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Christian message in a seemingly unChristian novel

Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
Of late, I have found myself grappling with issues of life, death and faith. On a friend’s Facebook wall, this question was once asked: Why were you born? My answer was, to suspend death only but for a while. Others spoke of all these purpose-driven ideals, etc.

A more scientific friend spoke of the sexual union of two people who decided to keep me as a trophy of their union. According to my scientific friend, there is no other reason for being alive except that.

While the scientific friend’s answer seems to be premised on dry scientific logic, I have of late found myself asking if there is really something for me in this life that will enable me to secure something for myself beyond the curtain of this present life? Where am I heading?

All these things I am gathering together for myself, what will become their fate when I am dead and gone? In fact, is death a journey, some sort of transition to something bigger and better? When I die, will I be able to see my children, my wife, my parents, my friends, my house, my books?

Will I be able to see people reading my books and laugh at their misinterpretations of my writings? Or, as my scientific friend said, when I die, will I just become a part of the billion atoms that are chaotically colliding and diverging and giving the world its form?

The truth is, when I die, I want to be conscious. I want to know, like Lot’s wife, what’s happening in the world I left behind. I do not want to be forgotten. I want to know what it feels like for the people I left behind to live their life without me. Ndinotya kurova, kusavapo.

That is why I identify with Ignatius Mabasa’s “Imbwa Yemunhu” (2013). The central character’s spiritual journey reminds me of mine. The title is almost misleading because it makes you think that this novel is a collection of expletives aimed at the narrator’s or author’s object of ridicule. But that is not the case.

This is a well-written novel whose use of post-modern techniques in Shona places it on another level. The stream of consciousness in Shona that this novel deploys can be traced back to Charles Mungoshi’s “Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura?” and, later on, Raymond Choto’s “Tongoona”. Contemporary writers who have utilised this style include Tinashe Muchuri in “Chibarabada” and Mabasa himself in “Mapenzi”.

Like I said, the title is misleading, until you actually delve into the story itself and discover that the central character, Musavhaya, is the dog who is taking the reader on a tour of his search for spiritual salvation and truth, a search that is akin to mine. He is a dog surrounded by dogs. The day he exorcises these canine demons from his life he too ceases to be a dog.
Says Musa: “Pane murume anembwa dzakawanda. Imbwa idzi dzakasangana, hombe nediki, dzakakora nedzakaonda.

Imbwa idzodzo ndidzo dzinondinetsa. Dzinonditandanisa dzichindi hukura. Dzinondiruma tsapfu dzangu ndichisara ndava nemaronda anoyerera ropa. Asi imbwaidzi dzinondisiya kana ndikatizira mubhawa. Nguva zhinji dzinobva dzadzokera kumuridzi wadzo, kana kuti dzinondigarira pamusiwo webhawa.”

Then: “Dzimwenguva kana ndadhakwa paye ndavekuda kubuda mubhawa, ndinenge ndisisatye imbwa dzemurume uya. Ndinenge ndisisatye nekuti neniwo ndinenge ndave imweye mbwadzake. Ndinenge ndave nemakumbo mana nemuswe, asindichiziva kuti ndiri munhu anonzi Musa. Asi murume uye nembwa dzake dzinosanganisira inini anotishevedza, obva atituma kunoruma mukoma Hamuna Maiguru” (p. 4).

So throughout the narration, Musa is battling canine demons which send him on a drinking mission, a mission which transforms him into a dog as well. So the whole narrative is a journey into the anguish-ridden life of Musa and his eventual spiritual salvation that comes when he finds love: “Ndafara pandamutswa nemudzimai wangu Brenda. Ndafara nekuti ndaona kuti ndichiri munhu, uye kuti nyemwerero yaBrenda yanga ichindinyaradza. Ndafara nekuda kwekuti kuhope, handisirini ndega ndanga ndiri imbwa yemunhu. Ndiri kunamata kuti dai imbwa dzemurume uya, murume wembwadzake dzekunditandanisa dzikasatanga kunditandanisa zvakare. Ikozvino dzakarara imbwa idzodzo, dai dzikasawana anomutsa” (p. 152).

I understand Musavhaya’s anguish. I identify with him. He is an educated dog, a dog that went to university and has a degree, a dog that writes stories and reads newspapers like me, a dog that just gives itself over to cravings that are beyond its control. But even in that wretched existence that seems to have become its calling, the dog has an idea that there is a way somewhere, an explanation, a deeper spiritual truth that can give its life some meaning.

This is a story of man’s fight with the follies that blind his vision and lead him astray from the path of righteousness. It is a fight that many of us understand. When you want to stop it, to stop visiting those places, to stop looking at that treacherous invitation, to stop altogether and give your life to a higher calling, you find yourself back at the beginning: where what you think is happiness is just a painful dance on glowing ambers, where a Friday night out leads to a Saturday of regret and an empty wallet, where the joy that you gulp down in fiery tots has a false tinge to it, like something that will one day come to a sudden and unceremonious end.And so the vacuum inside, the vast emptiness that demands a Friday every week (until it demands every day of the week) to be filled, remains and torments you for days on end.

“Imbwa Yemunhu” is therefore a narration of Musa’s journey in his pursuit of lasting happiness away from the temporary and painful measures that he attempts to take in order to find that permanent joy that surpasses understanding.

I salute Mabasa for penning such a story without appearing preachy and sermonic, something that can turn potential readers away. This is a story whose utilisation of post-modern techniques in Shona places it on the level of pathfinders in the Shona writing tradition. All of this is achieved using the witty wisdom and ingenuity that those who have listened to Mabasa’s stories know very well. I saw myself in Musa. My only hope is to one day wake up from this dream, like him, and gaze into the face of eternal love and find my joy again.

Source :

The Herald

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