An IIPM Initiative
Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Book Review : London Company


Off the beaten path
AGNIBESH DAS | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Book reviews | Farrukh Dhondy's book | Hachette publication's book |

It is interesting how popular culture focuses on certain aspects of a particular society while totally ignoring others. If popular culture was to be believed, one would think that racial dispute was the sole problem of the USA. The most that the United Kingdoms are supposed to have suffered by way racial conflict is protests of Scotland and Ireland against the yoke of England. That the UK had an equally complex racial equation with African, Asian and Caribbean  immigrants, is largely ignored.

Farrukh Dhondy’s London Company is a rare work of fiction that walks away from that beaten path. He does not talk of the terrorism of the IRA. Instead he talks of the street protests of “Ridley Road, Notting Hill, Harlesden, Brixton and elsewhere” in the heady days on the British Black Panther movement.

When Dhondy arrived in England with a scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1964, England was going through tumultuous times. Immigrants were flooding into the country. Simultaneously, it was an age of social change. The Civil Rights movement was quickly gaining momentum. The country was waking up to sexual maturity with the sexual revolution. Several racial freedom movements, especially those across the Atlantic in America, were making their influence felt on the English shores as well.

It was such a climate in which Dhondy arrived and quickly identified his calling as an activist an writer on race issues, as he worked for   the publication Race Today. The book gives a fictionalised account of how he entered the world of activism, joined the British Blask Panther Movement and his later disillusionment with the same.

He begins at the end – with narrating an event that forced him to differ with the direction the movement was taking and his disenchantment with it. He then smoothly goes back to how he came to join the movement in the first place and his progress through it. The book is fast paced and tightly packed, reflecting well how exciting Dhondy’s life as a young Indian student in 1960s England.

London Company is the story of a rebel. Feeling claustrophobic with the norms, rules and conventions of the Indian society, Farrukh and his girlfriend Natasha move to Leicester, looking for freedom and a chance to build their lives on their own terms. Here they face for the first time an evil that they had been largely insulated from – racial discrimination. Landlords refuse them rooms, local bars refuse them service and they are directed to the Asian ghettos to live.

They are suggested to “go down to the Asian areas of town...”, for “filthy accomodations down the side street”. They get co-opted into an Indian Workers’ Association from where they get a taste of street politics, holding successful strikes and desecrating pubs in the process.

Later, the couple moves into London, joining the British Black Panther Movement, inspired by the more famous and rather militant movement of their trans-Atlantic cousins. He gets a job as a teacher and also begins to explore writing professionally. However, he is yet to find his feet on that front and rejects his own work as “fairy tales”.

As they delve deeper into the movement, inherent differnces in opinion, ideological rifts adn complexities begin to rear their heads and it is at this point that Farrukh begins to lose some of his enthusiasm.

What is particularly noticeable about the work is that Dhondy uses highly authentic idioms and description of the lifestyles of the community he describes. There is a very interesting passage where a character protests against the supposed Rastafarian pronunciation of Shakespeare as “Shek-zapeeree” saying: “I have lived three or four times as long as you among Caribbean people and I have never heard the name Shakespeare pronounced in the way you said it. You should have some respect. I know that all of you have changed your names but please don’t change Shakespeare’s.” Dhondy’s sensitivity, probably arising out of the fact that he himself was from a racial minority, is commendable.

The book is a wonderful read, peopled by very colourful yet extremely real characters and shedding light on a particularly difficult time in the history of the United Kingdom.

Author: Farrukh Dhondy
Publication: Hachette
Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-93-5009-224-8
Pages: 240
Price: Rs 495

Rate this article:
Bad Good    
Current Rating 0
Post CommentsPost Comments

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017