The Wait is and is Not
- Nitasha Kaul
You Don't Mess with Viru - Jayant Kripalani
The Last Journey Home - Siddhartha Gigoo
Family Trip - Mihir Vatsa
For the Longest Time - Mridula Koshy
The Tree's Passport - Sumana Roy
I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg
Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat
Stroke at Noon - KL Chowdhury
Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera
My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
The Stone - Anupam Choudhary
The Return - Shirani Rajapakse
The Unsent Email - Shyama Laxman
Poetry: Naseer Ahmed Nasir
(Translated by Bina Biswas)
Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant
The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak
- Attia Hosain
London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)
Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
Artist as a Young Man
London Company: Farrukh Dhondy
– Rakhshanda Jalil
Publisher: Hachette India
Extent: 240 pp
Price: Rs 495
Born in Poona in 1944, Farrukh Dhondy moved to the UK in search of higher education. Armed with a scholarship to Cambridge, he arrived wearing a tweed jacket, synthetic shirt with a tie over woollen trousers only to discover a world that was split wide open with its peculiar combination of contraries. Where, on the one hand, the universities were awash with 'mods, rockers, defiant young men with unkempt hair, and young women with the beginnings of the idea of a sexual revolution', another altogether less tolerant, more illiberal world existed cheek by jowl with the liberal one. While one set was swinging 'with the Beatles and the Stones, with the sad and lyrical rebellion of Joan Baez's voice and the gravel and grit of Bob Dylan', the other lot was guarding their territory with ferocious zeal, keeping 'blacks' out of 'whites only' pubs, and practising a form of apartheid that is hard to believe in the present-day multi-cultural Britain. It is of this England of the Swinging Sixties that he writes in his latest book, London Company.
Comparing the physical 'movement' of peoples – from India, Pakistan, West Asia and Africa – to the civil rights movement that changed the face of America, Dhondy notes how the intention of this mass migration in the 1950s and '60s was not to become the agents of change; those who came, in wave upon relentless wave from the erstwhile colonies, arrived in search of livelihood or education, yet they ended up transforming Britain and setting into motion forces of globalisation that would have far-reaching consequences. Initially, these 'black' faces lurked in the fringes of the 'white' consciousness; they worked on bus and train routes, cleaned the streets, took up the most menial of jobs at the lowest of wages. Dhondy recalls, with frankness and a trace of astonishment, his own encounter with the 'black' or 'brown' population that lived on the margins: 'That a few hundred thousand Asians, perhaps a million, worked the factories and mills on night shifts in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire was not something I became aware of till later, when I came down from university and made my acquaintance with unsheltered Britain.'
London Company begins with his coming down from Cambridge, coming down quite literally from the protected world of academia into the real world of biases, prejudices and exclusion. Living in London, with his girlfriend, Natasha who had accompanied him from India, Dhondy recounts his experience of racism – be it in finding rented accommodation or a drink in a pub or an encounter with the police – which, in turn, led him and Natasha to find common cause with the Black Panthers. He paints vivid portraits of the colourful characters who steered this radical movement modelled on the America Black Panthers. Apart from Dhondy himself and Natasha, the dramatis personae of this engaging bildungsroman comprise members of the Central Core dominated by the charismatic Fermina who energetically organised protest marches, took charge of distributing pamphlets and kept the house in order; Sharky who had renamed himself 'Shaka' after a Zulu war hero; Alby, a former bus conductor and now note-taker and pillar of the Movement though he cannot read nor write; Solomon who steals Natasha from Dhondy but maintains that the 'personal is not the political'.
While the majority of members were Afro-Caribbean with only a handful of Asians, an all-powerful core group had decided that all members of the Black Panther Movement were to be called 'blacks' for 'it would have been a heresy to suggest a division of race, culture or perspective. The ideological justification for this inclusive membership was that we had migrated from Britain's former colonies and were "politically black". Skin colour didn't matter so long as it wasn't white.' It was disconcerting therefore in the early days for Dhondy, a Parsee from India's West Coast and quite fair-skinned by most standards, to accustom himself to be regarded as a 'black'.
Dhondy's own induction into the Black Panther Movement – after suspending his disbelief at the 'masquerading aggression of the name and some of the rhetoric' he routinely heard at the Central Core (CC) meetings -- and subsequent disenchantment, form a substantial part of the narrative. Despite all members being called 'Brother' or 'Sister', the inherently flawed and undemocratic functioning of the CC becomes irksome. The last straw is when Dhondy, by now a fledgling writer having sharpened his pen by writing pamphlets, leaflets, diatribes and reports for the Movement's organ, Freedom News, is told to 'submit' his stories for review by members of the CC. His collection of multicultural stories entitled The East End at Your Feet, represented the Asian and African youth instead of caricaturing them; seizing an altogether new space, it also struck a chord with the reading public and brought some measure of fame to its young author. Unfortunately, its success doesn't go down too well with the CC that believes All Art Must Serve the People.
So, while London Company paints many luminous vignettes of the counterculture of the 1960s Britain, of a time when young people actively believed in change and experimentation, of an age when boundaries were meant to be pushed and rules broken if not flouted, it also shows the artist as a young man taking his first steps in the literary world. Running as a parallel strand throughout the book is Dhondy's struggle to find gainful employment in order to stay on in London, his budding career as a teacher and thereafter as an established writer. By the time the book ends, Dhondy – who in later years would have a prolific and eclectic career as a writer, translator, script-writer, commissioning editor – has moved away from the Movement, quit his job to become a full-time writer and, like his adopted country, learnt to live with change in all its constancy.
Dr Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, critic and literary historian. Some of her works include edited collections of short stories: Urdu Stories (Srishti, 2002), and a selection by Pakistani women writers called Neither Night Nor Day (HarperCollins, 2007); a collection of essays on the little known monuments of Delhi, called Invisible City (Niyogi, 2008); two co-authored books, Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia (Niyogi, 2006) and Journey to a Holy Land: A Pilgrim's Diary (OUP, 2009). She was also co-editor of Third Frame, a journal devoted to literature, culture and society brought out by the Cambridge University Press. She runs an organization called Hindustani Awaaz, devoted to the popularization of Hindi-Urdu literature and culture. Her debut collection of fiction, Release & Other Stories, was published by HarperCollins India, 2011.