The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi

TBA(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

So you’re an Asian young man in London for the first time. What do you find? A strip club. A launderette where they steal your clothes. Not a promising start is it? Nobody knows who you are beyond merely the colour of your skin: More than anything she hated any talk of race or racism. Probably she had suffered some abuse and contempt. But her father had been a doctor; everyone – politicians, generals, journalists, police chiefs – came to their house in Karachi. The idea that anyone might treat her with disrespect was insupportable.

Nor is it to be in a house where the neighbours post lighted rags through the letter box, smash the windows and generally terrorised you because you are Asian. Yet this happened a lot and groups of bodyguards grew up to help and sit with these people: The family had been harried –stared at, spat on, called “Paki scum” for months, and finally attacked. The husband had been smashed over the head with a bottle and taken to hospital. The wife had been punched. Lighted matches had been pushed through the letter-box. At all hours the bell had been rung and the culprits said they would return to slaughter the children. ……The gang sat up all night, sleeping on the floor in shifts. The next morning those who had lectures and college work left, and were replaced by others. Shahid, who had a clear day, didn’t get away until afternoon, and by then a bomb had exploded on the main concourse of Victoria Station. … But which faction was it? Which underground group? Which war, cause or grievance was being demonstrated? The world was full of seething causes which required vengeance – that at least was known.

Sexual mores are confusing: She [Tahira] went on, ‘Chad, I’ve noticed that you like wearing tight trousers.’

‘I do, yes.’

‘But we women go to a lot of trouble to conceal our allures.

Surely you’ve heard how hard it is to wear the hijab? […]

You brothers urge us to cover ourselves but become strangely evasive when it comes to your own clothes. Can’t you wear something looser?’

What is this England that they came too?: Chad would hear church bells. He’d see English country cottages and ordinary English people who were secure, who effortlessly belonged. You know, the whole Orwellian idea of England…

We had no life guides or role models among politicians, military types or religious figures, or even film stars for that matter, as our parents did. ….If coming from the wrong class restricts your sense of what you can be, then none of us thought we’d become doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians. We were scheduled to be clerks, civil servants, insurance managers and travel agents…..The point about stereotypes is that, in spite of their banality, in spite of their seemingly wrongness, they work. They have effects. They are at work in Britain today. And they are hard to combat, because nobody readily admits to being influenced by them. ….You see them, our people, the Pakis, in their dirty shops, surly, humourless, their fat sons and ugly daughters watching you, taking the money. … The new Jews everyone hates them. In a few years the kids will kick their parents in their teeth. Sitting in some crummy shop, it won’t be enough for them. … Here race and class barriers had been suspended. There were businessmen in expensive suits, others in London Underground and Post Office uniforms; bowed old men in salwar kamiz fiddled with beads. Chic lads with ponytails, working in computers, exchanged business cards with young men in suits. Forty Ethiopians sat to one side of one room, addressed by one of their number in robes […] There were dozens of languages.   Strangers spoke to one another. The atmosphere was uncompetitive, peaceful, meditative.

Yet the myth that Muslims want to take over the country persists: You will slit the throats of us infidels as we sleep. Or convert us. Soon books and … and … bacon will be banned. Isn’t that what you people want?

No wonder Muslims retreat in the need to belong: Arranged on three floors, the rooms of the mosque were as big as tennis courts. Men of so many types and nationalities – Tunisians, Indians, Algerians, Scots, French – gathered there, chatting in the entrance, where they removed their shoes and then retired to wash, that it would have been difficult, without prior knowledge, to tell which country the mosque was in.

In London, if you found the right place, you could consider yourself a citizen the moment you went to the same local shop twice. … Strapper saw lads his age in Armani, Boss, Woodhouse; he glanced into the road and saw broad BMWs, gold-coloured Mercs and turquoise turbo-charged Saab convertibles. He saw five-floor shuttered houses owned by men in their thirties, with nannies, cleaners, builders. None of it would be his – ever. It just wouldn’t be. …The wind-swept sand speaks of adultery in this godless land, Here Lucifer and colonialists are in charge, The unveiled girls smell of the West and envy the shameless. ….Shahid knew he couldn’t explain, he felt too ashamed; he wanted to stop himself crying. Hat was right. They had burned a book; but what had he done? He’d abused a friend’s trust without even considering it. How could he complain now?

Caught between East and West: How could anyone confine themselves to one system or creed? Why should they feel they had to? There was no fixed self; surely our several selves melted and mutated daily? There had to be innumerable ways of being in the world. He would spread himself out, in his work and in love, following his curiosity.

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