Sidelong Glances At the PCU Characters: Meera Mangeshkar

Bryant and May

I’ve never thought of India as anything but a matriarchy.

In New Delhi I felt I was surrounded by people who must have personally known my (very English) grandmother, for they had the exact same language and mannerisms. The cultural link between the two countries cannot be underestimated.

Fitting a feisty young third-generation Indian officer into the PCU was easy; she would admire her elderly bosses but would be frustrated by their actions. She would have little respect for weakness or indecision. She has slowly come to realise that her practicality and lack of imagination will hold her back from ever understanding them, even though it won’t stand in the way of her career path.

How such a messy, chaotic, class-ridden society manages to produce so many sharply focussed technical minds is once more down to class, but creates paradoxes everywhere. I once saw a smartly dressed woman cooking a chicken over a burning tyre outside a scientific institute. In a country where a wealthy man can allow a child on crutches to move between stalled vehicles selling pirated copies of Vogue, the compartmentalised nature of Indian society appears to be in the DNA of its individuals.

But while the British tut, they fail to examine their own caste system. If the hubristic English had recognised the complexity and sophistication of the mighty subcontinent instead of deluding themselves into thinking they were superior, the two nations could have formed a formidable partnership.

At least the UK took the new postwar arrivals to its heart with a certain amount of success. By the time a bastardised version of Chicken Tikka Marsala became the nation’s number one favourite dish Meera Mangeshkar was able to experience London on the inside track, but she still has to deal with her family’s deep-rooted conservative traditions. As a character assimilating on her own terms she doesn’t have to carry the weight of racial issues on her back.

Oddly, during the politically incorrect postwar period both Anglos and Indians seem to have delighted in mimicking each other, from Goodness Gracious Me and My Beautiful Laundrette to Carry On Up The Khyber. Indian performers defused tensions by parodying themselves better than the British ever could.

The All Anglo-Indian Association had been founded in 1926, representing the interests of an ethnic group which holds that Anglo-Indians are uniquely Christian, speak English as their mother tongue and have a historical link to both Europe and India. Now the term Anglo-Indian means something different, merely suggesting a comfortable back and forth between us all. It’s when you get to the police force that racism returns to rear its head.

In India, police recruits are trained in everything from assembling/dismantling weapons to firing, rock climbing, scuba diving, horse riding and gymnastic physical training. It’s depressing, then, that Parm Sandhu, serving as Temporary Chief Superintendent with the Met, was denied promotions and opportunities at work due to her race and gender.

My parents once went to a wedding reception, took a wrong turn in the hotel and ended up at the wrong bash, this one Indian, which they ended up staying at for the evening. My father swore he had not noticed the difference, to which my mother replied, ‘You must have realised they were celebrating Diwali.’ To which he said, ‘I thought the cakes were good.’

When I added two West Indian officers, Liberty and Fraternity DuCaine, to the PCU team I felt I had to make one of them gay to counterbalance the resentment I still had for the time I had lived in Brixton, when two men would be hissed at and spat at by Jamaican men for walking along a street together. With Meera there were no issues to confront. All I wanted was to create as much variety in personnel as possible. Keeping the books’ characters apolitical has not always worked; occasionally feedback has complained about liberal bias.

There are steps too far; I am entirely against cancel culture, and see it as another method of eroding free speech. Perhaps I can talk about that at Calcutta’s immense literary festival in January – if I get there.

30 comments on “Sidelong Glances At the PCU Characters: Meera Mangeshkar”

  1. John Griffin says:

    Not so much a liberal bias as a generosity towards humanity and a dislike of those who hold others in contempt (e.g. Invisible Code).

  2. SteveB says:

    To my mind the cancel culture is a step down the road to the Hitler youth. It’s the same basic mentality. The combination of ‘purity’ and narcissism is something youth is very prone to.

  3. SteveB says:

    By the way I’ve never really noticed any special bias in the books and even if I did they’re YOUR books and you can put whatever bias you like in them.

  4. Brian Evans says:

    My Socialist Dad used to say there is only one country that is even more class bound than the UK-India.

    I have never been and I never will go there-the heat-but it strikes me that the living conditions are positively medieval.

    I used to spend a lot of time in Brixton, and had no problem at all. However, in the 70’s, I friend of mine and me were beaten up coming out of a pub in Forest Hill by three bits of white trash.

    My racial yardstick-I would rather have a black or Asian family move in next to to me than a working-class white family.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    I ought to read back before I send!

    a-that should read a middle-class black or Asian family

    b-that’s Forest Hill near Catford-Sarf London.

    c-It was a case of queer-bashing.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    A bias is only a view you don’t agree with.

  7. Penelope says:

    Ever since my first B&M I have always , always seen Meera in my head as the amazing actress Linnea Berthelsen, who plays 8 on Stranger Things. Attitude for days, brave and tough, a strong sense of duty—and style. Would love y’all’s opinion.

  8. Dawn Andrews says:

    In the present world there’s no such thing as too much liberal bias in my opinion, Dr Who is always getting slammed for the same reason. My fav Mangeshkar moment is when she gets mugged by a gang of line dancers and has fun. Magic.

  9. Liz Thompson says:

    Your variety of characters has never struck me as being out of the ordinary, unrealistic, or over-liberal. Authors put in their books what they choose, if I couldn’t cope with it, I’d stop reading. Just because a character does or says something I disagree with, doesn’t allow me to assume the author agrees with it either. I don’t want anodyne books that never show conflict, bias, anger, injustice. The world ain’t like that.

  10. snowy says:

    P, we all keep a repertory company of actors in our heads and use them to populate the books we read. My company of actors may be slightly different to yours, because we like/have seen different films and TV programmes, [but nobodies company is better than that of anybody else, they are all unique], for me Meera is played by Archi Panjabi.

  11. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    What Liz said.

  12. Brooke says:

    would be interesting to see Meera and Janice standing side by side.

  13. Peter T says:

    Sorry, it’s a bit obvious, but, in my mind, Meera is a young Mina Anwar. I like both Meera and Janice. It’s good to see two fictional females that are people that it would be nice to know, who are neither stupid nor overbearing.

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    I don’t tend to have characters as an actor, I make up my own vision of them, or at least voice. I guess I must be a bit odd like that. I can see a character and cast them but I still have my original, in the same way I would cast a real person.

    What’s wrong with being liberal, would you rather be known as a fascist or communist? People will always be biased in some form, if your anodyne you’d be biased against the extreme and in horror that can lead to wrestling, if your in the middle your biased against the extremes at either end and if your at either end…. I prefer you to be to be honest in how you see things and write that way and this is from a working class lefty, who doesn’t always agree with your views but respects and enjoys them. I mean I can’t really see you as a Trumpist or Corbynista and wouldn’t want you to. Just keep doing what your doing it works.


  15. Penelope says:

    Snowy, I see what you mean! She is lovely. What’s funny is, I almost never watch TV or new movies anymore. I usually violently disagree with casting on a fave adaptation. What leaps to mind is Gandalf in LOTR—Christopher Lee was much closer to “my” Gandalf. I came around, though.

  16. Dawn Andrews says:

    Wayne, no you are not alone, I have my own image of characters, so much so that I often get outraged when they are miscast in films or series, silly I know. I was a bit surprised at the reaction to liberal, dictionary definition ‘willing to accept or respect behavior or opinions different from one’s own, open to new ideas.’ Sounds good to me.

  17. Alan Morgan says:

    I loved living in Brixton many years ago, you never had far to walk home from gigs or riots.

    But yes, the last time I was in a fight (and this was in the 90s) was when a drunk local in the George Canning took offence at my mate Gary for being gay, and went for him.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    Dawn, that’s my definition too, but many Americans equate it with left wing or even communist. For those people Canada is the home of the undeclared “commie-pinko”.

  19. Dawn Andrews says:

    That explains the angry undertow, thank you Helen. I imagine Canadians aren’t delighted to be typecast like that. And I thought McCarthy was dead and buried!

  20. Jan says:

    What is “Cancel Culture” then? Google seems to be as much in the dark as I am or it could be be the dodgy connection with the internet here.

    No hotmail, it doesn’t answer Googles! This interwebs in a right state.

    BTW though on the plus side I did get a proper good look at the comet Neowise at 0320 this morning. Was fabulous! I think 23/7/20 was it’s closest transit to earth. Be setting off into the distance again soon. We’ll all be history by the times he comes back.

    Neowise had a sparkly tail – i had to keep training binoculars on him to see that so beautiful though. The brightest object in the sky last night. A Celestial firework!

    Mind you he should still be visible when the next set of celestial fireworks the Perseids appear in August. Seen quite A few shooting stars whilst looking out for Neowise. I’m proper made up now!

  21. Jan says:

    Actually for me (i forgot to mention above cos of this comet + meteor chat. Sorry)

    Meera is without doubt the most realistic the most true to life police character in the series.
    Followed I think by Janice but you come adrift a bit with her in a sense at times.

    Yes Meera is good. I can’t quite work out when Colin did promotion or why(His job doesn’t much appear to have changed and you haven’t ‘re posted him) I am sure he was a Dc earlier in in the series am not sure wots happened there.

  22. Helen Martin says:

    I’m at Strange Tide at the moment and Colin is still a DC at this point.
    My husband was going to take me up to a northish facing spot to see the comet but between saying and walking out the door the sky clouded over. If this cloud clears off today we’ll try again. Hoping for the best. (Discovered my partially hidden plum tree is covered with fruit. Not wanting to bring up old topics but am hopeful for later this summer.)

  23. Jan says:

    Blackberries have seriously got going here Helen but time for me to collect them is pretty limited.
    Last night was really wet cloudy and miserable here and I think the weekend isn’t going to be so clever. Neowise will probably a lot less visible next time I spot him. Was lovely though after all the getting up at 0315 to see the comet + to finally get such a treat.

    Hope all is well with you – stay safe. ( it’s feels so daft to say it but it’s what you want for folk really)

  24. Helen Martin says:

    Blackberries will be a while yet. I think it was all that rain we had in June. I have gathered some lavender and that certainly is having a great season

  25. Helen Martin says:

    Cut off by husband claiming we’d lost our cable feed. Incorrect.
    Yes, that is what we really hope for everyone, that we’re all staying safe and well. So far so good with our immediate circle and hope the same is true for you. Was in the credit union the other day and found myself answering in all seriousness and gratitude that yes, I was indeed feeling well today, thank you.

  26. Jan says:

    Yes Helen I was surprised to find the blackberries had ripened I must admit but where they’ve had lots of sunshine these berries are definitely ready.

    BlackBerry vodka
    + Baked outs with BlackBerry fruit might be the way forward from here!

  27. snowy says:

    For those that fancy a little ‘Scots-Wa-hay’ there is ‘Brammie’, Blackberries, Sugar and Whisky, when the fruit is strained off it can be used to make Cranachan.

  28. Helen Martin says:

    Here I’ve been destroying blackberry vines in my garden. Now I may just let some grow and ripen, always a bad idea. Still, your suggestions sound good, both of you.

  29. Wayne Mook says:

    Jan – Cancel Culture is a Trump line, so a bit confused. People destroying statues etc are trying to cancel culture, destroy the past, the historic culture.

    Actually going back I’ve just got a new recipe including swede.

    Canadians are socialists like Biden, commie pinkos like Putin are the friend of Trump. Just saying.


  30. snowy says:

    Don’t tell anyone, but I’m making ‘Marmite’ from a loaf of bread. [If it actually works – I’ll be absolutely gob-smacked!]

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