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How does a full-time mum stay relevant in one's community?
by Clara Chow

LAST week, at a well-attended reading-cum-talk at the University Cultural Centre, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was asked why so few writers are political activists.

The answer, retorted the Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist and human-rights activist who won the Nobel literature prize in 1986, was simple: Writers, by nature or by dint of the solitary act of literary creation, prefer to hole up by themselves.

As I sat in the audience, I wondered whether the same might apply to stay-at-home mums. After all, the business of diaper-changing and kid-minding is often undertaken alone.

While my friends go on with their workaday chores in the office, generally keeping up with the world’s whirl, I sit at home taking orders from my three-year-old “boss”, without even being able to read the newspapers (the Supportive Spouse takes them to read on his commute).

So how does a writer or a mum – in my case, a freelancewriter mum – stay relevant in one’s community? That is a question worth considering.

After all, as Professor Soyinka, now 75, pointed out in response to another question about the philosophy behind his 1987 play, Death And The King’s Horseman, individuality is tied inexorably to obligation.

The play, set in 1944 Nigeria, is based on a true incident, in which the ritual suicide of a Yoruba chief’s horseman is prevented by the British colonial authorities, throwing the Yoruba community’s traditions and world into disarray.

In his deep, commanding, Morgan Freeman-esque voice, Prof Soyinka – whose unflappable Zen manner seems like it might have been the result of enduring incarceration during the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s – explained that the chief horseman is indulged in every way during his lifetime, with the understanding that it was his responsibility to commit suicide when his ruler expires.

And when he does not, will not, his individuality is lost, along with the responsibility he shirks. To back out of the deal, after enjoying a lifetime of spoils, is to move the out-ofbound markers arbitrarily.

And despite the horrors Prof Soyinka has witnessed, there is much humour to be found in his outlook. The attentive crowd roared with laughter as he told an anecdote about constant power cuts in his hometown.

The government had promised that the situation would improve to the point that the residents would smile and, when things stayed the same, the people joked that they were meant to smile so that their white teeth might light up the night like electric lights.

Even as I’m enjoying the privilege of being a full-time mum of 1.5 kids (my second son is due in about three weeks), my encounter with Prof Soyinka has made me determined not to let my world shrink.

Be it volunteering in a reading programme for underprivileged kids or thinking and commenting on the arts, there are still little ways in which mums like me can contribute and fulfil their obligations to the community.

Perhaps, in our stable country, there is less scope in which to be activists, compared to the turbulent times and region that Prof Soyinka has lived through.

But there is certainly no reason not to feed our minds and our hearts constantly.

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