|Review of Z.P. Dala’s What About Meera|
|Wednesday, 05 August 2015 12:31|
Review By Bettina Pahlen
The torn image of a marigold on the book’s cover should serve as a warning to unsuspecting readers: this book delivers an unrelentingly hard look at the multiple motives behind dehumanizing psychological and physical abuse. It unflinchingly portrays experiences that place Meera, the main character of the novel, on a trajectory that leads her well past her psychological breaking point. Vivid hallucinations of alter egos begin to populate her consciousness – especially in moments of particularly intense emotional distress. Moments in which she is torn apart by having her desire for real love abused or all hope of love is deferred. Her desire to end the destructive pattern and finally strike back is most notably personified by a hallucination called Susan, who is grounded in the conviction that “White girls don’t take shit”. The outcome, once Meera allows herself to be driven by this desire, is invariably tragic. It is the point at which Meera becomes the destructive force she despises and causes irreparable damage in order to symbolically destroy the trigger of her most recent emotional distress.
The storyline is generally difficult to follow as the general chronology of events is unnecessarily disjointed. The book begins and ends with several chapters set in Dublin, Ireland at which point you think, if browsing, that the cover was placed on the wrong book. However, sandwiched between the parts of the story set in Dublin is a disturbing account of Meera’s life in the Indian community of Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, prior to her escape to Dublin. Invariably, reading becomes a task of fitting the storyline into a coherent sequence while under constant barrage of voyeuristic accounts of the varying degrees of social tolerance of a variety of human relationships, however abusive - be it on the grounds of religious persuasion, tradition or social hierarchy based on caste or gender.
The book comments on the lengths various characters are prepared to go, simply in order to belong, to be valued and loved - only to find that the price to be paid is the destruction of their physical and mental soundness. It manages to rip apart all actions associated with the beautiful, righteous, whole, praiseworthy or complete and expose it as charade, a way of disguising and justifying the physically and emotionally damaging actions driven by human desires. What remains is an open, disfigured corpse of what once was seemingly beautiful, innocent, praiseworthy or complete about a person or human society and culture. The lingering aftertaste of this book is a dark certainty that things worse than death reside in the deceptively normal shadows of the socially acceptable.
In the end, Z.P. Dala appears to have drawn on her knowledge of psychology and physiotherapy to produce a book that writes back at societies that produce the mental constitutions she may encounter professionally to raise awareness, as a form of catharsis – to condemn and not excuse, to vomit and not swallow, to rip open and not cover up abusive aspects of human society. As such, the superficial blurb does not quite prepare the uninitiated reader adequately for the contents of this book. What about Meera is a tough read and belongs to the type of books best served chilled.
What About Meera (2015) is published by Umuzi.