Tuesday 19 May 2009

Elections, Extremism, and a Speaker resigns

** Parliamentary Speaker resigns - a very British revolution (fascinating viewing the Westminster village at work)

** European Elections 4 June - what will the anti-politics vote mean? (unfortunate by-product of the expenses row)

** What's to be done about the British National Party (BNP)? A laudable post by the Tories here (at last)

** Indian elections - Congress Party's Manmohan Singh re-elected; BJP defeated (a cheer for secularism?)

So much to say this week, but alas, no time to blog it properly. So I might use this ocassional 'weekly digest' format. Any thoughts on any of this?

Friday 15 May 2009

Hardeep Singh Kohli on the Indian Takeaway

The closing night of the Festival of Asian Literature at Asia House features Hardeep Singh Kohli talking about, amongst others things, his latest book. Details are:
Hardeep Singh Kohli @ Asia House Festival of Asian Literature
Friday May 22, 2009 at 6:45pm
Asia House, 63 New Cavendish Street
London, England W1G 7LP
Get Directions
Hardeep Singh Kohli loves many things in life - but none more than food. So when he decided to travel round India, searching for his roots, the obvious thing to take with him was not a "Lonely Planet", not a BBC camera team, but shepherds pie and Yorkshire pudding. Indian Takeaway is the entertaining story of Hardeep's attempts to cook his way round India, dishing up very British meals for the people he meets. Hilarious, strange and true, Indian Takeaway is a book for everyone who loves to cook, longs to travel, or for anyone who wants to spend a few hours in the company of this warm-hearted and entertaining man.

BAFTA-winning broadcaster Hardeep was writer of the Channel 4 hit Meet the Magoons, a presenter of Radio 4's Saturday Live, Midweek and The Food Programme as well as contributor to numerous radio programmes such as Radio 4's Front Row and Radio 3's Nightwaves. Hardeep is often found clad in turban and kilt as panelist and presenter of Newsnight Review, he is currently presenting on the BBC hit programme The One Show. He was also a runner-up on Celebrity Masterchef.

For tickets, ring 020 7307 5454 or email enquiries@asiahouse.co.uk
Ticket Info: £10/£7
I must admit I think this guy is great - he's intelligent, warm and humorous, and wears a turban and kilt (sometimes at the same time). The BBC have obviously taken to him - I think his Scots-inflected voice comes across very well. And yes, it is good to see a turbaned Sikh guy just getting on with it. My jaw nearly dropped the first time I saw him hosting BBC2's Newsnight Late Review. It was a bit like the moment when, in the 1970s, we first began to see brown people on TV (unfortunately the programme was Mind your Language...) - we'd gather round the TV agog.

I've not read the whole of his book Indian Takeaway but a pdf extract of the first chapter is available on his website - so far so good. Being about the same age a lot of his experiences of growing up in Britain resonate with mine. Here's his take on one of the benefits of the weekly trip to the gurdwara (Sikh temple) - prasad is a sweetmeat distributed to the congregation after the religious service at the temple:
Prasad is a truly amazing thing. If you ever needed convincing that the universe has some form of higher power at its helm, then prasad would be the single substance to convert you. It’s a semolina- and sugar-based concoction bound together with ghee. It is bereft of any nutritional value, but it is hot and sweet and lovely. And it’s holy. What more could you want?
So you might want to get along to this more popular-writing ending to the literary festival which has featured the likes of Amit Chaudhuri, Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger), Kenan Malik (From Fatwa to Jihad – The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy) and Ziauddin Sardar.
p.s. Madhur Jaffrey ('legendary actress and Indian cookery writer') is at Asian House on 11 June talking about A Life in Indian Cooking.

Update p.s.: If you want to read more, Kohli’s writing a regular column for the Spectator at the moment, where a barny is going on in the ‘comments’ about whether he’s any good/should be writing for this right-of-centre magazine.

I would definitely have tried to get along to the Kohli event but will be busy packing up the family to go away the next morning for the May half-term holiday - more of that in another post perhaps (yes,unbelievably I did it). If you go to any of the Asia House events, let me know what you think.

Saturday 9 May 2009

A Town under Seige: p.s. to the Southall Story

For those interested in my Southall post, there's a FREE screening in London on 21 May 2009 of a film about how Southall organised to resist racist and fascist attacks between 1976 and 1981.
Southall: A Town Under Siege looks at Southall, one of the major post World War Two Asian centres in Britain, and focuses on how this community organised to resist racist and fascist attacks between 1976 and 1981. Southall's militancy had been initiated by community organisations of the 1950s, created to help Black workers combat racism at the workplace as well as to deal with discrimination in the community. And as state racism increased - into areas of immigration control and virginity testing, the 'bussing' of schoolchildren, 'overcrowding notices' in housing, harassment by the police - the community fashioned and forged new weapons of struggle. It was during one of this community's historic moments of defending itself against organised fascists and police humiliation that the young New Zealander, teacher and anti-racist, Blair Peach, was killed 1979. [from TUC poster]
From the Institute of Race Relations website:

"21 May 2009

A screening of two IRR films charting Black people's struggles for justice in Ladbroke Grove and Southall.

  • Thursday 21 May 2009, 7-10pm
  • Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS


  • From you were black, you were out shows community resistance and the emergence of a number of 'Black Power' organisations in 1950s Ladbroke Grove.
  • A town under siege focuses on how Southall organised to resist racist and fascist attacks between 1976 and 1981.


  • David Clover - Librarian, Institute of Commonwealth Studies
The films form part of a four part series 'Struggles for Black Community', now available for the first time on DVD from the IRR. They were made by Colin Prescod for Channel 4 at the beginning of the 1980s. Free admission event (all welcome). Registration essential. Please either email: sertucevents@tuc.org.uk or call: 020 7467 1220.

More information about the films here where you can also download a copy of booklet which accompanies the Struggles for Black Community DVD

Wednesday 6 May 2009

England People Very Nice

I finally went to see the play which has caused a national controversy in the UK recently - England People Very Nice, staged at London's National Theatre, written by Richard Bean and directed by the NT's very own Nicholas Hytner. The run continues into August 2009.

The play gallops through a comedic portrayal of successive waves of immigrant communities in the East End of London. It lampoons either the communities, or the stereotypes of the communities (depending on which side of the controversial fence you sit). To do this it romps through the arrival of the French Huguenots in the late 1590s, the Jews in the 1800s, the Irish over the 19th and 20th centuries, and finally the Bengali Muslims in the late 2oth century. The action is giddily fast-paced, with spoofy, Monty-Pythonesque styled-moments. Typical of its content is the following 'quip' by one of the characters:

"Irish and Jewish, that’s the worst mix. You end up with a family of pissed up burglars run by a clever accountant." Hmm.

Much has been said and written about the play – watch it being discussed here (pretty damning on the unsophistication of the play) and read Alibhai-Brown's more considered review here (ok, I agree with lots she says) - some want it banned because they think it’s racist (Muslims have been the most vocal); some think it is an unsavoury play and are ambivalent about it but would nevertheless support its right to be staged, and yet others think it is a statement about the failure of multiculturalism and are enjoying seeing the liberal world squirm. [Picture above: Trevor Laird and Fred Ridgeway in Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice at the National Theatre]

I guess I fall nearest to the middle category – I enjoyed some parts of it (eg. how chicken tikka masala was invented, the Noel Coward-style Bengali and other ‘goodness gracious me’ moments), felt uncomfortable about others (eg, the mainly white middle-class audience falling about laughing at when the ‘n-word’ was used or the comedic portrayal of the incestuous rape of Irish women) and yet enjoyed being challenged about articulating what I thought about the play and the act of staging it.

I begin from the position that I believe in people being able to say (and here, stage) things that I don’t agree with. The next step must be to discuss it. I think, though, in reacting to the material, the context is the key, isn't it? I mean, what reception would the ethnic-specific material of Jackie Mason, Sanjeev Bhasker and Chris Rock receive if delivered by someone not from that community? Have we moved on enough so that we can feel comfortable about 'ethnic lampooning' being delivered from outside of the relevant communities?

I could go on this, and about storyline and characters, and about censorship and offence but don’t have time! If you've seen it, tell me what you think. Ultimately, the play is not going to go down as a classic - it is not a big play but it certainly throws up a lot of issues – it dramatises in pockets of moments the debates swirling around society, immigration, race, culture and stereotypes, nation and values. And as to what the ‘message’ of the play was (yes, I know there doesn’t have to be a message), perhaps it was the reply of the 1950s ‘Dixon of Dock Green’-style policeman to when one of the lead Bengali characters proclaims ‘England People Very Nice’: ‘well, there’s good and bad in every kind of people’ (to paraphrase).