Ignatius Mabasa Shelling The Nuts
Li Jih-hua was a great Chinese painter and connoisseur. He told the story when Meng Chang (AD 919-965) obtained a copy of the drawing of Chung Kuei (subduer of evil spirits) done by Wu Taotse (eightth century), he asked Huang Chuan (a famous painter) to make a change in it. In the painting,
Chung Kuei was gouging out the eye of a devil with the forefinger of his left hand, and Meng Chang wanted Huang to change it so that the thumb was doing it.
Huang made a new drawing and presented it to him, saying: “When Wu made this drawing, the whole force of Chung Kuei’s body was concentrated in the forefinger. I cannot change it (without changing the whole posture). The whole force of this painting of mine is also concentrated on the tip of the thumb.” Li Jih-hua concluded by saying: “I often tell this story to people who come to me with a piece and composition and beg me to correct it, to understand why I decline.”
Back home, my novel “Imbwa Yemunhu” was rejected by the Zimsec textbooks selection team.
I am not saying my works or anybody’s should not be rejected, but it is the reason for the rejection that appalled me. I was told that feminists were not happy that I killed a female character and allowed her male lover, Musa, to go unpunished. I was accused of promoting violence against women. That accusation made me feel so sick and disrespected. Much as a writer is a director, stories also have a way of dictating their course? In “Imbwa Yemunhu”, Julie had to die even if I wanted her to live. But, I am told that I should also have killed her lover, instead of redeeming him.
The unfortunate effect of such interference is that as a writer I lose trust in institutions, I also lose my confidence and freedom. I feel like I should be consulting certain offices as to whether my writings are suitable for Zimbabweans. Yet, the moment we start doing that, then we may as well commission writers and give them specific terms of reference on what their characters should or should not say and do. My second novel “Ndafa Here?” tells the story of the plight of women in marriages.
The impact of that novel was captured by a group of female teachers who told me that they identified with Betty the protagonist to the extent that when they were reading “Ndafa Here?”, they would stop to cry with and for Betty.
While my fourth Shona novel titled “Ziso Rezongororo” is with the publishers, I am asking myself whether certain offices will see the value of the story which is about three women who are victims and perpetrators of violence. It is based on a true story.
“Ziso Rezongororo” is a story about a young man named Shemhu (Shame), who is struggling to understand the negative things in his life, such as his shameful name and why his father dumped him and his mother. He is psychologically affected by not having a mother, such that most of the time he is thinking about and looking for his mother even in very strange places.
When Shemhu’s mother was sent back to her people, she remarried and forgot about him. His father also remarried, but died a few years later. After his father’s death, Shemhu is taken in by his babamukuru, who also dies after a few years.
Shemhu eventually stays with Babamukuru’s wife – Maiguru. She is abusive, but Shemhu is aware that being given the chance to stay with Maiguru and go to school is a rare opportunity he must fully utilise. He excels in his studies and eventually becomes a medical doctor. Maiguru starts abusing Shemhu in a different way. She demands love and care from him. She loves bragging to her friends about having raised a medical doctor.
It is not just Maiguru who is now claiming Shemhu, but Shemhu’s long gone mother is also demanding her place in his life. Her second marriage has failed and she is desperate, poor and her health is failing. The same also applies to a girl that Shemhu loved when they were in primary school
This girl humiliated Shemhu such that he lost confidence and self-esteem. The girl suddenly resurfaces wanting Shemhu to love and help her medically and financially. She has become destitute and her dazzling beauty is gone.
The story is mainly told from Shemhu’s perspective. It uses a lot of flashback as Shemhu, who is now a doctor reflects on past experiences in his life. The story is about loss, pain, abuse, humility, patience, hard work, using opportunities wisely, overcoming negative thoughts and environment and forgiveness. The title of the book is a metaphor – even though people can’t see the eyes of a millipede, it does not mean the millipede is blind.
In many ways, the stories that I write are about things that happened to me or things that happened to people who are very close to me. The story of Shemhu is about how the loss of a mother kills something in a child, it is cruel. That is the reason why I hate a casual approach to marriage where men sire children and deny responsibility. This is why to me single parenthood is a scandal, and divorces are evil.
When Shemhu meets his mother several years later, they are total strangers. They have an uneasy relationship. She tries to explain to Shemhu the circumstances of her abandoning him. Our culture says children do not belong to the woman even if she is the one who conceives, carries the baby in her womb, suffers to give birth, breastfeeds and plays a key parenting role.
Shemhu says” “Bob Marley said, ‘One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain. So hit me with music.” Because of my mother, I now realize that Bob Marley was mistaken. Songs are painful, they can pluck out feathers until you are ugly and unable to fly.
When Shemhu eventually meets his mother, she is very fond of a song by Swedish pop group Abba called “Chiquitita”. It is a very sad and mournful song that has guitars that prick like small sharp thorns.
According to Shemhu: “The song was a pain to listen to. It played like tiny pieces of shrapnel. My mother identified with the woman who was singing the sad song, because she was like a friend who was encouraging her to free herself from being enchained by her own sorrow. My mother loved that song, it pacified a deep itch inside of her. She played it over and over. My mother used to hold hands with the song and take a journey into the unknown. It was then that I began to understand that losing love does not just affect the children, it flays the woman. She is pushed over a cliff and is expected to fly when she is not a bird.”
My novel, “Imbwa Yemunhu” which displeased feminists is actually one of my several attempts to speak for women. It captures how sick the institution of marriage has become as is seen in Julie’s marriage. I am weeping for a woman trapped by culture, who has been married for some selfish man’s convenience. She is a slave and is haunted by the insincerity of everything that is in her life.
Julie is eventually murdered for fighting for her freedom. And because she dies and the man she was having an affair with walks free to start a new life with another woman, I am accused of being insensitive and for promoting violence against women.
At times we are too prescriptive to the extent of killing initiative, creativity and the future of literature. Theories are good and so are movements, but if we are not careful, they will box our thinking and how we expect other people to think, speak or behave.
In a way, such interference with the creative becomes counter-productive and a form of censorship. Writing is a very lonely, painful and unrewarding business in Zimbabwe. As a writer, I know when feedback is constructive and when it is merely scrapping the bottom of the pot. In future, Zimsec should consider dialoguing with authors because jumping to certain conclusions can be so discouraging and harmful.