Kinyanjui Kombani’s Ode to David Mulwa

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I never wanted to go to campus.

By the time my letter of admission to Kenyatta University came, I was a pool addict living in Ngando, a slum off Ngong Road. I was making what I saw was a tidy sum daily from betting. New pool ‘experts’ were being made every day, and I knew that after four years of campus it would be hard to come back and reclaim my spot as the reigning local champion.

My brother convinced me to try out the university for a week, and hooked me up with a student in KU who would show me around.

I hated my first sight Kenyatta University. It was humungous – a far cry from my secondary school in Molo. And everyone seemed to be rushing to some place, books and bags in hand. I knew I could not fit in. I made a decision that as soon as I find a call box (it was before the mobile phone explosion), I would call my brother to pick me up.

Two unrelated things made me change my mind. First, I got lost in the large university, and found myself in one of the student common rooms. Voila! There were no less than thirty pool tables in the common room! And they were perfect, unlike those ones at Ngando which were beaten and bent (and you had to shoot the balls at awkward angles to take advantage of ‘drift’).

The second thing was my chance meeting, a few days later, with David Mulwa.

Actually, it was not a meeting. He was walking from the Literature Department, deep in thought, and I said a ‘habari’. I had seen him in a few TV adverts.

“Aye!” He responded, as if we were bosom friends, and gave me a hearty handshake.

Flustered, I told him I was starting the registration process.

“Make sure you take my Creative Writing class!” he prompted.

I figured I could change my course to English/Literature. In secondary school, I was pretty good in English, so if I was going to campus it made sense to do something I could easily pass (Well, I was later to discover that English is not that easy, especially when it came to Phonetics & Phonological Studies, but that is a story for another day).

In my second year, I registered for Mulwa’s Creative Writing class, and it changed my life forever.

He read anything you gave him, and gave deep critiques. He taught us the writing craft, and introduced us to his mantra; “Keep Writing.” It was Mulwa who told me never to write for money: “Off with your head!” he said dramatically when I asked him about royalties. “If you write with money in mind you will die a slow, miserable death. Just write to tell a story, the money will come.”

By the time the semester ended, I had discovered my niche in prose fiction, and done a number of short stories. I had already started work on a novel which I named ‘Villains’. And when he read the handwritten novel, he wrote the words:

                        This is a MASTERPIECE!!!

                        Type it, and submit it to the publisher for immediate publication!

It was Mulwa who suggested the poignant prologue to the book. He figured that a segment showing a father being killed would stick in the reader’s mind more, as opposed to starting the book with five pool-playing ruffians.

 ‘The Last Villains of Molo’ has become one of the most critically acclaimed novels of the decade. The novel has been a study text at several universities in Kenya and one in Germany. It has also been mentioned in postgraduate work at Harvard, USA and University of Sussex, UK. If the book did not have Mulwa’s blessings, it would still be the novel I never wrote.

I was to interact with Mulwa many other times, especially because he was the patron of the Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre which I joined, and rose through the ranks to serve as Executive Director.

David Mulwa on the set of 'Higher Learning', a TV program by Spielworks Media

David Mulwa on the set of ‘Higher Learning’, a TV program by Spielworks Media

Mulwa’s energy is unrivalled. His performance as Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ will remain etched in my mind. He delivered the famous Shylock soliloquy with so much passion, energy and conviction that all the other actors forgot their lines. I was playing Antonio, and at some time forgot we were acting, and expected him to stab me!

He believes in ‘The show must go on’. A story is told that he once broke his leg in the middle of a play, but went ahead and delivered a superb performance while an ambulance waited outside the theatre.

Mulwa literally made me who I am. He taught me about focus, and passion. I have to report to him the progress on each of my writing projects, telling me not to be ‘swallowed by the bank’.

David Kakuta Mulwa has touched the lives of many other people in his fifty plus years of teaching, writing and acting. The prolific writer has published nineteen books, acted in more than 50 films and uncountable plays, done 200+ educational radio programs, and is still going strong. He is, as the Daily Nation once called him, A Man for All Seasons.

David Mulwa turned 70 this year and we are planning an event to allow many other people to honour him. David Mulwa @ 70, A Celebration, will be held at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi on 1st July 2015 from 6 pm. Entry is free and open to the public, thanks to the kind support of the Alliance Francaise.

The event will be moderated and co-hosted by renowned thespian and playwright John Sibi-Okumu, who worked with Mulwa in the inaugural production of Joe de Graft’s Muntu which subsequently became a high school set book for many years.

It is an informal event with no boring speeches; the only guest of honour is David Mulwa.

I am looking forward to telling Mulwa asante sana and hearing his famous response: “Aye!”


About Author

Kinyanjui Kombani, ‘The Banker who writes’, is a learning facilitator at an international bank, and the author of six books.


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