EN 4262 Londonstani Seminar Notes
Gautam Malkani's Londonstani (2006) is the first novel on this module that is set entirely outside of India. It thus offers a noticeably different reading experience from, say, GST - so much so that we may even have difficulty seeing the 2 novels on the same course. In GST the pressure of Indian society - the known, predictable and inexorable weight of gender roles, familial pressures, caste, etc - are constant and determining. Characters' fates are determined by their place in society, tragic stories are predictable and expected (with a kind of determinism that, as we have said, is reminiscent of 19th C social realist writers like Zola, Flaubert or Tolstoy), and Roy's only narrative/plot variation consists in things like the child's eye POV, or the chronological variation, that slightly mitigate the inexorable force of Indian societal expectations and pressures. Londonstani seems very different: the predominantly youthful cast of characters, the ethos of juvenile delinquency, the permissive atmosphere of London, the final plot twist, all seem to speak of possibility, freedom, transformation.
In many ways the diasporic novel is very different from the novel set in Asia, just as Asian diasporic identity and culture and quite different from identity and culture in Asia. (Here "diaspora" refers primarily to the West - North America, Western Europe, and similar cultures like Australia, New Zealand. These are not exactly the same societies, of course, but share a number of broad characteristics, such as basic notions of liberal individualism in respect of career choices, business etc; forces of secularisation working on society; relatively open societies in terms of discourses of equal opportunity, social media, public sphere etc. Accordingly, these societies tend to be more open to other settler cultures, to at least the idea of multi-culturalism. The similarities in "Western" societies become pronounced when they are compared with other types of societies: e.g. Many Middle-Eastern societies where individualism is constrained by custom, where secularisation is a bad word, where there are many limits to openness and the public sphere. In different types of society, diasporic communities act and change in different ways). At the risk of over-simplification, we could say that the tendency in Asia is for Asian social characteristics to persist and be reinforced, and for social change to come relatively slowly - hence the perceived power of social influences in novels-in-India like GST. In the Western diaspora, change comes more easily and quickly, especially for younger and subsequent-generation migrants - Londonstani reveals cultures and identities in flux, negotiable and fluid (but also vulnerable), in keeping with its diasporic setting.
However, this is not to say that there aren't instructive and crucial similarities between the societies of India and diasporic novels. At heart, both types of novels are concerned with the question of "Indianness,"what it means to be Indian in the contemporary world, and how that identity is coloured or shaped by surrounding forces. In an India novel like GST, the answer seems to be that that identity is very obdurate, especially in its most restrictively commual aspects, and not amenable to the relatively weak foreign influences working on it. In TWT, the suggestion is that that identity is (as in GST) confining and restrictive, but that the exceptional individual by an act of extreme violence (one that is in some ways inspired by "Americanness") can break out of it - although at what moral and spiritual cost. In CC, a fantastical and experimental novel, more questions are raised about that identity than answered: Indian identity in the contemporary world seems to be utterly fluid and flexible, mixing freely with Egyptians, South Americans, Sudanese, working in corporations and businesses around the world, yet perhaps free only because it no longer has any real definition or shape - or if it does, that can only be discovered retroactively, by going "back to India" as Murugan (and through him, Antar and the reader) does.
Londonstani's answer, a bit like CC's, is that "Indian" identity is fluid and negotiable, although the parameters of that negotiation are very different in the two novels (the former more realist, more concerned with generational change and the issue of social aspiration; the latter more gothic/anxious, more concerned with as it were the psychic costs of transnational modernity on the individual). But the fact that Londonstani is very much concerned with "Indianness" is evident from the factors like religious identity, family issues (marriage, generational relationships), Indian social networks and how they impact the identities and lives of the central characters. Of course, the particular twist in Londonstani is the hidden plot device: the “reverse passing,” instead of desis wanting to pass as white (or coconuts), this gora wanting to pass for a desi/paki. Although a bit of an unexpected twist (and arguably maybe even a bit contrived or a stretch of our credibility), this device does cause us to re-think the whole business of the permeability of identity, and what influences the direction and flow of that permeability/osmosis.
Asians in Britain: History, Geography, Anthropology
South Asians have a particularly strong presence in Britain – constituting about 7-8 percent of the total population. (Unlike in many other Western countries, the word “Asian” means “South Asian,” of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and to a certain extent Sri Lankan descent, rather than of East Asian or Southeast Asian origin). The reason for this is colonial history: England’s colonial control of India meant that the movement of Indians to England (as “Lascars” or seamen, labourers etc) stretched back to at least the 18th C, although these were in fairly small numbers. After WWII, however, in the 1950s and 1960s, significant waves of South Asian migrants settled in the UK, working in industries like transport and healthcare. Immigration Acts in the early 1960s and 1970s halted primary immigration, although of course immigration of those whose relatives had already settled in Britain continued.
South Asian settlement in Britain tended to follow certain communal flows as it did in other countries where South Asians settled. Certain groups/regions (from India) predominated, such as the Punjabis, Gujeratis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Bengalis (whereas in Singapore and Malaysia it was Tamils, Malayalees; in Canada primarily Punjabis; in Trinidad and Guyana primarily those from Uttar Pradesh). Then they tended to settle in particular areas: Birmingham has a large concentration of South Indians, also Bradford, Glasgow. London, the major city and cosmopolitan hub, has large numbers of South Asian settlers, but concentrated in a few areas well-known for their South Asian ‘feel’ – Brick Lane, Hounslow, East Ham, Stratford, and others.
Tensions between the large and concentrated communities of South Asians, and the majority white population (as well as with Britons of African descent), have periodically erupted into violence and riots, including more recently in Bradford in 2001, and Birmingham in 2005.
This is not to suggest that South Asians are solely or largely responsible for these clashes. There is a larger sociological context in Britain as a whole, and in large urban centres especially, since at least the Thatcher years (from the 1980s onwards): decreased funding for schools, problems of unemployment/underemployment, high costs of living (especially housing), and straitened career prospects, have created a youth culture characterized (with little exaggeration) by alcoholism, violence, loss of direction, crime, drugs etc. The influx of large numbers of South Asians, who have their own social problems, and who tend to congregate and ultimately dominate certain neighbourhoods (such as the famous Brick Lane in London, the title of Monica Ali’s debut novel) thus frustrating the ideal of social integration, only exacerbates existing social problems.
Malkani’s novel, while very much concerned with Indian youths and their lifestyle, should not be read as an indictment of Indian gangs and violence per se (the presence of Jas, if nothing else, should alert us to this). Although English/London society is very much in the background to the Indian social dynamics that are foregrounded, the former is very much part of the issue in the novel. The cultural dynamics of English permissiveness, materialism, lack of direction and values, is all part of the problem of desi identity in England. It is the problem of what happens when Indian values are taken out of the country which creates and sustains them, and placed in another country experiencing a moral vacuum.
Genre, Narrative, Language
Like many of the other novels on this module (with the possible exceptions of the Immigrant and VD), Londonstani is allusive and somewhat playful in terms of its narrative style and tone. In addition to the central parallel with A Clockwork Orange, there is the clear influence of hop-hop and “gangsta” language, Bollywood influences, and of course the admixture of Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu words. At the same time, what makes Londonstani’s narrative interesting is that Jas is both a participant in the gang and its culture, as well as an observer and commentator (in which role he slips out of the argot, and into nearly proper/standard English: “So now it was Ravi’s turn to make me jealous with his perfectly timed an perfectly authentic rudeboy front” (p. 5). The slippage/duality gives Jas an appropriately schizophrenic/split personality air, but it also says something about the plurality and heterogeneity of contemporary cultural influences, the hollowness of Jas’ and others’ identities.
Genre: there is quite a strong parallel with Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (ACO). Both are novels about youth delinquency, featuring gangs that roam the streets in packs of four. Both throw in large doses of violence and profanity. Both are in some ways dystopian novels, the dystopian critique much stronger in ACO, whereas in Londonstani it is tempered by humour, by the focus on the Indian family, and the human drama that arises out of familial relations. Being juvenile novels, there is a considerable focus on trends, fashion, clothes and possessions – the point being that such social trends play an inordinately large role in influencing individual behavior, even to the point of creating a culture of moral emptiness, crime and violence. Both novels feature a betrayal and schism within the gang as a plot device.
Like ACO, Londonstani features inventive language, not just as colour, but as a central theme. ACO’s youth language of “Nadsat” is a combination of Russian loan-words, baby-like aural echoes and reduplication, onomatopoeia, rhyming slang, profanity, code words etc. Through it, Burgess created the sense of a vulnerable society, so strongly under a neo-colonial cultural influence, so bankrupt of stability and a core that it can permit such a bizarre creative variant. The language in ACO is no doubt creative and quite clever, but there is always the chilling dualistic realization that that creativity is the flip side of a moral vacuum, an evanescence of the human, a distancing of emotional/empathetic responses to violence and horror.
A similar thing happens in Londonstani. Firstly, such narratives (as in ACO, or Iain Banks’ Feersum Enjinn narrated by a dyslexic, or Martin Amis’ backward narrative Time’s Arrow) require a considerable effort in order to read and make sense out of them. That effort is a kind of interpellation into an ideology or world – either the reader gives up, or else by dint of the effort of reading gets pulled into the world-view and ideology of the gang.
Londonstani’s language is less esoteric and extreme than ACO’s, and draws a lot from the kind of SMS-speak that would be familiar with lots of younger readers who are on Twitter, Facebook etc. (It is important and symbolic that the central crime in the plot has to do with mobile phones). However, there is also the admixture of London “street” and hip-hop pronunciation (dropping final ‘g’ as in “lovin,” simplification/modification of consonant clusters as in ‘wid’ for “with, simplification/shortening of words as in ‘nuff’ for “enough” ) and slang (“batty,” “innit,”), and of course Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu slang (mostly curses and profanities).
Rudeboy-speak strikes the reader with its violence and profanity, and also of course its eclecticism (which, like Nadsat in ACO, makes a point about plural cultural influences, cultural schizophrenia, the malleability of the MTV/texting generation etc). However, it also has other facets, conveying other aspects of the protagonists: it is highly confused and self-contradictory (see the opening violent diatribe on the use of “Paki,” which is not only like the self-contradictory use of “nigga” as is pointed out in the novel, but has the added contradictions derived from India’s religious tensions, Partition etc – issues which get played out in confusing and almost tragi-comic ways in Hardjit’s fight with Tariq, Jas’ relationship with Samira, etc). Rudeboy-speak is also ultimately semantically narrow, empty, void of true cleverness and inventiveness, limited to a very small range of topics (women, sex, fighting, clothes and possessions) – in this sense, it falls far short of the much more poetic and creative Nadsat.
Reading the dialogue of the central characters is thus to see and experience much more immediately (than description could do) the malleability, emptiness, constraint, multiple influences they experience. On top of that, Jas’ code-switching also of course prepares us for the final revelation, and the added identity crisis posed by a lost gora boy hanging out with all these lost desis.
(Hyper)Masculinity, Violence and Indian Identity
The other big similarity with ACO is the violence, which is not only physical (this is confined to a few episodes, particularly the opening scene and the fight with Tariq, but nevertheless treated with a certain gory and detailed relish), but also psychological and verbal (browbeating, bullying, taunting, cursing, profanity, threats). In addition to ACO, other textual comparisons with similar uses and amounts of violence include war films (especially more recent ones, i.e. Vietnam, Gulf wars as opposed to WWII), gritty and macho police dramas (Serpico, The Shield), mob films (Goodfellas, Casino), and surprisingly, some financial fictions as well (especially groups dealing in trading and sales of financial products/services, possibly the most hardcore area of finance – think Glengarry Glen Ross which seems to have a profanity every 2 or 3 words, or Boiler Room. One ubiquitous sign of hyper-masculine performance is a pronounced homophobia: note the frequent taunts, slang words, curses and fears associated with homophobia (“batty,” “pussyfist” for “pacifist,” vegetarians as “gaylords” according to Jas’ dad’s friend Uncle Bobby, Ravi’s initial fear that Sanjay and Bobby are “both gonna rape us,” – a kind of homophobic reflex as the corollary to hyper-masculine performance).
Hypermasculinity may be more closely associated with second- or (especially) third-generation immigrants, and may be a particularly Asian problem, arising in part as an overcompensation to the “model minority” tag and compliant thrift image of their fathers:
People who don’t fight back proply are like people who don’t fight at all. They’re like desi dads when they stand there takin all kinds a abuse an shit from smelly skinheads, racist bosses an our mums. (p. 110)
Part of hyper-masculinity is of course the objectification of women – women in this novel are divided into nubile (all the l “fit” young girls) or non-nubile (mums, aunts) categories, the former seen exclusively in sexualized terms, the latter impossibly de-sexualised (as if young girls don’t eventually become mums and aunts, and as if aunts and mums were not young once). The problem of desi women – objectified, controlled, not taken seriously, a means of parental power and prestige in matters like weddings etc, - seems to be a conjunction of various factors: Indian gender biases and the treatment of nubile girls as tools for family advancement, the hyper-masculinity that arises in diasporic situations, Western commodity culture, Western liberal attitudes to sex as part of liberal individualism, etc. i.e. what tends to survive and thrive of Indian culture is that which finds accidental corroboration in diasporic situations. A perfect storm of factors combines to make young girls as subject, if not more so, as in Indian society. This is reflected in the passive and marginal roles for most female characters in the novel, the main one possibly being Samira, who plays out the sexualized role of fickle flirt that hypermasculanized desi men place on her.
Physical or verbal violence in many of these cases seems to be tied to an ethos of aggression, posturing, competition – not unlike the craning of necks or puffing up of quills of male giraffes or porcupines prior to a fight or in mating season. It is in that light unsurprising that this often happens as a prelude or accompaniment to fighting and gang competition (ACO, Londonstani), territorial disputes (war and mob films), and the most aggressive aspects of capitalism (sales, stockbrocking).
The parallels between Londonstani and these other genres/discourses of violence adds another dimension to the trope of crime in Indian Anglophone novels: not merely a reflection of endemic problems of lawlessness and corruption in India, violence can also be a “Western” phenomenon, a kind of logical extreme of capitalist competition. (The missing link between gulf war, the mob, stockbrokers, even police? Competition over property). Thus the essential ambivalence of violence in Londonstani: on the one hand, it could be an exporting of Indian violence into the diaspora – after all, Hardjit explicitly and deliberately invokes religious violence and the Sikhs as Hinduism’s shock troops, and the fight with Tariq is couched in quasi-religious terms. (The difference is that in the diaspora, “religious” violence is without the underlying sociological reality that it has in India, it seems a kind of performance of violence around the empty centre of religious signification). But another way of looking at this is that violence is at least as much about the Western competitive ethos, about capitalism and violence – it is significant that the economic base of the gang is the commodity, the (stolen) cellphone and the consumers’ unending desire to upgrade these to the newest and best.
Seen in this light, “violence” (in its wide and inclusive definition, to include all the legitimized and sublimated forms within capitalist society – soldiering, police, sales, contact sports, verbal abuse in the public sphere – as much as crime and gangsterism per se) is a form of male (and sometimes even female) immigrant acculturation and legitimization, at least in Western countries where such values trump any alternative social values e.g. civic duty, national religion, close-knit families – there may be some “Western” countries, e.g. Switzerland? Italy?, where such alternative values arguably work to hold in check the most extreme manifestations of such capitalist-related violence. Certainly there are non-Western countries where capitalist-linked violence does not dominate as strongly: communist countries, strongly paternalistic governments and societies, countries with a strong spiritual culture. Whether these alternative (non-capitalist) cultures are fully effective in holding back capitalism and its problems, and/or whether they will continue to be effective in doing so, is of course debatable. However, what novels like Londonstani indicate is that in the absence of such alternative values, and in the confusing migrant lacuna created when Indian values are undermined and no new solid values are infused, what fills the lacuna in such countries is a violence which, while simplistically attributed to migrants, is actually part of a larger capitalist problem. Migrant males, particularly younger ones, are prone to legitimizing their presence by taking on their own version of capitalist violence: some aspirations include as professional athletes in contact sports, serving in the military or police, in big business (the more successful and flashier the better), and of course as gansgsters.
Individualism, Materialism and Bodies without Organs
Capitalism haunts the entire novel, a major part of the identity problem not only for desis but goras as well. Indian cultural values recede, in the face of the difficulty of maintaining them outside of India: language becomes hybrid and bastardised, while on the one hand the boys are intent on language-as-identification, on the other hand their patois is only intelligible to themselves (since it’s as much street slang as Hindi or Punjabi, since they deliberately throw in Urdu words to confuse their parents). Religion becomes equally hybrid and confused: Hardjit’s parents keep, alongside their copy of the Guru Granth Sahib “a couple a picture a Hindu Gods too” (p. 51), and his mum “even puts up a plastic Christmas tree with an angel on the top, right next to the Buddha statue they got in their living room” (pp. 79-80). Pop culture is even more hybrid: alongside references to the inevitable Aishwarya and Shah Rukh, are posters of and references to other idols like Arnold Schwartzenegger, Bruce Lee, J-Lo, Usher, Ice Cube etc.
As the distinctiveness of Indian identity fades, what fills the vacuum is materialism. The novel is replete with possessions, status symbols, consumer choices, upgrades etc, placing it within a sub-genre of the novel (from at least the late 19th C onwards) that we might call the “materialist” or “consumer” novel: things like Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, the Sherlock Holmes stories in some ways, out-and-out emporium novels like Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise, and certainly many sub-genres (and significant bits within those sub-genres) in our contemporary culture. Think of Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho whose protagonist’s days are filled, not with work but with choices about designer clothes and fashionable restaurants; or the phenomenon of “product placement” in MTV videos and James Bond films (BMW or Aston Martin? Saville Row or Brioni? Nokia, Omega, etc). Or the conspicuous materialism of films like Wall Street, Confessions of a Shopaholic. i.e. the “Consumer” or “Materialist” narrative is one where commodities become practically a character or agency in the narrative, and not merely background colour or description. Bond, for example, saves himself and the world partly because his BMW Z4 or Aston Martin is a high-performance car that can outrace the bad guys’ cars, his suits make him look good enough to seduce the villain’s mistress and steal the secret device/code. Gordon Gecko’s actions are driven by an ethos in which toys and possessions are the be all and end all of Western upper middle-class existence.
Londonstani declares its status as materialist novel quite explicitly: in the whole theory of “bling economics” that Sanjay articulates, in the central plot element of the cellphones that the gang deals in, in Jas’ centrality to the plot (because of his father’s business, and the importance of his father’s commodity to Sanjay’s plot), in the goods-oriented lifestyle (designer clothing, the latest phones, BMWs and Porsches, eating and drinking in expensive clubs and restaurants) of the main characters. Like the contemporary financial/consumption novel, in Londonstani commodities are not just there as background or secondary detail, but drive the plot. Materialism haunts the desi family, whether it be the first generation’s thrift and entrepreneurship, or the older women and their commitment to “artha” (“the Hindu duty to do well for yourself materially”, p. 83), or the family pressure for their sons to study economics (which both Jas and Sanjay experience) and go on to earn lots of money, or the designer togs and status symbol aspirations of the third generation, etc. And because of this ubiquitous and relentless consumption, and the absence of any possible alternative/countering values, the central characters embark on their actions which lead to the final confrontation between Jas and Sanjay.
Jas and Sanjay can be read as “doubles” (in the Otto Rank, psychoanalytic sense of the doppelganger) of each other. Both are Ashwood’s favorites, both “A” students from the same school, both facing social pressure to be rich, both turn to illegal means to do so, and to fill their lives with expensive toys, “pull” fit women, etc. Both have father issues, a personal/familial void that yearns to get filled with material success. Sanjay is in a way Jas’ dark double, the temptation to fill the void through crime, intimidation, ruthless means (blackmail, cutting off an informant’s tongue, beatings). If so, then Sanjay is also a Mephistophelean character, offering Jas a Faustian bargain (which he buys – the money, the loan of the Porsche, the confidence and success with Samira). (Don’t forget that Mephistopheles, at least in Chris Marlowe’s version, is both antagonist tempter and himself a victim or pawn: “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it./Thinks’t thou that I, who saw the face of God,/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,/In being deprived of everlasting bliss?” (I:iii). Like Faustus, Jas is bought/seduced by material things, the power to command material things.
Which makes Sanjay’s apartment the hell of materialist society. On the one hand it is a classic modern “emporium,” a collection of miscellaneous goods from disparate parts of the world which reveals the (nascent, growing, established, depending on which epoch the emporium belongs to) establishment of an interconnected world of goods (The locus classicus of the modern emporium is probably the Great Exhibition of 1851, but for literary examples see the description of Basil’s studio in chapter one of Dorian Gray, or the account of Dorian’s career as a collector in chapter eleven; or for examples of the colonial emporium, see the Lahore museum or Lurgan’s shop in Kim; closer to home, and in a similar Mephistophelean encounter, see the description of Mammon Inc’s headquarters in chapter 6 of Tan Hwee Hwee’s Mammon Inc). The description of expensive designer goods from different parts of the world is capped by a geo-cultural figure that sums up the world-inclusive nature of Sanjay’s apartment: “…this must be the only place on the planet where both Eskimos and South American Indians could feel at home during the same bloody week” (p. 155). But on the other hand it is also the scene of an ideological interpellation (into “blind economics”), an appeal to the moral/emotional emptiness inside of Jas (the later scene where Sanjay vents about his own father), and a manipulation of Jas’ various aspirations (sexual, materialistic, psychological), and if all else fails a scene of threats of torture (the ubiquitous Bobby, the story of Bobby and his 2 friends torturing the informant) that makes the apartment a hellish space.
The emporium, epitome of all the various elements of materialism and consumer culture in this novel, distinguishes itself from mere background colour or description, in that materialism in this novel is inextricably bound to the questions of desi identity that are central to the novel.
“Passing”: Cultural Identity-Negotiation as “Body Snatching”
By no means a speculative fiction (SF) narrative, Londonstani shows how many speculative fiction themes (the digitalization of identity, the problematic consequences of the mobility of identity that ensues, the nexus of capitalism and technology) have bearing on ethnicity in the diaspora.
a. Bodies without organs (in D and G’s formulation of capitalism). There is an inherently SF quality to this formulation, shades of clones, replicants, technological simulacrants. Yet of course we should not miss the obvious, which is that D and G were in a fundamental sense talking about some kind of loss of (older, cruder) authenticity within the transformative processes of capitalism. This applies to ethnicity in transnationalism: CC gives us one version of this (native counter-science cocking a snook at colonialism, yet itself falling into a kind of identity morass, so that we are not quite sure what happens to the discrete identity we call “Mangala” or “Lutchman.” Londonstani shows us another version: the doubling of Jas and Sanjay, with other (admittedly less pronounced) doubles (Davinder and Hardjit, both Sikh gangsters with hangsters-on; Samira and Priya, “fit” and flirtatious sisters on either side of the Sikh and Muslim divide, in turn doubling the Tariq/Hardjit coupling; Jas and Daniel, the latter representing the wimpy white boy that Jas was and might still have been; Hardjit and Bobby. The doublings and trios twirl through the novel, until they meld together into a surreal scene near the end of the novel (see point b below). It’s not just the symmetry of pairs, but the similarity of backgrounds and roles: the hard man (Hardjit, Tariq, Bobby); the gangster crew (Hardjit/Amit/Ravi, Bobby + two, Samira’s brothers), the “fit” desi girls (Priya and Samira); the “complicated family shit” that describes not just Jas and Sanjay, but also Hardjit, Arun/Amit, Ravi; the “dickless” overworked desi father; the controlling and materialistic desi mum/aunty.
b. “Hauntings”: We get a kind of surreal, fear-and-sickness induced hallucination near the end of the novel that makes this uncanny doubling clear:
…these three guys step out the road – two a them walking tall cos they got them parka anoraks on, the other one a them walkin tall cos he’s fuckin tall, fuckin six foot two, as big as Hardjit, as big as Bobby. Even under the anorak hoods you can tell they all god beards. Muslim maybe…If that’s you, Samira’s brothers, stay the fuck away from me….Another car passes me by, some red BMW 6 Coupe. Three guys inside, the guy driving is bald an massive, six foot two maybe. Bobby, if that’s you an your Southall crew, stay the fuck away from me…Another car to my right now, driven by three people with fuzzy, long hair…One a them’s really tall, six foot two. Wearin a leather bra an thong set, with a matchin whip. You could’ve been a supermodel if you din’t have such a butt-ugly face. Another car, this time with werewolves, then another with vampires. Goblins, ghouls, ghosts, clowns…That’s also what people do when they’re being chased by goblins, ghouls an ghosts. Stay away from me now, Arun, stay the fuckin fuck away from me with your pale green skin, bloodshot eyes, puke-covered mouth an complicated family-related shit drippin between your fingers. (pp. 321-322)
The possibility of simulacra, replicants and “hollow men” will inevitably suggest ghosts and hauntings. In a sense, a ghost is merely the simulacrum of the human – the suggestion of a human form/shape/identity, without the underlying concreteness of human body, purpose, life etc. By this definition, most if not all the characters in the novel are ghosts, and Jas’ hallucinatory vision may be more insightful than he realizes.
c. Voices: another way to think of ghosts (or the SF problem of portable digital identities) is in terms of the disembodied voice. Voices do not foreground themselves, do not appear problematic, until something happens to dislocate them, to suggest their (even potential) separation from their proper bodies. This is the device of the gothic epistolary narrative, to suggest that letters do not ever make it, and thus hover in mid-air. White Tiger does a very similar thing. And CC ends with a babble of voices surrounding Antar as (it is suggested) he is about to “cross over”, while Murugan by the end of the novel has become a voice without a physical body.
Londonstani in a sense perpetuates that trope, by having a narrator who flits between identities: “Jas” (the desi rudeboy), and “Jason” (the white wimpy son of socially-pretentious parents). The fact that the bulk of the novel is narrated by a “Jas” who is in a sense a pretense (the reader is deliberately left out of the truth that Jas is really white), reinforces the sense that the readers have in fact been reading a kind of hollow, disembodied narrative. And at the end of the novel, Jas (having been brought back to earth in his white form by his father’s expose and tirade) appears set to slip back into his desi identity again (“Shukriya,” the last word of the novel). This narrative and plot device is entirely in keeping with a novel which shows characters without any real and enduring identity of their own, but who speak and act at the multiple influences of others (media, peers, advertising, money and finance).