Brown Baby – A memoir of race, family and home by Nikesh Shukla

Brown Baby is a beautiful and thought-provoking book by Nikesh Shukla. I know he has written lots of books but this is the first book I have read and it was like peeking into his life through a long letter he writes to his daughter interwoven with a eulogy to his deceased mum. In the book, he covers a number of things from racism, feminism, death, immigration and being a parent explaining his train of thought about how he got to the opinion he has or even why his opinion is wrong. It is a truly beautiful memoir. 

Connections

This is the first time I have read a book and could relate to more than just the theme or the moral of the story. He is Indian, Gujarati, and a parent to two daughters. On the day I finished, I went to a talk that had Nikesh as the keynote speaker which emphasised why we must tell our story.

One of the lines is the book that really struck me was this: ‘…My mum, your dada, they grew up during the British Empire. They grew up subjugated. What does that do for a mindset? Does that explain why exactly your dada was so terrified of the anti-racism work I did? He wanted me to work hard, earn money, be quiet. Just get on with it. I was being too loud, he felt, talking about race issues publicly. Firstly, he thought I shouldn’t even be talking about those things. And secondly, what good would it do? This is where he came from. This is what I inherited. What was coded into his DNA so that he could no accept the work I did.’ 

I understand that. 

I’ve not really been adversely affected by racism directly that often but indirectly – the idea where you have to work twice as hard as a white person and then again as a woman has been thoroughly inbred. But you do it because that is the way of the world, the way of life in this country. I have generally just accepted it. But he says why should we? And on top of that, why should our daughters accept it too. Why can’t they have the easy life and expansive opportunities that white men do? 

This is just one of the things to think about. To make a change in your corner of the world, however little it is. And this is only one of the many quotes that I have folded and highlighted in the book.

Feminism

He also talks about feminism and body acceptance from a male perspective which is interesting to hear and what happened to make him get it. He talks about food that got me craving for a can of coke, of all things and kitchri which got made on the day I finished the book (because I can’t do any extra work when I get engrossed in a book). He also touches on the factory his parents had which meant working on weekends, going into a career that wasn’t approved by his parents, the state of this planet and why would you bring another person into this world, sleep deprivation and controlled crying method which works for a while until the nightmare years start. It’s everything I’ve been through and more.

The whole book is interlaced with his grief and regrets about the death of his mother. He regrets their last conversation being an argument, he wants to find out more about his mother before kids but gets sidetracked by the contents of her handbag and in particular the shopping list. He talks about wanting his mother when he’s bringing up his daughter and how he sees his mother in his daughter. Although there is a lot of sadness and struggles in the book, there are lots of hope and positivity in the book too ending with a chapter on ‘How to show you the world, shining shimmering splendid.’

Questions

The way he writes is also so personal and chatty, its as if I know him really well. When I finished reading the book, I almost wanted to ask him when he will write the book for his second daughter because trust me, whether she asks or not, if you don’t write one, she will throw it back at you when you are least expecting it! If you do it for one, you have to do it for the other.  I want to talk about kitchri and sleep deprivation. And how to really understand racism – when to accept it as jokes and shrug your shoulder muttering that they are the ones that are thick not you and when you really should stand up for yourself because of all the death threats that then get thrown at you if you do.

So many thought-provoking issues were raised and after his keynote speech at Platform: Black and Asian Writer Conference I was really encouraged to write.

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