Book review: Hood Rat

There’s a sociological need too, of course, but it’s usually just old-fashioned curiosity to blame. What makes Hood Rat particularly timely, however, is how it arrives not long after the London riots.

Those images of hooded teenagers ransacking stores, their every move tracked by police helicopters and aired live on international television, must have come as a shock to those accustomed to looking upon the city as a safe, tourist-friendly one. Gavin Knight tries — and succeeds, up to a point — to tell us where those teenagers came from and, more importantly, why they behaved the way they did.

It’s a tale told often enough before (in the classic French film La Haine, for instance, or Lynsey Hanley’s Estates: An Intimate History), of dubious government policies, insensitive policing, rampant drug abuse and poor parenting. Knight sets his tales in London, Manchester and Glasgow, all based upon his experiences as a reporter working with police in those cities.

The characters are suitably shocking (this is crime reporting, after all), but what gives the book heft is his exposure of the hypocrisy that is so much a part of the system. Young gang members, their lives and stories, don’t seem to matter simply because of the social class they belong to. They are simply written out of these cities’ public narratives, like much of rural India often is.

Reports of gang warfare aside, it’s the pages devoted to homeless Sikh heroin addicts living in Southall that are eye-opening and particularly worrying. Knight offers no solutions to any of the issues raised, be it weak drug laws, dubious parenting or poor housing. Then again, that isn’t his job.

Hood Rat, Gavin Knight; Picador; Rs 499. Available at leading bookstores. 

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