Friday, June 23, 2006

Lessons learnt, now loving Seth's Two Lives and an opaque shuffle

I keep my phone permanently on vibrate, because I've learnt I can't trust myself to remember to switch it off. I learnt this bitter lesson after a particularly embarassing incident when I was doing my postgraduate degree and a very distinguished professor had come to teach us. So we're sitting in this cavernous lecture theatre, and I'm stuck right in the middle of one of the rows.

Back then I used to keep my mobile phone in my back pack- now I carry it on my person always- except when I go to bed. So Distinguished Professor is just launching into a particularly elegant part of her discourse, when my phone goes. She smiles wryly as first, as does the rest of the class, and then as I scramble through the different pockets of my backpack looking for the phone, the smiles fade. Then there's silence from everyone except my phone which won't stop chirping.And I can't beat a hasty retreat as half the people on my row will need to stand up to let me pass. I finally found the phone and turned it off, but made two vows then- always to keep my phone on vibrate and never to sit in the middle of a row if I can help it.

I've finally got into Vikram Seth's Two Lives- I'm lugging it everywhere I go at the moment. His depiction of the lives of his Indian dentist uncle and the German (Jewish) woman he married is harrowing. I'm reading about his aunt in the immediate post war years and having to come to terms with the fact that her mother and sister were exterminated in the death camps while friends stood by and watched. Reading the letters from some of her friends describing the hardships they face in post war Germany, I feel like yelling- "Yes, but you're alive!" Seth writes searingly of how he becomes unable to enjoy his favourite German composers while he is going through material for the book- all beauty apparently tainted by the evil. My recurring question of what makes ordinary people, turn against their friends and neighbours, as in Nazi Germany and in Rwanda, continues to haunt me.....

The cabinet reshuffle in Nigeria bemuses me - so many theories, so many analyses. I'm pleased that the universally acclaimed Obi Ezekwesili is moving to Education- it's time we started putting some of that money we've saved to use in improving the education and health of the people. But she is to do that in addition to Solid Minerals? And Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala moved to Foreign Affairs, but "retaining headship of the economic team?" Nasir El Rufai is also running two ministries- what Obasanjo should be doing is finding more people to support his technocrats not devolving everything to a small team.....The saddest thing is the lack of transparency which breeds rumours and gossip. Or perhaps that's what this is supposed to achieve...I'll be looking forward to reading Ngozi's memoirs.....

As we approach the summer season and I brace myself for the onslaught of friends and family here on the annual Nigerian summer junket, the news that the Nigerian Government has issued a warning to travellers to the UK to beware of conmen seems to have ruffled feathers in the BBC who suggest it's a tit for tat thing. But it isn't. Anecdotally I know quite a few friends who've had bags and laptops stolen, and they've all seemed slightly perturbed by the fact that the perpetrators are white.....so I say to them did you think white people do not steal? A friend of mine, quite well educated and a middle level professional in Nigeria was shocked on his first visit to London last year to see white people begging on the street. When I see reactions like these, I worry about the lingering effects of what we used to call "colonial mentality"

David Cameron, having finished a fight with Gordon Brown about who was the real football fan,now uses the phrase "big up" in an official speech. Just a normal turn of phrase at Eton I presume....

8 comments:

Frances Uku said...

for some reason, i feel inspired by this post to tell you that your writing is delectable. thanks for keeping me up on UK and naija news - it's often sordid, but you somehow manage to make it less painful to read.

your mobile phone policy is also much appreciated by those of us in the theatre! ;-)

Petina Gappah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mw said...

Petina,

Fancy encountering you here! So you are Igbo, brilliant... you and I will have to converse in our colonial English then, since I'm Yoruba. It's all good.

Yes, Naijaman does do Nigeria nice - well-balanced and sensitive. And he's such a lover of literature.

Yes, he should marry you...;)
mw

uknaija said...

Wow, to have three very distinguished African women drop by my blog and say such nice things....I'm in seventh heaven...and that's before I even start including the offer (?) of marriage...

I'll be looking out for Petina's work,continue to savour mw's delectable blog and follow the trials,tribulations and triumphs of Frances as she conquers Hollywood....:-)

Thanks all, you've made my day...

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oo said...

Joining the bandwagon of adoring females ;) but mostly to concur on Vikram Seth's brilliance since marrying you will make me a bigamist! I haven't read Two Lives yet (still busy re-reading sections of A Suitable Boy :) but Uknaija's fine literary opinions taken and noted.
-oo-

Anonymous said...

Oh, Oh...stumbled on to this blog as you do, read a few entries, he piqued my interest and now I see that there is a fan base. Should we organise? Anyone who lists Just Above my head and a number of other personal favourites of mine as his gets my vote anytime.