A US-based Bangladeshi author, also the co-writer of Priyanka Chopra starrer Quantico, season 1, Sharbari Zohra Ahmed was recently in Kolkata to promote her debut novel ‘Dust Under Her Feet’. While speaking about her novel, she said that the people of Bangladesh are more alike than different from Indians as they were originally Hindus.
While speaking to news agency PTI in Kolkata, West Bengal, Ahmed said that she feels that the Bangladeshis have now forgotten their Hindu roots. “How can Bangladesh deny its Hindu heritage? We were originally Hindus. Islam came later,” Ahmed said.
Regretting that her identity as a Bengali is getting lost in Bangladesh due to the influence of right-wing religious groups, the author said that the question of her belief and identity in Bangladesh, where the state religion in Islam, has prompted her to write her debut novel ‘Dust Under Her Feet’.
Sharbari Zohra Ahmed who was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh had moved to the United States when she was just three weeks old.
The co-writer of the Season 1 of ‘Quantico’, a popular American television drama thriller series starring Priyanka Chopra, said that the British exploitation of India and the country’s partition based on religion has also featured in her novel in a big way.
“The British exploited us, stole from us and murdered us,” she said about undivided India, adding that the colonialists destroyed the thriving Muslin industry in Dhaka, said the author, furthering that Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during World War II, was a “racist”. “During my research, I learnt that two million Bengalis died in the artificial famine that was created by him. When people praise Churchill, it is like praising Hitler to the Jews. He was horrible,” she said.
The author said her novel is an effort to tell the readers what actually happened.
“Great Britain owes us three trillion dollars. You have to put in inflation. Yet, they (the British) still have a colonial mentality and white colonisation is on the rise again,” Ahmed, who was in the city to promote her novel, said.
The novel is based in Kolkata, then Calcutta, during World War II when American soldiers were coming to the city in large numbers. The irony was that while these American soldiers were nice to the locals, they used to segregate the so-called “black” soldiers, the novelist said.
“Calcutta was a cosmopolitan and the rest of the world needs to know how the city’s people were exploited, its treasures looted, people divided and hatred instilled in them,” she said.
“Kolkata was my choice of place for my debut novel since my mother was born here. She witnessed the ‘Direct Action Day’ when she was a kid and was traumatised. She saw how a Hindu was killed by Muslims near her home in Park Circus area (in the city),” Ahmed said.
Direct Action Day (16 August 1946), also known as the 1946 Calcutta Killings, was a day of widespread communal rioting between Muslims and Hindus in the city of Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) in the Bengal province of British India. The ‘Direct Action’ was announced by the Muslim League Council to show the strength of Muslim feelings towards its demand for an “autonomous and sovereign” Pakistan and resulted in the worst communal riots that British India had seen.
Against a backdrop of communal tension, the protest triggered massive riots in Calcutta. More than 4,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 residents were left homeless in Calcutta within 72 hours. This ultimately paved the way for the partition of India.
Dust Under Her Feet is set in the Calcutta of the 1940s and Ahmed in her novel examines the inequities wrought by racism and colonialism.