Essay of the Week

THE CITY AS A SHADOW

THE CITY AS A SHADOW

By Uthman Shodipe

The city opens up everywhere in dramatic, vivid vacancy. There is a certain arresting enlargement about this place. It is in its detaining silence and its rampart lack of aspirational stirrings. It is a foreboding place, sullen as sullen can be.

In the flatlands and in the crescent of the hills, in the endless stretches of asphalt, in the howling emptiness of the spacious boulevards, in the teeming vastness of the monstrous concrete structures and in the narrow confines of the zinc roof hovels -there is that eerie imbalance of pretended normalcy and a striking sense of languor and sheer vacuity.

There is a gripping inertia everywhere. There is that uniform etching of exhaustion and the complete weariness of thought and limb. Even from afar, you could feel the universal numbness of mind and soul. You could feel the penetrating dullness of the spirit; the weighed-down sourness, the heavy lock of undefinable,  biting surrender, the acquiescence in defeat. There is an overwhelming bitterness here which is concealed in withdrawn, inactive resignation.

Here, even in the sparse intermittent tumult of vehicular traffic, there is no intimation of a semblance of passionate exertions. There is no burst of fury, no gathered storm of unleashed, intense vivacity. It lacks the poignant hurry and the quick, angry dash of that buoyant commercial capital.

Here, man and machine move in sedate, unhurried settledness. There is hardly any tug of stirring animation. There is no driven, excitable ardor. No vigorous propulsion of pronounced excitement and actuating purposefulness. All is sad and dreary. Here, man and machine lumber along in noiseless reluctance of wearied indifference. The city appears to be draped in a thick, sickening envelopment of a sombrous shroud.

There is a total deepening in the mournful air of relentless alienation and the awful entrenchment in a dark foreboding in this desolate outpost. All is grim and quiet and sorrowful. Nothing here is enviable.

We had entered the city with the infectious quietude that reigns everywhere. We drove sullenly with eclipsed thoughts, with lost, hungry pondering, with solemn grasping for the intangible, harassed in the individual recesses with a thousand queries and conflicting instigations.

Whatever happened to the charm and the famed allure of old? Where lies the once giddy air of excitement, the ringing exuberance of tinseled men and women of power,  the ubiquitous radiance of flashy wealth, the pomp and luster of shared contentment, the vast, easy rollicking in sybaritic flourishes ?

All is gone! There is no happiness here. The gaiety of the young and the old, of the rich and poor is long deserted, banished by the rampant austere largeness imposed by the new powers. Even in the midst of the new masters of the realm, their privileged accoutrement of office is slender and sparing. They too wear a grudging badge of severe officialdom.

The advantages of office are now spartan, frugal, even severe, uncluttered with the cloying licentiousness of yesterday. From the modest appropriateness of ministerial significations to the basic niceties of position and power, the defining emblem is a dour overwhelming restraint, the withdrawn, strict distancing from the vulgar and the obscene.

Even the once obnoxious convoy of power with its endless train of glimmering fleet of excessive luxury on wheels wailing in atrocious roar, chasing the average motorist out of the road, is now diminished into skeletal presence, now hoarse and mute, restricted to a negative siren.

Again in our entrance into the city which was caught in the pervading numbing largeness, our mission which sprang from optimism and a roseate vision, was now tempered, cautious, denied any assertive assurance.

We had come as partisan evangelists, the few chosen men, nudged by conscience and idealism, prompted by a necessary defense of a native earth, now mandated to canvass for a rallying national support for a position which of right should be ours. We combined the Homefront solicitation with the specific canvassing  for a preferred candidate who is credentialed in formidable national attainments.

From the filigreed expanses of one leader to the other, we confront the same gripping refrain of tempering restraint and tepid, hobbled animation. From the few lingering parade of hired hands and the dwindled courtiers, the magic had worn off. The once thronging endlessness of favor seekers, the ceaseless importuning troops of strangers had all vanished, leaving the once lustrous expanses in tarnished and faded majesty.

It is true that such reversal of fortune is to be expected in these expanses of the men of power of yesterday. Their time in the sun is spent and over. Their tinseled perch and fame have yielded place to the reality of the new men whose sun is now aglow.

But even for the new glowing men of fame, there is hardly any riot in felicity. There is no faint registering in the substantiation of purpose and declarative vision. There is no observable defined journey of orchestrated national contemplation.

They inhabit a position without articulated concept of resolved objective. They sing  the hosannah of a great new dawn without the observable tools of a scripted goal and mission.

The reality then is a city and a power drained in actualizing reference, stripped of a grand purposeful destiny, dazed and inactive in a wilting monotony of probes and more probes as if the sole actuating fixity of governance is the primitive crusade of the cudgel and nothing more! We must however concede to power the necessary sanitizing purges to rework the nuances of governance and re-establish general probity.

But no progressive society is merely latched to a narrow restrictive characterization. There are numerous other societal contentions without which a nation is hindered in growth and developmental graces. There must be that natural balance in grappling with national challenges. It is in this erroneous perception of the purpose of the state that the city and the new masters are all presently united in a stifling inertia and general torpitude.

In the narrow grim pursuit of the new powers, in their primitive venomous crusade against all invented foes, everything else is discarded save their blind rigid dogma and a deranged latching to vindictive totality.

In the Idylls of the King, the immortal Tennyson tells us of the shining City on the hill; the wondrous Camelot woven in the majesty of poetry and power where there is that grand equipoise of patriotism and gallantry, where the universal grasp of the purpose of the state is so instinctive and true that almost nullifies the essence of a shepherd since everyone is actuated in the unifying ethos of the state.

It is in this reality that Tennyson exudes: “And some there be that hold the King a Shadow the City real…The City is built to music, therefore never built at all, and therefore built forever… ”

Though the Tennysonian Camelot lacks an enduring wondrous perfection and is without the ultimate paradisal portrait.  Not to worry. There is no such society draped in unblemished magic of the famed wonderland. But Camelot still illustrates the selfless firmness of a great king and patriot amid the bruising severities of his challenges to cobble together an idyllic society.

Resolved: The good power is about the enlightened vision and the higher ideals. It is about the sworn motivation of the people to the greater good; the selfless exactitude that predicates its own fulfillment on the advancement of the national destiny.