FOURTH ESTATE £12.99 (352pp). £11.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Londonstani, by Gautam Malkani

A taste of gangsta Sikh

This book narrates in the first person the adventures of Jas, who recently has joined a gang of Sikh and Hindu youths, led by "Hard-jit" (real name Harjit), in the "little India" of west London. The aspirational gangsta swirls us into a bhuna of gang-fights, inter-faith romance and organised crime, and the dizzy humour that underpins his voice is sharp, clever and convincing.

The novel centres on a critique of the patriarchal oppressiveness, hypocrisy, power-freakery, super-materialism and general neurotic misery of South Asian extended-family psychodrama and it works best as a satire aimed at the teenage market. London is defined by a highly flammable mixture of pre-modern tribalism, post- modern subculture and late capitalist individualism.

In a linguistic politics redolent of Sam Selvon, Victor Headley and Irvine Welsh, Malkani conveys with élan and expertise, through a suburban "desi-dialect", the absurdity of adolescence and the complex self-deceptions of contemporary cultural dynamics in the UK. "Here lies Jas, My surname too fuckin long an too fuckin shameful to fit on my own fuckin gravestone". Non-Standard English words are neither italicised nor glossed. The powerful, sometimes homoerotic, depiction of violence and sexual frustration parallels a harnessing of living thought-speech which allows Malkani to break away from the stultifying rigidity of "Home Counties" narrative style, and this frees his protagonist to express high-order thought in a fluid demotic.

However, Londonstani is best described as a competent early effort. The author's fear of being off message dilutes the novel's power, reaffirms liberal bourgeois boundaries and marks the book down as teen blaxploitation.

If it is to be real, redemption has to be hard-fought, not delivered through platitudes. Like too much British Asian drama and fiction, far from challenging the reader, the book is full of restaurants and (arranged) marriages - the easy drippings of South Asian culture, the types of paradigm through which white elites perceive the "other". Worthy societal discussions and interminable economics tutorials represent a tedious and insufficiently fictionalised attempt to provide broader historical context. Gaffes are rare, but astounding: "How often you hear bout female Islamic fundamentalists?" Quite a lot, actually.

Reading Londonstani is like watching 500 episodes of Goodness Gracious Me. There is a serious lack of depth. Empathy is created for South Asians only if they speak with a British accent. First-generation South Asian immigrants are not accorded the same linguistic breath, back-story or vision as British Asians or whites: "Don't give me stupid question. Their daughter is becoming our daughter and you give me stupid question. Vot kind of man you are? And today my friends ask me vot I'm wearing on Saturday. Wearing to vot? How shameful this is, I not even know." Why is it, in so many novels and dramas, a South Asian, Scottish, Welsh or Yorkshire accent is portrayed as clownish while a south-eastern English accent is depicted as "cool"?

The slick, young business sadist with whom the Indo-Brit rudeboys get in cahoots seems painfully generic. This type of dialogue and characterisation may have seemed revolutionary in 1985, when spun through the chic punkery of My Beautiful Launderette, but now it sounds lazy, stereotypical and worst of all for a "street-cred" novel, passé. All this represents imperial caricature from the "long 19th century" upon which, it seems, the sun has never really set.

The white people in the novel, whose worst sin seems to be naïveté, seem balanced, human, and sensitive, whereas most of the Asians seem vain, devious, hysterical, and violent. One of the prime functions of a writer is to bear witness to truth. The aftertaste of Londonstani is that the state of "Asian-ness" is irredeemably primitive, destructive and existentially separate from the redemptive state of "White-ness". This is a shabby, 21st-century, Orientalism and is not dissimilar from the mentality via which the Middle East is being re-colonised.

Books matter. Novels are not written in a vacuum and all things have never ever been equal. Londonstani tells upper-middle-class white elites what they want to hear. It reinforces the structures of power in the world of information to which the novel as an art-form belongs.

There is death in this novel, but no despair. This, and the main plot twist, seem contrived and unconvincing, even in satirical terms. Comedy should be etched in darkness and Londonstani has none. Consequently, we never really care what happens to any of the characters.

Towards the end, this multicultural cult novel degenerates into melodrama, a satire on Bollywood, but, as with the plot, the joints are visible, clunky. The over-complicated mobile "fone" scam which delivers the climax rings tame and flat. Hard-jit and the "raggastanis" vanish two-thirds of the way through, leaving no trace on the consciousness of either protagonist or reader. Londonstani is an illustration of the fact that writing a book in demotic in itself does not make a novel ground-breaking, singular or vital.

As with Brick Lane, the hype is unwarranted and artistically does the author no favours. Too often the latest groovy writer of South Asian origin comes to be worshipped by the (white) gatekeepers of the literary salons as a (bogus) cipher for colonial redemption. Nonetheless, Londonstani marks a competent debut by a talented writer.

Suhayl Saadi's novel 'Psychoraag' (Black and White Publishing) won a PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album