Monday, September 18, 2023
Dr. Zainub Priya Dala

Join the South Asian Studies Program, an International Programs affinity group, as they welcome author Dr. Zainub Priya Dala on Friday, October 6, 4-5:30 p.m. (CDT) in 1117 University Capitol Centre at the University of Iowa. Through her talk, "Gandhi in South Africa: Deconstruction of a complex man in a Coolie odyssey," Dala will provide an assessment of the legacy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in South Africa, the land where he began his political career before going on to become one of the most enigmatic - and controversial - leaders the modern world has seen. 

South African Indians form one of the largest demographics of the Indian diaspora, and the majority of this demographic are the indentured laborers (informally called Coolies) who were brought to Africa to labor on the sugarcane fields. MK Gandhi began his fledgling activist years in this complex country, heightening his social awareness amongst apartheid and indentured laborer challenges. Dala will discuss whether there was an aspect of being Coolie that Gandhi did not see, and within the making of a Mahatma, did the man himself connect with a community that was struggling against social and political ills? In the rapidly globalizing South African Indian Community currently, Dala will explore whether Gandhi is still relevant to the children of the Coolie lineage. 

Dr. Zainub Priya Dala is a South African writer of Indian descent. Her debut novel, What about Meera (2016, Penguin Random House), won the Minara Prize for Literature and was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Fiction. Her second novel, The Architecture of Loss (2018, Pegaus Books NY and Speaking Tiger Books Delhi), was runner-up in the Clara Johnson Women's Fiction Prize (Chicago). What Gandhi Didn't See: Being Indian in South Africa (2021, Speaking Tiger Books Delhi) is a memoir that focuses on her heritage of indenture and experience of growing up during the apartheid era in South Africa. She founded and is a contributor to the Ghazal Collective that writes a ghazal chain in honor of Africa's Poet Laureate Professor Mazisi Kunene. 

Dala holds an Honorary Fellowship in Writing at the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa and has worked closely with both PEN India and PEN America to secure the safety and freedom of speech of journalists from Kashmir during the abrogation of Article 370 in India. She has written articles and opinion pieces for various newspapers and magazines including the New York Times Magazine, the Deccan Chronicle, Times of India, the Daily Maverick, and The Delhi Times. She practices and researches as a specialist therapist in chronic pain management in Durban, South Africa, where she resides, still in the same sugarcane farm village of her indentured ancestors. 

This event is supported in part by a UI International Programs’ Special Projects Award. Funded in part by the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization, International Programs’ Special Projects Awards support internationalization at the University of Iowa by providing funding for small-scale international activities on campus. 


Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Daniel Vorwerk in advance at or 319-467-1619. 


International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement.  IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.