Friday, December 12, 2008

Wok The Talk

This appeared in the latest issue of TimeOut Mumbai.

BALTI BRITAIN Ziauddin Sardar

Ziauddin Sardar has tirelessly advocated the need to reinvent the ways we look at Islam. In Balti Britain, he takes “a journey through the British Asian experience”, uncovering layers of identity connected to history, geography and family. A worthwhile endeavour at a time when there’s a hardening of attitudes towards multiculturalism, even among supposed liberals from Andrew Anthony to Martin Amis. Unfortunately, despite the debunking of historical myths and heartfelt asides, Balti Britain is narrower in scope than it should have been.

Sardar asserts that the histories of Britain and India are more tangled than commonly understood and therefore, British Asians are an integral part of Britain. He visits, among other places, Leicester, poster city of multiculturalism; is caught up in a race riot in Oldham; and in Birmingham’s ‘Balti triangle’ – where restaurants lay claim to have invented the karahi-style cuisine -- discovers a metaphor for tradition repackaged to fit the West.

However, Sardar largely speaks to his own kind: Muslim academics and writers. Their voices need to be heard, but they’re hardly representative of British Asians. Mentions of bhangra and Goodness Gracious Me notwithstanding, the second-generation from Pakistan dominates. This is justified by Sardar’s stating that his report could not be “an objective exercise”. Thus, he writes – at times movingly -- about his Hackney schooldays, his arranged marriage, the birth of his children and the discovery that his grandfather fought in the British Army.

Sardar also demystifies various versions of Islam, reminding us not to tar all those of the faith with the same brush. There is much polemic, too, on the need to re-engage with multiculturalism, especially on the part of the “dominant culture”. But given its limited focus, the addition of the word ‘My’ before Balti Britain would have helped.

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