The Source of the Rage: An Interview With Hanif Kureishi
by Ray Deonandan
Feb 24, 2002
This article originally appeared in India Currents Magazine (San Jose, California) in February, 1996. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
Hanif Kureishi’s success has been nothing short of inspiring. Issue of a Pakistani father and an English mother, Kureishi began writing plays for the British Royal Court at age 21, and went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay of the controversial picture My Beautiful Laundrette, starring a young Daniel Day Lewis.
Continuing with his tried and true theme of South Asian youth growing up in the mean streets of England, Kureishi’s newest novel is The Black Album. Set in the Pakistani community of England during the commencement of the fatwa declaration against Salman Rushdie for his “blasphemous” novel, The Satanic Verses, Kureishi’s new book continues in the tradition of its predecessors, mixing race, sex, violence and humour into an exciting historic melange. It is the story of a young Pakistani man caught between the righteousness of his Muslim friends and the Western excesses of his teacher girlfriend.
A man of few words tempered with a subdued South London accent, Mr. Kureishi kindly granted India Currents an interview. Below is a brief excerpt of our conversation.
India Currents: In The Buddha of Suburbia, there is a passage that refers to one of the main characters: “She was preparing for the guerilla war she knew would be necessary when the whites finally turned on the blacks and Asians and tried to force us into gas chambers or push us into leaky boats. This wasn’t as ludricous as it sounded.” Do you really feel that racial war is imminent?
Kureishi: Well, I think that she represents the point of view of someone who is growing up in South London in the ’70’s.
India Currents: Did you yourself experience a great deal of racism there? Was it as vivid as you describe in the books?
Kureishi: Yes, there’s a lot of racism around here still. But you understand that my life has changed. I live in a more racially mixed part of London now. But I hear that it’s still quite hairy in the streets of some parts of England.
India Currents: They say that we in North America are entering the anti-immigrant wave that England has been seeing for the past 30 years. Would you have any insight into what we should expect?
Kureishi: Well, I don’t know the situation here in America. But in England we haven’t had immigration for years; the Tories shut the door on it. And it’s not really an anti-immigrant feeling, as it is anti-black or Asian.
India Currents: You write about racial issues, but in a very sexual context. Is this a marketing tactic, or are you saying something about the link between sex and racial difference?
Kureishi: Sexuality is at the centre of our lives. It’s who we are. I couldn’t leave it out…homosexuality or bisexuality, it really doesn’t matter. I’m interested in what goes on between people.
India Currents: Your books betray a preoccupation with pop stars and celebrity. Where does this come into play in the milieu of race and sex?
Kureishi: Growing up in the ’70’s in South London, there were a lot of poor kids who were looking for a way to get out. [David] Bowie had attended my school, and he had escaped. And so all the boys wanted to be like Bowie, and sort of worshipped him.
India Currents: Religion is a major theme of The Black Album. You’re of Pakistani descent. Are you a practicing muslim?
Kureishi: No, I’m not a muslim at all. I’m an observer, a humanist; I’m interested in the way men and women relate to one another. Religion is a business. I came from a British intellectual family; we were encouraged to think for ourselves.
India Currents: Then you have no sensibilities to be affected by the Rushdie affair, other than being a friend of his.
Kureishi: Well, being a writer, I can’t help but be affected by the situation of another writer whose life is threatened [because of a book].
India Currents: You said that one motivation for writing The Black Album was to find out why people wanted to kill Rushdie. Did you find out why?
Kureishi: I suppose the whole of The Black Album is an attempt to find out the source of the rage. I wondered why all these people were going to mosques in England to denounce this fellow simply because of a novel he’d written.
India Currents: Do you see an end to the Rushdie affair?
Kureishi: It has sort of ended. He’s making many more public appearances. I saw him a few weeks ago on the streets of London.
India Currents: Would you hesitate to write something that could be as inflammatory as The Satanic Verses?
Kureishi: You have to be careful, of course. But I don’t think I would ever write anything of that nature. Religion is not something that I really care for.
The Black Album is named for the Prince record of the same name. Its protagonist sagely describes Prince as “…half black, half white, half man, half woman, half size, feminine but macho.” This is also an apt description of the book, especially of its conflicting philosophical and racial dichotomies.
It may also lend some insight into the complexity of its author, a man clearly caught between two cultures, but who is fortunately able to observe and describe the conflict.