Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
When my boy, JC, arrived after nine months of anxious waiting, I became acquainted with what being a father is all about. For nine solid months, his mama subjected me to almost all categories of whimsical and frightening behaviours that pregnant women, against their will, exhibit.
If you have been made to grope for the car keys at 1am to go and look for pizza, or to drive to Mbuya VaJC’s place to collect mufushwa, or to frantically dial the gynaecologist’s number because Her Majesty is groaning and twisting her face, then you know what I am talking about.
JC practically spent the whole weekend to complete his journey from his mama’s womb. That was very slow. Reminds me of the Israelites spending 40 years to travel from Egypt to Canaan!
During those three days, I pestered the nurses, I googled for possible scenarios, I moved up and down like a dazed person who has just survived a horrific and deadly experiment, I prayed and ordered JC to come out . . . I did all sorts of tricks to keep me sane.
WhatsApp and Twitter aunts and uncles gave me all sorts of advice. I rarely slept. There is nothing that makes a man go crazy than seeing his wife go through the birthing process, especially when it’s a prolonged one. That is why I always tell people that being a father is not easy.
So when I got hold of Jesca Rushwaya’s novel, “Ndofa Ndisina Mwana”, and read about Tonderai’s lifelong yearning for a child, I understood his anguish. Every time I look at JC moving around the house and leaving behind a trail of destruction, I love what I see. Never mind that my phone is in pieces, it’s all worth it.
Tonderai’s longing for a child he calls his own is the driving force behind Rushwaya’s narrative. His story is a very familiar one, something that many of us can identify with: you grow up in the village, you get married in the village, then you travel to the city to look for a job while staying with a relative/friend, you find a job and a place to stay and your wife comes to join you in the city. This is a very familiar story for some of us.
The problem arises when Tonderai and his wife, Fadzai, find it difficult to have children. Unbeknown to Tonderai, Fadzai aborted when she was still at school. This abortion left her with a curse which was transferable to her future husband. To cut the long story short, the marriage crumbles.
Meanwhile, Tonderai’s friend, Garikai, travels to Europe to study. He leaves behind a very young and beautiful girl, Fungisai.
However, the vicissitudes that pursue long-distance relationships do not spare this one. Garikai meets a very beautiful and educated girl whom he thinks is better than the naïve school dropout, Fungisai.
So he brings back a wife, Ruramai, and cuts ties with Fungisai. Later, Fungisai, heartbroken because of a failed relationship, and Tonderai, heartbroken because of a failed marriage, start spending more time together and eventually get married.
This jeopardises the friendship of Tonderai and Garikai. Unfortunately, Tonderai and Fungisai fail to have children and for five years they do everything necessary and unnecessary to have even one child.
One day, Fungisai bumps into Garikai . . . Honestly, I look forward to film script writers adapting this book for film. The social issues that Rushwaya tackles are very relevant to present-day Zimbabwe. Diaspora, broken relationships and extra-marital affairs are issues that we are very familiar with as Zimbabweans.
The advent of social media has actually exposed the fragility of many relationships and marriages. The language that Rushwaya uses is rich. In one of his monologues, Tonderai expresses his agony thus: “Makanditongera mutongo wekukupa gungwa nendiro. Mainditambudza pamweya nepanyama. Maindipunyaidza muchindionesa ndondo. Asika, zvakashura huku kunetazve kueredzaziya.
“Ko, makainyepera mombe haikandiri zai. Handisi ini ndega, chiripowo chimwe chidimbu cheavo vakarurama seni, asi varikufira dzavasinakupara. Ndichabetsereiko panyika ino, ini ndasakadzwa netirongo sedovo radyiwa nehonye. Kweupenyu hwose, handichazofi ndakawana zororo repfungwa, nekuti zvavepachena kuti ndichafa ndisina mwana.”
The denouement leaves us feeling satisfied that justice has been served although we feel pity for Tonderai for being surrendered to a life of barrenness for a crime he did not commit. The novel has a couple of shortcomings though. The most glaring one is how the author does not fully develop characters so that the events in their lives dominate more than their personalities.
The characters do not really offer memorable presences. They do not introspect that much. For instance, Fadzai is a strong character in this novel whose deeds contribute to the ghosts that haunt the rest of the characters for the rest of their lives.
However, she seems to make only a footnote appearance and disappears completely from the story. Her role is supposed to be a decisive one, but it fails to live up to that expectation. The plot is also too labyrinthine. There are just too many issues that need to be connected.
There is Garikai’s story; there is Tonderai’s story; there is Ruramai’s story; there is Fungisai’s story; there is Fadzai’s story; there is Soko’s story. All of these are stories that can actually make it with independent plots. However, Rushwaya attempts to amalgamate all of these into one story. The result is not very convincing. Some of the events connect in very unbelievable ways.
My honest opinion is that “Ndinofa Ndisina Mwana”, despite the shortcomings I highlighted above, is a good read. Rushwaya does well to employ suspense so that it is difficult for the reader to put the book down. Also, her poetry background is put to good use in this narrative. I am sure her next project will be better. I also encourage her to experiment. The Shona novel is in need of that!