Meera Syal is in Hay to talk about her third novel and her first book in 16 years, ‘The House of Hidden Mothers’. She just didn’t have a book that she wanted to write during that time and until she was watching a documentary about surrogacy in India. It was as if one of her favourite books, Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ had crossed the line from fiction into fact.
The surrogacy industry in India is now worth $4.5 billion a year, and often poor girls from rural areas carry babies for wealthy foreign couples.
In Meera’s new novel, Shyama, at 48 (in the first draft she was 44) has fallen for a younger man, Toby, and they want a child. She already has a 19 year-old daughter and has been told that she can’t have another child. Her friend Priya tells her about ART – Assisted Reproductive Technology. At the same time in a rural village in India, young Mala is trapped in an oppressive marriage and needs money to escape from her situation..
Manzoor says asks whether the novel about a relationship between two people is also about the relationship between England and India and Syal agrees. This isn’t too far from call centres,”effectively we’ve outsourced fertility”. The West has rich infertile women and the East has poor fertile women and trade has stepped in.
The discussion covered issues of culture and diversity and how Meera had played with these issues in a mischievous and irreverent way in her work. “There’s a difference between Bernard Manning telling a Jewish joke and Woody Allen telling a Jewish joke.” The subject of age is also at the fore in this discussion and particularly in the impact it has on women. “However much botox you have your ovaries are still the age your ovaries are.”