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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Metamorphosis


“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Thus opens Franz Kafka’s 1915 short novel, The Metamorphosis, a bizarre account as riveting as it made me stop and think. 

    Samsa is a hardworking man selflessly taking care of his parents and sister. But all that is forgotten following that queer and unforeseeable morning when he finds he has changed into a bug! 

   Now his family can hardly come to terms with his odd condition, and poor Samsa is isolated and fed on garbage as he begins a new life of desperation and inescapable doom. The outrageous treatment reflects contemporary society where individuals who lead lives of sacrifice and self-denial for the benefit of their communities oft times end up being betrayed, alienated and left to die alone. 

     That’s why Eric Santner calls “The story of Gregor Samsa an initiation into a universe of abjection.” The beauty about it however is that Samsa, in spite of the unfair treatment from his family, accepts his plight with admirable equanimity. In fact, he can be very ironically humorous. Somewhere in the novel, when he is attracted by his sister’s music, Samsa, now an insect, crawls nearer to enjoy it in close proximity but stops to wonder if he “was an animal that music moved him so!” 

     In a style as lucid as it is ludic, the author movingly captures the loneliness, frustration, helplessness and all the psychological torment connected with individuals that find themselves entrapped by forces beyond their control, all made the worse by an indifferent world. 

    This Austrarian-Czech masterpiece is one every lover of literature should read before their death, if you ask me. As Nobel-Prize winning author Elias Canetti is quoted on the back cover, “In The Metamorphosis, Kafka reached the height of his mastery: he wrote something which he could never surpass, because there is nothing which The Metamorphosis could be surpassed by—one of the few great, perfect poetic works of this century.” 

--Sunday Monitor (Sunday Life Magazine, page 16), August 22, 2010

'I believe it’s my weaknesses that make me precious'

Precious TM is the host of the Pundonor Magazine show on NBS TV. She told DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA about her obsession with gossip 

What’s so precious about Precious TM?
I know you’re expecting me to talk about the endless goodness or Godliness about me, but I believe it’s the my weaknesses that make me precious. One gets to discover this when they closely know me because just looking at me shows only the good side.

What’s your fascination with gossip?
The grapevine in which gossip about celebrities in the entertainment industry moves is so interesting; from the house keepers to the top offices in the country, there are no clear verifications from the media or the personas involved. However, the question in my head is always, is it true or false? The need to know the truth gives me an adrenaline rush.

 When were you happiest?
Getting a dream job, but recently, there is this four-year-old girl who tends to follow me from the stage on my way home saying Pundonor Magazine all the way. It not only makes me happy, but the memory of it makes me proud each time.

 What was your most embarrassing moment?
One time I was called by some top executives in town to cover a corporate event for my show, but when I got there with my crew, we were bounced and it looked like we were gate-crashing. Imagine the look on my ever smiling face!

Which living person do you most admire and why?
Definitely my parents, because most of my admirable traits came from my upbringing.

What is your most unappealing habit?
I am impatient about almost everything.

What is your favourite scent?
The scent that follows a hot steamy cup of coffee really works for me.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
On one of those reality shows, Eve Mbabazi, you know her right? (I nod.) She loudly said the F-word to me and referred to our Ugandan beauty contestants as bitches.

When did you last cry and why?
I got robbed of my bag and was stuck somewhere with no money and no mobile phone. I wept.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a professional media practitioner; the fact that I’m safe to know that even if I wasn’t on television, I would still be in the media, probably writing, using the power of my voice for radio, advertising, production or public relations.

What song at your funeral?
Don Moen’s music would be okay.

--Sunday Monitor, August 29, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

The civil engineer who builds words and sentences

When we met, I couldn’t help asking Nick Twinamatsiko if he is a writer, or engineer by default, to which he replied with a broad smile that he always knew he was going to be a writer, Dennis D. Muhumuza writes
It’s a peculiarity in itself that a writer whose novels revolve around life’s oddities is a university lecturer of civil engineering. In normal circumstances, you would expect such a person to pursue a humanities course, seeing as he wanted to be a creative author that early.

Because of his love for mathematics, his dream high school combination was Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Literature (PCM/L). He was denied Literature, so he retained PCM and passed it colourfully, getting admitted on government sponsorship for Civil Engineering at Makerere University. That’s how civil engineering and creative authorship became his “wives” and he’s a happy man!

On top of lecturing in engineering at Kyambogo University, this man of small physical stature owns a publishing firm - Pilgrims Publications and is the author of two novels and a poetry anthology, Till the Promised Land & Other Poems (2004). His autobiographical novel, Jesse’s Jewel (2007), won the 2008 National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu) literary prize and his 2010 release, The Chwezi Code, is basking in attention on blogs and social networking websites.

The 31-year-old does not even hail from a family of writers or book enthusiasts. That’s why you’ll probably find it peculiarly interesting that what sparked his writing interest was a Biblical verse about young men dreaming dreams (Joel 2:28.)

“It had such a pull on me; the way those words were arranged,” he says hypnotically. “It made me realise how badly I wanted to be a writer and use words as beautifully!”

The he came across Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974), a hilarious domestic comedy by Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo that left a compelling impression on him so much that day after day he contemplated writing his own novel.

However, the real turning point came in 1990 when the then 11-year-old was picked from P.6 in second term and taken to P.7, where he beat an entire Mbarara Municipality in Mock Examinations and proceeded to score aggregate 4 in PLE, something that had last been done four years earlier at his school, Mbarara Municipal School.

“It created in me the conviction that what anybody could do I could also do,” he says pragmatically. “I discovered that life had many possibilities; that things could be done differently as opposed to the way they were; for instance, that one didn’t have to study all the classes in school to be competent.”

It’s with this new-found confidence, now ingrained in his system, that Twinamatsiko embarked on writing his first novel during his S.4 vacation. It was around this time that he encountered the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde among other famous authors that have influenced him profoundly.

With this self-belief, he has been toiling to reconfigure the notion that the best writers are possibly those that have studied literature or English studies in high school or at university.

He however admits that as Jesse’s Jewel gradually took shape, he struggled to discover what famous French novelist Gustave Flaubert called the “mot juste” (the right word) – a limitation he thinks would probably not have surfaced if he had had advanced English studies.

“My belief though is that a work of art must have a message, meaning and philosophy,” he says. “I always strive for that before anything else.”

This is evidently drawn from his hero, Dickens, whose works carry deep moral themes, yet he’s equally bowled over by the artistry of Oscar Wilde and the poetic touch of Shakespeare. He strives to learn from these literary luminaries but adds that the Bible has as well enriched his evolvement as a writer.

“Being born-again has given me a sense of purpose,” he says introspectively, “I always aspire to deal with important questions rather than trivia and that’s to a large extent due to faith that my writing talent is a gift from God.”

Twinamatsiko finds it grating how Ugandan publishing houses are running down the industry by relegating fiction in favour of educational materials in the name of commercialism.

To the single ladies, this engineer-author comes from Mbarara, went to Ntare School and is still single, but be warned; it appears his blood is only stirred by the peculiar, at least according to his fictional protagonists! In fact, he’s working on a collection of essays, The Chwezi Factor, in which he explores things that are natural but misconstrued as supernatural.

God willing, Twinamatsiko hopes to become a fulltime writer in two years. Whether his craftsmanship will endure the test of time is left for the future to tell.

--Sunday Monitor, August 15, 2010

‘I’m very impatient with mediocrity, cowardice, stupidity and hypocrisy’

Julius Mutabazi is the out-going chairperson of West Ankole Diocesan Youth Council, an evangelist and an aspiring MP for Bushenyi Municipality. He told DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA what has kept him going

When were you happiest?
When I was admitted to Makerere University to do a Law degree course last year. It has always been my dream to be a lawyer. Some people could not understand my decision to pursue another Bachelors Degree when I’ve one already.

A preacher and now a politician; can these mix?
Absolutely! We need people with a deep sense of godliness, integrity, patriotism, and humanity in the political arena.

What is your greatest fear?
Failure and mediocrity. I also fear that unspeakable degeneration and its ambassadors might completely annihilate the soul of this beautiful country and sink it into a bottomless dark pit.

What is your most treasured possession?
My relationship with God, my smile, my uniqueness and my library.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
God; I also love me, people, books, music and my bed. Books and my bed have been there for me through thick and thin.

What is the greatest misconception people have about you?
Just because I wear a smile always, people think I’m an “easy” person and try to ride my back. But I can really be tough. You can’t easily blackmail or manipulate me. I’m very impatient with mediocrity, cowardice, stupidity and hypocrisy.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi. He is an icon of passion for evangelism and has selflessly invested himself in proclamation of the Gospel. I also admire Mugisha Muntu. He is an epitome of gentleness, patriotism and humility in politics. Both men have great hearts for young people.

Which living person do you most despise and why?
I don’t despise people. There is so much good in and about people we define as bad and evil. I only despise the evil they do.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
A hymn - My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being able to “keep on keeping on” and not succumbing to despair when life was pretty tough and perilous. I have also tried to stay true to myself. You know life can be really hard.

--Sunday Monitor, August 15, 2010

Better than a fish hooker

Title: Am I an Independent Woman?
Author: Teddie M. Nagaddya
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 

It should come as potent news, especially to women in the developing world, that they can beat the odds and enjoy the greater privileges in life that have for long been the preserve of men, according to the newly released Am I an Independent Woman?

The 91-page self-help book is written to “the millions of women out there who have always had the thought of becoming independent or self-reliant adults but did not know how, when and why.”

It explores the essence of the expression “independent woman” and convinces women that through determination, working smart and focus, they can have as much affluence and influence as their male counterparts.

“The power is in your hands to live your life to the fullest only if you can appreciate the freedom associated with being an independent person,” writes Teddie M. Nagaddya. She’s however bold with women who use sex to get to where they want, and those that abandon their jobs or refuse to work, preferring to wholly depend on their partners for all their needs: “I think some of the things women do are dim-witted!”

Men are also reminded of their need of a woman: “Men will agree with me that they desperately need women in order to keep their sanity. Without the feminine touch, the world of men would be cold and impersonal.”

The book gives a good definition of womanhood and emphasises the importance of self-respect and self-confidence as qualities of a winner, as opposed to those of a loser.

It is interspersed with real-life stories and inspirational quotes that will stir women to follow in the footsteps of phenomenal achievers like Mother Theresa, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Joyce Meyer and Noerine Kaleeba of TASO among others.

Ms Nagaddya’s writing style is bubbly and her colloquialism makes her book an enjoyable read. By the end, the reader is persuaded that being an independent woman feels absolutely good.

Importantly though, the writer stresses that being “an independent adult should not only benefit you as an individual but also the society you live in to make this world a better place for all humankind.” 

--Sunday Monitor, August  15, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The pursuit of truth is the only antidote to our gullibility

Title: Chwezi Code
Author: Nick Twinamatsiko
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza
Available: In bookshops for Shs15,000 

The newly released The Chwezi Code, Nick Twinamatsiko’s second novel after Jesse’s Jewel, hilariously embodies the deceitfulness in our society, the enormity of which is rooted in the ignorance of the masses.

Mugu’s dream of a bright future is shattered when he’s dismissed from university for exam malpractice with a girl he’s crazy about. In confusion and tormented by guilt of wasting three years, he joins insurgents that are storming Mbarara Army Barracks to flush out Amin’s soldiers.

It’s his golden chance to curve himself a career in the military, but Mugu loves his life too much to risk it. So, he escapes in an abandoned boat and as he rows in the dark on River Rwizi, sudden thoughts of the legendary demigods, the Chwezi, preoccupy his mind, never letting go.

When he comes across a tree that seems to “have been standing for centuries”, it becomes the spot for his shrine as he begins his new life as a Chwezi priest. It’s flabbergasting how easily people are hoodwinked as they begin showering him with endless gifts in exchange for counterfeit blessings. Although one clever woman, Mable, sees through his shadiness, she plays along, manoeuvring to sleep with him to give her barren husband children.

The 206-page-turner penetrates the duplicity and depravity that has befouled contemporary society and the alarming extent to which people contaminate themselves for mammon. Its magnetism is in the inner conflict of the central figure as he struggles to believe in the dubious spirits he serves and in his uncertainty as to whether he’ll ever disentangle himself from their grip.

The novel reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous short story, Young Goodman Brown, whose protagonist takes a walk in the forest one night and is alarmed to find everyone he respected as morally upright at the devil’s party. He realises that all men are evil and loses all his faith.

Equally, The Chwezi Code shows you that society is enmeshed in wickedness almost beyond redemption. The author subtly challenges us to embrace reading and be shrewd in the pursuit of truth, for that is the only antidote to our gullibility as a people.

-- Sunday Monitor, August 8, 2010

When bravado turned sour

When two incorrigible brothers discovered a fat lizard on a tree and were determined to see who wounded it first, they were unprepared for its arrogance and surprise reaction, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.
Two brash boys were playing when they spotted a bluish lizard spread boisterously on a tree, enjoying the noonday sun. Yuko, the taller of the two, rollicked at the discovery, his finger pointing it out hyperactively. He searched about for a stick, his earnest face twisting with impatience.

“Gather as many stones,” he ordered his kid brother, Kato and hurried off. Yuko soon returned with a crude thing that turned out to be a sling. His face brightened up when he looked up and saw the fat lizard still on the tree. Suddenly, the wild creature lifted its head and stared at him hard and suspiciously, like he was a repulsive intruder, its bulgy eyes roving sinisterly.

For some elusive reason, Yuko wished it could slip into its crevice. He hurled a little stone at the cold-blooded creature and it didn’t budge. He concluded it had guts and was daring him for combat! The boys went on rampage, flinging at it, but the lizard was an artful dodger; it kept tilting this and that way and ducking with uncanny precision while the shots whizzed by.

The sun came down even harder; sweat poured from the boys’ faces as they pelted the defiant reptile in a flurry of turns, focused on having its head smashed. But the tiny monster was too wily to be downed. It briefly hoisted itself up on its tail and moved its head with arrogance, as if telling its little enemies, “This is my fortress, where no man can take me on and win!”

As he picked the second last of the stones, Yuko, who had missed for the umpteenth time, finally said, a clue of resignation in his voice, “If I don’t knock it off this time around, I’ll go home.” Collecting himself and inhaling mighty deeply, his right eye closed like a soldier about to pull a trigger, Yuko unleashed a hot shot that struck a tiny portion of the tail, stunning the lizard.

“Darn, I got you!” Yuko cried, triumphantly.

“Darn, you didn’t,” Kato rejoined, “It’s still on the tree!”

Yuko almost slapped him, but remembering that his brother had always been naughty with words, handed him the sling instead, saying sarcastically, “You, little sir, let’s see you knock it down with your enviable marksmanship then!”

“No,” said Kato, resolutely, “I would rather wrench it off that tree with my bare hands; I’ll make it shed its ugly skin and chop off its balls,” he paused for effect “And have them for supper!” Yuko doffed his imaginary hat at the boy’s exaggerated bravado and surreal sense of humour. What did the seven-year-old know about “balls” anyway?

With a devilish smile, Kato picked the last stone and painstakingly put it in position. The lizard, watching him and still smarting from the scrape of Yuko’s earlier shot, flared and inflated its rugged bulk and as the boy drew closer, his hand slowly and steadily pulling the strap before releasing the missile, the lizard made its lunge and grabbed Kato by the neck.

The boy fell and emitted a cry of desperation, then quailed and kicked. The lizard was locked into his neck now, its rough tail oscillating ferociously. Yuko yanked it off, leaving scratches like tiny trenches from which blood oozed. He stooped and turned Kato over, examining the frighteningly swollen patch on his neck. There was a little foam at the corners of his mouth, his tongue was sticking out and he looked like a corpse.

“Oh God – he is dead,” he cried in panic. A certain gentleman happened to be driving by and Yuko flagged him down. Kato was rushed to the nearby hospital, where it was discovered he was not dead. Rather, he had fainted from the shock of the ugly lizard flinging itself upon his neck!

--Sunday Monitor, August 1, 2010

Taking pride in who we are as a people

Title: Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe
Author: Wycliffe Kiyingi
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

It’s rich in content and language and bustles with humour while addressing the serious questions of bad governance and poverty; in all, an African state struggling to deal with post-economic colonialism.

Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe is what established Wycliffe Kiyingi as a playwright of indisputable distinction, alongside his contemporaries Robert Serumaga, Rose Mbowa and Byron Kawadwa, all acclaimed for Uganda's theatric glory of the 60s and 70s.

The four-act play revolves around the political and economic mess that has reigned in Uganda since 1945. All along until 1945, Indians monopolise trade and commerce throughout the country.

The turning point comes about in 1945 when firebrand World War II veteran, Mudiima, returns home and tells natives hilarious stories of what he saw in Burma and India, the home country of Mulji, one of the Indian traders who has been exploiting them. He tells them that in India, every business is in the hands of the natives and wonders why that can’t be the situation back home. They are particularly shocked to hear that Mulji is actually one of the poorest in his motherland. Thus the hatred against Indian traders in Muduuma intensifies, culminating in a trade boycott against Indians in 1958.

And then, in 1972, Indians are ostracised and their businesses allocated to Ugandans. But this redistribution is tainted by the politics and intrigue that have remained the bane of our political and socio-economic status quo.
It’s actually this that gives the 148-page power play; its ability to stand the test of time by eloquently and relevantly speaking to the modern Ugandan/African even when it was written over 50 years ago.

The author challenges us all to take pride in who we are as a people and to get involved and manage our society well; after all this is our heritage; thus the title Muduuma Kwe Kwaffe, whose literal translation is “Muduuma is our Home”.

The 80-year-old Kiyingi, who has written radio and TV dramas since 1954 when he established the first all-African theatrical group, African Artist Association, purposely to promote native drama, was crowned “Golden Artist” by the Ugandan National Theatre in honour of his prominent contribution to the country’s theatre industry.

--Sunday Monitor, July 25 2010