Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Travel | From Agra, With Love: A Peek Into The Taj Mahal

The Northern Indian city of Agra is not one you’ll hear much about until the day you choose to visit its biggest attraction – a 17th century marble mausoleum that continues to attract millions of tourists every year.

Completed in 1653 on a 42-acre expanse, the monument sits at the South bank of the Yamuna river; a name that initially piques my curiosity when we first hit the tarmac on the Yamuna Expressway.

Our day begins with a string of introductions and pleasantries, first with Mohammed Farouk – our chauffeur for the day – and later to a couple of interesting personalities. Farouk has the look of a fresh-faced 16-year old adolescent and speaks halting English with the occasional wry smile. "You see that on the side? Big, big lake. Very nice place." He says he’s married with one kid (and none on the side).

Our road trip is a long and arduous one. We knew this beforehand; so we are not complaining. We are soon joined by someone to take us around. "Hello. I am Prashant", he screams in a high-pitched voice that makes you want to stand three meters away when he starts speaking.

"And I’ll be your guide for the day."

Prashant has a firm handshake and speaks with the street-smart confidence of a snake oil salesman. He begins to give us the history of the place and he won’t stop until he’s interrupted by the odd question.

I have read chunks of history about the medieval Mughal Emperor – Shah Jahan – and his obsession with Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess whom he eventually married as his third wife.

So I know what Prashant is on about.

But we are technically his guests, so we don’t want to say something that will make him abandon us in the milieu of prying strangers who imagine we are carrying wads of foreign currency. Plus, there could be some tiny bits of trivia that the guy who wrote that Wikipedia page left out. We keep calm and try to fake the kind of attention curious kids pay when listening to a bedtime story.

It’s not long before the briefing changes to the DOs and DON’Ts; a prerequisite checklist of sorts that we are supposed to follow. No foodstuffs are allowed inside the mausoleum, no cameras or loud, unbridled excitement.

Shoes will only be allowed if covered with extra gear, so you part with a few rupees for the same. "Don’t try to buy stuff off the streets. Most of it is fake", he says. "Hold onto your wallet like it’s the only kidney you got left. Don’t smile to strangers. There's lots of scheming pick-pockets, here."

A couple of hours since we first buckled up, we finally arrive at the Western gate of one of the seven wonders of the world (there are four gates, each with a unique historical attachment).

The place is a beehive of activity as everything with an ounce of life looks animated. Cows foraging for fodder, monkeys playing with dead oranges, elderly women selling shiny little things (we heeded to Prashant’s advice), masquerading paparazzi scheming for the next deal and teenage girls selling freshly-peeled cucumber.

We stop at the first of the many check points as the briefing goes on (he does sound like he’s not going to stop anytime soon). We are soon ushered into the well-kempt lawns and neat forecourts to an imposing aura. The place is teeming with hordes of tourists, both local and foreign. Some are taking selfies. Many continue to marvel at the magnificence of a place regarded as the finest example of Mogul architecture.

It’s compelling history, workmanship and trivia will simply leave you mesmerized. It didn’t fluke its way onto the world’s seven wonders list – it earned it through the ingenuity and skillset of different architects; the sweat, blood of an estimated 20,000 masons and laborers from places as far-flung as Turkey, Iran and Central India.

After 22 years of sleepless travail, Emperor Shah Jahan is said to have been so impressed and proud of his milestone that he did not wish his blueprint replicated anywhere. So he had his minions cut off the hands of the lead architects and artisans so his love monument would remain the only one of its kind.

World over, association of the mausoleum with love remains contested given the history and events in the run-up to its completion. Circumstances under which the 20,000 laborers ended up at the palace are unknown (they are said to have been slaves), while their eventual fate remains shrouded in mystery.

Women’s rights activists doubt the kind of love that saw Mumtaz Mahal go through 14 pregnancies in 19 years, despite only being the pick of the emperor’s harem. It is, perhaps, the reason some continue to advance the school of thought that says Emperor Shah Jahan built the mausoleum out of guilt following an agonizing bout of postpartum hemorrhage that claimed Princess Mumtaz’s life at the tender age of 34.

In the end, it’s such controversies and mysteries that fan the never-ending desire by tourism aficionados to check out the 300-year-old architectural marvel. Presenting: The Taj Mahal, the world’s greatest love monument.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Random | How I Lost The Battle Against Weight

"And you, Mr. [INSERT NAME]", he turned, eyes raging with the fury of an incensed heavyweight boxer. "This is how you decided to screw us up on the day we lost revenue. You love working in silos. So you went and worked in silos and killed the service".

He then started a poetic tirade that made him sound like the male version of an angry Rafeef Ziadah as the rest of us struggled to stifle temporary urinary incontinence.

A long afternoon was in the offing.

That 25-Square-meter cabin suddenly felt like a high-school headmaster’s office as deathly silence filled the air. One by one, the grilling went on like he was addressing a troop of adventurous juveniles who had sneaked out of school to watch an adult movie. These, usually, are the moments when you get home and you are tempted to look downstairs when the kids call you daddy.

Not too long ago, you had been the toast of an characteristically cordial meeting that had peers eat out of your hand. You were the Don Data in that MTN advert, drowning in a wavy sea of corporate euphoria. A six-week transformation has since turned you into a pantomime villain.

Six weeks ago, everybody wanted to be you. Today, you all wish you were Marcos, the lone survivor of that two-hour horror show; because a calculated retreat by way of an office day-off saved his brushes. So you die in your movie and Marcos returns the following day to do a post-mortem on your ego.

Your woes are not over as Murphy’s law does what Murphy’s law does on the day your gods join the opposition. For the next 27 days, your retirement begins at 11 PM when the world is sleeping and the only food you can find on your way home is Zalwango's roadside chips, fried in sizzling transformer oil (they say it causes a dozen NCDs – diabetes, hypertension, kidney failure, DVT, road rage et cetera).

Three weeks later, you are a massive 9 Kilos heavier. At 91, you suddenly look like your boss’ boss when you go for the same meeting. Neighbors think you got a bigger job. The househelp thinks you are richer. But you still won’t quit because for your case, like Teni sings in "Case", your papa no be Dangote.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Perspective | "I Wanted to Commit Suicide" – Ben Mwine

Our media has so mastered the art of crafting screaming headlines that sometimes one will see one and choose to ignore it because some of those headlines eventually turn out to be mere bombast.

Such a headline gets you thinking twice until you dig up the celebrated MC’s fortnight-old vlog chat with retired radio veteran, Crystal Newman, posted on her Youtube channel at the tail-end of last month.

The immediate thoughts that spring to mind are the five Ws and the accompanying solitary H that the world considers basic steps in information gathering – Who/What/When/ Where/Why/How.

Your mind gets piqued. You want to know what could have come over your favorite celebrity at the time when he wanted the world to see the last of him.

Somebody who’s always seemed to closer to God than your wretched self has no business toying with suicidal thoughts, you imagine.

A guy who’s held a title considered by many as the pinnacle of corporate employment for the last decade or so that you’ve known him. Manager something-something, now Corporate “General” at Kwese TV.

He, surely, must be having everything under control.

How wrong! In that hour+ long interview, Ben almost bares it all. He reveals things not many men will have the courage to publicly reveal because the world will either call them selfish or brand them cowards (or something worse).

From threats to publish his photo in a newspaper because one bank loan went bad (he still asked them to let him choose which photo they could use) to that much publicised church apology among others, he says it all.

His is a story you want to read and pore more into his journey. You suddenly realize how human we all are, at the end of the day. The epiphany probably reminds you of the time when your own thoughts almost pondered a similar trajectory.

That’s the life we live. Sometimes society sees a different picture from what we really are. Sometimes happiness is not all about our lofty ambitions. “It’s all about finding happiness at your level”, he coos, towards the end of the interview.

And that’s how a man whose dream car is a Bentley Bentayga chooses to profess puppy love to a 20-year old Toyota Ipsum. Like it’s the only car he’s ever known.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Health | Menstrual Hygiene: Every Woman’s Experience

To some, she’s Auntie Flo because she comes with an associated flow. To others, she’s simply Auntie Rose because they see red whenever she shows up. Rose draws its origins from Rossa, Italian for red. We’re talking menstrual periods, many a woman’s worst nightmare.

First-time and regular episodes alike continue to present varied experiences. From mild pain to excruciating cramps, they’ve experienced it all. To some, it’s first time freaky before it transitions into something they gradually get used to. To others, its a lifetime of recurrent anguish that only ebbs at the dawn of menopause, all of 25+ years later.

The onset of one’s menstrual period is often preceded by PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome), a collective term that describes the physical and psychological distress that afflicts some, right before and during their menstrual periods.

Physical symptoms may include conditions like weight gain, bloating, dizziness and mild headaches among others. Emotional symptoms, on the other hand, include conditions such as loss of concentration, insomnia, mood swings and irregular sex patterns.

How would the average female manage their menstrual hygiene, one will ask? Whereas some get the hang of the burden, many continue to struggle. From over-the-counter medication to exercise, rest and diet, among others, countless remedies have been explored. 

I spoke to a close confidant, a daughter of Eve I’ll call Jessie.

Exercise: Moderate aerobic exercises like walking or light jogging help to reduce bloating and the pain of cramping. They improve one’s blood circulation and trigger the release of endorphins, sometimes called “feel-good hormones”, largely because of their ability to ease pain or stress.

Hot baths are a form of heat therapy. They work by relaxing the uterine muscles, increasing blood flow and easing or relieving menstrual pain.

Orgasms: Having an orgasm helps to release endorphins, and these come with several benefits as already highlighted.

Enough rest, particularly in foetal position, takes pressure off the abdominal muscles which, in turn, help to relieve cramps. In this position, the skeletal muscles around the abdomen relax, lessening abdominal tension in the process.

Diet: Healthy foods and vegetables such as carrots, fruits and foods rich in zinc – such as pumpkin seeds help to relax body muscles. They reduce the production of certain glands that, in the long run, help to ease the cramping. In some experiences, she says, foods such as ginger have been found to be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving menstrual cramps.

Over-the-counter medication: Often the last resort unless advised by one’s doctor, this should be resorted to when PMS conditions appear severe.

At the onset of PMS, it’s best to deal with the obvious symptoms. Menstrual flow is heaviest during the first days of one’s cycle. At this stage, one will need the right pads to avoid potential public embarrassment and the resulting stigma.

Brands like Afripads have menstrual kits that have varying absorption rates – Maxi (light) and Super Maxi (heavy). Had troublesome periods before? Tell your tale, and let the world learn a thing or two!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Perspective | On The Brand New Lt. General Muhoozi and Workplace Promotions

That the first son is now a three-star General is no longer news, having completed his official decoration three days ago, on February 19, 2019. Technically, it paves the way for the CDF transition from one Muhoozi to another.

Army things are complicated, they say. But not even those who understand them will are willing to discuss them. We are advised to leave issues of Generals to Generals, they say. Their secrets remained as tightly guarded as those of a doomsday cult.

But that’s not the point of our speculative chitchat, today.

It’s the factors that trigger these promotions. We grew up listening to tales about the most daring of soldier tales. Names like Pangarasio Onek. Oyite Ojok. Isaac Maliyamungu. Suicide Katungi. Tadeo Kanyankore. And others.

One would imagine these to have belonged to the topmost of army echelons at their peak. So why bow out at lower ranks than their reputations suggested? It could be strategy, loyalty, tactical nous or leadership guile.

Perhaps, it’s a combination of all factors. Most of the Generals we have today have interesting sides to their stories. General Saleh was said to have been so daring that at some point, one of his alternative noms de guerre was “Rufu” (death). By the time Paul Kagame repartriated himself back to +250, he was known in his circles as “Pilato” (from Pontious Pilate).

Others had friendlier names, like Eriya Mwine (Chefe Ali). And David Tinyefuza was called Mashurubu, not because his overgrown moustache made his face look like a shrub, but because mashurubu is swahili for moustache.

Their seemingly less-decorated peers remind me of the hustle I’ve seen once too often in the corporate world. There are those techies who quickly take the leap and move on. Three years into the profession, somebody has done all those courses that give people airs of corporate gods. ITIL, CISA, PMP, Et Cetera. They are now Senior Manager, Technology something-something. I was told a story of one guy who rose to the top without having ever run an end-to-end project.

Then there are techies who find comfort in being technical foot soldiers. The blue/black screen guys. Guys who won’t take the downward graduation (yeah, that oxymoron) from playing with code to working with Excel spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations.

10 years into the profession, someone still stares at a back screen with tiny dancing white characters on a black screen in the face of an emergency. A client, bandying themselves as the face of the business, rubbernecks behind in anticipation of a quick solution.

An hour of mini cardiac arrests and sweaty troubleshooting and scratching every pore of their skin ensues. When the storm is finally over, techie breathes a heavy sigh of relief and mutters something.

“Kalas! Please test again”
, asks Mr. Resident Magician.

The erstwhile restive face-of-the-business now runs a few checks before letting slip a wide grin. “But where do you guys learn this stuff from – school?”, asks a silky tone. Some get laid for this.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Perspective | On MC Kats and The Art of Wearing a Songwriter's Hat

When Juliana Kanyomozi approached Silver Kyagulanyi for a song concept we now know as Nabikoowa, the latter did not have to look far. She had just severed ties with Amon Lukwago and was seeking to bury herself in an alternative pastime.

Silver Kyagulanyi simply looked at Juliana's then life trajectory and figured what would have been apt for her.

It was the same case for Chizzo, real names Richard Lubega, and Tickie Tah (Joseph Luwaga) in the aftermath of Bebe Cool's ephemeral breakup with Zuena Kirema in early 2009.

The two, respectively, wrote Nasalawo and Bamugambe, songs that started the now commonplace same-day album launch duels. They were part of Bebe Cool's Bamugambe album that was launched on the same day as Bobi Wine's Carolina in 2009.

In writing the two songs, the two songwriters simply looked at what had transpired in Bebe's life in the previous eight months.

In 2013, Desire Luzinda was in dire need of a musical comeback when she approached Mowzey Radio for an idea. The result was Ekitone, a song that earned her no less than 100 performances the following year.

It was no surprise, therefore, that David Lutalo could think of "Love Again" when Fille Mutoni sought his services for a new song.

It has since deeply stung his estranged boyfriend, MC Kats, that he had to cut short her performances the two times she's performed it, the latest being at Vegas Chillout, the Kawempe-based hangout.

In the aftermath of MC Kats' mental histrionics, Fille is said to have been so incensed that her next sing will be about the size (or effectiveness) of Kats' manhood.

If there's anybody MC Kats ought to blame, it would have to be the creative ingenuity of David Lutalo.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Tribute | Oliver Mtukudzi: The Odyssey of a Legend

Singer. Songwriter. Actor. Writer. Film director. Philanthropist. Human rights activist. Entrepreneur. What would be the best description of the colossus that was Oliver Mtukudzi? One could rightly make a strong case for music, for it was the trade that sprang the rest them to the fore.

Mention the name Oliver and music in the same sentence, and two names will immediately spring to my mind. The first would be Oliver N’goma, the Gabonese Afro-zouk legend, while the second would undoubtedly be the Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi; both now of blessed memory.

The latter only signed out yesterday, eventually succumbing to a month-long undisclosed cocktail of ailments. For a while, Oliver Mtukudzi had been battling intestinal ulcers, diabetes and hypertension. Tuku, as he was affectionately referred to by his fans, never fully got back on his feet after surviving a heart attack in 2018.

Born into a musical family on September 22, 1952, Tuku would go on to create a music style of his own, blending South African pop (Mbaqanga), Mbira, Jit, and the traditional drumming styles of the Korekore to make a unique Afro-Jazz sound that he simply called "Tuku music".

The Music

My most memorable song of his remains Todii, Shona for "Why", largely because it was released at the peak of the FM revolution in Uganda. My initial attraction was Shona, the language in which it had been written. 

It was one I could relate to, having been sung in a bantu dialect whose message I believed I had deciphered. When I heard the line: "Zvinorwadza sei kurera rufu mumaoko (Oh, how painful it is; looking after someone you are sure they are going to die!)", I had no clue what "Zvinorwadza sei" meant. 

But kurera means "take care (of someone)", and rufu means death in my native Rukiga. Maoko, Shona for "hands", sounds similar to its Kinyarwanda and Lingala equivalents – amaboko and maboko respectively. 

When this was followed by the rhetorical question: "What shall we do?", I imagined he was singing about death. The cruel hand of death, perhaps. Todii sounded very emotional with an ominous ring to it. I did not get to watch its video until about 10 years later. I chose to just sit back and enjoy the sound until google was kind enough to get me the full lyrics and translations to the song.  

Little did I know the song carried more personal sentiments than a generic message to an imagined target audience. Tuku had lost his only brother, Robert, and four band members to the AIDS pandemic in a four-week period in the 1980s.

This and other efforts would cement Mtukudzi’s place in the sphere of public awareness and philanthropy. He had been involved in public awareness campaigns before and would go on to play ambassadorial roles in various capacities. 

His last album, the 66th of his career, was an emotional composition called Hanya'Ga, Shona for "Concern". It was released three months after Robert Mugabe’s ouster, and was believed to have been directed the country’s political situation.

Varied Themes

AIDS wasn’t the only theme Tuku sang about. From politics to child marriage and fidelity, his scope was as varied as they came. In 2001, he released Wasakara, Shona for "You are too old". The song was subsequently banned because it was believed to have been a subtle diss at the then 77-year old Robert Mugabe. 

Tuku’s Big Break

Although he had become a big hit in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Tuku’s music transcended Zimbabwe’s borders as he started performing at various music festivals across the world.

He had hired Debbie Metcalfe, a firebrand music manager to help him grow his profile. Debbie went on to revamp Tuku’s business strategy, helping him to realize his full potential and subsequently turning Tuku Music into an international brand.

He may not have had the guitar-strumming dexterity of Diblo Dibala, nor the vocal finesse of Youssou N'dour, but Tuku's allround ability to excel at all fronts saw him stand tall amongst the continent's musical greats.

Debbie and Tuku would go on to weave their magic until their acrimonious split in 2008. By the time parted ways, the Tuku’s transformation had taken full effect. He was now a continental brand, gracing as many tours across the African continent and beyond.

One of these was in our beloved Uganda, on July 30, 2017. He had been hired as the headline act at Mavuno Church’s sold out concert dubbed: "The Lock Down". The hall at Imperial Royale was filled to capacity. 

The Controversies

Following Debbie’s departure, the stage was set for the eventual rouble-rouser that was Shepherd Mutamba, a journalist who turned out more prominent for his role as Tuku's public relations manager than anything else.

Shepherd would go on to light a bonfire in the Mtukudzi household when he wrote: "Tuku Backstage", an infamous 2012 Biography in which Selmor Mtukudzi, Tuku’s daughter from his first marriage, appeared to portray him as "an irresponsible father", blaming him for her then stunted music career.  

The book was an act of revenge after Shepherd alleged that Tuku owed he and other employees salary arrears while he continued to live in the lap of luxury.

Sections of Tuku’s fans began to view him as a two-faced father who did not apply the same family virtues that he espoused in his music.

Tuku was crushed. 

He slipped into depression and began to miss some of his bookings. The eating disorder went on to affect his health, worsening his intestinal ulcers and a long-standing diabetic condition.  

The depression would reach its nadir when he publicly disowned Selmor. He still could not believe his own child could say the things that Selmor had said in that infamous chat. Tuku had seen her through school and allowed her to play in his band. This was not the reward he had bargained for.

The feud would go on until 2018, when Selmor eventually swallowed her pride and apologized to her father. She blamed the fallout on a moment of naivety and betrayal. A private conversation she had with someone had found its way into the grubby paws of a fame-hungry journalist, she said. Tuku welcomed her back with open hands, like a long-lost prodigal daughter. Father and daughter had finally reunited.

Tuku appeared overjoyed by the development. He would go on to post a picture on the social media website Facebook, where he was flanked by his daughters Selmor and Sandra. "Children are a gift from God. Proud of my beautiful daughters", read the caption. It would spell the end of the speculation about Tuku and the relationship with his daughters.

His first official marriage had been to Melody Murape in 1979. The couple was eventually blessed with two daughters, Selmor and Sandra. But the marriage would later collapse after allegations of extra-marital affairs refused to go away.

Before then, Melody had been living like a diva, having been the first of Tuku’s true loves. At the height of their bliss, she went shopping every weekend, and wore a new dress to church every Sunday.

With a new flame in the picture, Melody’s program had to be revised, and she was livid. It would spark the onset of a protracted seven-year divorce process that was eventually finalized in 1993. The new flame in question was Daisy Mashonga, mother to two of Tuku’s children, and his eventual numero uno.

Daisy would go on to inherit the same demons Melody had fled. Allegations of infidelity continued to loom, and there was always the occasional rumor of a stray love child here and there. Daisy chose to stick by Zimbabwe’s musical biggest export.

Officially, Tuku was a father of five – Selmor, Sam, Samantha, Sandra and Sybil. Unofficially, two more products of his amorous activity would come up, in Memory and Selby Mtukudzi. 

A Flawed Genius?

Tuku’s transgressions, or whatever the judging public will call them, only showed that he was human after all. Behind the cloak of a larger-than-life persona lay the fallibilities of mankind and the default reaction to life’s turbulent tides.

On January 23, 2019, the curtains came down on the life of an artiste who grew up in Highfield, the ghetto neighbourhood of Harare. The man who gave us 66 albums of musical bliss was no more. But Oliver Mtukudzi had left us with enough memories to outlast the pain of losing his immense talent. He was 66.

Sing with the angels, Tuku.