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The House of Hidden Mothers

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Meera Syal, author:

One of the most famous of her generation of British Asians to impact mainstream culture, actor and writer Meera Syal, who is presently at the Jaipur Literature Festival, tells us about her most recent literary offering—The House of Hidden Mothers.  

As a writer you have written three books, the most recent being The House of Hidden Mothers can you tell us about the novel and what inspired you to write it?
I was channel surfing one night and came across this very arresting image of a group of Indian women, all obviously pregnant and poor, sitting in a dormitory and being interviewed. This turned out to be a documentary about a surrogacy clinic in India, and until then I had no idea that India was the world centre for surrogacy, a massive industry worth 4.5 billion dollars annually. It’s the most popular place for surrogacy because it’s the cheapest and as yet not regulated. What would cost you 100,000 dollars in the US will only cost about 20,000 dollars in India, the surrogates are paid between 5 and 7 thousand pounds, not much for anyone in the West, life changing for a poor rural woman. 
And I also thought surrogacy was a really interesting way to explore the complex ever changing relationship between India and Britain. Have the West just outsourced fertility as they did with call centres? Is India merely filling  a gap in the market as is their right as a growing tiger economy? Is it exploitation or a solution in which both sides get something they need? And I really wanted to explore above all this fascinating relationship between Shyama the British Indian woman who wants a child and Mala, the poor Indian woman who needs the money to escape poverty. How weird that a stranger 5000 miles away holds the key to your dreams and what is that relationship like, so intensely connected for just the 9 months it takes to carry a child and then you just walk away? Is Shyama just a fertility tourist or giving something back to the country her parents left? Is Mala being horribly exploited because her womb is the only thing she has to sell, or is this the lucky escape she needs to change her life? I wanted to explore that power balance and how it unexpectedly shifts and changes as unexpected events unfold.


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