Book Review: The Burdens By John Ruganda

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TITLE: The Burdens.
AUTHOR: John Ruganda
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press.
GENRE: Drama
REVIEWER: Onana Victor & Kelvin Kimonge

May John Ruganda’s soul rest in eternal peace. Born on May 30, 1941, Ruganda lived through to 2007, the Uganda born literary writer is remembered for nobly and passionately shaping East African and global literature. Ruganda is undeniably a renowned playwright and a great dramatist who delivered both on paper and on stage. We miss his artistic presence in the literary world.

This great piece, The Burdens is set in a post-independent Uganda and to a large extent, names of characters, places and language are in support of this assertion. It’s Africanized.

The story oscillates around Wamala. This male central character is a humble teacher whose main task was to have pieces of chalks thumbed on board. However, fate smiled on him immediately after attainment of self rule he miraculously attains his career independence to a ministerial position in the government, all the luxuries at his disposal, he dined on a befitting life at that time.

As ambitious as any human may get, Wamala salivates for bigger positions and ranks up the ladder and this miscalculation births his sudden downfall. Wamala falls with a thud unannounced.

Strange wind blows Wamala into a life of thick mystery. He left with nothing except his nagging wife, Tinka. Then there’s Kaija, his very sensitive son to deal with. That’s not enough, Nyakake is here. Nyakake is his only daughter. Rough and unkempt life unfolds before Wamala’s bare face. He fails to accept his fete and inturn recoils to a life of utter denial. He resorts to unrivaled love for the battle to drown the reality down his throat.

Wamala drifts miles back into his previous life of misery, this time, with a mightier force. He literally begins to reminiscence, day dreaming becomes part and parcel of himself. He declines any opportunity to grasp realities of his life and instead as stubbornly as a mule seeks solace from alcohol and huge appetite for women.

Tinka begins to suffer frequent bitter insults from her once reasonable husband. Beating begin reigning her life, especially when she ‘pokes her nose’ into Wamala’s alleged illicit affairs coupled with his unexplained late return to his house. Ultimately, Wamala gives up both his marital obligations and family responsibilities.

When poverty gets it’s fangs literally bare on Wamala, his head hatches a crafty plan, his slogan syndicate scheme is to help him get back to his economic feet quickest should it be bought by politicians. He proposes that a two-headed safety matches be embraced to help save money by the common poor folks. The scheme unfortunately flops as it is never bought citing negative social and economic outcomes.

Eventually, Tinka eats a humble pie to having ‘lost’ a husband to the bitter realities of this world. She however, vows to make ends meet, she takes to weaving mats, brewing enguli (local brew) to provide for the family. With perceived bitterness in her heart, she wins over love of her two children to herself but turns them against their ‘good-for-nothing’ father, Wamala. She changes roles and becomes the ‘husband and father’ and the bread winner in the homestead.

There’s loud absence of almost every basic commodities for every member of Wamala’s family. Kaija lacks a number of items, like his own bed as his sister Nyakake countlessly urinates on him. There’s another challenge to him, he is coming of age and gets uncomfortable sharing a bed with his sister. At this point, Wamala is half-neck deep into a bottle. He can’t take his ailing daughter, Nyakake to the hospital for basic medical attention but instead resorts to serious drinking. His own children turn out to be the burdens to them. Wamala is a burden to Tinka and vice versa.

Ruganda seems to artistically explore on the effects of bad politics upon the society. Equally, making responsible decisions over ones own life is an individual’s life. He depicts how greed for power and material possession is likely to grind a man to a sudden halt. Ultimately, the family suffers and disintegrates. Consequently, insecurity is born between the couple for obvious reasons. Live wisely.

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