Just when you were wondering what more could be written on England in general and its Indian diaspora in particular comes Vijay Dutt’s kaleidoscopic book Times by the Thames: An Indian Cruise. What puts his narrative apart is his journalistic eye for detail and his experiences notched up over a 15-year period as a London correspondent.
The scope of the book is ambitious, from the slumdog millionaire stories of émigrés to the omnipresent curry. Dutt takes a dispassionate look at racism, concluding that in most cases the British leadership is driven not so much by colour as by genuine worries about the burden on public services. He is all praise for the egalitarian British democratic system in which politics is rarely a family business and retired politicians fade away gracefully into the lecture circuit or the cricketing stands at Lords.
Dutt proudly tells the story of the hardworking Indian who came to these chilly isles, far from the sunny land of his birth and is today the toast of the country. He is sought after for his wealth and generosity in sharing it with his country of adoption as well as India.
A particularly poignant chapter is the one on honour killings. Dutt notes how this barbaric vengeance against women who step out of line is yet to disappear from the Indian psyche. The stories of the women who paid with their lives for perceived wrongs like being ‘too independent’ are a blot on the Indian immigrants’ success story.
Where Dutt really comes into his own is in the chapter on the Indian curry and its hold over Britain. From the humble balti cuisine of Bangladeshis masquerading as Indians to the upmarket fusion menus, the Brits have abandoned their stodgy fare for the fiery curries of the subcontinent.
An otherwise enjoyable read is marred by sloppy editing and lacklustre photographs. The photo captions seem hastily put together. But on the whole, this is a book you don’t want to miss if you are an Anglophile, or want a good read on a winter day.