Gautam Malkani's Londonstani is 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
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
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
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'? - Reviewed by James Bridle.