As a drama student in a performance of her one-woman play One of Us at Hull University, UK, 1983 Photo:
You couldn’t have missed Meera Syal on TV. She is the noted comedian, playwright and actress who came to prominence as one of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me. She also plays the batty-but-sharp granny in The Kumars at No. 42. Born in 1961 of Punjabi parents who’d migrated to England from New Delhi, Meera is one of the best-known Indians in the UK. She wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach, directed by Gurinder Chadha. In January 2005, Meera married Sanjeev Bhaskar, who plays her grandson in The Kumars at No. 42. Their son, Shaan, was born late that year. Syal also has a daughter, Chameli, from an earlier marriage. Here Meera Syal reflects on her childhood, school, career and more.
...I was a bit feral as a child. I grew up in the little town of Essington in the West Midlands. We lived in miners’ cottages—there were about 40 of them in an L-shape, with a communal yard where all the kids gathered and people parked their cars, played their radios, hung their washing and sunned themselves. Next to the yard was a park, so I spent my whole childhood outdoors, climbing trees, getting scabby knees, almost drowning... It was like Enid Blyton—except I was Indian, and it was the Midlands! I was allowed to roam and take risks, and I think that developed my independence of spirit.
...I loved writing. My mum [Surrinder, who was a teacher at Meera’s primary school] has some poems I wrote when I was five. They’re rubbish, of course, but there was obviously that need there to express myself. From about 13, I kept a diary regularly. It was a good escape because, although I loved my childhood, I was so aware that we were fish out of water, and the village was also a very small place. I remember sitting on the swings at the park, staring at the horizon and thinking, There must be something more than this.
...my family’s ethos was that your home is as far as you fall. It was that this is your haven, your family, your home, and you will always be loved. Therefore, go out into the world and be strong. And that’s what I would later try to pass on to my children: you mustn’t be afraid to go out and take risks and challenges—but you must know that you’re loved and safe.
...I did encounter some racism. It was a white, working-class village. If I missed one of my connecting buses home from school, I’d have to walk through a council estate and then over the fields—and that was taking your life in your hands! But it taught me to be very bolshy. I scrapped a lot behind my parents’ backs, but I don’t think that was a bad thing. I realized that, if you play a victim, you’ll be treated like one.
...when my mum got breast cancer. I was 19. She had a mastectomy and hysterectomy, and then we just had to cross our fingers. As anyone who’s lived with cancer will tell you, you’re never quite sure if you’re free of it. There are monthly and yearly checks—but you never know.My mum’s a fighter, though, and she’s still with us now. Also, to get a bit of a kick up the backside from mortality at that age was no bad thing for me. You think, Oh, my God—every minute counts. I’ve got all these things I want to say. I’m going to say them now.When Dennis Potter [writer, director and journalist] was dying, he did an interview and spoke about the irony
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