Comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer, actress, and one of the funniest character actors to grace the BBC.
Known for being part of the team that created ‘Goodness Gracious Me’; a witty satirical take at Asians’ in Britain. Despite being an outsider, she managed to use it as a force to drive her own creativity.
As an author, her written works – ‘Anita and Me’, ‘Life isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee’, and ‘The House Of Hidden Mothers’ – are perfect examples of translating experience and the female asian perspective into creative outputs.
Early Years & Childhood
Meera’s parents, born in Punjab could be considered progressive liberal romantics themselves. Her father was an accountant and a Hindu, and her mother a teacher, and Sikh. In order to be together they would have needed to shun the disapproval of their parents and elope. Which is exactly what they did!
Yet despite having culturally Indian parents, they encouraged Meera’s passion for the arts. Whilst they did at some point ask if she’d go into medicine (what asian parents doesn’t ask this?!), once they saw her determination, it was clear their daughter would be forging her own path.
“I wasn’t policed by the Auntie brigade like most of my friends living in urban areas around other Indians.”
Born near Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands, Meera grew up in the mining village of Essington, Staffordshire, where she and her family were the only Asian family. This led to misunderstandings and prejudice – the type that come from ignorance rather than hostility. This aside, her upbringing was that of freedom; freedom of thought and freedom of expression and this formative experience is what awakened her creative expression and voice.
“If I had grown up a white, middle-class kid, I don’t think I would have become a creative person, because I don’t know what would have propelled me to this need to communicate.”
Meera & her mother, Surrinder Syal
Guided by the creative bug, Meera studied English and Drama at Manchester University – graduating with a double first. She then secured a place to study an MA in Drama and Psychotherapy at Leeds University. However, by this point she had co-written her first play and went on to perform the play, and all 15 parts, by herself.
They play went to Edinburgh Fringe where it won an award, and Meera was contacted by the director of the Royal Court theatre who asked her to perform in a play in the Royal Court on a 3-year contract.
Perhaps best known for her television work – ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ – Meera’s work is somewhat more prolific. She has written screenplays, for the stage, for television, for radio, and 3 novels. With her semi-autobiographical novel ‘Anita and Me’ finding its way onto school and university English syllabuses both in Britain and abroad.
In 1997 she was oppointed an MBE (Member of the Order of teh British Empire) and in 2015 a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for her contributions and services to drama and literature.
She says she accepted the CBE for her parents;
“It was their reaction that convinced me. They made the epic journey of emigration and started from scratch. They did it for us. For them the awards were a very visible symbol that it was worth it. And I’m sure it’ll be very useful when I’m trying to book a restaurant!”