What Britain’s first Asian prime minister means to me

Confessions of a borientalist

Artillery Row

“Daddy, can my friend come over for a sleepover on Friday?”

I was suspicious immediately. It was 2008. Julian, my eldest, was only ten years old. He had already shown an unnatural affection towards the carousel of au-pairs that we had hired to raise him, a peculiar fascination with the working classes.

Unlike his more headstrong sister, Millie, who by the age of five was already manufacturing stories about “Tatiana” stealing her non-existent jewellery, Julian was one to fraternise with staff. Haranguing them as children do with endless questions. “How do you say ‘thank you’ in Slovakia, Miloslava?” “Thea, is it hot in Greece?

I had done my best to inculcate a gruff dismissiveness more appropriate to his station in life, but black rumours had already begun to swirl around the school gate. My Julian was seen frolicking in the company of the scholarship boys.

“What’s his name?” Kyle, Darren or Tyler would be coming nowhere near the family Wedgwood.


A shiver ran through my body.


“His mummy bought him Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam and he said we could … ”

“Of course he can come!”

My son, friends with an Indian boy!

I could hardly contain my excitement. My son, friends with an Indian boy! A chance for me to wipe the slate clean after Halloween 1999, and that (admittedly distasteful) choice of costume.

It was 7pm when the knock at the door finally came. I was wearing my favourite suit — a tasteful navy, complemented with a salmon pink shirt. A Paddington bear tie to show my playful side. A hint of Invictus, by Paco Rabanne. Eau De Toilette. The house was spotless. Fresh rolls of toilet paper in the loo. Everything had to be perfect.

A man in his thirties greets me at the door.

“Hi! I’m Krishav.”

“The-the-the pleasure is all mine!”

Krishav looks confused.

“Err, yeah. So thanks for having Dinesh tonight. He can be a bit fussy with food so we’ve already fed him.”

“A spicy one? I bet you find our Masala very mild.”

“Excuse me?”

“Fantastic! Well, in you come then.”

“I’ve actually got to get off for … ”

I grab his arm.

“I must insist.”

Dinesh runs upstairs to find Julian. As I half lead, half drag Krishav in, I make a performance of lighting one of the incense candles in the hall.

“Yeah, started using them after the Honeymoon. Two weeks in Goa. Look here.”

I point to a photograph on the wall of me on an elephant. Its eyes look sad.

“Bloody brilliant, best time of my life.”

“Listen, I’ve got to … ”

“Fancy a Tiger mate? Got plenty in the fridge.”

“I don’t actually … ”

“Yeah, just pop yourself down on the sofa.”

When I return to the living room from the Kitchen, Krishav is sitting on my favourite chair. He looks every bit the Mughal lord. Slightly uncomfortable. Planting himself on the best seat in the house, whilst I, his obliging white satrap, offer him refreshment. 

This is Britain. Modern Britain. A melting pot that is so utterly successful that it is hardly ever remarked upon — except by a coterie of centre-right journalists who are concerned that their mildly conservative views on the economy might banish them to the social wilderness, and so write mawkishly sentimental think pieces on the Commonwealth for the Sunday Telegraph. Did you know that the Windrush generation called Britain “The Motherland”? Do you care? Well, you should. 

“Wait till you see what’s on the telly.”

I press play on the Sony remote.

Dev Patel’s face flashes on the screen.

“Is this, is this Slumdog Millionaire?”

I fish out my big bag of Bombay mix

“Yeah. Saw it six times at the o2. Had to get it on Blu-ray. Absolutely brilliant.”

Krishav goes quiet. I fish out my big bag of Bombay mix. Big mistake. Too moreish. I find myself unable to pause eating, but I still have more to say.

“So, Krishav,” I muster, mouth full of roasted chickpeas and fried lentils, “I was reading about this BRICS business in the FT last week. India is booming, whilst us lot are having our credit crunched. How did you pull that one off?”

“I’m Sri Lankan.” His voice sounds tetchy.

Oof. Foot, meet mouth.

“Ah, yes, the floods. We sent Julian to school with a few cans of beans.”

Krishav says nothing. The silence is unbearable. Time for a juicier topic.

“So, tell me, Krishav, which side are you on? The Tamils or the other ones?”

Krishav stands up abruptly.


He shouts.


We hear the two boys tumbling down the stairs.

“Does Dinesh have to go already, Daddy? We’ve just finished making his Mii.”

Krishav beckons his son down forcefully, brooking no argument.

“Ah, so you must be one of these ‘Tiger Parents’ I’ve read so much about in the Observer.”

“Will you SHUT UP!”

Krishav’s spittle lands on my chin. I wipe it bashfully as he storms out of the house, son in tow. 

Julian looks up; I can see tears forming.

“But who am I going to play with now?”

I crouch down next to my son.


I look him straight in the eyes.

“That’s not really my problem, is it?”

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover