Sunday, 16 October 2016

Marmite and Mango Chutney wins SI Leeds Literary Award



The SI Leeds Literary Award ceremony at Ilkley Literature Festival on Oct 12, 2016. Sponsored by the wonderful people at SI Leeds International, Peepal Tree and the Ilkley Literature Festival.

This short story collection was partly written when I was a Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence at University College London in 2015.

The entire experience of meeting the short list, reading with them, and sharing the award with the other short listed candidates and winners was thrilling and unforgettable!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

After the Delhi Rain, in SAND literary magazine, Berlin



My short story After the Delhi Rain, was published recently in SAND, Berlin. Thanks to the wonderful editor Florian Duijsens for all his hard work.

After the Delhi Rain (excerpt)

Michelle was leaving Delhi in three days, and there was nothing he could do about it. So he sat in the Metro like this was an ordinary day, in a week of ordinary days. He stared blankly at the slum he passed everyday, a slum in a city of ordinary slums, people squatting outside it in the aftermath of the monsoon rain, boys playing cricket in the drip-drip mud, mounds of earth and shit dotted with colourful debris. It was a brown-grey shanty town, little dwellings with four walls and a canopy roof, sometimes not even that, just thin fabric strung up for privacy from people like him, carelessly riding past in the Metro, reading the news on their iPhones, playing word games till their eyes hurt, holding thumb conversations, multiple ones simultaneously.


Just by the side of the railway tracks, goats and skinny dogs and happy chickens, boys and girls swatting flies. A boy was standing by a hill of banana peel, trousers halfway down his buttocks, about to relieve himself, but talking on his phone at the same time. A cart without a donkey. A cow with empty teats. A silver Santro parked in the middle of it all. 

Read the rest in SAND http://www.sandjournal.com/issue/13

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Root Ball, on the Hawaii Pacific Review



(This story was written during a Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence grant at University College London, in 2015, in which I collaborated with UCL's human geographers on various writing and artistic projects.)

The hole is getting bigger. The root ball of the cabbage tree sits in a kink in the corner of the compound, waiting to be transplanted. But her husband is digging away, and her mother is watching, hands on hips, looking grim. Again and again the spade splices the loam. Again and again the soil spatters on the expanding mound of leftovers. Sweat streams down Ahiri’s face, and there are pools developing around her hip bones.
“I guess it’s my turn,” she says.
“I can finish it,” Jesse says.
“I’ll do it,” she says firmly. “Does it have to be bigger?”
“Twice the size of the root ball,” her mother says.
It takes another fifteen minutes of digging before her mother is satisfied.
“There,” says Ahiri, kneading her lower back. “Surely it’s done now.”
Her mother gently unfolds the wet tarp that is protecting the taproot. She brushes off the hummus that is clinging to the new roots. Then she glances over at Jesse. Jesse lifts the tree, newly dug out from outside the compound, pruned last year in preparation for this move. He lugs it over and places it at the edge of the hole, but whatever he is planning to do with it is cut short as the tree crashes in. Her mother cries out. “The new roots!”
It’s okay, Mum, it’s just a tree, Ahiri wants to say, but her mother is delicate around her plants, minding their feelings and tending their wounds, skills she has never developed for her daughter. Ahiri and Jesse squat, trying to make it right. The leaves are long and prickly, the bark tough and leathery like cork. It is impossible to reach down and right the tree, without getting stung in the face. They try to nudge the tree into the centre. When Ahiri’s mother is satisfied, she starts to throw the earth back into the hole. Ahiri and Jesse join in, cushioning, padding, kneading out the air pockets, till the hole is filled. Her mother places mulch all around the tree, and then irrigates it again.
Read the rest on the Hawaii Pacific Review.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Five Questions I Asked Santa



It's that time of the year again...

First published in The London Word http://www.thelondonword.com/2012/12/five-questions-i-asked-santa/

Christmas is around the corner and my anxiety is at its peak. I’ve promised – yet again – to spend Christmas with the family. It’ll be super-duper to see them. Really, it will. For a few days, I won’t have to do any cooking or cleaning. I will shlep around in my PJs. I will eat as much as I want, and add a dollop or two of double cream to everything. (If everyone else is doing it, the calories cancel each other out.) 

Is it heaven on earth? It might be – if it weren’t for all the talking. The one-on-one questions from relatives – How’s that book coming along? Have you got a proper job yet? Does it pay? – I can just about handle. From years of experience, I’ve realized that smiling, nodding and praising said relative’s Labradoodle, Christmas tofurky, exfoliated chin, and general outlook on life will win me points and get the attention away from me.

No, it’s the general barrage of noise that I’m scared of. The onslaught, an incessant nattering, that starts at 5.30am on Christmas Eve and then continues all day and well into and beyond Boxing Day. I just know that Auntie B will tell that ginseng story again that will include a series of racial slurs cunningly disguised as worldly wisdom. Cousin J will show me his boils. And Uncle T will make me a spread-sheet on all the ways I’m going wrong in my life. And they will do it all at the same time. All in the same ear.

So, when I bumped into Santa the other day in TGI Friday, a little red faced and frost-bitten from all his toy-shop appearances and global warming respectively, I asked him – Why do I put myself through this every year?

Me: Santa, why must I shop till I drop at Christmas?
Santa (with a saucy smile): Because it is the sexy thing to do! Do you know my favourite author, my dear? It is Sophia Kinsella! The woman has made living on a permanent over-draft – and unpaid bills and mounting credit card debt – sexy! If before the Shopaholic series you felt guilty and a little dirty to do all that shopping, now you feel helplessly feminine, charmingly kooky and flighty – but in an endearing way. [he leans closer and whispers...] Let me tell you a little secret. You’ve asked your mum to tell all the relatives not to buy you presents, because you’re broke (yes, again) and you can’t afford to reciprocate, haven't you? But, you know, everyone will get you a present. They will say that it doesn’t matter that you didn’t get them anything, but it will! If I were you, cupcake, I’d pop in at Lush on the way out and get everyone some soap. It’s good for the economy.

Me: Is it good for the economy?
Santa (taking a few sips of his appletini): Of course! We have to maintain the status quo! Imagine for a minute that Mr. Bank Manager didn’t earn five hundred thousand pounds this year, and you, doll – a writer, did you say? (Spiffing! Really, top notch! Here, have a free mince pie, you look a little hungry.) Where was I? If Mr. Bank Manager didn’t live in a penthouse overlooking Hyde Park, where would we all be? He has to keep on earning, he has to have a penthouse in New York and a holiday house in the Algave. The economy has taken a beating lately, and the government wants us to spend so we can get back on track! So we can get back to being in denial. It is natural to be in denial. Clarity would only bring us down! So, spend, spend, spend! 

Me: Err, right. Okay, so why must I eat till I pop?
Santa: It beats me how you’re supposed to know when to stop! Once you start with the turkey and the roast potatoes, move on through the extra stuffing to the pudding and the cream, why, you have to come back to the potatoes!

Me: Why must I put cucumber in my wine and egg in my nog?
Santa (now a little woozy): Perfection is boring, my little lollipop. Excess, excess! Celebrate excess! 

Me: Gotcha. Then, why must I drink till I – Oh, never mind, I already know the answer to that one…

More William Morris



I want all my clothes to be William Morris prints.

Explore the collections at William Morris Gallery, and events like Social Fabric: African Textiles Today.

Visit them at http://www.wmgallery.org.uk/


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Staying Power Black British Experience at the V and A



by Charlie Phillips


The Black British Experience exhibition at the Victoria and Albert brings home the exceptional, yet completely everyday, place of black beauty and experience in Britain. A history that is often misplaced in British life. The exhibition is a much-too-fleeting glimpse of photographs from the 1950s to the 1990s, all to do with aspects of black British experience. Hairstyles are just part of the equation. The exhibition shines a light on British Caribbean homes, black jewellery, street life, and celebrations. It takes its name and inspiration from Peter Fryer's 1984 book Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain.

Read full article at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/amita-murray/african-beauty_b_6774526.html


Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience 1950s-1990s
Feb 16-May 24 2015
Victoria and Albert

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Black British Experience, at the V and A


From Series Black Beauty Pageants, by Raphael Albert, 1960-79



Hairstyles of Nigerian women, by JD Okhai Ojeikere



Diary of a Victorian Dandy, by Yinka Shonibare, 1998



Westbourne Park Tube Station, Charlie Philips, 1967
Call me stupid, but it took a passionate discussion of the relevance and place of hair and hairstyles as cultural markers from my black students, to bring it home to me just how complicated African hairstyles are. Actually, I still don't completely get it. But my lovely students explained to me and an open-mouthed, very diverse classroom, that if they let their hair grow out, it would simply grow out and up. That it takes taming, straightening, weaves, braiding, hair extensions, and many, many hours to create the beautiful, complex confections that they wear to class. It reminded me, too, of how normative ideals of white beauty continue to impact people of non-white heritage - the hair straightening, the face bleaching, the tucking in, epilating, waxing, narrowing, tweezing, anorexia, liposuctioning, lip-pulling in, that happen behind the scenes to conform to mainstream, capitalism-prescribed aesthetic and performative norms.

The Black British Experience exhibition at the V and A brings home the exceptional, yet completely everyday, place of black beauty and experience in Britain. A history that is often missed, misplaced, displaced, ignored, misunderstood, or simply turned a blind eye to in British life.