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…

Tube Tales

A long tube journey. Some interesting characters.

First, a man who reeks of first-date overindulgence of cheap cologne.

Replaced by two teenage boys with top hats, singing Chelsea fan songs in Italian.

Followed by a small Asian woman going down the pages of a notebook with a pen, writing the answers to simple sums as quickly as possible.

Then, two young chavvy boys with thick Scottish accents. One decides to read a few sentences of my book out loud over my shoulder. My book is called 253 by Geoff Ryman, about people on a Bakerloo train from Waterloo to Elephant and Castle. I ignore him.

Later, a family with a bundle of balloons, a baby carriage, and a copy of the Financial Times. The baby sits on his mother’s lap whimpering quietly. Across the aisle, the father opens the FT. His other son, about four-years-old, hides behind the paper and then peeks around, looks at me with big brown eyes and mouths “hi!” Then he hides again. Then peeks out, waves, giggles, hides… This carries on until I get off the train with a grin.