Sun, 26 May 2024 Feature Article

Oh, What’s Happened To Us?

Oh, What’s Happened To Us?

The house in which i was raised at Asiakwa, in the Eastern Region, was typically one of those in which one could not help hearing everything anyone else in the house had to say! secret affairs? They would be found out anyhow, so why not discuss them openly?

The rooms in the house were arranged on four sides of an open 'yard'; each side had its own veranda and it was on the veranda that the occupants of the rooms sat all day and sometimes at night. And of course, they never shut their mouths once on the veranda.

The yard could not have been more than 50 or so feet in length, so every word uttered anywhere within its circumference might as well have been said into a microphone. For it could be heard by everyone else in the house. Sometimes, when arguments arose, one could even hear what was being said inside – the bedrooms!

There was always something to laugh at, discreetly, during such eavesdropping sessions.

The men in the house were the great talkers: their leader was my oldest step-brother, who was so close to my father in age that I was taught to call him 'Papa' Kofi Bunto, using exactly the same title with which I addressed my father.

Papa Kofi is best remembered for the uncanny artistry with which he approached the task of surviving by relying on what was in our green forest, and in our rivers. He was an expert shot (with gun or catapult) as well as the constructor of all types of traps and snares (contraptions with the generic name, 'fidie').

It was a sight to see him making fish traps from raffia cane and strings made out of the bark and roots of certain trees. No fish, crab or shrimp could escape his fish traps ('ajokuo'). It was good to be of use to him, for you were in his good books, he always made sure that as he was flaying game (for instance) he would cut the animal's liver to grill and consume – long before the rest of the animal was used in making soup.

These 'bonus cuts' of meat were extraordinarily delicious; no doubt. They signalled that one was a rather 'special' boy! That would arouse the envy of one's siblings (another form of delight altogether!)

The conversation the men allowed us to overhear was usually extremely witty and full of mysteries that we kids hardly understood.

For instance, they claimed to see, on some dark nights, objects in the shape of 'soft boxes' that floated in the sky and passed over our Houses! Yes – extraterrestrial objects weren't invented yesterday. When Papa Kofi joined in describing some of these alleged sightings, I was confused, for how could an expert trapper not be right in whatever he said about our world and the universe, generally?

And yet – loads in the air above our houses?

The conversations became most amusing when they were sometimes transformed into a clever play with words. I remember one of the men telling the story of how a man fell into an nkomena (mine-hole) and was rescued by his gang. The veracity of this story was punctured by the fact that no-one ever forgot the name of a member of his 'gang'!

After all, one's very life could depend on cooperation from all members of the 'gang', couldn't it?

How could one forget such an important name? It's as I have grown older myself and been rudely made aware that the memory can play tricks with one that I have quite understood what was happening to the men I listened to, with such avid interest when I was much younger!

The funny thing I found about the gang leader's story was that instead of asking plainly whether anyone else remembered the chap's name, he began to click the tips of his fingers, saying, “Ahhh! – you know that guy – He used to limp a bit – just mention his name and I shall remind you of it!” (Bɔ ne din na menkae wo!”)

I remembered such tricks when, as I got older, I sometimes forgot the names of commentators I was listening to in such programmes as Test Match Special on the BBC. I remember struggling with a normally easily-to-recall name! I realised that there was something wrong with me.

How could a commentary on a cricket match between England and India not include that golden voice from India? Maybe he would come on later, to break the Anglo-centric chatter of the British commentators then on the air? How could I remember the names of Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott, but not that…. that…. man's? The annoying thing was that I remembered the fantastic innings he had played in a match between the MCC and The Rest of the World, and even the year of the match – well, it was about 1984! I could see in my mind's eye, his funny helmet and the unforgettable manner the Australian commentator, Richie Benaud, had gently made fun of it. It was 'the most extraordinary' helmet Benaud had ever seen, Benaud said.

Ah! How irritating.
How could I forget that guy's name? He was the greatest Indian batsman before Sachin Tendulkar came along; he was famous for having publicly refused to accept membership of the MCC after the stewards at one of the entrances to Lord's had refused him entry, because he'd left his pass in the press box or something. Detail upon detail came into my mind. But not the guy's name!

So I moved to the computer. I was going to go to and type into the search box, 'Indian+top+batsman'. I knew I would get about one million entries in about half a microsecond.

But then, out of nowhere, I got the feeling that I should rebel against Google. I mean, Google made things so easy it endangered one's ability to recall facts by oneself! When I started on my career in journalism, you would have had to travel to a reference library to borrow the 'International Who's Who', thumb through the index (probably under a subheading entitled 'Sportsmen' and then, a sub-subheading: 'Cricketers', and then find out whether the name you wanted was listed.

Failing that, you might have had to borrow a general book or two on India and hope that sport – and cricket in particular – had been thought worthy of coverage by the editors. This made the information, when it did finally come to hand, quite unforgettable. Well – for a while!

No, I wouldn't Google. I tried some mental tricks: “Spell Mount Kosciuszko!” (A teacher of ours had once titillated us by saying that a talkative classmate had a head that 'looked like Mount Kosciuszko'! We had had to look through many books to find out whether Mount Kosciuszko existed. It did – in Australia.

I was engaged in such memory-testing tactics when one of the star commentators, a guy who could roll out a million words in a half-hour stint, got on to the mike. It was Henry Blofeld. He didn't disappoint. In less than three minutes, he'd found reason to mention the name, 'Sunil Gavaskar'!

Me, I got myself a beer. I was no longer the quizwizz of the BBC's Focus On Africa pro- gramme. Yep.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024