When Malawi recorded its first case of coronavirus on April 2 2020, imposing travel restrictions shortly after, author Alfred Msadala escaped into the creative chambers of his mind.
However, he could not hide the fruits of staying in the hideout called the mind because, before long, tangible things came out, namely four books. As they say, every cloud, even a dark one, has a silver lining.
The books are Two Poems, which Msadala co-authored with Cecilia Hasha Dube; Second Chance, Malangano and Someone is Coming, all of which being the product of his single mind.
Two Poems is just about that; a couple of poems, one titled ‘We Lost Track of Ausi’ and the other titled ‘We Did Not Lose Track of Ausi’.
Not that the second is a continuation of the first; far from it. That is why they have a tinge of randomness, evidenced by differences in setting.
In the case of Second Chance, it basically focuses on fruits of chance encounters, mainly between Sandikonda and Honourable Mpweya, who, like a film crew, do not do everything alone but are exposed to the shenanigans of cop Marie and prison warder Margaret. In going about his everyday activities, Sandikonda discovers that life is throwing some spanners in his way. He has to find a way out because some of the challenges are new.
Malangano is premised on the name of the main character, one born out of wedlock. His father is someone with mental challenges while the mother has all mental faculties intact.
Just like Two Poems, Someone is Coming delves into poetry. It is a collection of poems.
To celebrate that not even the Covid pandemic could lock Msadala’s mind, Friends of Alfred Msadala sought to celebrate his feat— publication of four books— at Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre on Friday.
Held under the theme ‘Commemorating Titles Issued During the Constricted Space’, representative of the friends, legendary poet Dr Benedicto Okomaatani Malunga, corporate world representative James Chimwaza, family representative Dr Vincent Msadala and authors’ representative Associate Professor Winfred Mkochi referred to events that made them connect with Msadala.
Malunga— a Zomba Catholic Secondary School former teacher and ex-University of Malawi registrar who has now made Dzungu Zizira his Southern Region retirement home— described Msadala as a man “who makes friends through his ideas”.
The ‘Ndidzakutengera ku Nyanja Ligineti’ poem creator even had time to remember an adage, ostensibly his mother’s favourite, to the effect that ‘Nyama yotchuka sidzadza dengu’. Whatever that means but, in Malunga’s context, he meant to say people and things other people think highly of are often ordinary.
More so because, in Malunga’s words, the mother used to say so whenever he visited her because, although Malunga had won national acclaim through his well concocted poems, he was just mother’s son back home.
On his part, Chimwaza implored Malawians to value the arts, indicating that among the three things that made the British Empire famous were Shakespeare’s writings [literature]. The other two are the English Book of Prayer and the Holy Bible, especially the King James Version.
“It is all about power of the word,” said the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Business Council Vice Chairperson who also served the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in the capacity of president.
Mkochi, who heads the Centre for Language Studies, said Msadala has been outstanding because “he is forthcoming in his works. He has also edited works of other authors in the country”.
Professor Francis Moto, who was the guest of honour, lauded Msadala for his contribution to Malawi’s education sector.
Of Msadala, he said: “Alfred has a sense of commitment and does not write off a person.”
He added that Msadala is a resilient man, remembering how, at one time, he had to work round the clock to deliver a manuscript before the deadline.
Moto also pleasantry surprised people, including Malunga, by coming up with a sequel of ‘Ndidzakutengera ku Nyanja Ligineti’. In his piece, the female persona who has been waiting for the ‘Ndidzakutengera ku Nyanja Ligineti’ persona to take her to the lake is chiding the male persona for not making good of his promise.
Others, notably Dr Damazio Mfune- Mwanjakwa, Associate Professor Asante Mtenje and Dr Wesley Macheso reviewed the four books Msadala has published in the Covid era.
Mfune-Mwanjakwa took the audience through Malangano and Second Chance, with Mtenje delving into Two Poems. Macheso focused on Someone is Coming.
In reviewing Someone is Coming, Macheso said one of the poems in the collection makes people think about the issue of human existence and even cases where, on the death bed, one loses his identity.
He also said works of authors such as Anthony Nazombe— notably the poem ‘Hopelessness’— can be depicted in Msadala’s poem ‘Home-coming’, one of the pieces in the collection.
It is the mark of someone who reads widely.
Mtenje, on the other hand, felt that, in Two Poems, Msadala stands out due to his use of free verse, or everyday language.
When his turn came, Mfune-Mwanjawa said, for the reader to understand Second Chance and Two Poems, they have to understand the three elements of the soul, namely reason, good emotions and base emotion.
He said, all in all, Msadala’s works make people examine conditions of existence.
In Second Chance, for instance, “the protagonist [female] learns about growing up the hard way”.
There are countless things he said but the short of it all is that Msadala’s poems do not fall under the category of doggerel; they are well thought-out.
Taking his turn, Msadala recited a poem, stirring people’s emotions with the intonation in some cases— the sign of a man who can write and recite.
It is exactly what Arthur Ashe says: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Meanwhile, Msadala has embarked on an initiative that will see him stocking libraries of some schools with books, a cause Friends of Msadala group has embraced and is pushing.
Under the initiative, people are encouraged to buy five books, choose a school to donate them to and contribute to the cause of promoting literature in Malawi.
Msadala, the Malawi Pen President, might have started strutting his stuff way back; he is still doing what he can and the nation can rest assured that the best is yet to come.