“I belong to a tribe of people who find it very tough to talk about the work I am doing, for I believe in initiating dialogues. So it is my work and how you see and interpret it, that absorbs me,” said Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka.
The Nigerian author, playwright, poet and activist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, was invited by Chandigarh University, Gharuan, to interact with the students of School of Language and Literature, and also be part of the 6th Annual Convocation ceremony of the university.
It is not every day that you have the privilege to be in the company of a Nobel Laureate and for the students, faculty and invitees, it was a rare chance to understand the body of work of Prof Soyinka, who played an active role in Nigeria’s political history and its struggle from independence, as he demanded the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. In 1967, he was in solitary confinement for two years, arrested by the federal government during the Nigerian Civil War, with his work a testament to our history and times.
“As a writer, you have to be bold, but not feel compelled to demonstrate ideological commitments,” said the playwright, who interacted with the students, answering their many interesting questions about his life, work and the political and social times.
Asked if globalisation is taking us back to the era of colonisation, he said, “Globalisation is inevitable and it has its presence ever since the origin of society due to religion or trade between civilisations that existed in early era. Globalisation has resulted in sharing of ideas and processes, but the process is turning the population of third world countries as a cheap labour market for the highly developed societies of the world. Cultural globalisation is the most apparent form because culture also rides on technology and when technology comes from outside (developed nations), it proliferates and we cannot do without it. Then it dilutes our identity. So we can’t avoid globalisation, but we can control it by preserving our individual cultures, because it is a question of cultural security which will preserve our true essence despite new technology entering our lives. Globalisation should be a multi-directional traffic and not just one-way traffic, where powerful cultural values take over weak cultural values just because they have strong economies.”
As for maintaining purity of language in modern society, Prof Soyinka said that language is a tool which is used to communicate thoughts and ideas from one society to another and when it gets communicated then there may be a change in the essence of what you really want to communicate. With times and changing technology, language also tends to evolve, but the purity of language needs to be maintained because when a language dies then a society on the whole loses a culture.
“There are many languages which are on the verge of extinction, which means they are not being taught to the younger generation anymore. So how will we know about the richness of the cultures and people who once spoke those languages? With the end of one generation, the language will also die and this is dangerous for society,” he added.
For someone who travels and teaches at various universities, Prof Soyinka believes that while it is very difficult to teach creative writing as a subject, the best way to improve writing skills is to share one’s writings, be it poetry, philosophy and literature. “And then there will be critics who will criticise your language, vocabulary or thoughts which will improve the talent of writing. This is any day better than a teacher teaching creative writing,” Prof Soyinka said.
“Today is July 20, a historical day for mankind as the first man stepped on moon today 50 years back, going beyond limitations. Curiosity is the mother of all inventions as it tends to make humans think and imagine the things which otherwise seem to be impossible today. It is with imagination and creativity that we could realise the dream of landing on the moon,” Prof Soyinka said. He advised students not to run away from questions, as nature has given us the potential to find answers to questions.
As part of the 6th Annual Convocation, 1,130 degrees were awarded to students.
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