RB: WHEN I FIRST SAW YOUR NAME I took it to be Japanese.
HZ: Really? It’s an old fashioned Indian name. You know, Hari Krishna, Hari Rama. Hari is another name for Vishnu — a god in the Hindu trinity. My full name is Hari Mohanat Kunzru —my dad is Krishna Mohanat, my grandfather was Chandra Mohanat etc.
RB: You aren’t Hari M. Kunzru on any documents or anything?
HK: No, there’s enough (laughs) identification without that.
RB: What nationality do you consider yourself?
HK: I am British. I was born in London. Grew up in the southeastern suburbs of London, just where London turns into the county of Essex. And my dad, who is retired now, was doctor in the local hospital. My mom had been a nurse and a midwife. She gave that up to have kids.
RB: And what does your father consider himself?
HK: He’s got dual citizenship. He would call himself a proud Indian as well.
RB: You must have relatives in India?
HK: Oh yeah. He was the only one of his family to come over to the UK. He grew up in a big rambling old house with his first cousins and their parents. Its a very traditional extended Indian family. We are Kashmiri Hindus. Our immediate family left the valley almost 200 years ago and became part of a migrant community on the plains of North India.
RB: How close are you to the culture?
HK: I have traveled to India quite frequently. Semi-detached would be a way of putting it. My mother is English. She grew up in the southwestern London suburbs. English Anglican-Protestant family.
RB: When your father was courting her, what was her family’s reaction?
HK: Both sides of the family were nervous, I think. At first.
RB: Just nervous?
HK: There was more than that on my dad’s side. My mum’s family actually had the advantage of getting to meet him — he’s kind of a charming guy, my dad. I mean he’s a doctor — every family wants their daughter to marry a doctor. He won them over quite quickly. My mum does remember being taken for a walk in the garden by her step-father and him saying, "We love Ravi we think he’s great but how will you feel pushing around a little brown baby in a pram?”
RB: And how was it?
HK: Well, my father to this day claims never to have experienced racism in the UK. Which I find an extraordinarily disingenuous statement, given the kind of shit that I experienced all the time when I was growing up (laughs). But I think he was quite insulated by his professional position. He chooses not to recognize certain things. He’s a proud man and he feels sorry for anybody who would hold such prejudices. For me, the weird thing about growing up where I grew up with a mixed race family — not a phrase I love but for the want of a better one — you are different from both your parents. Especially my dad. As a first-generation immigrant, he wouldn’t know what it was like being a teenage boy in the London streets. And so, I grew up with a very sharp consciousness of race and racism. Eighties London was a hard-edged sort of a place.
RB: And what did your mother think pushing around a little brown-skinned baby?
HK: She is quite an extraordinary woman in that she doesn’t see things in categories really. She sees individuals. She loved my dad — they are still ...read more