Saturday, August 19, 2006

Londonstani

Gautam Malkani

Here is chick-lit in reverse – a boy-book if I can call it that. Fun to read on a plane, not to be taken too seriously.

Set in a part of London, Hounslow, that’s more South Asian than English, the first thing that strikes us is the lingo - fresh and therefore interesting. It is an unabashed mix of English, Hindi and Punjabi – the ‘pehndu’ and ‘innit’ and ‘bhanchod’ and ‘wikid’ all flow effortlessly together. And this is probably the best thing about the book.

Londonstani showcases a fusion culture where kids grow up in Britain, yet stay Indian or Paki. In this twilight zone, arranged marriages are the norm and families are more Indian than those back home. Dads drive ‘Beemers’ and moms hold satsangs. Kids listen to Bhangra pop and integration is a dirty word. In the heart of Britain, the line dividing India and Pakistan is as strong as it has ever been – Muslim and Hindu are swear words you throw at each other across the line. It is all very laughable if you don’t get the sneaking suspicion that this is all true.

The narrator is a boy named Jas and it is a tale of him trying hard to belong. He makes sure he talks in the right lingo and does the right things, just so that he can be part of the ‘rudeboys’. The group he desperately wants an in into consists of Hardjit (right name Harjit), a Sikh boy, the leader and body perfect, Amit whose brother Arun’s marriage is becoming a soap opera and Ravi, innocuous and tactless. His plans of integration into this world soon come apart – with his obsession for Samira, a Muslim and therefore a complete no-no for his group, his advice to Arun to rebel against his mother that makes for unfortunate consequences and the group’s growing involvement in a mobile phone scam.

Jas’s story is pretty engrossing at the beginning. But after a while, the lingo no longer surprises and the situations drag. The ending of course, is completely farcical. Londonstani is, like I mentioned earlier, a decent read. Nothing more, nothing less.

1 comment:

UL said...

You're right, close portrayal of the stories I have heard from some British Indians. Typical ABCD if you replace the 'A' with a 'B' for British.