saadat_hasan_mantoWithin the traditional tranche of work which is somehow embedded in the discourse of post colonial literature, no matter where in the world it springs from, there are some obvious and familiar themes, many of which directly or otherwise service identity politics. I’m not saying, by the way, that all minority writers (however you want to define minority) are fixated with righting present and past injustices and nor am I of the view that post colonial literature has solely been about the condition or memory of the colonial or post colonial subject. However, more often than not, this tradition – if we can call it that – does operate within a political and historical context. So while I’ve touched on race as well as oppression, there are often references to diaspora, migration, place and belonging. Instead of Paton, I could have talked about Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai and Rajinder Singh Bedi – all of whom wrote before, during and after the Partition of India. No prizes for guessing the themes they pursued in their work.

Quite naturally, for a newer generation of post post colonial writers, things are different; themes have become modified or have disappeared altogether. Past oppressions, injustices and events may figure in a collective memory or consciousness, but more pressing and immediate conditions filter through into our writing. So, instead of writing about or around British Colonialism and The Raj, it’s more necessary and more natural to explore and at times counter normative but often simplistic understandings of the present social world.

In the British context, especially post 9/11, questions of and around identity politics have resurfaced in very distinct ways. Citizenship, belonging, rights and loyalty to the state, to the idea of democracy, decency and a certain morality have all been thrust upon Muslims by politicians, academics, writers and journalists. I thought about going on some protest march but I couldn’t see the point. So I moaned, got pissed off then moaned some more. Then something happened. No, I didn’t become radicalized and I didn’t invest in a new back pack, either. What did I do? Well, I wrote a short story called ‘Taxi Driver’. I’m not sure if it started out as a reaction to what I perceived to be flawed about the Islam-as-a-threat discourse but that’s what it ended up becoming.

I have a disproportionate amount of friends who are taxi drivers. How do I know it’s disproportionate? Well, nearly all my friends are or have been taxi drivers. Me, I could never be a taxi driver: hate driving for one thing and for another, I’m not always so keen on people. But after years of listening to my friends talk about their lives on the road, I started to write this story about a taxi driver and a typical, or not so typical night on the job. This was soon after a bunch of young Muslim men killed themselves and a load of other people in London. I hated the things these men did but I resented the shit out of the subsequent media fallout and political rhetoric. The conditions of my production, my neurotic fixations – including concerns around integration, citizenship, race relations, human rights and representation, found their way into the story. Here’s one abridged extract that I think illustrates some of this.

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