LON­DON CALL­ING: CIT­I­ZEN KHAN

SON OF A BUS DRIVER AND SEAM­STRESS, RE­GARDED AS SIG­NIF­I­CANT MUS­LIM POLITI­CIAN IN WESTERN WORLD

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Sa­ten­dra Nan­dan Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj

A hu­man rights lawyer and Labour MP, de­feated a bil­lionnnaire’s son Zac Goldsmith and re­ceived more votes than any Bri­tish politi­cian ever.

The Europe’s most im­pe­ri­al­is­tic, mul­ti­cul­tural me­trop­o­lis elected its mayor on May 5 in an his­toric elec­tion, as Queen El­iz­a­beth II was cel­e­brat­ing her 90th birth­day. Nor­mally the news would hardly cause a rip­ple, ex­cept that a Con­ser­va­tive mayor was re­placed by a Labour man with a huge man­date. But this was break­ing news – it broke many shib­bo­leths of eth­nic and con­ser­va­tive think­ing. The mayor hap­pens to be a Mus­lim with sub-con­ti­nen­tal con­nec­tions. Mr Sadiq Khan, a hu­man rights lawyer and Labour MP, de­feated a bil­lionnnaire’s son Zac Goldsmith and re­ceived more votes than any Bri­tish politi­cian ever. Mr Goldsmith had cam­paigned to cap­i­talise on the fear of the Lon­don­ers with ex­trem­ists and sec­tar­ian con­cerns. He em­pha­sised divi­sion and dif­fer­ences; Mr Khan was for unity with the chal­lenges of diver­sity. Sadiq Khan, born in a Coun­cil flat, the son of a bus driver and a seam­stress, is now re­garded as the most sig­nif­i­cant Mus­lim politi­cian in the western world.

His par­ents, born in Bri­tish In­dia, came from Pak­istan when the sub­con­ti­nent was di­vided through tragic machi­na­tions – par­ti­tion was the Bri­tish way of solv­ing prob­lems in a hurry and the In­dian par­ti­tion was par­tic­u­larly bru­tal – it was noth­ing short of a civil war be­tween cousins who had lived to­gether for at least a mil­len­nium.

It’s uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged as im­pe­ri­al­ism’s worst crime. A cou­ple of lines drawn through the map of In­dia by a man who had hardly set foot on the sub-con­ti­nent, with­out any se­ri­ous con­cern to its cat­a­strophic con­se­quences: around two mil­lion butchered in fa­nat­i­cal frenzy; 12 mil­lion dis­placed from their homes, never to re­turn where they had lived and loved for gen­er­a­tions. And this two years af­ter the Sec­ond World War, which had just given the world Hitler, the Holo­caust and Hiroshima. Within less than 25 years Bangladesh was bru­tally born, show­ing the im­pe­rial pow­ers that re­li­gion alone can­not be the foun­da­tion of a mod­ern post­colo­nial na­tion. Since then the bat­tles con­tinue around the sub­con­ti­nent and, of course, in the Mid­dle East. Hon Sadiq Khan’s elec­tion is a slap in the face of po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous and pop­ulist lead­ers like Don­ald Trump and sev­eral fas­cist faces in Europe. Mr Trump’s tri­umph in be­ing the pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee, and pos­si­bly pre­sump­tu­ous pres­i­dent, should be Hil­lary Clin­ton’s vic­tory - I hope, with the largest mar­gin in any pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in US his­tory. And it would be won­der­ful if this is achieved by a woman.

It’s also a telling blow to the right wing Con­ser­va­tives in Eng­land who brought in fear, re­li­gion and race in this may­oral cam­paign. The Lon­don­ers re­jected such re­gres­sive pol­i­tics. In­stead they gave the young Mus­lim leader a thump­ing ma­jor­ity. The may­oral elec­tion is not only the tri­umph of a very like­able leader—it’s re­ally a trib­ute to the cit­i­zens of Lon­don, the world’s great­est and largest city, global in its reach and Com­mon­wealth in its com­mit­ment. It test now is if it will re­main Euro­pean de­spite the my­opic cam­paign of a very bor­ing Boris John­son, the for­mer mayor of Lon­don.

Greater Lon­don’s pop­u­la­tion al­most ex­ceeds that of Aus­tralia. And there’s no bet­ter train sys­tem than the Lon­don Un­der­ground. Hous­ing and trans­port were two ma­jor is­sues in the elec­tion.

But, of course, there’s more to Lon­don for some of us who are sup­pos­edly post­colo­nial : the lit­er­ary Lon­don from Shake­speare to Charles Dick­ens to the war movies and fic­tion writ­ten about it re­mains in my mind and mem­ory. I’d read Charles Dick­ens’ A Tale of

Two Cities when I was barely six­teen years old; the novel is set dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion and the hu­man drama al­ter­nates be­tween the two cities: Paris and Lon­don. Paris never had the same fas­ci­na­tion for me de­spite some fam­ily con­nec­tions: it was a city for artists and Amer­i­can ex­iles but Lon­don was the great ex­ilic cap­i­tal­ist city, with a statue of Karl Marx; it has a statue of the great Ma­hatma too. But for me and one of my chil­dren, it was ed­u­ca­tion and literature that took me to Lon­don.

In my teens I trav­elled to Delhi with­out know­ing much about that sprawl­ing, an­cient city or In­dia. It was a dis­cov­ery and all in all I’ve spent seven most de­light­ful years in Delhi. And have just com­pleted my book on that first jour­ney from Nadi to New Delhi.

In my twen­ties I trav­elled to Lon­don, all alone, via Delhi. I re­mem­ber land­ing at Heathrow air­port around mid­night and tak­ing a taxi to a ho­tel ar­ranged by the Bri­tish Coun­cil who ad­min­is­tered the UK Com­mon­wealth fel­low­ships . Next day I saw on BBC the prime min­is­ter Mr Harold Wilson and his wife Mary Wilson who had pub­lished a book of po­ems. The im­age of a dis­tin­guished don PM and his poet wife is etched on my mind with a cer­tain vivid­ness. Next day I bought a copy of Mary Wilson’s book of po­ems. A few nights later, I saw an in­ter­view with V.S. Naipaul who had won the pres­ti­gious Booker Prize for his novel In a Free State. Vidia Naipaul be­came one of my most mean­ing­ful writ­ers – and I’ve taught and writ­ten about his work and have had the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing and meet­ing him. He’s now in his 80s mar­ried, af­ter the death of his English wife, to a Pak­istani jour­nal­ist. A few days later we were driven to the House of Com­mons and other Lon­don land­marks about which one had read—so Lon­don was never an alien city. It was al­ready, be­cause of its lan­guage, his­tory, literature, be­come part of one’s in­te­rior land­scape. In the 1970s, I spent some time in Lon­don –it was the Paki-bash­ing sea­son. I stayed in a ho­tel named Cam­bridge with my fam­ily: Jy­oti and my three chil­dren. The owner of the ho­tel was a Pak­istani Pathan. And he showed im­mense kind­ness to me and al­lowed us to cook what­ever we wanted for our chil­dren in his kitchen. But we en­joyed KFC pieces and In­dian cui­sine in South­hall. We toured much of Lon­don in those red buses and on the Un­der­ground—on the Un­der­ground you just couldn’t miss your des­ti­na­tion, they were so well-marked in dif­fer­ent colours : blue, red, green. If the Un­der­ground was an engi­neer­ing mar­vel, the huge Parks in the heart of Lon­don were the most imag­i­na­tive I’d seen. The vi­sion and plan­ning that cre­ated these must have been ex­tra­or­di­nary. One can ar­gue that most of the streets and parks, bridges and build­ings, were paved and built by the “dust of gold” of the em­pire but sev­eral im­pe­rial pow­ers of yes­ter­day don’t have much left to show. Pos­si­bly the Bri­tish Em­pire is re­deemed by its ideas and in­sti­tu­tions de­spite its many atroc­i­ties. Its poetry and par­lia­men­tary democ­racy re­main my par­tic­u­lar pas­sions. It’s while In Lon­don, I met one of my closet col­lege com­pan­ions from my Delhi col­lege days. Saroj was from Kenya but we’d lost touch and by sheer chance we dis­cov­ered our­selves in the streets of Lon­don. It sounds in­cred­i­ble but it’s true. We re­sumed our friend­ship and for the past forty plus years , ev­ery trip to Lon­don takes us to Saroj’s home where we spend our evenings, close to Heathrow air­port. Lon­don also has a Fi­jian mem­ory for me: while in Lon­don Jo Na­cola from USP also joined me—he was os­ten­si­bly do­ing a course in Drama, I think, at the univer­sity of War­wick. Dur­ing the sum­mer vo­ca­tion we were do­ing a course at the In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion at Lon­don univer­sity. Af­ter lec­tures Jo and I used to visit the pop­u­lar pubs, many named af­ter fa­mous writ­ers. One evening we stayed too long in a pub and took the last train to­wards Houn­slow. We were so en­grossed in our con­ver­sa­tion that we didn’t re­al­ize this was the last train and we didn’t get off at the last sta­tion. It was shunted into the park­ing area of the Vic­to­ria sta­tion, in the very deep and dark depths of the city. Sud­denly there was no one in the train and the lights were switched off—and we were thou­sands of feet un­der­ground. Both Jo and I must have pan­icked—we pulled all the emer­gency stop chains, levers and han­dles. It was a truly ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence— we looked out the win­dows, and the huge wires looked like writhing pythons and if you stepped out you could be elec­tro­cuted. And to re­main in­side, one could die of suf­fo­ca­tion.

I’ve give this in some de­tail in an es­say in my book FIJI: Par­adise in

Pieces (2001). The con­se­quence of our ac­tions and shouts was that af­ter a few in­tol­er­a­ble min­utes, we saw a man com­ing with what looked like an elec­tric light. First he saw me—a sub-con­ti­nen­tal Pak­istani! Ah, he was about to let go the choic­est of English ex­ple­tives, I sus­pect, when he sud­denly caught sight of Jo’s South Pa­cific hair-do and size and said with deep sor­row: ‘You boys have bug­gered the whole brake sys­tem of the Vic­to­ria sta­tion !’

I doubt if even Shake­speare could have imag­ined such an en­counter. Very po­litely he led us out­side and from there we took the ubiq­ui­tous Lon­don taxi to our des­ti­na­tions. These mem­o­ries came to me as I learnt that Sadiq Khan was elected the mayor of Lon­don, a few days ago.

And once more I feel I should re-visit this open and a most civilised , mul­ti­cul­tural city: home of mil­lions from many cor­ners of the world. Cities be­come the cor­ners of one’s liv­ing heart—my four cor­ners are Delhi, Suva, Lon­don and Can­berra. But Nadi will al­ways be the cen­tre of my imag­i­na­tion – it should be­come a city soon, from Nadi air­port to Vivekananda col­lege in Malolo.

Sadiq Khan re­ceived more votes than any Bri­tish politi­cian ever.

Sa­ten­dra Nan­dan is Fiji’s lead­ing writer. His books , Au­tumn Leaves and his trav­el­ogue, Lov­ing You Eter­nally, will be pub­lished later this year.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Fiji

© PressReader. All rights reserved.