I am both Muslim and Bengali, says author Sharbari

I am both Muslim and Bengali, says author Sharbari

Part of the writers team of the show ‘Quantico’, the author was in the city for a reading of her novel

Sharbari Zohra Ahmed is a Bangladeshi American playwright, and screenwriter whose claim to fame was her stint with the ABC show ‘Quantico’ as a part of the writer’s team for the first season of the show. Metrolife caught up with the author while she was in the city for a reading of her book ‘Dust Under Her Feet’ that had been organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation:

How was your experience working on Quantico?

I learnt so much, about writing and scripting for television. I was working on an American show which had an Indian actor headlining it. It was a moment of pride for me. 

Your family moved from Bangladesh when you were only three weeks. Do you go back often?

Every summer, we will go to Dhaka. I just didn’t live there for long, but my identity as a Bangladeshi American has shaped me and my work. I speak Bangala at home. A lot of what I write is about Bangladeshi culture; it is often an exploration of my identity and my personal introspections. 

Was it difficult growing up as a Bangladeshi in the US?

It was difficult in the sense that for Americans, we were unfamiliar. They didn’t really
understand us, or our culture. The other minority communities had been in the US for a much longer time, unlike the South Asian community. We were marginalised and othered. It was lonely being a little brown girl in the middle of so many white kids. Racism and ignorance, is still very much a part of my life, even though things have changed. 

What inspired you to write ‘Dust Under Her Feet’?

The book is an exploration of what it is American and Bengali, at the same time. Bengal is the centre of great storytelling and so is, Hollywood. I grew up watching old English movies and listening to Bengali stories. The book is an attempt to bring these two identities. It was also about inspired by my mother’s childhood in Kolkata; she was born there, and she had to leave after the partition

Did your mother’s stories help you weave together the book, in terms of the setting?

The book is set in Kolkata of the 1940’s. World War II was happening at that point. With the Japanese bombing the city, its people experienced the war in a way the rest of the country had not. There was a lot of research involved. I travelled to the city, visited the National Library, and went through the archives. My mother’s stories helped too.

Your mother is from Kolkata and you are from Bangladesh. Is it difficult to negotiate that part of your identity?

I am a Muslim, but I am also a Bengali. Many of our ceremonies and festivities are essentially Hindu. For me, there has never been any conflict. I don’t care if people try to peg me as one or the other, I am both. 

What’s next for you? 

I’m working on a play called ‘Raisins, Not Virgins’, which is being produced in New York on Broadway. I’m working on a new novel and a film, as well.