Stories behind Sheela Banerjee’s name go from Aryan invaders via sacred black stones to 70s dinner ladies
It’s funny the little things that stick in your mind. I was in the back of a cab with my friend Denise, decades ago, when we were both young TV researchers. The driver was having a bit of a flirt, and asked us our names. “Sheela and Denise,” I replied with my London twang. He checked us out again in his mirror, as we sat there: two young Asian women, brown skin, black hair. My parents are Indian and my friend’s father was Sri Lankan. The driver thought we were having him on. How could we both be called such ridiculously English names?
His incredulity stuck with me. I can see our younger, twentysomething selves now: confident in who we were, no longer ashamed of our colour and of our background. We had left behind the racism of our childhood (or so we thought) and were proud of being Asian, in quite a political way. The names we had been given spoke of another era, of our parents’ more nervous experience of trying to fit in as new immigrants in Britain.