Londonstani, innit.

I’m always attracted to books set in London (White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Geoff Ryman’s 253, etc). London is a familiar place but because of the incredible diversity, there are still many unfamiliar aspects. I’m also very interested in British Asian culture, so when I came across Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, I knew it would either love it or hate it. I loved it. Seeing as this blog is about anything London, thought I’d share.
Gautam is a journalist for the Financial Times (one of those lucky ones who stuck his foot in their door as a graduate trainee and weaselled his way to full time staff status ever since). Londonstani is his first novel (published 3-4 years ago now), and quite an accomplishment at that because it leaves your mind churning at the end with a sly little twist that changes the way you think about the entire story. (No worries – I won’t give that away!)
It’s set in Hounslow and follows the Brit-Asian rudeboy scene through the eyes of the slightly-awkward Jas who tries to fit in with the hardcore bad boys but doesn’t quite cut it. The entire book is written in rudeboy slang – not an easy task, but it certainly sets it apart. Gautam even wrote a style guide to keep it straight while he was writing.
He explains the title on his website: “’Londonstani’ was a self-referential term that basically meant I’m proud to be a Londoner because it’s a place where I can be both British and Asian and still feel 100 per cent like I belong – like I’m a native. It’s like desi slang for the word “Londoner”; it means the same thing.”
Overall, it’s a brilliant exploration of identity, primarily, also religion, cross-cultural relationships, subcultures, family life, machismo and the pressure to either fit in or rebel against mainstream society. It hits a lot of discussion-worthy points – What is mainstream culture anyway? What does it mean to be a second or third generation Asian in London? What happens when you mix cultures to create new relationships or a new identity?
Gautam wrote Londonstani after researching the subject of Brit-Asian culture for his university dissertation and found himself with a lot more material and interest than he originally expected. He said it began with thinking “about the Brit-Asian rudeboy scene and the rejection of our parents’ efforts to integrate with mainstream Britain – leading to the development of our own brand of Britishness.”
It’s a look at one way to define “Britishness” and more proof that the definition is constantly evolving and expanding.

If you have any other recommendations for London-based fiction, pass em on in the comments…

2 comments on “Londonstani, innit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s