Interview with Dilruba Z. Ara, Author of List of Offences
Dilruba Z. Ara was born in Bangladesh. Nurtured on Greek mythology by her father, and hearing Indian fairy tales as bedtime stories from her mother, Dilruba had her first story published when she was eight years old. While in university at the age of twenty, she met and married her husband, a Swedish Air Force officer, and moved to Sweden, where she obtained degrees in English, Swedish, Classical Arabic and linguistics. She now teaches Swedish and English in Sweden. An accomplished, exhibited artist, her paintings have been used as the covers for the Bangladeshi, Greek, and U.S. editions of A LIST OF OFFENCES. Visit her website at www.dilrubazara.com.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in a literary family. I am the second child among six, and the only one who went against my mother’s wishes to follow my inner urge. (She wanted me to be a lawyer, like my grandfather). However, I studied English literature at Dhaka University, and then in Gothenburg University where I also studied linguistics. My debut novel, A List of Offences, was first published by Dhaka University Press (2006), and subsequently the translation rights were sold to Spanish Territories and Greece. I also write poems and short stories, and I translate. My first story was published when I was eight years old. In my free time I enjoy cooking and painting.
When did you begin writing?
When I was eight years old.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
Mostly during nights and weekends.
What is this book about?
Basically, it’s about the consequences of inequality between men and women, and the domestic oppression, and often violence that are practiced to sustain that system of inequality within South Asian families. I have tried to show that through the story of one girl, Daria, the heroine of my novel. She is born into a family that operates the age-old system where every daughter’s behavior is controlled; she is taught to be patient and quiet, and to do whatever she is told. Basically, she is being groomed to be a suitable daughter-in-law.
Daria, however, marries the man she chooses, but within that marriage she suffers domestic violence. She is forced to endure constant shame, brutality, and coercion. She can’t return to her parental home, because her mother wouldn’t shelter her ‒ as a divorced woman, Daria would bring shame upon the family. Daria is advised by her mother to make the marriage work. Like many Indian mothers, Daria’s mother is concerned only about her own status within her community. Daria is made to feel that she is the perpetrator and not the victim. The story is about Daria’s struggle to overcome cultural and social barriers in order to fulfill herself as a person. But at the same time, it also tells the stories of numerous girls born in the subcontinent who are forced to endure similar treatment by their own families.
What inspired you to write it?
When you are inside a society you tend to be blind to its realities. But when I moved to Sweden I started to look at my society with different eyes. I began to evaluate it, and also to question myself why Bengali/Indian girls allowed themselves to be black-mailed into accepting their lot. One of my friends from Bangladesh was in love with a Hindu boy, but her family forced her to marry her cousin. Ultimately, she stood up, divorced him, and now lives in Sweden with another man. Her family has disowned her. When Fadime, a Kurdish girl, was murdered, by her father in Sweden, it occurred to me that the main problem is the inherited mindset of traditional families, which follows you wherever you go. This perverse trend is becoming a global illness. Girls from traditional families are bullied, beaten and, in the worst cases, even murdered if they try to break with accepted family patterns, no matter where they are. But it’s more severe in Third World countries, where the state doesn’t vouch for your welfare. That welfare depends on your family, and very often families misuse their power. I wanted to highlight that, through the story of Daria.
Who is your favorite author?
There are too many. At the moment I am hooked on Murakami.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and on several other online outlets.
What is up next for you?
I am working on my third novel. The second one is with a traditional publisher in Dhaka. I am also looking forward to seeing the second edition of the Spanish version in print and in e-book form.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I hope this interview will make people curious about A List of Offences, for even though it deals with a disgraceful social problem it also comes with a powerful story, and at the same time shows the beauty of Bengal. It’s a book full of refreshing images, sounds and smells.