Sunjeev Sahota, “Ours are the Streets”

Sunjeev Sahota, “Ours are the Streets”

Sunjeev Sahota

This is an old review of mine. ( Here is the original link: http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/1543283/review-ours-are-the-streets-from-sheffield-boy-to-suicide-bomber ) It was published on 15 May 2011 in DNA. I am reposting it on my blog. Sunjeev Sahota has just been recognised as one of the twenty promising writers in the Granta 4: Best of Young Novelists anthology.

Ours Are The Streets is a story well-told, with admirable logic and precision. The author uses English and Hindustani, moving between the two languages effortlessly.

Imtiaz Raina is a British-Asian born and brought up in Sheffield. He is leading the typical life of an undergraduate — hanging out with friends, being stubborn and defiant with his parents (asking of them often, “Why can’t you be normal?”), but also getting aggressive when his dad, Rizwan, a taxi-driver, receives racist abuse from his passengers. Imtiaz is unable to comprehend how his father could bounce back the following morning, and “be ready to fall in love with the world again.” And yet, he marries a “white” girl, Rebekkah or Becka or B, who agrees to “revert” to Islam, and raise their daughter, Noor, as a Muslim.

All this changes when Imtiaz returns to Pakistan with his Ammi, to bury his father. The time away from UK proves to be a life-changing period for Imtiaz.

He whiles away his time on his uncle’s farm with his clan, including a collection of male cousins. Sometimes, a ‘friend’ like Aakil would take the “velayati” for an occasional visit to the neighbouring city. The sights and smells of the crowded and narrow lanes, the rotten roads, the cow dung strewn are an assault on his senses, but he is comfortable being “at home”, for here in the village, “I were always so and so’s grandson or such and such’s nephew or whatever. I were never just me, on my own . . . And I loved that. It were like for the first time I had an actual real past, with real people who’d lived real lives. Now I think that maybe when Noor takes her kids back home . . . they’ll sit in the shade of a banyan tree and listen open-mouthed to stories of the struggle that I, their baba, were part of.” So, when it is suggested that they take a trip to Kashmir and later Afghanistan, Imtiaz is ready. He thinks of the journey as an adventure, little realising the impact that it would have upon him as he is transformed from a Sheffield lad into a suicide bomber fighting for a cause.

Ours Are The Streets is a story well-told, with admirable logic and precision. The author uses English and Hindustani, moving between the two languages effortlessly. The use of the interior monologue shows the sure but insidious way in which a ‘normal’ person can be brainwashed into becoming a shaheed.

Ours Are The Streets
Sujeev Sahota
Picador
320 pages
Rs450

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