Sunday 29 November 2009

'Chick Lit'

I was astonished to find in my local library row upon row of shelving boldly titled 'Chick Lit'. Chick Lit? Yes, I know what it is, but I didn't realise that the term was now a formal category adopted by learned houses of book-lending. So astonished was I that I snapped this photo in the library, which is in the London Borough of Greenwich. 

I am more used to seeing the chick lit label on the backs of books or in Sunday supplement reviews, often in the same sentence as mentioning the Bridget Jones books rather than in library settings. I would be surprised to find a 'chick lit' section in our university library (I must ask our university Librarian her views on this...).

One source describes this 'genre' as "genre fiction within women's fiction which addresses issues of modern women often humorously and lightheartedly.The genre sells well, with chick lit titles topping bestseller lists and the creation of imprints devoted entirely to chick lit. It generally deals with issues of modern women humorously and lightheartedly. Although sometimes it includes romantic elements, women's fiction (including chick lit) is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance novel genre, because in Chick lit the heroine's relationship with her family or friends may be just as important as her romantic relationships."

Other sources too see 'chick lit' as linked to feminist themes and protangonists. So here the use of 'chick' is an appropriation of a previously dismissive/pejorative word used for women, much in the same way that the n-word (for 'black' people), or 'queer' (in 'gay' circles) are sometimes used.

It made me think about fashions in genre-naming. When will those other contenders - eg. 'mommy lit', 'curry lit', 'lad lit' etc. - see their name up in lights?  The reality is, of course, that local libraries, keen to hang on to Council budgets, are merely trying to cater for their audience (alongside now providing IT facilities) - I guess that 'chick lit' is a large category and does what it says on the tin, in a more exciting way than 'Fiction A-Z', as the other fiction shelves are named.  Though quite where they'd shelve Jane Austen, I don't know...

While I'm writing about library shelving categories (did I really just write that? That is worrying, I've got to get out more...), I had to chuckle when I saw an 'Eastern Journey' shelf (one-sixth of the space of 'chick lit', I might add, covering the whole planet east of Turkey!) complete with lotus flower decorations!  Come on Library, that is a bit 'eighties don't you think?

Saturday 28 November 2009

Jute Wallahs - the Dundee-Kolkata connection

If you ever go to Dundee (Scotland) don't be surprised to find a pensioner speaking in Hindi to you...

Do you know about the intruiging, close connection between Dundee (Scotland) and Kolkata (India, then Calcutta) which ran over several generations? No? Nor did I until I watched a fascinating documentary last Sunday on BBC2, narrated by the actor Brian Cox who himself hails from Dundee.

During the 19th century the population of Dundee swelled with migrating workers who came to work in the jute mills using this raw vegetable fibre imported from Kolkata. However, there was a steady decline in the Scottish jute mill industry from the 1870s onwards, causing many Scottish workers actually to migrate from the east coast of Scotland to the South of Asia.  A bit of a reversal of today's trend...

After India's independence in 1947, the indianisation of industry meant that the Dundonians had to learn to work alongside, rather than over, the Indians.

The documentary gives many insights about the relationship between Dundonians and Kolkatans at each stage of their see-saw relationship. In India, we see how the Scots tried to learn Hindi in order to communicate with their workforce, the party lifestyle of some of the Scots, and some of the terrible conditions in which the jute workers worked. Back in modern day Scotland, we see interviews with some of the now-aged Scottish returners, including their get-togethers in a self-formed 'Calcutta Club' where they still chat in Hindi to each other. Hindustani jute workers manual, courtesy of Dundee University.

It's a first-person narration by a wistful Brian Cox, whose mother was a jute spinner and father a sacker and sorter. He is appalled by the conditions and refers to the 'jute barons' who, "to ease their consciouses', built their public buildings in Dundee and in Kolkata still standing today. He notes that Kolkata of course has the world's longest-running democratically elected Communist government, about 32 years I think.

The programme can be seen on BBC's iplayer for another two days or so, or download it now to watch it later.

Tuesday 24 November 2009 shorthand for the ills of modern society?

A south-east London town is the setting for a new E4 drama series, 'Misfits', which started on 12 November (Thursdays at 10pm).

Thamesmead has again been chosen, it would seem, to lend its "concrete brutalism" to provide the backdrop for this drama about a group of young people on community service who develop superpowers (sounds intruiging...).  The Independent sympathises with weary Thamesmead residents who "could be forgiven for emitting a low groan at seeing their neighbourhood once again used as shorthand for the ills of modern society".

My own associations with Thamesmead are rather different and twofold - pain and happy shrieks. For we only ever trek out to that land of endless roundabouts and dual carriageways to visit the huge dental practice for...ahem..more challenging dental work, or to Tiger Cubs, the kids play place for birthday parties, set in one of those huge shopping estates which surround a car park.

But I digress. Thamesmead is not alone, of course, as a south-east London film location - Greenwich, Bermondsey, Elephant and Castle etc. have all been much used. Thamesmead itself was the setting for Stanley Kubrick's 1971 movie 'A Clockwork Orange '. The famous orange boilersuits of Clockwork appear in Misfits too in a seeming homage. Some other south London locations used in filming are discussed at Transpontine - amongst them, I really like this one: did you know that Reese Witherspoon’s ‘Harvard’ speech in Legally Blonde was actually filmed in the Great Hall of Dulwich College!

Monday 23 November 2009

Shilpa Shetty's happy ending

I don't generally go in for commenting on 'Bollywood' celebrity news. But I have to admit to being curious about the news that Shilpa Shetty got married yesterday. 

Most UK readers will know Shilpa as being a Celebrity Big Brother 'housemate' in the controversial 2007 TV series which resulted in the bullying episodes with the late Jade Goody

In a lavish Hindu ceremony in Khandala, a hill resort near Mumbai, Shilpa married Raj Kundra, a London-based businessman.

You can find all the salacious details about the wedding all over the web. But I was struck by this photograph - they've gone for full traditional gear and look just like an archetypal Indian bride and groom (he even arrived in a carriage drawn by white horses!).  She looks pretty happy and you've got to wish them luck (though whether his ex-wife will be doing the same, is another matter...).

Sunday 22 November 2009

Eltham Lights Up

It's not everyday that you see such a sight in a south-east London suburban high street - a giant lit-up ghostly figure processing down the middle of the road.

The occasion was the switching on of the Christmas lights in and around Eltham High Street (SE9, London). The 10th annual Eltham Lights Up ceremony on Thursday 19 November featured a lantern parade and performances by local primary schools, aswell as the cast of the Bob Hope Theatre’s Wizard of Oz pantomime.

So far, so very local, so what? Well, it was a marvellous example of an event which involved many sections of the community and which loads of people turned out to join in and to watch. (It's also a gratuitous opportunity to show off the photos I took...). The children were beside themselves waving their glowsticks around and jigging to various musical floats.

After the energetic parade there was an impressive fireworks display off the roof of the Marks & Spencer building - everyone oohed and aahed in all the right places.

Even the local MP, Clive Efford (photo below right), turned up and said a few words on the stage erected next to the St Marys Community Centre - a stage which had been earlier populated with glittery jazz-playing santas (I didn't say it was tasteful, it was fun...) - actually they were really quite good.  So well done Eltham.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Getting arty in Southall, West London

Louise Ashcroft has left this interesting invitation on an earlier Southall-related post, to which you might want to respond:
" Hi,
I am an artist making a project about Southall which will be exhibited in a major warehouse exhibition organised by London's Departure Gallery on 10th-13th Dec 2009. I am inviting people to email me info/opinions/images/media inspired by the location of my project, which is in a warehouse on an industrial estate in Southall, west London. I would really like you to email me something to include in the project.

Everything I receive will be exhibited together in a sculptural way and will be labelled with the sender's name. Everyone involved will be credited in the exhibition catalogue. Please respond asap (by 1st December).

This is a great opportunity to showcase your ideas about the local area and to get involved in an interesting project. It need not take much time.

Many thanks.

Louise Ashcroft "

Tuesday 17 November 2009

The Truth About Hardeep Singh Kohli

Yes, it's him again:

Saturday 5 Dec 2009, 8pm

The Truth About Hardeep Singh Kohli


"Hardeep Singh Kohli stands up. Actually, he might just do the hour sat down. He’ll chat, he’ll try and be witty and maybe even accidentally make you laugh. This is his first London gig after his debut Edinburgh show "The Really Naked Chef". (He won’t be naked or cooking though.) AGES 16+ Presented by Capel & Land Ltd."

£16.00. Concessions: £14.00

Arts Depot, 5 Nether Street, Tally Ho Corner, North Finchley, London.

Monday 16 November 2009

Truss selection to force by-election in Greenwich's Eltham South ward?

A meeting tonight in Norfolk could decide whether we are in for a by-election in the Eltham South ward in Greenwich Council (*see below).

At that meeting Elizabeth Truss, the newly-selected Tory parliamentary candidate for South West Norfolk is attempting to avoid de-selection tonight, after the row erupted about the Norfolk party members not having known about Truss' 18-month affair in the past with an MP (all has long since been been forgiven and forgotten by her husband). Now that has come to light, they are meeting to decide how relevant it is that their candidate had an affair and also that she apparently did not flag this up to them. Many feel, though, that this row is more about the way in which the central party has imposed its candidate on a local constituency. There's been a 'blogging blizzard' with much talk about 'Cameron cuties', the 'Turnip Taliban' and, no less, 'a fight for the very soul of the Tory Party'.

Ms Truss is at present one of the three Conservative Councillors for Eltham South. This is how she won in 2006:

Eltham South Ward (turnout 40%):

Eileen GloverConservative1668
Peter John Henry KingConservative1611
Michael John LewisLiberal Democrats1284
John Colin LittlefieldLabour720
Terence Arthur MaloneLabour693
Mark Simon PattendenLiberal Democrats1386
Lester Elliot Shubert (commonly known as Elliot)Liberal Democrats1168
Elizabeth Mary TrussConservative1443
John TwidaleLabour667

Elizabeth Truss's local and activist record has been much defended by local Tory councillors (well, they would wouldn't they?). The meeting begins at 7pm tonight. It will be interesting to see what happens. My guess? Under pressure from the Tory machine bent on national election success, I think she'll stay selected in Norfolk.
[Update 22.30hrs: About 200 members of the South West Norfolk Conservative group voted 132 to 37 to back Elizabeth Truss as their candidate at the next General Election.]

*well, possibly, depending on when the general election is called for ...

Saturday 14 November 2009

When Boris met Dave, Kash was picking peaches: first Punjabi-American mayor in California

A quick post about a wonderful rags-to-riches (or rags-to-power) story last week:
"Kash Gill, who grew up as a farm worker, will be sworn in today [10 November] as Yuba City’s first Punjabi-American mayor.  As many of you know, Yuba City (often referred to as the pindh of California), has a large Punjabi Sikh population....It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that finally a Punjabi-American will be taking the seat of mayor. The event does, however,  signify a signficiant step for a community that makes up about 12 percent of the population in Yuba City.  The story also embodies the dream, which many immigrant communities carry with them – that by working hard and perservering, anything is possible". [credit: Langar Hall]
It is another Amercian Dream story, perhaps just like Obama's.You have to acknowledge though, that although Kash Gill, now aged 47, grew up helping on the family farm, he is a college graduate and then went on to be a banker - so he didn't quite down his farming tools and was then carried aloft into onto the hustings. Still, he had humble beginnings and it made me wonder whether that could happen in the UK. This was especially so as I watched "When Boris met Dave" on TV earlier tonight. The programme is a 'docu-drama' portraying the shared priviledged past at elite Eton and Oxford of the two most powerful Conservative politicians in Britain: London Mayor Boris Johnson and party leader David Cameron (Cameron is top, second from left; Boris, bottom, first right). Admittedly, there's a bit of a difference between the mayor of a small USA town and a UK prime minister-to-be. Still it made think. I think that from the trade union shop floor is probably as humble a beginning as we get in UK politics. At the risk of sounding like that Monty Python (?) sketch (where they compete over who had the poorest upbringing) - do you have any 'better' UK examples?

Multicultural…ism, schism and Racism

This should be a lively event for those near Birmingham on 26 November, though alas I won't be able to get there.

The Drum in partnership with South Asian Alliance presents a debate, Multicultural…ism, schism and Racism.

"Is multiculturalism a good thing or a bad thing? Immigration has transformed Britain, making it a more vibrant, cosmopolitan nation. But have multicultural policies also left it more divided? How should we deal with questions of free speech and religious freedom in a multiculturalism society? And has multiculturalism helped or hindered the struggle for equality? Writer, lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik and author of The End of Tolerance, Arun Kundnani debate the vexed question of multiculturalism, racism and equality." 

Malik is often billed as one of the early 'left-wing' critics of multiculturalism whilst expect Kundnani to defend multiculturalism and talk about the 'new racism' especially since the 9/11 terror attacks in USA. I think much depends on what exactly we mean by multiculturalism but broadly I think it is a good way to organise modern society where people of different backgrounds find themselves living together - I've yet to hear about more attractive alternatives. The debate starts at 7pm at The Drum, 144 Potters Lane, Aston, Birmingham. If you make it I'd like to hear about how it went?

Thursday 12 November 2009

Svapnagata: British Asian Music and Dance Festival

For fans of Indian and British Asian music, dance and choreography there's a great festival coming up. Svapnagata at Sadler's Wells (in Islington, London) will be featuring over 60 such artists in a festival from 16 to 28 November 2009. 
Svapnagata, which means 'dreaming' in Sanskrit, is curated by multi-award winning composer Nitin Sawhney and dancer/choreographer Akram Khan. The festival will include a whole range of Indian musical experience from classical dance to British-Asian hip hop. Other notable names include Anoushka Shankar, Trilok Gurtu and Jan Gabarek. See the Sadler's site for the programme.

I've seen both Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney performing on different occassions (and, in an earlier life, have interviewed Sawhney). They are two very focussed and grounded individuals who are hugely talented. They not only reflect their respective disciplines of dance and music but they subvert, mix and fuse their art coming up with unique material which stretches boundaries - to carry on the cliches, they are cutting-edge (click on the pic, below, to hear them talking about the Festival - or see this interview with the BBC).

I saw Akram Khan perform last year in Sacred Monsters also at Sadler's, with Sylvie Guillem, and it was spellbinding - the closest it's possible to come to tears by watching dance.

So you might want to check this out. And for 'south-east London' readers, you might be interested to know that Khan and Sawhney are both South London boys...

Wednesday 4 November 2009

'What Fatima Did' at the Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead Theatre World Premiere
A Hampstead Theatre Production

What Fatima Did…

by Atiha Sen Gupta  
22 October - 7 November 2009

 This sounds a fascinating play which presses many topical buttons at the moment:
"Fatima Merchant is feisty and strong-willed.

At 17, she drinks, smokes and parties. On the eve of her 18th birthday, without word or warning or explanation, she adopts the hijab.

Suddenly, to her friends and family she is no longer the Fatima they thought they knew.

What Fatima Did... is a funny and provocative exploration of attitudes to identity, freedom and multiculturalism in contemporary London.

Hampstead Theatre has championed the work of Atiha Sen Gupta since she joined the theatre’s young company, Heat&Light, in 2003. She has written with Roy Williams and Tanika Gupta for Hampstead’s new writing festivals – Daring Parings 1 and 2. Now, her first solo full length play, commissioned when Atiha was 17, forms the centrepiece of Daring Pairings 3."

 The author herself hails from an interesting background - in an interview with the London Evening Standard we're told:

"As it turns out, she isn't Muslim and her parents are not religious. Her accountant father is half-Sri Lankan, half-white. Her Indian-born mother, Rahila Gupta, is a political journalist and activist for Southall Black Sisters (her co-authored book Circle of Light, about a real-life case of domestic violence, was made into the film Provoked, starring Aishwarya Rai)."

It's has some sizzling reviews - I wish I had heard about this earlier, still we have until Saturday...

Tuesday 3 November 2009

The strange case of the 'Schotten Preise'

I heard about this extraordinary story - the Germans have for centuries been using a racial stereotype about the Scottish to refer to something that's cheap in price. This has persisted so deep that German outlets even have a stock phrase 'Schotten preise' ('Scottish price') which is routinely used to refer to products going cheap.

The price comparison site Geizkragen, for example, uses this 'happy cartoon Jock' complete with tartan hat and kilt combo advising Germans how to save money.  The Telegraph reports that:

"The Scottish National Party is to lodge an official complaint with Germany’s advertising association, arguing the long-established marketing technique is offensive.

Angus Robertson MP, the party’s Westminster leader, said the phrase promotes an unfair racial stereotype that Scots are mean and advertisers would not dare make the same association with orthodox Jews.
Mr Robertson, the son of a German, said it was unacceptable to portray Scots in such a pejorative way. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” he argued.

“You wouldn’t do it with orthodox Jews, so why do it with Scots? The constant association of our country and people with meanness and cheapness is beginning to hit at the borders of defamation and insult.”

Why have the Germans picked on the Scots particularly?  We're told that "“Schotten Preise” may derive from the 15th century when many Scots lived in German-populated areas of the Baltic and are believed to have offered goods at competitive prices." So ingrained is this phrase that a friend of mine (English) studying German even found it listed at the back of her German dictionary as one of the 'common phrases' to learn!

 However, right on cue, it is not long before those objecting to racial stereotypes are accused of being 'politically correct'. "Alex Johnstone, a Conservative MSP, accused Mr Robertson of indulging in “a kind of political correctness we could well do without”, saying he should act “in a more light-hearted and engaged way".  Yes, everyone should be happy to be called a p*** or else you're just being, well, miserable. I'm sure there's a place for jokey banter (ask any Asian who has to smile at curry jokes) but such stereotypes should not be used in public material, however much it persists in folklore.

I hope the SNP gets somewhere with its complaint. Still, I have to admit that it's a relief to be a bystander for a change in the more usual 'racial slur' rows.

Sunday 1 November 2009

The Grewals: Channel 4 documentary on Sikh family

This TV series is going to be a 'must-see' for every Asian household in the country.
"Following the success of the Bafta nominated The Family in 2008, the Grewal family from Windsor will be the subject of this major observational documentary series for Channel 4. This year there are nine family members - one of whom is born during the series - and three generations all living under one roof."

It starts on 4 November at 9pm on Channel 4 and, if the previews are anything to go by, it's going to be hilarious. It's got the full stock of characters that any British-Asian will recognise. But more than that, and most poignantly as a comment on an 'immigrant family', it has characters that ANY community would recognise - guess what, underneath the different style of clothes, food and language, famillies are pretty much the same.

I'm curious about the editing and the narrative which the editors will choose to pursue - the preview seems to be playing it for laughs but I'm guessing they'll be some bitter-sweet moments too in the mix.

I'm very curious about the language use which will be portrayed - were the participants advised to use English more than Punjabi? Did the editors favour cutting in the English bits more than Punjabi? How much Punjabi will there be and will it be subtitled? As someone who's primary research interest is 'code-switching' (or a more academic reference), I'm also looking forward to seeing some good examples of the languages being mixed together in the conversations of speakers (what great linguistic data, verbal and visual, the whole unedited footage would be - that's the stuff of fantasy, well, mine anyway....)

Anyways, here's the preview clip:

The doc has been picked up all over the media - even The Sun seems chuffed about it.

And finally, prompted presumably by this series, there is to be a related event at the Royal Society of Art (RSA) in London:
RSA Screens with Channel 4 - The Family: How has the portrayal of South Asians in the media changed in recent years?
17th Nov 2009; 18:30

The BAFTA nominated series ‘The Family’ returns this year with the Grewal family from Windsor. Filmed over a period of 8 weeks, with 28 cameras following them round the clock, this unique observational series documents the universal themes of family life.

Join us for a special preview screening of an episode of ‘The Family’ and the chance to see shorts by Asian filmmakers.

A Q&A will follow, discussing the representation of British South Asians in the media, chaired by Channel 4 Head of Diversity, Oona King, commissioning editor, Aysha Rafaele and filmmakers Sadia & Shazia Ur-Rehma. In association with Channel 4 and Bombay Mix.