Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Nigerian Inua Ellams had to move out from his conservative hometown in Jos to the capital city Lagos and finally settle down in London. The inter-familial rifts and refusal to accept cross-communal marriage became the contributing factor to the family to leave their home country.
At the age of 12, a young boy was thrust into a new life in a strange new place and has now expressed that wondrous and adventurous experience to the world. The 14th Tale, written and performed by Inua himself, chronicles the hilarious exploits of a mischievous problem child in a narrative that marks his journey from the clay streets of Nigeria to the roof tops in Dublin and finally to London.
Inua recalls his initial days in London when he was introduced to certain concepts that were alien to him -- racism being one of them. "The perspective about Nigeria was different. Nigerians are stereotyped as people who'd like to go to any limits to earn some money. Unfortunately, it is true for some of them, but not all," says Inua. "I didn't know the colour of my skin was a problem to the people and at first I didn't mind it at all. Some of my friends were angered and explained to me how I was supposed to feel offended at racist remarks," he adds. In an innocent attempt to blend into the new environment, Inua tried the regular techniques but was advised, quite resolutely, to "stop acting white". He, on the other hand, had no idea what this meant until he left for Dublin for further education.
Being the only person of African origin in the batch, Inua found it hard to blend with the crowd. "I couldn't escape it. That was the time I had to choose whom to be. Was I going to be the black guy who loves hip-hop, or was I going to be the black guy who plays basketball. Quite frankly, I hated hip-hop. The local Irish people made me listen and develop a taste, which is funny," he states laughingly. But that was the point in his life where his identity had come under scrutiny. "That is when I decided that to be what I am, I should not be bothered by what people think of me. I had to do the things I love and do them my way," Inua states.
A certain sense of consciousness about the political and social scenario had made Inua a completely new person. "I knew if I needed to make a mark here, I had to carry an arrogant swagger about myself. I had to be proud of what I was and I had to tell the people to communicate with me on my terms," he says. After that, life changed for Inua who began to participate in the art and culture activities at his college and slowly made a name for himself. He candidly remarks that, "It is funny that my search for identity led me to writing poetry through which I express myself and my freedom. But I do it in a language that is not mine but was imposed upon me by the British (who also colonised Nigeria)."
Inua was in the city to conduct a workshop on his style of performance and also stage the play for the city's audience. 14th Tale, which, as Inua says, is 80% factual and 20% magic sprinkled on top. It is not simply a hilarious account of a mischief monger but is also a coming of age story. It is about a boy who, as he grows up and learns that the world has an order. The monologue is poetic and rhythmic and humour is the main ingredient of the narrative. Inua believes that although the setting may be different, Indians will still connect to the plot on two levels. "Firstly, with a character that stands up to authority and is in search of his identity, it is a universal concept. And secondly, the issue of immigration is pretty alive and current in India too," says Inua.
Every person has a story, very few stories get told and fewer still are told delightfully. Inua Ellams’ 14th Tale is one such account of a journey from innocence to experience which hands out a few lessons amidst a lot of smiles.
Published in DNA After Hrs (Pune) on November 6, 2012