybe an inadvertent action that makes a mark. As humans, we are always trying to figure out why people turn out the way they do. Sometimes these things are intractable, like a good gene gone rogue. Evil sometimes lurk in ordinary places – in the well worn paths from which others, everyday and from time immemorial have so naturally threaded unscathed.

We Need to Talk about Kevin is one hell of a sordid story, and I mean that in every sense. The book reminds me of that saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We Need to talk about Kevin  is  a gripping tale of a child gone bonkers from a mother’s POV, written by Lionel Shriver and later won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005.  They say reading is a solitary act.  With this book I was too invested to be an observer. I was a thought police incapacitated to arrest the incident before me. I suffered from that thriller’s ordeal where I had to grit my teeth, bite my nails, ball my fist, do just about anything short of tearing my hair out through most of the tale.And the culprit? a boy. A mere boy named Kevin.  Kevin almost ran me mad. His mother, Eva was no better. I wanted to give the father a sucker punch to knock him out of this self-spurned blanket of exoneration with he swaddled Kevin.

“It’s far less important to me to be liked these days than to be understood.”

“Children live in the same world we do. To kid ourselves that we can shelter them from it isn’t just naive it’s a vanity.”

“Teachers were both blamed for everything that went wrong with kids and turned to for their every salvation. This dual role of scapegoat and savior was downright messianic but even Jesus was probably paid better.”

“It’s always the mother’s fault, ain’t it?” she said softly, collecting her coat. “That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don’t teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. …”

There are fictional characters that have sent chills down my spine in the past. Often they’ve somehow found a way into the way I depict real people who are dreadful and scary. There are the Hannibal Lecters on the prowl who gorge out people’s eyes and feast on them. There are the Amazing Amys – sexy, beautiful, intelligent- perfect fit for every eligible bachelor but crafty as the devil himself. These characters are as charming as they are devious. Children, on the other hands are angels; pure souls –reveling in the innocence of their hearts and the habits of their nurturings. Not so. Not since Kevin Katchoudourian came to the mix has all such pretty imaginings fizzled into something in the region of the fantastic.  There was KKK, now there is KK – a child monster.

If a book ever drew a visible reaction from me this year, this was the book -this tattle-tale of a letter that spilled it all. The book will either draw two things out of you; compassion or ire; maybe a mix of the two-  for this shattered mother who is trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her sociopath-of–a-son went gun-blazing, literally, in his school, and her husband left her. When you are finally done with it, you will be confronted with either picking up your shattered emotions from the rubble of this cataclysmic incident and putting it back together in order to maintain any modicum of normalcy or just swearing off any procreation effort at all.

Personally, I couldn’t hold it in. I had people ask me a number of times while I was reading the book, if I was alright. I answered in the affirmative with a grim smile but I noticed I was being closely watched. The truth was that I wasn’t. I can’t remember the number of times I yelled out loud, cussed out loud in rage.  I paced the floor of my room so incensed with angst.

If there was a compelling story, this is one. When a story starts with a major incident, your fingernail is safe or so you’d think. But not on this one.  As Eva (KK’s mother) tried to make sense of this senseless mishap that’s left her forlorn and alone, you’d start to feel your fingers dig into the muscle of your thigh. And when you think it couldn’t get worse, bam! The lethal shot of denouement sends you careening into full mode hysteria.

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NO, NO, NO!!! THAT DIDN’T JUST HAPPEN!

We Need to Talk about Kevin is a nail-biting story… No, I shouldn’t spit it. In broad strokes, it is a story that disabuses the generalized notion of maternal love.

One reviewer had this to say. ‘[Reading  We Need To Talk About Kevin] is almost like self torture under hypnotism, you don’t want to do it, but once you are into it, there’s no way to stop…’ He adds. ‘this book will stay with you for a long time after you walk away from it. More importantly it will get you thinking, if you are a parent…which is not a bad thing.’

I’m not a parent yet but the name Khatchadourian is stuck in my head forever.  Go figure!

And if somebody were to ask me “Why do you like this book specifically?”

I’d say because it rattled me in ways that I can’t remember many books doing.

A YEAR IN READING – THE MAN, MANDIBA!

A YEAR IN READING – THE MAN, MANDIBA!

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I do not share the nostalgia with which my parents or my elder siblings now talk about the hey days of the African liberation movements. Growing up in Nigeria in the early 90s, my first encounter with the word Aparthied came in the form of an audacious quote written on the light-blue wall of my sister’s room.

APARTHIED IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.

This in itself was a crime – an act of defiance against a house-rule sternly upheld by my father.  You didn’t need to chalk a string of words on his beautiful wall to draw his ire. Something as light as leaning against the wall or dragging your body innocently along it peeved my dad so bad, you get punished.

My father liked to articulate your wrongs to you when you are being punished.

This is why you are being punished.

When you do not eat the onions that your mother took her time to splice into your fried egg, you deprive your body of the flavonoids and antioxidants and the vital chemicals that your body needs to grow strong and healthy, and you throw it in your mom’s face that she’s wasted her time trying to make your food special. Do you understand?

When you do not say ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’ when you greet an elder, it means you don’t see them any different from your friends who are of the same age as you, and that is not a way to show respect. It rubs badly on you as a good boy and on me as your father who is supposed to train you to be a good boy. Do you understand?

Yet days turned to months and then years and I’d yet to see my sister answer for her crime. In that period of teenage self assertion typically noted for rebellion and constant parental warring, not once did the topic of the defaced wall come up.

It took me many years to figure it out. For one, my dad must have been secretly proud that at least my sister was learning something positive from school that a clean wall suddenly mattered no more.

Indeed APARTHIED IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY, maybe censorship for taking a stand for this is too.

Those words remained with me initially for a privately convenient purpose. I had really believed that it would become my hall pass with my parents for any misdemeanor that would have otherwise got me in trouble with them (though I never really got to use it). Later the real meaning moulted out of the puerile and has remained a mantra of social justice with me ever since.

But much more was the figure, whose larger- than- life image bounded my father and my sister together in an unusual, if tacit alliance for once, Nelson Mandela!

When you have a gazillion books waiting to be read, the luxury of choice can quickly turn into a struggle. Sometimes it’s numbing.  I don’t like to research books beforehand. I like to walk into a book not knowing what to expect or with as little information as possible but there are not enough tabula rosas on the biography front. Especially a Mandela biography.

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Oh, tell me about it!!!

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom had been on my TBR list for a very long time. Every time somebody mentioned Nelson Mandela’s name in a discourse or a picture of him flashed across the screen, I would feel a stab of guilt. I would often console myself that this wasn’t a book to be rushed. I wanted to remember everything when I get around to reading it. I wanted so much to imbibe the spirit which with Mandela fought, to experience in fellowship the suffering of a people, to be inspired by this great stalwart of liberty and freedom.

Many a time, I had passed over this book, leaving it like a wine in a cask waiting to mature. Except of course, I was the one who needed to step up. Because I’ve admired Mandela for so long, I felt I couldn’t read his memoir merely to check it off my list.

So, before the madness of 2016 settled in (though Olamide’s back- to- back statement had set the social media agog. Isn’t that the very playground for madness?)  I ensconced myself in the sedate dawn of the New Year, away from the maddening goons of social media, picked up the book and read the incredible story of this illustrious African son in apartheid South Africa.

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And the winner is… MANDELA!!!

Mandela was a leader of thought in civil rights and that for me is enough in a world so subversive to ideologues. To be incarcerated for 27 years in prison where the conditions were no better than that of a hovel is a lesson in endurance that I cannot even begin to imagine. I can’t begin to talk about how I feel reading this book but here is a snippet that aptly captures the man Mandiba.

“I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

Surprising that as a prisoner held in the gallows of his own conviction in spite of several entreaties within and without to make him give up the fight for what he believes in, he still spared a thought for his oppressors.

I find this very inspiring knowing how he had to sacrifice his health, his dignity when he could have done nothing. Indeed it was a long, torturous walk to freedom for the South African people and the ANC leaders who were at the forefront against the white Germans. Mandela’s patriotic fervor did not waver; he was dogged and resilient to the very end. Sadly, there are not many of him around anymore.

Not reading this book early enough was a mistake, albeit an honest one.  This is not a one-time kind of book. Now, I can’t remember much about it except the profound sense of pride I felt as an African (and I sense that  on its own is enough). I imagine I’ll be reading it ever so often (so help me God) and will have my kids emblazon the words/legacy of Mandela on their walls, their workroom spaces, their lockers, the walls of their heart, anywhere they may choose to.

MR COY AND THE ALCOHOL BATH

MR COY AND THE ALCOHOL BATH

So you woke up this morning, gay and ready to take on the day. But first, you go before your Heavenly Father for your ‘quiet time’, but how can you stay quiet in the face of ebola and the virulent waves of information everywhere. There’s no way you are doing this the quiet way. Gallantly, you throw off the ceiling in fierce supplication and then later rained declarations; that you are not ebola’s and there is no agent of ebola that would step within a 5km radius of you.

Amen!

(Melodrama wetin??!!! [Ref: Mattew 11:12])

All your office shirts are thankfully long-sleeved anyway, so you put on a silk blue shirt, your repellent – all the while covering yourself with the blood of Jesus with volatile interjections of ‘in the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit.’

At work you have a sanitizer by your desk, but more, you encumbered yourself with unwanted files everywhere you went so you can keep your hands busy and make do with verbal pleasantries and courtesying. When it became too contrived to have a file, your hands became buried deep in your pant’s pocket and your handkerchief, gingerly available to reach for door knobs, mouse etc.

All day you’ve been playing coy.

Now work’s closed, you feel mentally exhausted from all the coyness, but relieved you are finally heading home to a place where you don’t have to be so coy.

Home calls!

Tie in place, socks like a woman’s stockings- one would think you were just setting out for work. Even now your guard’s so high, you have stopped your sleeve-rolling ritual at the close of work.

One more hurdle to cross though! If only you had a car and you don’t have to mark your territory in those mobile contraptions that would get you home. But of course, this is you; Mr Coy! If you could nimbly dance around your office associates, how hard can it be with total strangers?

So you sit; at the far end of the bus because of course everybody knows one immediate co-passenger is manageable than a sardine.

What you didn’t imagine is this – a woman with a baby. Before you could say Robin Williams, the bus was filled and the journey has started.

So this baby, a head of dreadful locks, smiled at you and you smiled back- the one careless action that would soil your otherwise impeccable day, the banana across the wire that would rile the monkey.

The baby excited, reached for your bag, clawing at it with hands dripping of sweat and mucus and saliva and what-not. In your imperial coyness, you stylishly backed off from the overzealous devil, rubbing your bum against the wooden seat like you couldn’t get your hand to relieve an itch.

Not long enough, this laddle?

No, she wasn’t letting you off that fast. She reached out again and you furtively threw her the ghastly Frankestein look. She recoiled back into her mother’s kangaroo back-pouch.

Victory!

‘I’m such a badass’, you congratulated yourself but made a mental note to mix a generous amount of salt to your hot water for a thorough ablution when you get home.

And home’s two minutes away…

But the devil was on the counter.

A light tickle was spreading across your arm, then you felt the little devil’s sodden hands reaching for your naked hand – just that part beyond your sleeve – when the Spirit nudged you.

Paranoia kicked in! ‘Madam control your pikin’ you shouted. ‘In short, conductor o wa . I don reach my bustop!’

So you swiftly but carefully disembarked and covered the few miles to your doorstep on foot, skalabooshing in tongues. The moment you walked through the door, you sunk down to your knees and soaked yourself in the mighty blood of Jesus.

Five minutes later you were dripping with wetness. No dove in sight, so you had to flip the script.

In lieu of the salt-hot water recipe on the menu, you settled for a bath in disinfecting alcohol.
Bazinga! Let’s see if those infernal viruses survive the onslaught!

Yes indeed from the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence..