BY SAMANTHA GIBB
Meera, the protagonist of ZP Dala’s novel, What About Meera, is a broken being; a shadow of a woman. Her poverty-stricken childhood was rapidly succeeded by a marriage at 18 which showed signs of disaster as early as the wedding day. Regularly violated and beaten by her new husband and abused by his dysfunctional family, Meera longs for change. After far too long an existence in such a destructive environment, she musters the strength to leave. However, the relentless darkness of life follows her. Ridiculed and abused by family and strangers alike, Meera is an unwanted outcast with the ugly branding of a divorcee — yet another stain on her already fragile psyche. Ultimately, realising that her reputation and existence will forever be tarnished and broken, she escapes.
In Dublin, Meera is presented with a chance to begin anew. She has secured a job assisting autistic children. Despite feeling disillusioned with her work and numb to the suffering of the children, Meera finds love. Unfortunately, the recipient of her emotion is the father of one of her charges, and married. The relationship is nothing more than an affair, ending messily and taking Meera’s heart and last semblance of sanity with it, as she reacts by performing an unspeakable act, which dooms her to travel further down the path of self destruction.
What About Meera is frustratingly melancholic and as gloomy as the Irish weather it describes. Reading this book is like diving into an icy, murky pool. Meera’s journey is a constant evolution of negativity in which life betrays the living. However, the book is unnervingly beautiful despite its depressing and unsettling content, which makes it all the more disturbing — a true wolf in sheep’s clothing. The narration warbles precariously between third-person perpectives and a strained stream of consciousness which is desperate, confused and garbled, akin to an erratic nightmare. Yet it is precisely this darkness in content and style which makes Zala’s a vitally imortant book. The gloom serves to illustrate the plight of abused women and the restrictions placed on them, as well as the dehumanising consequences of duty at any cost. Meera’s abandonment and inability to make more of her life are a direct result of the tortures she endured, which were dismissed by her family and society alike. Her silent suffering is the very mechanism which screams of the suffering of others; it is raw and unrelentless, and refuses to be ignored.
ZP Dala has created a work of art in which the protagonist’s shame and less than honourable existence force the reader to acknowledge greater societal imperfections and the terrible cost of silence. What About Meera is a painful read, yet it must be endured and lauded to give voice to those silenced.
What About Meera is published by Umuzi.