Theater of Cruelty

Samosa, tea and violence

British-Asian rudeboys get a voice in the novel Londonstani.


Then the reading of this summer's most important book is done – Londonstani by the British-Indian journalist Gautam Malkani. It caused a stir in the British media long before it was published, partly due to the struggle to get the rights to the script, which led to Malkani's bank account being able to receive around four million kroner in fees.

The book is not about militant Islamists who intend to take over London and turn the city into an Islamic state – the title can easily be misunderstood as such. Londonstani, however, is about second-generation British Asians in the Hounslow and Southall districts, a stone's throw from Heathrow Airport, where the vast majority of Asians who work at the airport come from. If you think Greenland is characterized by too much Asia, Hounslow and Southall can really give an experience of how real ghettos work – with a jumble of clothing stores, restaurants, eateries and fast food restaurants. The ghetto is not played here, Hounslow is a real commodity.

And so is Malkani's book, which begins with a fight that is taken out of Quentin Tarantino's bloody film universe, spiced with a racism you may not have thought Asians could not. But don't be fooled. Asians' disdain for whites can be as ruthless as the other way around.

Malkani's four main characters, with the young Sikh boy Hardjit in the lead and Jas as storyteller, are not gracious to white Englishmen, or ghoras, as it is called in Punjabi. For that matter, they are also not gracious to Asians who choose to embrace white culture by listening to British guitar indie, in the book represented by Coldplay (a fitting hate object, you ask me). They are despicably referred to as coconuts: brown on the outside, white on the inside.

Awareness of being British-Asian has been on the rise for the past 20 years. The last really big wave came in the late 1990s, when being Asian was the coolest thing on the trend scene, helped by bands like Cornershop and the Asian Dub Foundation. Cornershop's Tjinder Singh fused sitar and bhangra with 1960s psychedelia, and got a huge hit with "Brimful of Asha", while the Asian Dub Foundation was in a way an Asian-British version of Rage Against The Machine, with its militant and revolutionary lyrics. But on the fringes of this image, the Asian rudeboy scene has always existed, and it shit in hip types like "asian cool", which was promoted mostly in white trend magazines anyway. This is the scene Malkani has portrayed in Londonstani. A world where arranged marriages, metallic-purple BMWs, the dream of money ("bling-bling economics") and dominant mothers (non-oppressed mothers) create a setting doomed to end in tragedy.

Malkani had to endure a lot of criticism for Londonstani when it was released. He is not a street boy himself, but a renowned journalist in the Financial Times, with a degree from the elite University of Cambridge. The critics thought he could not have written an authentic book, since he himself does not belong to the street. Worst of all was when he was described as a "Muslim Irvine Welsh" (the author behind Trainspotting), especially since Malkani is not a Muslim and does not write about drug-addicted young men living in social housing. He himself says that he has only written an urban youth novel for urban boys who rarely read books. It may be so, but Londonstani also provides a frightening insight into an ethnic youth culture that is probably also found in the streets of Oslo. Do not be naive.




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