And then DD Phiri

Just how could an individual love writing so much? That is the question most have when they look back at the life of Malawi’s devout writer and historian Desmond Dudwa Phiri (alias DD Phiri) who was buried on Tuesday at HHI cemetery in Blantyre. 

The long-time revered columnist gave in to a pneumonia bout in the early hours of Sunday at Mwaiwathu Private Hospital in Blantyre where he had been receiving treatment for three weeks. When news crept in that he was no-more, suddenly the value of his literal contribution in the eyes of many doubled.

By some strange tradition, it is hard for people to appreciate the shift that some individuals make in their various fields of expertise. There are individuals who have toiled, shown exceptional diligence and have sustained their passion in their own light but have hardly received the recognition they deserve.

Perhaps, to an extent, the 88-year-old fell in the bracket of such individuals. Sadly. Maybe because as a nation we are well-known to have a poor reading culture. Given that pedigree, it is almost impossible to honour a son whose life oozed writing and whose very soul comprised just ideas and knowledge he wanted to share with the world.

There was nothing he felt he knew better than writing. He therefore invested his life feeding his thirst for knowledge by reading and doing extensive research. He always shared with the world through the numerous books he published and his several weekly newspaper columns the rewards from his reading and research.

The truckloads of his literature informed varied sectors including economics, history, politics and arts.

Understandably, his death is a big loss. Every time you reached out to him for a news interview, he always brought out very interesting perspectives. He was a man who lived in his own world.

Having contributed to this publication through his columns since 1993, the Nation Publications brands will probably feel the strongest pitch. As many writers have come to appreciate, it is no easy thing to sustain a column. And DD Phiri churned out well-researched columns weekly, on very complicated topics for decades.

I do not think they are still made like that anymore. So, the task of finding his suitable replacement may take as long as his own life spanned. But before we even start grappling with the search for another able individual, for now let us celebrate his life.

His work and life touched many souls in different ways. Some who may never even have met the humble soul that was DD Phiri. Many just connected with him through his writings and to them too, he remains an icon.

But some got almost a first-hand effect of a genius and a selfless soul that lay in him. One such individual is ‘my landlord’ on this page, James Chavula. As editor for Features Desk at Nation Publications Limited, he was responsible for handling the raw copies from DD Phiri and processing them for publication.

It was a task he benefited from in as far as his Facebook eulogy attests: “He wrote and wrote when we thought his brain was going to rest. Here was a versatile author who wrote when and what he wanted when some politicians would have loved his to confine himself to some corner of trivialities.

“It was an uplifting privilege to edit the DD Phiri Column which always came fully edited, with a generous amount of tippex smears, words scratched out and best fits inserted in a Scotman’s classical scrawl. I will forever miss the challenge and insights DD Phiri brought to my world of editing.”

Here was DD Phiri, when comes another? Fare thee well distinguished son of the soil. We count ourselves lucky to have shared in your lifetime. n

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