Saturday 9 January 2016

“What About Meera” by Z P Dala

The truth is: so many things are about Meera. Meera is almost irredeemable. Life stings her anyhow. She should just die, the world hates her. But this Meera is strong. Through life's grit and grime, she ekes out a tawdry survival. Though somewhat distracting from the onset, this book intriguingly navigates the sorrow that is Meera. In biting more than necessary, What About Meera tries the reader’s patience. It packs so much together to bore. It is a Wikipedia and fiction all in one. I will later tell you why. With a troubled Meera, the reader comes in contact with other interesting issues. What About Meera seems like a descant on the many issues it labours to exhaustively deal with. The woeful result is the simplistic way many of them are left in. 

With a cyclical plot, What About Meera attempts an interesting narrative of the disturbed and the willed culpability of all. The story begins from Dublin, a foreshadowing that shows significant bits of Meera’s life. Durban follows after. Here, Meera’s life is interestingly built and you see the ill luck that assails her, her society and the Indians in South Africa. You are again taken to Dublin. This Dublin begins the narrative in the first Dublin and continues it. At Dublin, Meera seeks refuge. The last Durban shows the lapsing wick of everything.  In Meera’s society, class and gender segregations are rife. This book shows how innocence is squashed and spat out. There are tinges of Meera in everyone: the little voiceless girl, the embattled feisty youth, the troubled wife, the broken spinster. From Durban to Durblin, Meera is a pariah. Life in Dublin almost ensconces her. Ian is the comforter as she whiles away her wispy life working at Home for Autistic Children.

Amidst its many letdowns, What About Meera is an interesting story.  Z P Dala structures her novel in such a way that readers could pick off interesting tidbits. The Nepalese chapter makes for a captivating short story. In The Twisted Twins, Z P Dala draws you into the dampened world of autism. This part moved me. This novel is a genealogy of sorrows. Aside the lo-fi life of Meera, What About Meera is a collection of troubles early Indian descents in South Africa swarmed in. Meera is then a signpost of these many woes; that exemplary battered person of all the calamities facing her ilk. 

What About Meera fulfills tripodal roles: one is about the world of autism, this world rends the soul, the world of Stewart and the twisted twins; the other is about Meera and her numerous psycho-ills; the third, a deep-seated Indian caste system. You will appreciate this devious caste system well if you’ve read Arundathi Roy’s The God of Small Things and E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. Those books are good pieces on that theme. What About Meera’s attempt at showing the evils of this caste system seems almost shallow. However, in Meera-Rajesh relationship, Anusha-Vivek Patel flirty encounter and Haroon-Nisha marriage, Z P Dala manages to weave this class discrimination around her narrative. Underlining all social mishmashes in the book is this devious cultural segregation. It heightens Meera’s troubles. 

This sums up the beginning of Meera’s doom:

“Young, fresh, freshly pinched and fondled, not even nineteen years old. With a sharp mind, soft heart and a beauty that only a father could see. She must go.” (pg. 63)

This book is irritatingly informative. Z P Dala tends to over-feed the reader. A part of the book reads like a treatise on everything Indian in South Africa. The web is awash with such information. You want to know more about the Gujuratis? Google it. You want to see how the Indians were handled during Aparthied and post-Mandela release? Wikipedia is there. The reader does not always need fiction to know these things. The tired way Z P Dala goes into explaining what glue does smacked me here. I was put off. Do we really need this?

“Methylated spirits that are used to clean mirrors in rich people’s houses. Or to be drunk by the beggar street children from the bushes near High Chaparral, known to all at the Unit, where you can buy any drug you desire. Even methylated spirits…. The torn-clothed street boys walk to Dhanraj’s tuck-shop table to buy bottles of it for a fraction of the cost. Methylated spirits and sniffing glue fumes from a paper bag quells hunger for days.” (pg. 226)
If you do not know what sniffing glue does, you need Google not a novel. 

This book captivates you at moments like this: 

“‘Wait, just wait. Talk to me for a minute. I'm sorry it turned out that way. I was forced to marry Kajal. My parents heard I was speaking to you, they quickly found me a girl.'
'Do you love her?' Meera asked.
'I... I do, now, I've learnt to love her, to love my baby boy. I'm content.'
Well good for you, Meera thought.
'So what do you want with me?' she asked.
'Meera, even though I am married, maybe we, I mean maybe things can still happen between us...' Navin whispered and moved close to her, smelling her perfume. Hotel room? In the Big City?...
'What? So I'm not good enough to be your wife, but I'm good enough to be your mistress? You disgust me...'  “- (pg. 174)
Z P Dala shows how reality stings idealistic love here. Iqbal is indeed silly:

“Life was not poetry, Haroon knew. Life was divides, and hierarchy, and places where certain people did not belong. The girl came from rich, snobbish stock – the ones who felt above everyone else…
But Iqbal, with a head filled with love poems, didn’t see the divide. He only saw Rooksana’s benign, beautiful face, and knew with all certainty that she would be his…” (pg. 124-125)
Z P Dala is a promising writer. I want to read more from her.

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