It’s too late to tell you what your work meant to me. I could have told you in person, but the two times we were in the same room and introduced, I was shy and you were with old friends, and I felt that rather than have your ear chewed off by a stranger, maybe what you needed was time with comrades.
It’s been five years since you passed away. I know you would have hated the words “passed away”. It sounds so passive. There was nothing passive about your work. I remember someone describing you as the first brown punk. And your work wasn’t about the Asians we normally saw on our screens and in our pages and across our stages. It wasn’t about arranged marriages and middle class nonsense and struggles with identity. You wrote plays about the underclass, about scumbags and fuck-ups. About drugs and alcohol and low-life crime and gang culture and toxic masculinity. You wrote plays about people caught in difficult situations because of things they had done. You wrote about how fake-deep multiculturalism is. How we all think about sarees, steel bands and samosas. Actually, there was something darker to expose. We spent so long thinking about what a middle-class identity crisis looked like, we never saw how it affected the working classes. These were your plays.
I only saw a few, but I read whichever ones I could find. I remember seeing Made in England. And it changed my life, Parv. That story, about whether a young musician should stay true to himself and risk being marginalised, or sell out his culture in order to sell out arenas, it rang true with me then. It has rung true with me every single moment of my career. I think a lot about my work being unapologetic, never explaining or pandering to white middle class audiences. About writing something for and about my community, so that when they read it, they see themselves. And whether I should widen my scope in order to sell more books. I think about that on a daily basis. But you know what? I saw Made in England, and I read the text and I remember feeling it in my bones. You were writing this for me, not anyone else.
When I think about your career, obviously so underappreciated when you were alive, when I think about Gautam Malkani calling you someone who “pioneered the telling of stories that showed the realities and absurdities of British Asian life, as opposed to the untroubling stereotypical or saccharine portrayals favoured by cultural gatekeepers” and Madani Younis saying you “represented the spirit and the fight that has defined our struggle as artists”, the thing I take comfort from is that you didn’t just break new ground, carving a way for British Asian artists to be and say unapologetic things about who they were – you stood your ground. You never compromised or changed your voice to suit what the mainstream demanded of you.
From Made in England to Crazyhorse to Nadir to Papa Was a Bus Conductor to every other play you did, you were funny and anarchic and weird and real and gritty and honest in every single way imaginable. I don’t stand in your shadow. I stand on your shoulders, like so many other British Asian writers making work today. Without you, I’m nothing. I will be always grateful.
Yours in solidarity,
Nikesh Shukla is a novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of Coconut Unlimited, Meatspace, The One Who Wrote Destiny, Brown Baby: A Memoir Of Race, Family and YA novels, Run, Riot and The Boxer. Nikesh is the editor of the The Good Immigrant, co-edited The Good Immigrant USA and was one of Time Magazine’s cultural leaders, Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Global Thinkers and The Bookseller’s 100 most influential people in publishing.
Parv Bancil (1967-2017) was born in Tanzania and grew up in West London. Following a job as the stage manager for the Hounslow Art Co-operative (HAC Theatre), Bancil began to produce his own work. His first play, Curse of the Dead Dog, was co-written with Ravinder Gill. His humorous and often satirical plays highlight the experiences of the British-Asian community.
Papa was a Bus Conductor (1995)
Made in England (1998)