High Commissioner of Rwanda to India Williams Nkurunziza’s book of poetry is a mixed bag of his life’s experience
Images of Rwanda. A tree silhouetted against a setting sun. Children with amber eyes looking dolefully out of the frame. Brightly coloured earrings dangling from the ears of a woman with spirals of curly hair and a mesmeric smile. A city’s lights cutting through liquid darkness. Sand, shore, prison bars, herds of cattle, dense green foliage, drums and beads, mountains. A shot of a Rwandan airplane with a curiously poignant message painted on it — “Fly our dream to the heart of Africa.”
The poetry that goes with the images is equally moving. Pangs of Life, Williams Nkurunziza’s beautifully illustrated book of poetry captures the essence of his life in fragmented verse and rich imagery. “Poetry is my reaction to moments that impact me,” he says.
Williams, who is currently the high commissioner of Rwanda to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is an erudite scholar who has travelled widely, served on several public and private sector boards and has a long and illustrious political career. Yet it was not always so. The turbulence that pervaded Rwanda forced him to flee from his homeland and he spent his fledging years in a refugee camp. “They were difficult years,” he admits. “I did not have a country to call my own and refugee camps are places of privation, despair, horror.” Yet his spirit survived and hope stayed with him as he meandered through the horror of Idi Amin’s tyrannical rule in Uganda, the attempt at democracy in Kenya, the birth of a nation in Namibia and his final ecstatic return to his homeland, Rwanda. His love for Rwanda is apparent — “Rwanda may have gone through that terrible genocide,” he says. “But it still is one of the best countries in the world and you get a glimpse of that beauty in my poetry.”
Pangs of Life takes you into the heart of Rwanda capturing the brutality of the genocide, the tenacity of hope, the restless longings of the human mind and broken memories of an irretrievable past. “The book is divided into seven sections,” says William. “I start on a positive note — the first section is called Hope.” Yet some of the other sections have more sombre overtones — Life and Loss, Fear and Identity, War and Exile, and Betrayal. The last two sections are a melange of sorts, aptly titled Kaleidoscope and Mixed Bag.
Words have always come easily to William, a former journalist. “I was a student of literature and I read all the great masters,” he says. “I have written loads of articles — I like the responsibility and power that came with writing them.” Poetry, however happened because, “I wanted to capture my life’s experience in poetic rendition,” he says.