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Identity Politics of South Asian Enclaves


culture (2006a: 5-6). At the same time, they make money secretly

and illegally by unlocking stolen cell phones and, later in the novel,

unknowingly become involved in some serious crimes.

If we may judge a book by its cover, the “desi” (from Sanskrit

for “countryman”), consisting of these rudeboys and other

characters who share an Indian diasporic cultural identity, may be

judged by their houses. Door decorations clearly reveal residents’

religious beliefs, as some houses “had got Om symbols stuck on the

wooden front doors behind glass porches,” others “had Khanda

Sahibs,” and still others “had the Muslim crescent moon” (Malkani,

2006a: 17). Furthermore, the first-person narrator Jas informs us,

when there is no symbol on the front door, “you could still tell if it

was a desi house if there was more than one satellite dish. One for

Zee TV an one for Star Plus, probly” (2006a: 17). These indicators

of cultural identity are visual and, to critics skeptical of the

practices of Orientalism in the West, these may appear as

superficial and stereotypical as the “daal an subjhi smell” that the

narrator believes “can tell if someone was home” (2006a: 17). And

yet, hearing from Jas, who has claimed to be a desi himself and

joined the other rudeboys in beating the white boy in the opening

scene, most readers may be liable to believe that these identity

indicators are adequately self-evident and authentic. The irony, as

the reader is surprisingly informed in the last three pages of the

novel, is that the narrator, Jas, is actually not a desi, but a white

British teenager who, while aspiring to a sense of belonging with

the rudeboys, is assimilated into the desi culture of Indian diaspora.

The constructed desi identity that the white narrator Jas performs

and plays with in the novel may thus lead one to question what is

an “authentic” desi identity. More importantly, Jas also serves to

challenge the policies of multiculturalism that, since their early

development in post-World War II Britain, “have then been built

upon, and are a response to, racial and other visible differences”

(Cantle, 2012: 77).

Interestingly, some reviewers’ criticisms of Malkani’s