The Lone Ranger
Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is a man of few words, but such beautiful words they are
As a school student, Nigerian author Wole Soyinka loathed mathematics. "When my final exams for school were over, I remember taking all my mathematic books and making a bonfire and burning them. I even did a little jig on the ashes," says Soyinka to a devoted audience who braved the scorching mid-day sun to listen to him at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Little did the Nobel Laureate know at the time, that mathematics would save him from losing his mind, during his imprisonment in 1997. "When I was imprisoned, I was thrown into solitary confinement. I had been placed under trial but it was a barren existence. I invented games in my head. I began doing mathematics again. I'd scratch on the floor of the cell with a stone, working out permutations and combinations, using different formulae. Hours would pass but it nearly drove me crazy too," says Soyinka, who later managed to befriend the jailor and smuggle in a book to read. He later began to make ink out of smuggled in coffee and wrote on scraps of paper. "I had to create an interior life to survive," says the 75-year-old.
At the ongoing festival—in the midst of authors famous and obscure—Soyinka walks tall. Easily spotted thanks to his white Afro beard, he is known to be taciturn. But on the dias, while reading scenes from his plays, The Road and Death and the King's Horsemen, Soyinka is a natural performer; his deep baritone dips and swells as he recreates the dark, grim atmosphere of the road and a long journey of both plays.
"As a writer, I wanted to illustrate my relationship with the road, it opened up a world to me. In Africa, the road signals transition and is understood in its capacity as a diety as well as its capacity to kill, for there is much carnage on the road," says Soyinka, who feels at home on Indian roads.
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