Zainub Priya (ZP) Dala was born in KwaZulu-Natal. She is a freelance writer who has received degrees in physiotherapy and psychology. She has also been the recipient of a certificate in Creative writing from the University of Cape Town. Her writings have been published in a number of print publications such as The Guardian and The New York Times.
In 2015, Dala expressed her admiration for the writing style of controversial author, Salman Rushdie, during a session at the Time of the Writer Festival. Later, she was attacked with a brick and sworn at in Overport, Durban. The incident made national headlines and Dala received further scrutiny after it was alleged that she had been coerced into a mental hospital. The attack was met with an outcry from the literary community and several prominent members voiced their support such as fellow Time of the Writer authors Charlotte Otter, Kirsten Miller and Futhi Ntshingila. International support has also been issued by Rushdie and Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg. A full list can be viewed on The Daily Vox’s site.
Her debut novel, What About Meera, was officially launched on 21 March 2015 at the KZNSA Art Gallery as the closing event of the Time of the Festival. In an interview with Saraba Magazine, she revealed the inspiration behind her novel:
When I wrote What About Meera I wanted to use the narrative of the Indian woman in an African country, displaced from her closed society, trying to find out where she fits into the world. I also deeply wanted to tell a story that very few people know exists. There are stereotypes that abound about Indian girls and Indian families. But underneath all that glossy Bollywood-style pastiche lays reality. And this reality is most often pushed and shoved away into dark cupboards. I wanted Meera to somehow champion the cause for a South African woman of Indian descent who gives hope to the young girls out there who are different, and who do not fit the mould.
What About Meera received generally positive reviews since its release. Bettina Pahlen described the book as a “tough read” that “delivers an unrelentingly hard look at the multiple motives behind dehumanizing psychological and physical abuse”. Andrea Van Wyk also found the novel to be a difficult read but praised it as a “bleak and wry examination of uncomfortable topics around abuse, and even race”. Samantha Gibb lauded the book as “unnervingly beautiful despite its depressing and unsettling content, which [she found made] it all the more disturbing”. Joseph Omotayo found What About Meera to be “irritatingly informative” but enjoyed the book's interesting story and captivating moments. Margaret von Klemperer, reviewing for ArtSmart, lamented the way the coverage of Dala’s attack had overshadowed her “thought-provoking and beautifully done” telling of Meera’s story.
Dala has received several accolades for her body of work. Her short fiction has been long-listed for the Orange Prize and she has been the runner-up in several short story competitions, including the Woman & Home Short Story Contest (1999, 2012), Elle Short Story Contest (2012), the Witness True Stories of KwaZulu Natal Competition (2012) and the SA Writers’ College Short Fiction Contest (2013). What About Meera, earned her a place in in the 2015 Goodreads Sunday Times list of Top Novelists to look out for in 2015. The novel was longlisted for both the 2015 Etisalat Prize and the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. What About Meera was also listed in the “Afridiaspora List” of the best African novels of 2015. Later that year she won in the “Debut Category” at the Inaugural Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Awards. In 2016, Dala received a special mention for her entry in the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize. In the same year she was also selected to attend the International Writing Program held in the U.S.
Dala has lived and worked in Dublin, Ireland, and currently lives in Durban, where she is a psychologist at a school for autistic children. A second novel, The Architecture of Love, is forthcoming in 2017.
Excerpt from What About Meera (2015:348):
He sat on a wooden chair in the garden underneath the hundred-year-old thorn tree. His daughter sat quietly breathing near him. The crickets began to sing love songs, the swallows that flew north for the winter now revelled in the December dusk and came home like obedient children to roost in their muddy homes. Not so far away, in the shacks, fires burned and their wood smoke brought a fragrance to the night. The dew had not even begun to fall yet.
He looked with a side glance at the wild-haired child he had fathered. She seemed lost in the world around her. As always, she sat with one foot dangling off the stool and one tucked underneath her. His limber, tiny-boned girl. The daughter he knew nothing about, knew not how to talk to. He knew only that his heart would always betray him in her tiny presence. The little place-shape she took in the big wide world.
‘The swallows came back, Papa,’ she commented, breaking the silence. He breathed out loud and wondered why this child was lingering around him tonight.
‘Yes, they have come home,’ he replied and continued into his favourite time of day. When day gives herself to night.
‘The old lady who lives in the shacks was selling roasted mealies today, Papa,’ she said, speaking to him again.
‘Hmmm,’ he grunted, not knowing what else to say. Again, he wondered why the child was seeking out his presence with mundanities. The air around her asked her father a million uncomfortable questions. But she insisted on small talk. Any talk.
‘I wonder why we don't see fireflies any more, Papa,’ she said again, whimsically. And he recalled a day when she was five years old, as gangly as she was now, and he had taught her to catch fireflies at night and put them into empty pickle jars so they would glow. He remembered with vividness how seriously she’d set about it, chasing fireflies, how her high cheekbones would rise to the heavens in her smile when she trapped one. And how she would watch the trapped insect for only a moment before opening the lid and giving it permission to go home to its ‘mummy and daddy’.
He felt assaulted by her quiet presence near him. He felt a bitter pill at the back of his throat.
Her bright yellow dress and traditional billowing pants irritated him, angered him, saddened him. A child. Barely a child still.
In two days’ time, he would give her away to another man. Perhaps a man who could explain softly to her why we don't see fireflies any more. Perhaps a man who would explain nothing to her at all.
He hated himself. For giving her away. For wanting never to give her away. But she had to go. It was her time. She had bought time by a year after she finished school. She had done well at school, well enough to get into a college. Inside his heart he wanted her to be a teacher. But rules are rules. And he was the beloved of the Holy Man, who told him she must go. Young, fresh, freshly pinched and fondled, not even nineteen years old. With a sharp mind, a kind soft heart, and a beauty that only a father could see. She must go.
She shifted her legs, dropping the folded one to dangle in the dust, and folding the dusty one beneath her warm body. A ripple of sand dunes from a desert breeze swayed through his heart. A ripple of self-hatred gripped his insides.
He did what he always did best when he was deeply emotional. He turned on her. His daughter. His child.
2015. What About Meera. Cape Town: Umuzi.