My Speech at the launch of the book “Into College with All Bad Luck” by Isaac Pakulantanda at Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre on 3rd July, 2021

Jul 4, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

Brave young men and women

Mzuzu in July is a plateau city of serene green

Where years of living together, side by side, has failed

To merge the noise and bustle of Tonga fishmongers

With garlic-scented wafts from saturated Indian samosa

Amid the early call to prayer from the minaret muezzin

Which nettles vendors into slumberous awakening…

Swahili merchants in their bright kanga cloths talk

Uninterruptedly to Tumbuka customers about bribery

And police brutality at the expense of truth –

Both sides say they hate Mzuzu police.

It does not help those recently unarmed college students

And unemployed city youths protesting unemployment

And economic hardships were mowed down

By police fire in cold blood, their scarlet bodied

Sprawled across old stumps of jacaranda trees

That line the dual carriageway on such a cold day.

In the meantime, the state president was still ranting on

About removing rebellious youths – “Provocateurs!

Vermin! Ndawaonetsa nyekhwe!” He harangued.

“Like rats in a hole,” he said, “I’ll smoke them out!”

The brave young men and women that now lie

On the serene green plateau side by side

Their lustrously names emblazed on the land

Will soon arise and soar into the air, as they will,

Cuddled in red shimmers from the lake beyond

And illumine the city limits with their ethereal glow.

A brilliant beauty will be born and coalesce into stars …

And I say, we shall not grow old

Neither shall we let the memory of our youth

That lie on the green range fade and grow cold.

I hate Mzuzu police more than ever before

For cutting their lives short in such a dastardly manner

Unawares that as the youth fell over jacaranda stumps

As they did,

Their blood will soak through the loam soil of the city

And soon their lives will lend bloom to the plateau,

Heralding a new dawn and eternal buzz and bustle.

This is an unpublished poem by Prof Lupenga Mphande, an associate Prof at Ohio State University and a renowned Malawian author. The poem as some may have appreciated talks about July 20, 2011. Interestingly, this month we commemorate a decade since the Mzuzu massacres at the hands of merciless Malawian police took place but, interestingly also, the book, I am about to introduce dwells on the happenings of student protests, a ruthless regime and police brutality that happened in 2011.

I hope the Professor will forgive me for introducing the poem a little too soon than July, 20th when he intended it. But I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Let me start by thanking Isaac and his team for honouring me with the noble task of aptly dispensing literary, scholarly and academic remarks in introducing the book, “Into College with All Bad Luck”. This task, as the gods of Malawian literature, if indeed there are any as we will untangle later in my remarks, would have it, should be undertaken by a living god of literature, in my professional opinion any way. It is a scared moment in its own ways that only those with an appetite for devouring and gobbling words that tell syrupy and wretched stories, folklores and all kinds of literature would appreciate.

Not that I doubt myself. I have never been short of confidence and self-belief but as a professional and a writer, it always falls on me to look around me and acknowledge those who have lived before me, walked in the path I attempt to walk and like Isaac attempts. The point I aspire to dwell on in this regard is that, I, myself is a budding writer.

As a young and budding author who recently launched his book, What You See at Sunrise like Isaac here launching his book, there must never be a point where we spit condescending spittle on those we must learn from because it is a sin against literature. Nonetheless, the task has fallen to me and I must embrace it for the reason that I am capable to discharge it. I will, therefore humbly, candidly and succinctly do so.

Yes, on any other day, at this juncture, I should be seated with you all listening to another speak but today is not that day. This is where the man and the writer that Isaac is astounds me. To be able to recognise someone like you and trust them with such is indeed an act of humility and professional etiquette expected of all professionals.

At my book launch, I had who I would consider towering gods of Malawian literature in the likes of Prof Lupenga Mphande, a poet and linguist who has authored several books including a crackle at midnight, Dr Ken Lipenga, a man who most know as a politician but is a well accomplished writer and author of Waiting for a Turn, and Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza Manda, perhaps the most astute and accomplished Malawian writer and author of the famous book, Smouldering Charcoal. I felt honoured because these three have had their works studied in Malawi and interestingly, they were all friends at Chancellor College long before I was born as students.

That’s the significance of Chancellor College. It is no surprise, therefore, that another young writer now is born from the same College. In his creative work that he has delivered, he does nothing extraordinary but does it an extraordinary way. I say this because he only emulates to do as both those past and contemporary have done to write works of literature be it poetry, novels or plays, albeit in his style of own and that is what is extraordinary in the ordinary. Therefore, allow me, at this juncture to congratulate Mr Isaac Pakulantanda and welcome him to the world of published authors.

In my remarks, I will dwell on three topics; firstly, my experiences with Malawian literature and the publishing industry, the dwindling, fading and slowly, but, surely dying reading culture, and end with a brief review on the book. Allow me now to go into these three points quickly.

The first book I read in my life was a Chichewa book, Nthondo by Samuel J. Nthara. Nthara belongs to the cadre of writers such as Jack Mapanje, Thandeka Mkandawire, David Rubadiri, and D.D Phiri among others including those I mentioned earlier on.

Having read the book when I was about ten years of age which is 18 years ago, I learnt this year from Prof Lupenga Mphande that the book was published in 1933. Reading the book gives you an insight into African anthropology that most books can hardly achieve. But this is beside the point I seek to deliver. The book was published in 1933 before almost anyone in this room was born. So, indeed, Malawi has gods of literature that we must learn from. We have untangled the question posed earlier on in the speech.

The second book I read was also another Chichewa book published in 1969 written by John W. Gwenge. The book was also another masterpiece touching on African psychology and the native African culture. Indeed, a folktale written long before, again, anyone of us here was born at the onset of our independence. Who can guess what this book is? It is Sikusinja ndi Gwenembe. A story of two different characters that educates the youth on the importance of respecting parents and elders.

So, as one would appreciate, this work precedes us. This why I said earlier on, that the extraordinary act of writing a fictional book and publishing it like I did or Isaac did is indeed ordinary. But if Samuel Nthara was alive today, he would be smiling to see one young writer introduce to the world a book written by a fellow young writer.

“Lo, and behold, the past meets the contemporary. The wit and skill I had to tell a contemporary story decades ago is living and manifesting, almost a century later,” he would say.

Perhaps, he would be disappointed in the bodies and corporations to publish and regulate. Gone are the days, when publishers were noble men in society for they served as architects in dispensation of folklore into documentation, and indeed preservation for the contemporary world and posterity. Today, self-publishing sounds more lucrative than otherwise because while it is less affordable it allows writers an easier way to market their work and profit from it.

For me, although, it must seem like a curse because indeed authors and publishers must work together. Malawi Writers Union have a duty before them to varnish the sphere of creative writing and literature. The body must work with all writers, authors and publishers to ensure the working environment is allowing of success for both established and budding writers like myself and Isaac who is launching his book today.

The benefits, of publishing with publishers are numerous to professional journalistic, academic and Indeed, literal writing such as plays or novels like the one that has brought about this noble congregation. One of the many benefits is the thorough editing that eludes self-publishing. The question, therefore, is: do the current publishers have competent editors especially for such literal work like novels?

As Dr Ken Lipenga noted at my book launch, the choices of editors are many for creatives. And indeed, one must not feel that they can do without editors no matter how good they are. A second eye always sees what you may have missed. One could approach secondary school teachers, academic linguists in the higher institutions of learning or students of literature such as those at Mzuzu University or Chancellor College.

The lack of literal works telling our stories and folktales, and the lack of a thriving industry to promote, regularise and bring together creative literal writers means that the writing and reading culture are both dying. This must be a cause for worry for all of us in this room and those watching on the Facebook live that have an interest in literature.

Again, I will go back to my earlier point on the need for authors, publishers and editors to co-exist. We must confront the scourge of the impending death of Malawian literature by producing good, well edited works of literature that are well marketed. While, there is freedom in the industry, because of the high literal and scholarly demands of producing a fictional or any creative writing manuscript, not very Jim and Jack should be doing it, lest we diminish our country’s literature image.

I have had the privilege of reading the novel, Into College with All Bad Luck by Mr Pakulantanda. Sadly and candidly, I have been unable to read all of its contents as it is a book, 266 page long, and 19 chapter long since I only got a copy a few days ago.

Nonetheless, I can speak on it from the few well woven words I have read thus far. I was only a Premed student when Mukhitho and Bingu unleashed academic freedom, as the strike between students mostly Chancellor College students would be known. It was also a turbulent time for Malawi politically, socially and economically.

Chancellor College witnessed an avalanche of misfortunes at student, staff and institutional level from the ongoing strike. From afar, as writers and linguistic anthropologists have attempted to tell the story, the picture can only remain obscure because of the political machinations that hinder access to such information.

However, those who lived the moment can tell the story better. This is what Issac attempts to do in his novel being launched today. Through fictional characters that exist as students during this time, Isaac re-contextualises details and crafts a thrilling fictional tale. For a moment, I thought it was as memoir but it is purely fictional.

His style of writing is simple, hardly over-verbose making it a good read for both avid fictional readers and lay men in this regard. It touches on police brutality, student life on campus including love and student politics told in a comical and intriguing manner.

I have noted a few things, as I read, mostly positive and encouraging. The manner with which the writer describes scenery and conversations in expert places such as within a court is compelling. Perhaps, being a lawyer in this regard worked to his advantage. The way he describes religious faith and its consequences is both funny and educative.

The writer has risen many times in telling the blissful melancholies and delights as I have read thus far. Where he has fallen short, him and I will sit down to discuss as two imperfect young writers. Perfection, is nothing we can all attain in our fields of work. The pursuit of perfection must be a relentless duty upon us all in our work. This, I believe Isaac has done so well in his book.

It is my humble duty therefore, at this juncture to introduce to Malawi and the world, the book “Into College with All Bad Luck” by Mr Isaac Pakulantanda. Congratulations Isaac, and your family. Thank you and God bless you all.


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