'An outsider is an insider somewhere'

Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri, who won the Man Booker Prize in 1991 for his novel Famished Road, shares his thoughts on destiny and tells us why not having the funds to complete his university education was, ultimately, a blessing

It has been a long day for Ben Okri. The 52-year-old has spent the earlier half of the day talking about his novel, The Famished Road, which features the child-spirit narrator, Azzaro. The book is an exploration of the real and dream worlds, strongly entrenched in the culture of his people. He sits down for a chat to discuss his views on destiny and how "incompleteness" challenges him.

Looking back, do you think it was important for you to hit roadblocks in your education?
I would rather that they hadn't happened. Whatever I have done is in spite of that. It has also been a great blessing: It meant that I knew enough, but not so much -- at the time --that it ended up imprisoning me.

Sometimes at university, we can be too mesmerised by our professors, they can mesmerise us with the power of tradition and make us feel as if there is no contribution that can be made. I never got to that point. They didn't get me to that point.

I am fascinated by incompleteness. Sometimes, not completing things forces you to find new lines of communication. So many of my friends who have PhDs tell me that certain things can't be done. I never had a sense that things can't be done -- that things were challenging, difficult, yes, but not that they can't be done.

Do you sometimes have the sense that you are on the outside, looking in?
I do have a sense from time to time -- walking down a street, at an event -- I do have a sense of just being a visitor here. I have had chats about it and noticed that most people have this spooky sense that reality is not what it seems; that there is something quite strange going on. Any sense of consciousness starts to awaken a slight sense of being an outsider. But here's a thought: An outsider is an insider somewhere.

Are you a believer in destiny, in the sense that our life path is pre-determined?
I sense that there is always, in our lives, a tension between destiny and will. I also think that maybe destiny is not imposed on us by birth -- it is something that we discover in our growth, in our evolution. A rose seed is destined to become a rose -- if it grows, if it has the right soil. In that sense, we have a destiny of flowering, of growing. 

As for the fact that specific things must happen to you, I don't believe that. Life would be too narrow; we wouldn't need to live it. We would just lie there on the ground.

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