Magazine article New Internationalist

Farrukh Dhondy

Magazine article New Internationalist

Farrukh Dhondy

Article excerpt

When you came to England to study, was it a culture shock to swap India for Cambridge?

I wasn't shocked by England or its culture. Reading everything I could lay my hands on, from Shakespeare to PG Wodehouse to Woman's Own, had prepared me for most of it. But never having washed my own clothes in India, I used a washing machine for the first time at my college and poured a whole carton of washing powder into it. The bubbles filled the college basement and overflowed onto the croquet lawn. I didn't own up.

How did you end up as one of Britain's first English-language Indian writers?

I did a natural science degree in two years and the Indian Atomic Commission wrote to me congratulating me and offering me a job. I was aware that [then Prime Minister of India] Indira Gandhi was building a nuclear bomb and, being of a determined socialist bent, I resolved not to take the job. I did a third year in English at Cambridge and then went to London. Very few people want to employ quantum physicists, however, so I washed dishes and walked dogs instead. I started writing for the newspaper of a radical immigrant agitational group called the Black Panther Movement (BPM). I had a job as a schoolteacher and I wrote, anonymously, stories about incidents in my school. A young man came one day and asked for me by name. I asked if he was the police and he said he was an editor at Macmillan and would I write a book of short stories for him?

What issues were most important to you at that time?

The BPM was open to West Indians, Africans, South Asians and other ex-colonials. We demonstrated, wrote, spoke and stimulated strike action, resistance and boycotts on any and every issue from inequalities in wages, housing, police harassment, schooling, employment - you name it, we sloganized it! There were others in the BPM who wanted to take up terror tactics in imitation of the IRA. There were also those who began to treat it as a cult with an anti-white morality. …

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