Londonstani by Gautam Malkani
Gautam Malkani's Londonstani is set amongst the self-described ‘Desi’ kids of Southwest London, among the feed roads and feeder towns of Heathrow and Hounslow, kids who have rejected both the first-generation nostalgia of their parents and the multicultural world they’re supposed to be a part of. Hardjit, Amit, Ravi and Jas have the Sikh and Hindu side of Hounslow High Street sewn up; they settle scores within the rudeboy circuit by staging fights at the BMX track and unlock enough boosted Nokias to make sure they have the blingest mobile phone in the house (an essential requirement under Rudeboy Rule #2, as Jas, our narrator, carefully explains).
But the boys are on the lookout for a bigger scam than Hounslow can provide, and it is a naive English teacher who, in an excruciating attempt to “understand” their rage, loutishness and refusal to integrate, provides the opportunity. His one previous success, a local boy made good - Cambridge, the City, penthouse in Belgravia - takes the gang under his wing, and provides an education in how to make some real money.
Londonstani rockets along with its mix of text speak, class voyeurism and hilariously exaggerated masculinity (the relentless homophobia is countered by frequent bouts of lovingly-described man-on-man combat and narcissistic preening). Despite the inane chatter, no non-rudeboy can fail to enjoy Jas’ desperate attempts to keep up with his harder, more with-it mates or cheer when he makes it with Samira, the fittest girl at the Green School for Fit Girls - and a Muslim to boot. But Malkani’s frequent editorialising on the finer points of Desi etiquette and street economics, while entertaining, slow the pace, and his attempts to bring Jas to a moral reckoning with his assumed gangsterism suck the life from an otherwise enjoyable ride. The less said about the final twist, which smacks of rushed, massive-advance-mediated desperation, the better.
Much has been and will be written about Malkani’s background as a Financial Times journalist who wrote his Cambridge SPS dissertation on the rudeboy culture of his home town. The Times sent a white female reporter to a Hounslow sixth-form college to check the authenticity of the language (they loved it). The Evening Standard ran a vicious putdown by a rival British Asian author. If there is to be a serious discussion about post-Brick Lane British Asian literature, Londonstani is not the place to have it. What more can be said about a novel widely touted as “a Muslim Irvine Welsh”, which is in fact written by someone from a Hindu background, the first scene of which describes a Sikh youth beating the shit out of a white kid for calling him ‘paki’?