Early Morning Writing Crew

I write every morning between 6am and 7.30am. Then I go to my dayjob.

Join me from tomorrow - we can write and we can go about our daily lives - all it takes is one hour less in bed and a quicker breakfast (maybe not a full episode of 'Frasier' before work). Ninety minutes of pure concentration when there's no one to arse about with on Twitter, it's quiet and you're waking up from dreamworld, so your mind is freer than when you're tired after a day of hard graft.

I have two months to do a major redraft of my third novel. I don't have a deadline for it. I just need to do it this year. And I can - all it takes is being part of the Early Morning Writing Crew.

If you wanna join me, let me know how you got on every morning on Twitter at 7.35am. #emwcrew @nikeshshukla.

Let's write, dude.

Transient


Social Media Black Hole

This morning, instead of starting the first major redraft of my third novel, I was checking Twitter. I saw a tweet from a friend and thought, I haven’t spoken to you in a while so went to send her a DM. Only to discover she’d unfollowed me.

Fair enough, I thought. I’m not surprised. I’ve been relentlessly self-promoting on my Twitter stream recently. I had a book out. I thought, well, I have to promote it, right? That's what we're told. I'll just promote it. A lot. So I did. A lot. After a while it gets excruciating. Especially if my friend, who is already friends with me on Facebook, gets the message and has bought into the idea of supporting my work. And my stream is one long advert for me.

Twitter now tells you whether someone is following you back or not on your ‘following’ screen. I found myself in this social media blackhole last week, scanning through my ‘following’ list to see who was still following me. And I noticed a fair few weren’t – and they had been recently. I knew this because of DMs, because of conversations they had jumped in on and because I considered us mates. But, having a book out recently has sent me into this strange space – I need to know everything everyone is saying about it. I'm in a space where I check my Amazon sales rankings, I have keyword searches set up on my name and the title of my book, I interact with people who are talking about me who aren’t even following me just because they’re talking about me. I’m checking what other books people are talking about, why aren’t they talking about mine, who is talking about mine, what are they saying?

I’ve lost all perspective.

Every minute, that refresh, the crushing disappointment when you realise no one is talking about your stuff, when you check Google search history so often you're refining it to the past hour, when it becomes a tick - that scrolldown pinch-pull you do on a touchscreen. When you are making that action in your sleep. When the blue sheen of a screen is in your blind spot as you try and count your breaths and calm down for bed. When you walk up in the middle of the night and while you check your phone to see the time, notice there are interactions on your lock screen so you head to the toilet so you can check them. When the only things you have to say are about yourself.

I feel anxious all the time at the moment.

Because I have this innate need to see what people are saying about my book all the time.

I wrote a book about our relationship with social media to reconcile my own relationship with it. The things I railed against, I have become. In the book, there is a repeated joke about the only constant email the main character receives being from Amazon recommending he buy his own book. Three times in two weeks, I have received that email from Amazon, recommending I buy the book I wrote satirising the people who constantly check their Amazon sales rankings, which generates that very sales email. I am become that person who, as the first line goes, ‘every morning sees what people are saying about me’. And what does it matter, scanning through the people I follow on Twitter to see if they follow me back, to wonder what it is I said to make them go away?

It’s horrible. I hate it.

My wife asked me last night what I was distracted by. I didn’t want to tell her the thing that made me keep checking my phone was a tweet that had got over 140 retweets, and I wanted to see what that did to my follower account.

None of this has to do with writing, which is the tragedy. It's to do with self-promotion, with being a brand, with bombarding your followers with sales messages.

Of course you'll chase people away. Of course you'll seem needy and self-obsessed and utterly dull if that's what you spend all your online time doing.

This is all very embarrassing to admit but when you realise you can’t retain your friends in your digital social circles, maybe you need to review what you need those circles for. I wrote a book about how we’re losing ourselves to the internet before losing myself to the internet. This feels like the ultimate meta-in-joke.

I love the internet. I need to remember what I need it for. It's time to try and embrace meatspace.

Missing in space... Help us find our meat!

MISSING: WEATHER BALLOON/MEAT EXPERIMENT POD – reward offered

Author Nikesh Shukla and designer Nick Hearne are offering a reward for the safe return of an experiment.

The pod...

The pod...

At 6am on Saturday, 14th June 2014, author Nikesh Shukla and designer Nick Hearne launched some meat into space. Aimed as a publicity stunt for Nikesh’s new novel, ‘Meatspace’, they wanted to experiment with the effects of atmospheric pressure on a grilled lambchop from the East London restaurant Tayyabs.

‘Meatspace’ is a fiction satire about online interactions and how we curate our online personalties, and how this affects our offline ones. ‘Meatspace’ is what people online use to refer to the real world.

‘We thought it would be funny,’ says author Nikesh Shukla, ‘to take the word seriously and launch some meat into space. Everything went brilliantly, except we didn’t counter for failing GPS or for the pod landing somewhere without mobile coverage.’

‘I was promised I’d get on the Tayyabs Wall of Fame if we succeeded. It’s my favourite dish from my favourite restaurant. I just want to get on the hall of fame,’ says graphic designer Nick Hearne.

Unfortunately, the GPS tracking device on the weather balloon has failed and they are unable to locate the lambchop, a Go-Pro camera and a makeshift pod they created especially for the experiment. The lambchop was launched from near Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire and the trajectory of the weather balloon estimates that it landed somewhere in Wiltshire, near Trowbridge.

Nikesh, Nick and the publisher Harper Collins are calling for vigilant walkers, farmers, landowners and ramblers to be on the lookout for the weather balloon, parachute, lambchop and Go-Pro camera. A reward is being offered for its safe return.

If you come across the weather balloon, please email mymeatspace@gmail.com or call Nick Hearne with the number on the box. Thank you for any and all help.

The weather balloon

The weather balloon

Notes to editors:

Nikesh Shukla is the author of Meatspace, Kabadasses and Coconut Unlimited which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

Nick Hearne is an award winning Creative Lead, Art Director and Designer for advertising, based in London.

Tayyabs is a family-owned and run business in Whitechapel, founded in 1972 serving the finest in Punjabi cuisine.

On toothpaste

You’re brushing your teeth and you’re living the dream. All at the same time. You’re not sure whether to change into clean pants though. Even though this is a fancy television production company’s ground floor toilet, it’s still essentially a public toilet, no a communal toilet, used by 100s of staff and they probably don’t care about pissing on the floor and leaving dirty bog roll everywhere because they pay someone else to clean it up.

You’re looking in the mirror, brushing your teeth, thinking, today your life is going to change. You’re looking in the mirror, brushing your teeth, thinking, today your life is going to change, trying to speed up the minty fresh feeling around your mouth because anyone could walk in. And if anyone did walk in and see you brushing your teeth, obviously wearing yesterday’s clothes, it might be time to wake up, because living the dream comes on a short leash.

You were so excited to get this job you neglected to bring a change of clothes. Or a toothbrush. You were so excited to get this job you come to London the night before. You were so excited to get this job you stayed out with friends till late celebrating it before it had even begun. You were so excited to get this job that you missed the last train back to your dad’s and you stayed with a friend who has an early start, ushering you out of the door at 7am, into the street, hung over with nothing other than a half-charged iPad and yesterday’s clothes. You sat in a café across the road from the television production company and you watched Pacific Rim on your iPad at 8am. You went out and bought toothpaste and an expensive pair of pants, because what option do you have in Camden at 9am on a Monday.

Someone was asleep in the café toilet so you watched your film and went to your first ever television writing job early, asking if you could use the toilet. You did, and here you are, brushing your teeth, knowing that from this point on, everything will be different. You are about to have made it.

Your boss for the day walks into the toilet and looks at you as you’re mid-spit. He says your name quizzically and you smile and nod and spit. He goes into the cubicle and you try to finish your tooth-brushing as quickly and quietly as possible as he does a loud fart followed by an empty of his bowels.

You stare in the mirror. You’re living the dream. You’re a writer now.

You have toothpaste on yesterday’s shirt.

On portion size

You have to earn your portion size, restaurants.

First of all, you have to be sarcastic, sneer at me, snobby when I enter. Because I’m wearing jeans. Secondly, you can’t look like you’re the restaurant for a hotel. Thirdly, you have to be priced way out of my league.

Then you can earn this portion size.

Because it’s just a pasta dish, I know. I’m looking at the pasta dishes of the twelve people I’m with, and food is spilling out of their bowls. I can see the mound from a flat landscape. I could half their portion sizes and they’d still have more than me.

My mistake? I went for lobster ravioli.

According to the waitress, ravioli usually only comes in three pieces because it’s rich so for me to get five, that’s special. I should be laughing. I’m quids in. I say that I feel mugged off. It’s not like it’s actual lobster, it’s going to be some crushed reconstituted lobster meat, right? I mean, this isn’t that nice a restaurant. It’s a small local chain. Who has the time, right? She schools me on the richness of ravioli. I tell her that I haven’t been to ravioli school.

I then tell her that presentation is everything. Because they’ve plonked five small pieces of ravioli on to my plate and spooned a dollop of passata on top of it. Then, they grabbed a mound of steam spinach and plopped it in the middle.

If they wanted to get away with this portion size, presentation is everything. Because this looks like a mess you’d get in a lower scale restaurant in the centre of town, one that’s essentially a chain, where it’s been the same menu for years, where everything is a solid 3, where the brown panels and laminate floors make you feel like you on the set of a soap Italian restaurant that’s meant to be upscale, where everyone else is enjoying mounds of food, where I feel mugged off.

Portion size is important. Because where I grew up, you ate to get full.

On cultural misappropriation

There’s kitsch and there’s shit. This is neither. It’s inaccurate. And that’s what stings. There’s no harm in you doing a cover version of my favourite Bollywood song. There’s little harm in you changing the pitch of it and singing it an octave higher than it should be because some of the notes must be hard to reach. There’s probably not even much harm in your being backed by a school band-esque ragtag collection of hippies with recorders and a cheeseboard-style variety of costumes. There’s the banana, the grasshopper, the tree and the World War One veteran. That’s all fine. I can deal with all that because I understand the rules of kitsch. I understand that sometimes you must see some things presented in a new light with the focus being on their cheesiness and how fun it is. That’s fine.

But when you dance, and you do Arabic dancing, you wave your arms about like you’re summoning a genie, you writhe your hips like it’s a Middle Eastern bellydance, you walk like an Egyptian, I realise that you have no clue about the difference between different brown peoples.

We’re all an amorphous mess of mysticism and Orientalism.

And that is cultural misappropriation.

Today

 

Why mark a day? It’s just a day. Why mark a day with sadness? Why do anything? Why note down the things that happened on this day in history? They create circles, loops, endless spirals of sadness or elation or a noting of the passage of time.

I can remember the day I met my wife. I can remember the day I got the call about my book deal. I can remember where and when I was when my city phoned me to tell me she was engaged.

And on this day three years ago, my mother passed away. I remember the day well. I was at home. I shouldn’t have been at home. I should have been at her side. I was booked to do a reading at Rich Mix for a festival with Sabrina Mahfouz and Anjali Joseph. I was with my mum that day and I was tired. I’d been at BBC London late the night before plugging my book on a show with Nikki Bedi. I was on the promo trail and things felt good. And they felt bad. Mum had just been diagnosed with cancer. I left her to go and do this reading. The plan was to go back to my childhood home afterwards and see her in the morning before going to work with my dad (we used to work together). I decided to stay late at Rich Mix, blow off some steam with friends and go home to my own flat in North London where my wife was. I hadn’t seen her properly for a few days and the feeling of being next to her was going to be the tether I needed to feel anchored, grounded.

So I went home.

And I regret that decision every single day. Because it took away my final moments. It took away that last time I’d see her. I hadn’t filed any event as the last time I’d see her, because I didn’t know. All I knew was I told ordered to come home by my dad the next day and that was it.

I didn’t close the loop, it feels like. I didn’t get my big filmic goodbye and because of that, when this day comes around I get to reply my decisions, my movements, my memories, trying to jog them into remembering the last time I’d seen her alive. I’ve made up memories to replace the one I didn’t retain. I may have fed her Weetabix. I may have read to her about my book. I may have complained to her that she wasn’t trying to get better. I know she wasn’t happy with the extract Nikki had read on the radio the night before, about the mother in my book, a caricature of my memory of her when I was a teenager. ‘Is that what you think of me?’ she whispered. ‘I can’t believe you make fun of me like that.’

I think that’s the last thing she ever said to me.

So why mark a day? Why mark this day? I mark this day because she is now immortalised in words, in my caricatures of her in my work, in earnest blogs and essays, in Twitter and Facebook statuses. That is the physical sum of my mother now. The heft of language is her memory’s burden to bear. So I write about her because each time, it’s like a Time Machine, it forces me to remember and get things down exactly as they were. It forces me to give the tiny details about her a narrative. Which is why I wrote a short book about her cooking, because that sight of her cooking is ingrained in me forever. 

It’s just a day. It’s a day we can do something nice. I’m not pushing my book on you. I’d love it if you bought it and stepped into my time machine and cooked my mum’s recipes and tried to picture her cooking as I often do. The book’s a pound and a quarter of that goes to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, to raising awareness of lung cancer issues. Maybe you can make a donation to the charity if you think that 25p’s not enough. Or do a run. Or a sponsored whatever. Anything. Or just call your mum. She probably misses you.

Here's my book  - please buy it and support the cause. 

 

10,000 hours of genius

You're duty-bound in grief to remember only the good things. So before I tell you what a good cook my mum was, let me tell you what a bad cook she was.

She used to make this pasta bake that had potatoes and peas and baked beans and tuna… and pasta in it. Covered in mild cheddar. Left to harden in the oven before being served up in a dollop on a plate. She used to cook this aubergine shaak that would involve decimating the poor aubergine with heat till it was like viscous that slimed about in your mouth. She used to make sandwiches, Indian-style, she called them, that were fried potatoes and chillis, sandwiched in thin white sliced bread and scrunched up into a toaster for fifteen minutes. Serve with ketchup mixed with tamarind… tommy k - Indian-style.

My mum was the best cook in the world when it came to Indian food. Maybe it was the abundance of cumin seeds in everything she made. Maybe it was the reams of garlic, broken off from a larger frozen slate of the stuff in the fridge. Maybe it was the fact that she had cooked these dishes time and time again and had no interest in developing or evolving the recipes that made her the best. She attained Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of genius.

I grew up in a sexist household where my mother, the matriarch, after a full day's work, would be left to cook for the family while I pretended to do my homework and wrote rap lyrics, my sister pretended to do her homework and watched television quietly in mum's room and while my dad sat in  a corner of the room, drinking and thinking about business. When our own mealtimes came, we would go downstairs and eat, sat in an empty kitchen or sat while she washed up, silently, usually with a book or the notebook that had all my rap lyrics. I tried to time my meals with her not being in the kitchen because she would ask questions about school I didn't want to answer.

The kitchen was always a warm mess. She took sole responsibility for keeping it tidy and she couldn't be bothered. She had two jobs and she had to cook for us. So there were dustings of flour on each surface. The bench was wobbly. There were turmeric stains on the walls. And the sink had a constant stream of things needed to be washed up.

It was the most important room in the house. I just didn't know it at the time. I was a moody teenager who wanted to be like my favourite rappers.

Now my mum's not around, the kitchen feels like a shrine to former glories. I call it the museum of how things were now no one uses it to cook anymore, just heat things up, or make sandwiches. The hob is shop-fresh in its metallic glow. The oven is used as storage for trays that have no place in the cupboards. And the fridge, my dad's fridge, is that of a student's - cheese, chillis, milk and fruit yoghurts. The Tupperware of donated dishes are stacked high, the bottom one hideously out of date.

And it makes me miss my mum. Because this was what she was best at. Regardless of whether she felt duty-bound to cook for us, when I finally took an interest in learning, she admitted she loved it. She loved being in the kitchen. She said, there was something about the sound of things frying bubbling, the sound of a knife chopping. I reminded her that she never used the chopping board shaped like a pig. She cut things into the palm of her hand, stood with a foot up on a bench. The chopping board was for when I was home.

Growing up above the kitchen, I lived on the sound of the pressure cooker, the rising heat and warmth the room imbued, the smell of onions and garlic.

She had these two phrases to express annoyance. If you were pecking at her, hectoring and going on and on, she'd say, 'maro mathoo nay ka'. Don't eat my head. If you were being wilful, she'd say 'thel piva ja'. Go and drink some oil.

No wonder I'm obsessed with food.

My mother would have been 62 today. Donate 25p to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation by buying my novella 'The Time Machine'. It's £1. It's about my mum. It has three of her recipes in it.

 

The Time-machine

‘The Time Machine’

by Nikesh Shukla (Galley Beggar Press)

Released: 16 August 2013

Format: e-book: e-pub, mobi, pdf

We grew up in households where food was important. We grew up in households where the kitchen was the centre of our universes. The main family thoroughfare happened in our kitchens. 

‘The Time Machine’ is a new novella about food and grief by award-winning author Nikesh Shukla.

It documents Ashok’s attempts to cook food like mum used to make in the wake of her death. If he succeeds, his time machine will have worked and he’ll be transported back to a time when the family home was alive with the sounds of cricket, the smell of food and the presence of his mother. The story is a tender, funny ode to home-cooked Gujarati cooking (‘not tandoori or balti, are you rogan joshing me?’), peppered with family recipes and outdated wisdom from over-bearing aunties. 

25p from each sale of ‘The Time Machine’ will be donated to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

The novella deals with the universal themes of food, memory and grief. About losing a parent before you have the chance to learn everything you need to from them. About finding home. 

Shukla said of the novella: ‘I lost my mum to cancer in 2010, the week my first novel came out. It’s been hard to write about anything else, think about anything else, cook anything else other than the dishes that make the world smell like a world she’s alive in. I wanted to write some sort of mawkish tribute to her legacy, which is food. She was the best cook in the world. I’ll never taste anything approaching her food again. It wasn’t about technical expertise, measurements and outlandish recipes – it was about the soul, about practice and about love. I’ve decided to give all my earnings from this piece of work to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation to help raise awareness of this all-too common condition.’

Sam Jordison, from Galley Beggar Press, said: ‘I always knew Nikesh could write: and write damn well. That's why I was so keen to get him involved in The Singles Club. What I didn't know was that he'd make me want to cry too. This story is just lovely. It's touching, funny and full of nostalgia, but never at all mawkish. It's delicate and beautifully flavoured. And I kind of want to make more food jokes here, but that would be out of keeping with a story that so cleverly avoids cliché and the obvious line. Let's just stick to saying that it's wonderful.’ 

Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: ‘Buy this book. Not only will you enjoy a heart-warming story, you will also be supporting us in our mission to give help and hope to everyone affected by lung cancer – the UK’s biggest cancer killer. All the money raised will go towards vital lung cancer research and providing support to patients and their families.’

Nikesh Shukla’s bio 

Nikesh Shukla is a writer of fiction and television. His debut novel, Coconut Unlimited was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011. In 2011, Nikesh co-wrote a non-fiction essay about the riots with Kieran Yates called Generation Vexed: What the Riots Don't Tell Us About Our Nation's Youth. In 2008, he and film-maker Videowallah won the Satyajit Ray Foundation Best Short Film Award for ‘The Great Identity Swindle’.

His short stories have been featured in the following places: Best British Short Stories 2013, Five Dials, The Moth Magazine, Pen Pusher, The Sunday Times, Book Slam, BBC Radio 4, First City Magazine and Teller Magazine. He has written for the Guardian, Esquire and BBC 2. He has, in the past, been writer in residence for BBC Asian Network and Royal Festival Hall. His Channel 4 Comedy Lab Kabadasses aired on E4 and Channel 4 in 2011 and starred Shazad Latif, Jack Doolan and Josie Long. He hosts The Subaltern podcast, the anti-panel discussion featuring conversations with writers about writing. Guests have included Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Teju Cole, James Salter, George Saunders. 

Galley Beggar Press

Galley Beggar Press is a new publishing company based in Norwich founded by Henry Layte, Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison. 

Our aim is to be an old fashioned publisher for the 21st Century.

Old fashioned because we believe in the beauty of books and the printed word, in the importance of nurturing authors and paying serious attention to editing, and in the vital importance of art as well as commerce. 

21st Century, not just because that’s where we are, but because we also believe in the fantastic potential of ebooks to reach new audiences, to spread our writers’ precious words around the world and to revive and revitalise books that would otherwise either be out of print or lost on the backlist.

First conceived in 2011, Galley Beggar Press is a company specifically set-up to act as a sponsor to writers who have struggled to either find or retain a publisher, and (most importantly) whose writing shows great ambition and literary merit. Our primary questions are not who someone is, or whether something is going to make it into the supermarkets. Rather, it’s whether this is an author we want, a novel we love. If the answer is yes on both counts – then, no matter how challenging a read the book is (or how obscure the author), we will set about bringing it to the widest possible public. . 

Really, at Galley Beggar Press, it’s this simple: we want to produce beautiful books, and we want to be governed by the quality and verve of the writing we publish. We have faith in writers, we have faith in readers – and if we feel strongly enough about a book to want to share it, we hope and trust that others will want to read it.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation 

The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is a registered charity in the United Kingdom which aims to provide help and hope to people affected by lung cancer. Founded in Liverpool in 1990, it is the only UK charity to focus solely on lung cancer care. The charity has a dual focus - saving lives and supporting people affected by lung cancer. It funds lung cancer research, supports the prevention of lung cancer by encouraging and helping people to avoid or quit smoking, and raises general awareness of lung cancer and its symptoms. It also supports lung cancer patients by running support groups, providing information to the NHS, and other measures.

The organisation was founded as the Lung Cancer Fund in 1990 by Professor Ray Donnelly, a thoracic surgeon working in Liverpool, where it provided the first lung cancer support nurse in 1991. In 1993 Donnelly proposed the creation of an international centre for lung cancer research. At this time UK entertainer Roy Castle had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and he agreed to raise £12 million to build, equip and run the new centre. The Lung Cancer Fund was therefore renamed the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Castle continued fundraising for the charity until his death in September 1994.

 

Meat Up, Hulk Out episode 2: Cool. Cool, Cool, Cool

EPISODE 2: COOL. COOL COOL COOL.

In the second episode of Meat Up, Hulk Out, there is still no sign of meat, Nikesh has got his dates wrong and James can't bear Charlie Sheen. There is SPOILER-FILLED discussion of current seasons of The Office (US), Community, Girls, Happy Endings, New GIrl and Parks and Recreation.

This episode was recorded at Review Bookshop. Shout out Evie Wyld.

@reviewbookshop
@nikeshshukla
@jpsmythe
#meatuphulkout

Things I like for February

The main thing I like is my pretence that I can keep a regular blog. I can't. I mean, this is 14 days late. What am I doing wrong?

Things I like for February are...

Books I read recently: Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (a collection of short stories that really make America seem big, and sparse, and lonely, and full of strangers in a foreign land); 

The best book I've read recently is A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins, which is a great mediation on love and artificial intelligence, and how to humanise technology. Add to this, forthcoming books The Machine by my homey James Smythe (which I blurbed, so I won't repeat myself here), The Humans by Matt Haig (which is about an alien-eye view of England. It's sad and funny and brilliantly observed) and Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun, a contraversial but well-timed memoir about techno-terrorism and online bullying, and being stalked.

The very brilliant Riz Ahmed stars in the film of one of the best books of the last decade, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He is impeccably talented and will make a terrific Changez.

And while we're on the subject of talented friends... here's Engine Earz Experiment with Foreign Beggars.

That's it, really.

The Shukla Test

*NOTE* I've edited this because I mis-paraphrased the original test. And also... maybe The Shukla Test is arrogant. Seeing as this isn't a new idea. I like whoever suggested 'The Idris Test'. But yeah, this was only ever a conversation starter, and seeing as it's resulted in lots of contentious comments over the internet, I think it's a debate worth having. Thanks all.*

Someone wrote of one of my short stories that it was ‘an amorphous mess of Indian names’. The implication was that, had I gone with more traditional names like Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul, he would have liked the short story more. Having said that, he did end the review by saying that despite the fact that the characters were Indian, there was a universal experience to be had. Again, the implication being that, Indians don’t have universal experiences, they have Indian ones.

A thing I say a lot is, ‘everyone in books, films or television is white unless they have to do something brown.’ It’s not often Ranjit is at the pub having a universal experience with Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul. While Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul have their universal experience, Ranjit is off somewhere worrying about being brown. Probably because of his job or his parents.

But ‘I don’t want to be tokenistic’, people say. ‘I don’t want to put a brown character in just for the sake of it. That’s tokenism.’ The sad thing about that type of tokenism is that it presupposes that everyone is white, so to have anyone ethnic would off-piste. It’s not tokenistic for me to go out with Steve, Bob, Andy, Joe and Paul and for them to ask me about my day, my wife, my opinion on the new Solange Knowles EP. They rarely ask me what it’s like to be brown and the fact that I am, well, it just hardly ever comes up. But if a character like me was inserted into a film, that would be tokenistic. Probably because everyone presupposes everyone in television, books or film is white unless they have to do something brown. I’ve had projects featuring brown people doing mundane things like fighting, fucking, loving, losing etc turned down because ‘the characters aren’t relatable’ or ‘they don’t feel authentically Asian’, while at the same time seeing the same things being made featuring Caucasians. If that’s the case, then screw it, I’m all for tokenism.

I’ve been thinking about the Bechdel test for films where a film must have a) two or more main female characters who b) talk to each other about c) something other than men. It’s amazing to see that not many films pass this test. So, I’m initiating this now (unless it’s already been done…): The Shukla Test, for books, films and television where a) two main characters who are people who of colour b) talk to each other without c) mentioning their race.

I can’t think of a single film where this has happened. Except in Bollywood.

Let’s just look at the last couple of things I’ve seen. I’m rating this on the Apu scale where 0 Apu’s means it passes The Shukla Test and 10 Apu’s means… wow, this is racist.

Django Unchained: this one’s difficult given its subject matter but if we’re clinically applying the test… it does have two people of colour (Jamie Foxx, Samuel L Jackson – tick) talk for five minutes (one of the final showdowns) about… oh dear, they mention race a few times. I give Django Unchained 7 Apu’s.

Safety Not Guaranteed: there’s one Indian character (oh-oh), so he gets to talk to no other people of colour for five minutes, but they only mention he’s Indian once, and a manchild nerd the rest of the time, so I guess that’s progress. This gets 5 Apu’s.

So, there we have it… The Shukla Test. Until Ranjit can sit next to Steve, Joe, Andy, Paul and Bob (who is a Punjabi named Bobby) and have a film conversation about exposition and not about race, we’ll be stuck in a world that insists on colour casting, that won’t allow for black Spider-men or for characters from The Hunger Games to be played by a diverse set of actors or for sitcoms like Outsourced that perpetuated so many stereotypes it was actually more racist and offensive than Mind Your Language. And for me, with my race chip on my shoulder and my blathering on about the same issues again and again, I’ll be quietly applying The Shukla Test to everything I watch or read from now on. I hope you do too.

Can anyone name some films that pass The Shukla Test?

A kiss is sometimes just a kiss

A friend told me a story once. He was living in Canada, at university, living in a houseshare. He lived with a nerdy Canadian guy - let's call him Ryan, because Ryan seems like a fairly archetypal name for the kinda guy Ryan was. Ryan was one of those super-enthusiastic people who always saw the good in people, who was kinda naive, who had a girlfriend. I can't remember her name - I did meet her years after the events transpired, and I remember thinking, wow, you're gorgeous. And she and I talked for ages at this barbecue thing we were at. And we were vibing, like two people with a sense of humour who'll probably never see each other ever again do at barbecue things.

Ryan was heading home for the holidays. I imagine it was Canadian Thanksgiving. He set out from the houseshare in Halifax early because it was quite a trek to where his parents were and he didn't want to spend the whole day driving. Ryan didn't always take best care of his things. He left washing in the sink for days, never straightened the shower curtain, meaning his housemates cursed him for the mildew, and he never changed the oil in his car. Never for the five years he'd owned it.

Needless to say, the car broke down. He was one and a half hours into his journey home. Not quite at the point of no return. And not quite close enough to risk his father's wrath at his carelessness. He decided to cut his losses and head back to Halifax. Well, you would. The gorgeous girlfriend I would later crush on at a barbecue was there and she wasn't going anywhere for the holidays. And he could borrow her car maybe.

I get confused about the details here and what happened to his car while he tried to flag someone down to take him to Halifax. But let's just assume that the car was taken in by Canada's equivalent of the AA and he found himself on a motorway and needed to get back to Halifax. These small details aren't the important bits. They're extraneous. They add nothing to the story. You just need to keep in your mind that the girlfriend was gorgeous and I would, years later, ask for her email address, pretending it was to send on a link to a website, when in fact, it was so I could begin a correspondence, one that never manifested, because I was crushing on her at a barbecue.

So Ryan ends up in a car. He successfully flags down a car. The guy is not going as far as Halifax but he's a nice guy, he likes doing good deeds, he will take Ryan back to his girlfriend in Halifax.

Ryan says, 'Man, thank you. My girlfriend is going to be so happy she'll kiss you.' This is, off the bat, a weird thing to say. This was in a pre-mobile phone world, so chances are she hasn't been contacted, has had no idea of his circumstances and is happily going about her holidays, cooking food, drinking coffee, seeing movies, being gorgeous, wondering what types of barbecues she'll be going to in the future. 'Really?' says the driver. 'Well, I'll go extra fast then.'

Ryan assumes this is a joke. They make light conversation. Ryan tells the driver about his degree, about the books he's reading, what he will do when he leaves university. The driver tells Ryan about his farming business, about how he will be spending the holidays alone, about his divorce. Ryan says that maybe his girlfriend - you remember her, she's the gorgeous one - might cook him a meal as a thank you. 'Don't forget the kiss,' the driver says.

They arrive back in Halifax. And the driver drops Ryan off. Ryan gets out of the car, grabs his stuff from the boot, the trunk and heads back up to the house. The gorgeous girlfriend appears at the front door, confused and asks what's going on. Ryan explains he broke down. She tuts, she knows the reasons why. The driver gets out of the car and bounds up the steps to the house, past Ryan on to the porch. My friend has appeared at this point, to see what the commotion is. Ryan duly explains. The driver looks at the girlfriend expectantly. She asks Ryan who he is. 'He drove me home,' Ryan explains.

'And he said if I drove him home, you'd kiss me,' the driver says and puckers his lips, leaning forward.

There isn't a moral to this story. Or a funny ending. It just demonstrates that sometimes people will take you literally and you won't realise until it's too late. And sometimes I still think about that girl at the barbecue. And I remember this story. And it makes me laugh. That image, on the porch, of four people - two confused, one relieved and one who just wants a kiss because he's lonely on the holidays.

It makes me feel a little sad.

Things I like for January

I forgot to do some sort of yearly review for 2012. If I did, it would be something along the lines of, I did lots of writing and I got better at writing.

But, anyway, it being 2013, I think it's best I look forward, so here's the first of my monthly things I like...

1) The stuff I'm working on: I'm working on novel 2, it's going well; I'm working on a new podcast with an awesome writer, it's going to be nerdy as heckins; I'm working on 4 scripts, 3 with other writers and 1 with me; I've spent a lot of last year writing about food or writing short stories. I'm hoping you can see some of that soon.

2) The Explorer by James Smythe: I know I'm not supposed to really tell you what it's about but sod it, this is the book that got me reading science fiction again. It's brilliant. It's about a journalist trapped in a spaceship by himself, having just watched his entire crew die. There are temporal anomalies, vortexes, loops, parallel universes, alternate timelines and one of the most claustrophobic tales about space being that place where, you know,  no one can hear you scream - it's completely brilliant. It's written by my lovely new friend, James Smythe, who has some involvment in things mentioned in item 1. He's a charming brilliant man and you should follow his tweets

3) Safety Not Guaranteed: Finally, a film that marries everything I love - indie hipster romances, delicate acoustic soundtracks, comedy, hilariously nerdy Indian guys, time machines and Aubrey Plaza... it's really great. It's about some magazine hacks who decide to track down the author of a classified ad who claims he can time travel. What happens next... well, it's all to a charming delicate acoustic indie soundtrack.

4) Wild Water Kingdom by Heems: Even though Das Racist sadly split up last month, Heems shows no sign of stopping or slowing down. Here, he shows his gruff side, his introspective side, his angry side, his vulnerable side. Wild Water Kingdom is very Heems and not very Das Racist. The beats are stuttering, lo-fi, loud, grimey and raw; the rapping is urgent and tonally diverse. Heems spits on everything from depression to aggression, from politics to human rights to travelling to New York to love. It'sa great mixtape from a great, versatile rapper  

5) Roti Chai: There's a lot of great Indian restaurants in London town. There's even a lot of the ol' street foody places in the ol London Town. Roti Chai is a new favourite. Lollipop chicken drumsticks dipped in coriander chutney; fish curry on a bed of thick puri; chicken wings burning with tamarind and spice; chilli paneer that tastes like it's been barbecued for hours to perfection. It's bloody expensive, I ain't gonna lie, but it's tasty.

Plug: Once I stupidly asked my friend Josie Long if I could attempt stand-up at her Camden clubnight The Lost Treasures of the Black Heart. I talked about R Kelly and how he'd lost touch with reality. There's now evidence on the internet I did stand-up. I can't bring myself to listen to it. But you can, here