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The poetic is political

books Updated: Jan 22, 2010 21:26 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
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Wole Soyinka ‘People of faith who want to be pure should be sent into space’

Wole Soyinka believes in the idea of the writer having a voice of his own. “I take influences from other worlds and I use them, enjoy them,” he says. “But at the same time, I also believe that there has to be a core within [the individual writer].”

On Friday, the Nigerian writer, poet and playwright — and Nobel laureate — did not lift his eyes even once from the book while reading out his poems. His rich and vibrant voice deepened, boomed and trembled as he went along the passages. And it was a very intense, individual voice indeed.

Once Soyinka finished reading, he became another kind of performer — smiling, joking, ready to answer questions from the gathered, mesmerised audience. He talked of “his gods”, spoke on the profundity of human existence and also about his country. Apart from calling Nigeria’s ruling party, People Democratic Party, “totally corrupt”, he launched a scathing attack on religious terrorism across the world.

“It’s an epidemic, a disease, a virus,” he said. And Soyinka’s suggested cure for religion-inspired terror? “If people belonging to some faith want to remain pure... our astronauts can send them to live in space.”

Subjected to racial discrimination during his student days in London, Soyinka had a built-in apparatus to cope. “I had a sense of humour and a sense of moral superiority.” While speaking out against heightened racial profiling in airports after the aborted terrorist attack by Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutalib on Christmas, Soyinka said, “That man was born in Nigeria but he got jihadist ideas in England. Perhaps you must ban all British passports.”

Soyinka told the audience how he hated mathematics in school. “When I passed out of school, I made a bonfire out of my maths books and then I did a jig on their ashes.” But it was the same hated subject that came to his solace during solitary confinement during the Nigerian civil war in the 60s. “In the absence of reading and writing materials, I rediscovered the theories of mathematics.”