Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Hey guys,

Apologies if you are already aware of this novel and it's potential for the Language student, I've only just 'discovered' it, and have literally just come back from a seminar where the author himself (Gautam Malkani) has been talking about the book. Even if you are aware of this novel, perhaps my ramblings will be useful anyway, if not to shed some light on what Gautam must have been thinking to write this work.

To give some background, 'Londonstani' is a novel about a group of Asian middle class boys who are part of the nineties 'desi' culture [I think!] They are a sort of a gang who are trying to please their parents at home whist maintaining their tough-boy attitude to their peers.

[In this way the novel is comparable to the novels of black writers Alex Wheattle and Courttia Newland-'East of Acre Lane'-see Biscuit struggling to tide things over at home- and 'The Scholar' -see Cory trying to protect Sonia from knowing what's going on with Sean-]

Amongst all this, the teenagers find their own take on religious racism and ethnic issues that prove interesting, but for Gautam Malkani the book has an essentially class focus. The plot is an especially recommended one on account of the controversial twist it has at the end [one I wish I could tell you but would completely spoil the book if you read it!] The rest is, at it's simplest, an Asian's take on growing up in Hounslow and what it means to be a man in light of your culture, religion and race.

Before I continue, it has to be said that this is no Asian ghetto story, and the author admits and prides the novel on that, he focuses on the superficial persona of thug/gangster and how it aids and hinders middle class youth at the time he is writing about (90s.) In this way, it is somewhat different to those texts by black writers I mentioned before- NOT that I'm trying to make out that Brickie or West London are ghettos! I hope you understand what I mean and choose to move on..

Background roughly completed, to us linguists (or linguistic enthusiast in my case,) it is important A- how this text came about and B- that the characters talk in a mixture of slang.

The language used by the characters contains a high percentage of swearing, some urban London/street lexis, some Pakistani and other Asian words from different regions that I now can't remember and haven't seemed to have documented in my notes.. never mind. I thought this interesting in comparison to the MEYD studies and the latest work by Ben Rampton on the 'new' language of Asian teens today:
  • Rampton, Ben, Language in Late Modernity: Interaction in an Urban School, (Cambridge, 2006) )[this book is EXCELLENT but don't read it all in one go.]
And also his 'Crossing' book where it goes into more detail:
  • Rampton, Ben, Crossing: Language and Ethnicity Among Adolescents, (London and New York, 1995 [you can find this in SFX library]

I obviously haven't studied into this area but for those of you interested in this type of speech I think 'Londonstani' has great potential here that could enhance and complicate Language A Level work.
More generally (in relation to linguistics), the fact that this book resulted from socially scientific research I think is interesting, as we can compare the way he attained his data to the way in which samples are taken for linguistic studies and the various methodologies used. [The differences noted by comparing his methodology to yours for example, may help you in tailoring to the concerns of your argument/research.] The author explained that the criteria he had to follow in order to make his data usable is distinctly different to that of linguistics, but I couldn't help but draw parallel.
To again take a step contextually outward, Gautam Malkani's novel came from an interest he pursued whilst at university in Cambridge [boo..] where he studied SPS (Social and Political Sciences) [again, boo..] and wrote a dissertation in his final year about the use of the term 'coconut' and the gender issues surrounding teenagers (especially 16-17 yr old Asian males.) He was selective in his sample groups, making sure that he has a mix of ethnicities [but at the same time the contacts he named on interrogation suggest to me that he had more Asian participants than others], and, like a linguist, went into 6th form common rooms with tape-recorders to talk to people. He also separated males and females somehow, but admits that his most useful data was gained on receiving information from the mixed groups.
Some of the research he came across on his way seems of particularly useful for those of you interested in the re appropriation of the N-word, as he compares this to the attempted re appropriation of the P-word. Debate ensued about this between Commonwealth lecturer Priya' Gopal (Cambridge) and the author on this, with the latter stating enthusiastically that the P-word could never have the same effect as the N-word with the black community because: 'there are too many divisions in the Asian community' for this to occur, and the author arguing that the low-nil political consciousness of youth culture resulted in this failure to ameliorate the word, as well as his belief that fears of emasculation and not-being-man-enough on-the-streets was and is the more pressing issue underlying the issue. I thought this was worth noting. There is a quote I'd love to use to exemplify this issue in the book but since I feel bad about copyright issues I'll let you try and find it amongst the extract given in the following link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5590750
The extract really speaks for itself and so I'll refrain from my rambling on and end here. I hope the points raised by my seminar that I found useful will also prove useful for you, or at least were as interesting to you as they were for me.
P.S, for those of you who don't mind admitting that at the heart of things superficial things do matter, the author, is, quite hot.

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