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Book Reviews

Empire’s Child – My Writings 1967-2017

Volume 16, Issue 3  | 
Published 03/03/2020
  |

Author: Ramnik Shah

Publ: Austin Macauley Publishers

Reviewer: Zarina Patel

Ramnik Shah is to date the longest serving writer and columnist of AwaaZ Magazine (of which I am the Managing Editor). In these 13 years, his thought-provoking and promptly delivered commentaries have covered a wide range of issues both in subject matter and historical interest; and so it is no surprise that this collection of his writings follows a similar pattern.

Empire’s Child is a banquet, no less. The reader is offered an array of views, comments, exposes, insights and critiques prepared primarily for the diasporan audience; but of interest to those seeking a Third World taste of global, especially US-EU, happenings. Ramnik’s presence in AwaaZ is heralded by the title ‘London Calling’ – from his base in the UK he shares with us his wealth of experience starting within his motherland Kenya and spanning the continents of Europe, Asia and America. And what a spread it is!

Let us start at the beginning: the cover of the book. It depicts London Calling’s very first appearance which was in Issue 1 of AwaaZ 2006; the topic was, ‘They came in Dhows and left in Jets’. The accompanying article on page 59 is preceded by a historical sketch of colonial and post-colonial East Africa and the role of the South Asians in it.  

The focus then moves to Britain and highlights legal issues around the betrayal of her overseas citizens and its resolution in 2002. From pages 85 to 163  under the heading ‘The Culture’ we are then treated to a veritable feast of book and film reviews that the author has penned over a quarter of a century, remarkable both for their extent as their literary as well as cinematic significance. Among the authors are Paul Theroux, Urmila Jhaveri, George Alagiah, Sultan Somjee and Judy Aldrick; the topic is ‘Africa’. ‘India’ is the focal point of the film reviews; the works of famous directors such as Deepa Mehta, Danny Boyle, Shyam Benegal and Asghar Faradi are brought under the microscope.

Part V has a selection of six columns from AwaaZ in which Ramnik reflects on contemporary issues. In a selection of letters published in The Times [London], the earliest dated 1980, Ramnik puts forward alternate views on the ‘Nationality Bill’, ‘Apartheid in South Africa’, ‘Ethnic Schools’ and ‘Arranged Marriages’. ‘Gunboat diplomacy in Iran’ written in 03-04-2007 is an indication of how old is the West’s on-going conflict with Iran. His interaction with the print media started earlier in Kenya during the late sixties and early seventies as he berated the British Government’s newly imposed restrictions on citizenship and its fallout. A section on migration studies has his reviews of six books focussing on the USA and India and including Rozina Visram’s Asians in Britain – 400 Years of History.

The Gujrat Studies Association was formed in the UK in 2005 and Ramnik presented several academic papers to its annual conferences. ‘Gandhi and Jinnah: A Study in Commonality and Contrast’ is a fascinating read of comparative aspects of these legendary figures.

In Part Eight the author expresses his personal opinions on a variety of topics ranging from Wangari Maathai to Nehru’s First TV Appearance and Muslim-related issues. They were posted in his blog (www.ramnikshah.blogspot.com)  or the Namaskar-Africana List. In the travelogues which follow we journey with him to Cuba, India, South America and the USA.

All writing is ‘partial and subjective’ (Ramnik’s comment in Namaskar-Africana in 21/01/2002) and no writer is expected to ‘say it all’. However, in our present very volatile global politics, the term ‘Empire’ has a distinct ideological aspect which I daresay the writer has largely ignored or avoided. The travel in Gujarat, India, surely merited a mention of the 2002 Gujarat Massacre; in Cuba the ‘different perspective’ needed elaboration; in the historical overview of Kenya the anti-colonial struggles pre-dated the end of WWII and the South Asian component including that of the press and the Ghadar Party were significant. The absence of our most loved and revered patriot, Pio Gama Pinto, a South Asian socialist; his assassination and the ideological tensions of that decade which reverberate even today is notable.

But as I said earlier, these ‘digital footprints for eternity’ are a banquet; not every dish will appeal but the reader has a wide choice to pick from. Fiction, History, Biography and Travel are the ingredients, the layout and list of contents makes it easy to zero into a special interest. Ramnik Shah is both a prolific reader and writer; he must be commended for the well-ordered and easy-to-follow classification and categorisation of such a large and varied body of writings. And for giving us introductions to such a rich and varied choice of books, films and articles.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 March 2020 10:10

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