Poor Meera Syal, the expectations were so high from the audience around me and indeed myself that she would be incredibly sharp and witty and have us in stitches that once the discussion started and it became clear that it was all about surrogacy and motherhood (the main subjects her fictional book centres around) we were a little disappointed.
Of course Meera should want to promote her new book, The House of Hidden Mothers, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just not interested in India’s surrogate industry, the ethics around the issue nor indeed am I particularly interested in motherhood. In short, it wasn’t an event for me but here I was… so I forced myself to pay attention and did in fact find some snippets interesting.
Meera read aloud a painfully long excerpt from her book in which the primary plot is about the relationship that develops between the main character, a 48 year old wealthy British Asian woman and a lower income Indian woman from a rural village who becomes a surrogate for her. The main character has a teenage daughter and she wants to have a baby with her new partner. The surrogate industry in India (it is an industry due to the sheer scale) was largely unregulated and much cheaper than in other countries.
There are various sub-plots one of which concerns expats and property court cases in India. As would be expected with Meera Syal as the author, the surrogate mother is not portrayed as a feeble doormat/victim type but as feisty and as ambitious as the protagonist.
Meera was questioned about including the infamous brutal gang rape in Delhi of the physiotherapy student on a moving bus in her book. Apparently the incident does fit into Meera’s story, however, I question the necessity in including true crime in her work of fiction. Why not imagine a fictional scene? I believe it is a small part of her book but it was not a small part of India’s recent history and that Meera will gain commercially from its inclusion seems distasteful.
It was fascinating hearing about her thought process behind the main plot, the characters and the depth she has given them. Meera said the parts about India in the book are written from the only perspective she knows: as a Non-Resident Indian and that India has changed faster than the Indians that left it creating a difference in perceptions. The book is due for release in India, it will be interesting to see the reaction.