Bad Form on the books they wish they'd had growing up
Harshita Lalwani of Bad Form – an award-winning books magazine by and about writers of colour – reimagines her ideal childhood reading list, and the South Asian books she wishes she'd grown up reading.
Despite growing up South Asian in South Asia, I can only recall a handful of South Asian authors ever making it onto my bookshelf. As a child, I certainly had access to picture books and children’s stories with kids who looked like me but as I got older my reading pile consisted of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and many other British and American white authors. The canon of children's classics in India was still predominantly white and my school only ever let us access certain shelves by the grade that we were in and if there ever were any Indian authors on those shelves they were predominantly retellings of Indian mythologies.
As I entered my early and late teens, I certainly was reading books by some Indian or South Asian authors but the ratio was still skewed with more Western white authors occupying the space on my bedside table. If I cite one of the reasons for this to be leftover colonial attitudes of Western supremacy you’re going to think that that’s a stretch. But here’s why it most certainly isn’t. The libraries and bookshops I frequented as a child and teen would have a separate section for Indian authors in the back of the shop. More often than not, new releases from Jeffrey Archer or J.K. Rowling would get book displays with new releases from Indian authors being shoved onto the new releases shelf with Western authors. Black or South East Asian authors were a rarity and you could only find Tony Morrison or Chinua Achebe on the classics shelf.
‘Britain’s GCSE curriculum is not at all reflective of the communities of colour that live here.’
Whenever I spoke about canonical Indian authors, such as Sudha Murty, with relatives or friends they would instantly say something on the lines of ‘Yes, but their novels in English are not as good as native English speaker’s novels.’ So if India was so far stuck in its colonial ways of judging an Indian author’s book by its quality of English, then where does Britain stand? I can’t speak for what it was like growing up in this country and not consuming books written by members of other diaspora but I can say that Britain’s GCSE curriculum is not at all reflective of the communities of colour that live here.
I’m not going to preface this list with why representation matters because I don’t think it’s something that needs to be debated, it simply needs to be acted upon. I have always synonymised reading with devouring, with consuming knowledge that I was otherwise unaware of and there are so many books from the South Asian, East Asian and South East Asian diaspora that reflect a small piece of my heritage or present me with upbringings, values, traditions and experiences that are entirely unfamiliar yet fascinating. Here are some books that I wish I had grown up reading while also being grateful that I can now access these stories:
Bad Form is an award-winning books magazine by and about writers of colour. Founded in 2019, the magazine is a powerful platform, sharing everything from book reviews, to reading lists, to opinion pieces about the publishing industry and beyond. While their website is a hub of inspiration, their print magazine is also not to be missed. Discover Bad Form here.