The Good Immigrant

By Nikesh Shukla

21 writers reflect on race in contemporary Britain

Wednesday, 8 June 2016


My friend Sammy saw this in Urban Outfitters this weekend. It's just so very tiring, Urban Outfitters. Just so utterly tiring. Anyway, the tenuous link to our book is that my essay is called 'Namaste', and it's about language, its importance, cultural appropriation and how yoga stole the namaste. Below is a short extract from my essay:

Namaste means hello.

Namaste means I’m bowing to you.

It’s a customary greeting.

It’s a respectful salutation.

It has become a bastardised metaphor for spiritualism. It’s white people doing yoga, throwing up prayer hands chanting ‘AUM’ and saying ‘namaste’ like their third eyes are being opened and they can peer directly into the nucleus of spirituality.

You need to know this. Because of your skin tone, people will ask you where you’re from. If you tell them Bristol, they’ll ask where your parents are from. When they know you’re half-Indian, one person will try to impress their knowledge of your culture on you.


I can’t sleep.

It’s 2am and a party is raging across the road. The flat is rented out to students on a regular basis. Your mother is, sensibly, sleeping with ear plugs in. I can hear you purring in the next room.

I know that in four hours time I have to drive you to London, to take you to see your dada and your fai and fuva. To spend time with the Indian part of your family. To say namaste to your Indian cousins, aunties and uncles.

I’m driving so I need the sleep.

When it transpires that the reason the party is so loud is because someone on the top floor of the house is leaning out of his window, smoking and bellowing a conversation down to a person at street level, which, due to the peculiarities of the houses we live opposite, is about four storeys worth of shouting. At 2am.

This is silly, I think. It’s Friday night, sure, but it’s a residential street. I may have been these kids once, but now I’m in my thirties. I’m a man of family now. I’m a man of red wine and Netflix. I’m a man of nights in and community cohesion. I get it. I get what life’s about. It’s about living like your actions affect the people you don’t know, as well as the people you do.

I’ve done questionable shit, pissed in places I shouldn’t have, left detritus for poor working souls to have to clean up the morning after, shout-screamed songs at the top of my voice running down streets where families lived, been oblivious to the rest of the world, carrying on like there’s something out there in the rest of the world for me to interact with. Your mother reminds me of this the next morning when I tell her what happens next.

I tell her that I don’t want to live with the thought that I’m intolerant of other people’s intolerance.

I walk out of the house, just as the conversation, bellowed across four storeys, wraps up and the man on the street level leaves to the sound of his friend hoping he gets home safely. I approach the steps up to their stoop. I notice, in the shadows, a boy and a girl are sitting in the doorway of the main door, ajar, smoking.

‘Excuse me,’ I ask. ‘Do you mind continuing your party inside?’

‘Jah bless,’ the girl in the doorway says. ‘Namaste,’ she repeats, over me.

I say it again. I change the words to become clearer. More forceful. ‘Can you please continue your party inside?’

‘Namaste,’ she says again. I hear the boy stifle a laugh. ‘Namaste,’ they both say. ,Namaste, namaste, namaste, namaste, namaste,’ until I’m drowned out..

I’m standing under a street lamp, wearing my white bedtime kurta and lengha pyjamas. My skin is bleached out by the fluorescence of the yellow lamp. There’s probably no way they can tell I’m Indian from the lighting. It’s dickery for dickery’s sake.

The bellowing man leaning out of his window asks if the music’s too loud. I look up to him, the voice of reason and I say again, can you please continue your party inside?

‘Namaste, namaste, namaste,’ the girl says.

I shout something wounded, along the lines of ‘this is classy,’ passive-aggressive, without a target.

I go back inside and I lie in bed staring at the ceiling, watching the arrows of passing car headlights pierce cracks in the curtains.

Eventually the party quietens. My mind doesn’t. I’m rolling in a quagmire of ways to deal with this slight. Beyond writing ‘Namaste, Dickheads’ on a placard and placing it in my bedroom window, I don’t know what to do.

The house residents go home for the summer, having moved in and warmed the house to celebrate. Any call for an apology I ask for come the autumn will be muted and months too late.


I walk past an arts space that’s part bar/club, part sustainable restaurant, part hot-desking for freelance artists and part dance studio. They host morning raves and yoga classes there. Most mornings, the steps are daubed with hippies, wearing OM and Ganesha parachute pants, their hair in dreadlocks, bindis mark out the third eyes in the middle of their foreheads. They tie their dogs up to the bicycle racks using scratchy sari material and they enter the yoga studios to be natraja and ashtanga geniuses and salute the sun and greet and say goodbye to each other with a solid, heartfelt Namaste.

‘Namaste,’ one of them says to me one morning as I walk down the road, listening to Jai Paul, swinging my two-tier tiffin up and down.

She offers me prayer hands as I pass and I see her mouthing something. I take my headphones off. Jai Paul’s ‘Str8 Outta Mumbai’ is at its crescendo. But you know I’ll do anything for you. I’ll do anything for you.

‘Namaste,’ she says.

I grimace. ‘Hi,’ I reply.

‘Namaste,’ she replies and raises her prayer heads to touch to her bowing forehead.

She has faded henna on her fingers.

‘It just means hello,’ I say. She looks at me, confused. ‘Namaste, it just means hello. That’s it.’

‘Namaste,’ she says again, and I walk on.


You can read the full essay in our book, out 22nd September 2016. Remember -- to help us get round the country going to lbiraries, schools, bookshops that don't have travel budgets, we need to get to 200%. Your reward at 200% -- every pledger is invited to come rave with the writers and eat dosa.


Back to project page
Share on social

Top rewards

443 pledges


E-book edition.
Buy now