By Paul Chika Emekwulu
In the midst of dismantling structures at the old Eke Ekwulọbịa market for the construction of Ekwulọbịa flyover by Governor Chukwuma Soludo administration, I went there to buy among other things, a bottle of cashew nuts from a regular vendor. On arrival the seller was engrossed with his android phone. In pretense I picked up a bottle of cashew nuts ready to leave. He was still busy. To get his attention I said, “I thought it was a free for all.”
This was the time he lifted up his face and started smiling.
“You didn’t know I was here because you were busy with your phone. I could have just walked away,” I told him. From there we started talking about the importance of reading novels.
“I used to read novels with my phone,” he said.
“You used to, but not anymore.”
“People use their phones to read novels! That’s not necessarily true,” I said.
“If we conduct a survey within less than one mile radius, we shall not find up to five people reading novels out of their phones,” I said.
“True or False?” I asked the young boy.
“True,” he responded.
“You made your phone your best friend. True or
“True,” he confirmed.
That goes all the way to confirm what I say privately and publicly, “That the cellular phone is now the new novel.”
This is demonstrated everyday at the banks, schools, hospitals, at home, workplaces, and other public places.
Here is another instance.
A young teenage boy recently came to my house to cut overgrown grass. A little bit less than an hour he requested cold water to quench his thirst. The water available was in sachets.
“How cold”? I asked him. He came up to me and touched a sachet in order to have a feel of the coldness. Almost at the same time I said, “Mma bụ n’anya n’anya.”
By the way he speaks and understands Igbo language very well. You can be an Igbo man or woman and neither able to speak nor understand Igbo Language. He is not one of those whose parents are always at the ready to tell you that, “My son or my daughter doesn’t speak Igbo but he understands.”
What an insult to a language! What an affront to a language! What a shame!
Before my statement in Igbo I said to the young boy, “Beauty is in the eye of the holder.”
“Do you know why I said that? I asked him.
“No,” he responded.
Now, I said, “Have you ever heard people say, “Mma bụ n’anya n’anya”?
“No,” he responded.
For him and others like him, to understand this amazing Igbo proverb I resorted to a beautiful woman analogy.
I said, “If someone points at a woman walking along the street and says, ‘That woman is beautiful,’ what else could another person say about the same woman?” Something different.
“She is not beautiful,” he answered.
“Exactly,” I confirmed.
To the same woman someone could also have said, “She is beautiful but…”
I left that to ask, “What is the English translation of “Mma bụ n’anya n’anya?”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he responded.
“Exactly,” I said in reinforcement.
He even took the initiative to translate “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” into Igbo word for word but it didn’t turn out smoothly. There was no sense impression. He abandoned the attempt. For sense impression to reign, translating from one language to another doesn’t have to be word for word.
Similarly, if you try to translate “Mma bụ n’anya n’anya” word for word into English, you’ll run into a problem as well.
Another example was “Ịgba mmadụ akwụkwọ.” He tried to translate this into English but ran into a problem and thereby confirmed the obvious – the cellular phone doesn’t have everything.
“Now, let me make my point,” I finally said.
“At times people, adults included always share the opinion that the cellular phone has everything. Have you heard that before?” I asked the teenage boy.
“Yes,” he responded.
“Now if I had asked you to translate ” ‘Mma bụ n’anya n’anya,’ into English, how would you have gone about it?” Of course he tried that before and failed.
He regarded me in silence for a few seconds.
“Do you want to consider that as a take home assignment?”
“No – o – o,” he objected.
“No” because he didn’t give a good account of himself in a previous encounter I had with him. It was an encounter where I was trying to teach him the meanings of the words, “specific” and “general” as opposite of each other or what you call “antonym”, hoping he would be able to give examples confirming his understanding. Unfortunately, that never happened and the assignment was never completed up till this moment.
Now in conclusion I said, “From our brief interaction, have you seen that the cellular phone doesn’t have everything?”
“Yes,” he said with a broad smile.
I also said, “You have to read novels, if you don’t read novels, you don’t pick up these things (expressions and consequent increase in vocabulary).”
This brought our discussion to an end while he went back to work after taking some snacks.
With his response he is representing the interests of so many young people and adults out there.
In the United States of America, bookshops still exist. Young and older Americans have their phones but have not discarded their library cards.
We need to take back power from the cellular phone which as I said earlier is now the new novel.
Some people are speaking but not writing, while some people are writing but not speaking. People who are speaking but not writing, should start writing and those who are writing but not speaking should start speaking.
The result will be more general interest books (have no restricted or specific audience and content) that can take back power from the cellular phone thereby boosting the reading habits of our people.
At that time we shall all start to realize that truly, the cellular phone doesn’t have everything. It is my strong belief that in addition to other factors, the lukewarm attitude by publishers and the absence of general interest books in our society are some of the reasons why the reading culture has so much deteriorated.
There is one thing that is clear about cellular phones when it comes to young people and even some adults old and young. The cellular phone is a wonderful thing to have but not a wonderful thing to make it your best friend for there are better friends and a book is one of them.
Accidents have occurred, houses and food have been burnt, things have been stolen, people have died and so on all because of too much attention to cellular phones. A cellular phone should be a servant not a master which unfortunately, we have allowed it to be.
In Matthew 11:15, the word of God says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear and heed my words.”