By Gloria Mwaniga Minage
I was having a rather good time in the little breezy town of Eldoret yesterday, eating well roasted nyama choma with my brothers in a nice little eatery known as ‘Members’ and devouring with pleasurable interest and a ticklish sensation, Phillip Ochieng’s ridiculous article in the Saturday Nation.
True to his nature, Ochieng’ was offering a free English lesson to some unfortunate Standard newspaper writer who reported that a girl called Anita had emerged top in KCPE in Busia County despite leading her former school in verse, drama and music. Ochieng concluded that in using the word despite in that phrase , the statement opposed verse, drama and music and preferred more academic subjects. He suggested that the correct idiom to be used here was’ go against the grain’ which means to behave in a manner completely uncharacteristic of you.
I almost chocked over my delectable meal when a few pages later, I came across the Literary Discourse piece written by the author David Maillu who in my humble opinion, had definitely gone against the grain.
In this regrettable piece of literature, Maillu was up in arms against Professor Christ Wanjala for what he termed as ‘destructive criticism’. Apparently Wanjala had Sonkonised’ (compared Maillu’s work to Sonko’s behaviour) Maillu’s work in the previous edition of the Literary Discourse hence the tirade.
Well, maybe the criticism was destructive for sure, but I find the method used by Maillu to respond rather pitiable because;
Maillu’s response is rather like that of a wronged spouse who chooses to remember every wrong committed to them since their marriage thirty years back. He starts off by calling Wanjala a bizarre critic who since the early 70’s had posed as a friend but poured literary venom over the former’s work. This to me is a rather interesting phrase since any writer worth their salt wouldn’t take criticism from a friend as literary venom and they most certainly wouldn’t say a friend ‘poses’ as a friend just because they are open enough to let them know what they think of their literary works.
Don’t get me wrong , I am not supporting Dr Wanjala. If anything, I am quite amused that Maillu says and I quote, ‘while Wanjala was still a professor of literature , he begged to be my student in creative writing , this was when Wanjala was dying to write a novel but lacked the imagination on how to go about it; ‘ Maillu further says that ‘years after his coaching Wanjala, the latter came up with one ‘sadly grim novel called ‘ Drums of Death’.
To borrow from Stephen Derwent Partington words on the next page, maybe the two have some ‘personal beef following past run-ins and are just washing their extraordinarily dirty linen in public’. Whatever the case, instead of embarking on issue based arguments, like telling us the themes of his works and why he thinks they are relevant to Kenya in this point in time; Maillu glaringly tries to justify his works by stating that one of his books is highly appreciated in Rwanda hence he is being read the world over. He even goes ahead and lists some of his so called academic literary admirers like Professor Egara Kabaji, Evan Mwangi and quoting them referring to him (Maillu) as flamboyant, enigmatic, phychologist , philosopher etc.
Somewhere in the middle of the article, Maillu finally gets around to some of the major points he should have addressed at the beginning. He throws in a line on how if anyone has to progress, then reading culture has to be developed, fast and religiously. He correctly states that turning Kenya into a publishing powerhouse could lead to job creation and even culture development; He even thanks the Nation newspaper for giving ‘them’ such a special and valuable forum.
The proudly self-taught man from standard eight, who says many publishers admire his brilliance, proclaims that, contrary to what Wanjala said, his 130 manuscripts haven’t been turned down but that that’s the number of unpublished manuscripts in his possession.
The uncreative response by the acclaimed writer painfully reminds me of the state of politics in our continent. Hollow, corrupt, violence filled, non –issue-based, tribal arguments that are witnessed even in this time and age. Maillu, by choosing to attack back directly and digging up from the archives all the marvelous things that have been said about him in the past (e.g what Micere Mugo told him when she was still a Dean at the Nairobi University, quite a long time ago.) casts a shadow of doubt on his many fans, me included, on the astuteness of authors like himself.
The good writer should always keep in mind a famous Swahili proverb that says ‘Chema Chajiuza Kibbaya Chajitembeza.’