‘After 4.30’ is now 40, yet it still resonates with Kenyans

By: DAVID MAILLU

Professor, have you written another After 4.30?” someone asked me the other day. The question caught me unawares.

However, I replied: “Yes, I wrote a different one called After Wedding, which is yet to be published.

“No, please,” he cried. “After Wedding is not and cannot be After 4.30, which titillates my nerves squarely.”

The caller left me with food for thought. He threw me back to the early 1970s when I published After 4.30 and My Dear Bottle when, as I have been teased ever since, I used to write juicy stories that won the heart of Prof Evan Mwangi, who recently said the only person he reads in Kenya is David Maillu.

On the other hand, however, at one stage, Prof Mwangi accused me of writing pornographic books without telling us why he so diligently loves reading such works.

People cannot stop a writer from writing, but one thing is also clear; the writer cannot stop people from saying what they feel about his work. Writing is a journey to somewhere, not knowing what your host will say.

I must reiterate that the mind that wrote After 4.30,My Dear Bottle and After Wedding is the same mind writing today. The sex themes I touched on those days have not changed at all. In fact, the story is getting more weird, particularly when school boys

and girls can hire a club or bus in which to freely engage in sex and taking drugs.

After 4.30 is 40 years old now. See how relevant it will be this month:

“Listen to the jet of General Pope/Taking off thunderously/A monarch in white/riding a bullet proof Benz/As though the God he worships/Was vulnerable/He dined with his colonels and lieutenants/The very Right Reverends/Archbishops/ The President/Chiefs of protocols all guarded with machine guns/As though the diners were robbers/General Pope has lieutenants/Who dress him/He doesn’t baptise prostitutes/Homosexuals and vagabonds/” (quoted from page 175).

And elsewhere, After 4.30 says: “I learnt to sleep with a man, sometimes/Is not to make love/But to make enemies/Give yourself to men fully/If you want to burn.”

IT IS NOT JUST ME

It is not just me. Chinua Achebe, too, has been criticised for calling spades spades. The contemporary of After 4.30 was Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino, which says: “You think of the pleasures/Of the girls/Dancing before their lovers/Then you look at the teacher/Barking meaninglessly/Like the yellow monkey” (pg 109).

In the writings of 1970s, Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek and I were simply trying to illustrate the psychology of the African in the modern world, questioning how faithful they are to their cultural roots.

The writers were the bridge between tradition and modernity. They were rebellious to the imported white man’s culture. For that reason, their writing stopped them from receiving the white man’s literary prizes.

I have been writing ambitiously about Africans, sex, drinking, religion, corruption, marriage, African philosophy and cultural degradation from the belief that a writer is a prophet, an inspirer and a custodian of the people’s cultural values.

Writers are the cultural geography of the people. The British would fight up to their last man against anybody who would dare take away their Shakespeare. When we think about Nigeria, the first thing that comes to mind is Chinua Achebe.

If these writers were to be taken away from their countries — Leo Tolstoy from Russia, Thomas Mann from Germany, Ayi Kwei Amah from Ghana, Ngugi wa Thiong’o from Kenya, Nurudin Farah from Somalia, and Okot p’Bitek from Uganda — what will be left, metaphorically speaking, will be spiritual and cultural shells.Go as far back as you can, works of art are the only things that prove the existence of people — literature, music, painting and architecture.

The glory of African thought and values are gravely threatened by extinction, unless writers are committed to restore them. For only when the African sings out his African soul, like Miriam Makeba, only when the African writer writes out his African soul

like Chinua Achebe, can the African spirit hope for a true flag of African cultural renaissance

SOURCE: DAILY NATION