An unusual New Year goodwill message
The irrepressible social critic and non-conformist, Dr. Tai Solarin, now of blessed memory, once stunned the country with a strange, indeed a totally unusual New Year wish for the ardent followers of his writings and Nigerians in general. The year was 1964, and the date, January 1. The accustomed New Year messages were often and still are suffused with loving and prayerful thoughts and goodwill for all manner of people, friends, acquaintances, relations, compatriots, name them. They typically run as follows: “Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year”; “May you be blessed with abundance throughout the New Year”; “It will be the dawn of a new era.” To a religious people that we unarguably are, any New Year wishes that deviate from such drift must be regarded as totally out of place. However, Tai Solarin would not flow with the crowd. His was most times a radical departure. Hear what he greeted Nigerians with in his inimitable way: “May Your Road Be Rough.”
As I tried to reflect on what makes a great nation and a great people in the face of what has been assailing our land that gives the impression of emphasis on wellbeing and prosperity without hard work, my mind raced to a statement Works and Power Minister Tunde Fashola, known for his rigour in thinking, made a couple of weeks ago in which he argued on how great nations were and could still be built. It then came to me that what would provoke reflection better is to recall what Tai Solarin, the teacher, the reformist, the nationalist, the iconoclast wrote in his controversial weekly column, Thinking With You, by Tai Solarin, in the Daily Times, January 1, 1964:
“May Your Road Be Rough.”
“I am not cursing you; I am wishing you what I wish myself every year. I, therefore, repeat, may you have a hard time this year, may there be plenty of troubles for you this year! If you are not so sure of what you should say back, why not just say, ‘Same to you’? I ask for no more.
“Our successes are conditioned by the amount of risk we are ready to take. Earlier on today I visited a local farmer about three miles away from where I live. He could not have been more than 55, but he said he was already too old to farm vigorously. He still suffered, he said, from the physical energy he displayed as a farmer in his younger days. Around his hut were two pepper bushes. There were cocoyams growing around him. There were snail shells which had given him meat. There must have been more around the banana trees I saw. He hardly ever went to town to buy things. He was self-sufficient. The car or the bus, the television or the telephone, the newspaper, Vietnam or Red China was nothing to him. He had no ambitions whatsoever, he told me. I am not sure if you are already envious of him, but were we all to revert to such a life, we would be practically driven back to cave dwelling.
On the other hand, try to put yourself in the position of the Russian or the American astronaut. Any moment from now the count, 3, 2, 1, is going to go, and you are going to be shot into the atmosphere and soon you will be whirling round our earth at the speed of six miles per second. If you get so fired into the atmosphere and you forget what to do to ensure your return to earth, one of the things that might happen to you is that you could become forever a satellite, going round the earth until you die of starvation and even then your body would continue the gyration!
“When, therefore, you are being dressed up and padded to be shot into the sky, you know only too well that you are going on the roughest road man had ever trodden. The Americans and Russians who have gone were armed with the great belief that they would come back. But I cannot believe that they did not have some slight foreboding on the contingency of their non-return. It is their courage for going in spite of these apprehensions that makes the world hail them so loudly today.
“The big fish is never caught in shallow waters. You have to go into the open sea for it. The biggest businessmen make decisions with lightning speed and carry them out with equal celerity. They do not dare delay or dally. Time would pass them by if they did. The biggest successes are preceded by the greatest heart-burnings. You should read the stories of the bomber pilots of World War11. The Russian pilot, the German pilot or the British pilot suffered exactly the same physical and mental tension the night before a raid on enemy territory. There were no alternative routes for those who most genuinely believed in victory for their side. You cannot make omelets without breaking eggs. Throughout the world there is no paean without pain.
“Jawaharlal Nehru has put it so well. I am paraphrasing him. He wants to meet his troubles in a frontal attack. He wants to see himself tossed into the aperture between the two horns of the bull. Being there, he determines he is going to win and, therefore, such a fight requires all his faculties.
“When my sisters and I were young and we slept on our mats round our mother, she always woke up at 6 a.m. for morning prayers. She always said prayers on our behalf but always ended with something like this:’ May we not enter into any dangers or get into difficulties this day.’ It took me almost 30 years to dislodge the canker-worm in our mother’s sentiments. I found, by hard experience, that all that is noble and laudable was to be achieved through difficulties and trials and tears and dangers. There are no other roads.
“If I was born into a royal family and should one day become a constitutional king, I am inclined to think I should go crazy. How could I, from day to day, go on smiling and nodding approval at somebody else’s successes for an entire lifetime? When Edward the Eighth (now Duke of Windsor) was young, sprightly Prince of Whales, he went to Canada and shook so many hands that his right arm nearly pulled out of its socket. It went into a sling and he shook hands thenceforth with his left hand. It would appear he was trying his utmost to make a serious job out of downright sinecurism.
“Life, if it is going to be abundant, must have plenty of hills and vales. It must have plenty of sunshine and rough weather. It must be rich in obfuscation and perspicacity. It must be packed with days of danger and of apprehension. When I walk into the dry but certainly cool morning air of every January 1st, I wish myself plenty of tears and of laughter, plenty of happiness and unhappiness, plenty of failures and successes. Plenty of abuse and praise. It is impossible to win ultimately without a rich intermixture in such a menu. Life would be worthless without the lot. We do not achieve much in this country because we are all so scared of taking risks. We all want smooth and well-paved roads. While the reason the Americans and others succeeded so well is that they took such great risks.
“If, therefore, you are out in this New Year 1964, to win any target you have set for yourself, please accept my prayers as your elixir. May your road be rough!”
All that has been said in the foregoing is that life is a struggle. Man is to do battle and be victorious, and is never to slacken, not even in retirement. To slacken is to shorten one’s life, for it is tantamount to losing the will to live. It is in breach of the immutable and all pervading Law, the Law of Movement. Even then death itself is no more than discarding the earthly garment, a Divine gift for the manifestation of the real man, the spirit, on earth. The man continues with living and experiencing in accordance with the testimonial that he goes away with from the school of life called the earth. If, therefore, there is no standstill in life, all is filled with activities, it should then be clear that to wish a departed person to sleep or “Rest in perfect peace” is a misnomer, indeed it is a curse. What we can wish the departed is Joyful Activities. With struggle, talents and abilities unfold and our inner being is polished with the resultant relieving ourselves of the dross which, if not dropped, would hinder ascent to the Realm of Peace, our real Home Above. The unfolding continues for lofty works in the Great Beyond in the great, continuous upbuilding of our world and the universe. He who takes struggle away from his people, his children or neighbour, no matter how well meaning, cannot, in the long run, be regarded as a friend. Hence, Tai Solarin had to say lovingly to his compatriots: May your road be rough! And so, goes the saying, therefore: ‘‘Oh ye sluggard, go to the ant and learn!”
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