Dhondy, Farrukh 1944-

views updated

DHONDY, Farrukh 1944-


Born 1944, in Poona, Bombay, India. Education: Wadia College, Poona, B.Sc.; Cambridge University, B.A. (English), 1967; University of Leicester, M.A. (English).


Agent c/o Nicky Lund, David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John Street, Golden Square, London W1F 9HA, England.


Henry Thornton Comprehensive School, Clapham, London, England, English teacher; Archbishop Temple School, Lambeth, London, English teacher, then head of department, 1974-80; Channel 4 Television, London, commissioning editor, 1985-97.

Awards, Honors

Children's Rights Workshop Other award, 1977, for East End at Your Feet, and 1979, for Come to Mecca, and Other Stories; Collins/Fontana Award for books for multi-ethnic Britain, for Come to Mecca, and Other Stories; works represented in "Children's Fiction in Britain, 1900-1990" exhibition, British Council's Literature Department, 1990; Whitbread Literary Award for first novel nomination, 1990, for Bombay Duck.


East End at Your Feet (short stories), Macmillan (London, England), 1976.

Come to Mecca, and Other Stories, Collins (London, England), 1978.

The Siege of Babylon (novel), Macmillan (London, England), 1978.

Poona Company (short stories), Gollancz (London, England), 1980.

Trip Trap (short stories; contains "Herald," "The Bride" [also see below], "Homework," "The Mandarin Exam," "Batty and Winifred," "The Fifth Gospel," "Lost Soul," and "Under Gemini"), Gollancz (London, England), 1982.

(With Barbara Beese and Leila Hassan) The Black Explosion in British Schools, Race Today Publications, 1982.

Romance, Romance [and] The Bride, Faber (London, England), 1985.

Bombay Duck (adult novel), J. Cape (London, England), 1990.

(Compiler) Ranters, Ravers, and Rhymers: Poems by Black and Asian Poets, Collins (London, England), 1990.

Black Swan, Gollanz (London, England), 1992, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1993.

Janacky and the Giant, and Other Stories, Collins (London, England), 1993.

C. L. R. James: A Life, Orion, 1996.

C.L.R. James: Cricket, the Carribean, and World Revolution, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2001.

Contributor to Indian periodicals Debonair and Economic and Political Weekly, and to British periodicals, including Granta, Race Today, and Listener. Former editor, Carcanet.


Mama Dragon, produced in London, England, 1980.

Trojans (adaptation of a play by Euripedes), produced in London, England, 1982.

Kipling Sahib, produced in London, England, 1982.

Vigilantes (produced in 1985), Hobo Press, 1988.

King of the Ghetto (television series), British Broadcasting Company (BBC1), 1986.

Split Wide Open (screenplay; based on the story by Dev Benegal), Adlabs/BMG Crescendo, 1999.

Also author of the stage plays Shapesters, Film, Film, Film, and, with John McGrath and others, All the Fun of the Fair. Author of television plays, including Maids in the Mad Shadow, 1981, Good at Art, 1983; Dear Manju, 1983; Salt on a Snake's Tail, 1983; The Empress of the Munshi, 1984; To Turn a Blind Eye, 1986; and Prejudice and Pride. Author of series of ethnic situation comedies for British television, including No Problem (with Mustapha Matura), 1983, and Tandoori Nights, 1985.


A native of India, Farrukh Dhondy came to Great Britain to be a schoolteacher, and also embarked on a career as an author, journalist, and playwright. Identifying with the growing number of non-white teens who were coming of age at that time, Dhondy has become known for works, such as the short-story collection East End at Your Feet, that show the confusion and anxieties of these young people. He has also been praised by critics for using accurate descriptions, dialect, and slang expressions to add emphasis to his tales.

Raised in Bombay, India, where his father was an officer in the army, Dhondy loved to read, but this habit was not encouraged, particularly the boy's love of American comic books. "To my dad it was bad language and imported American nihilism. He insisted that if [my sister and I] were to read comics we should go to the big booksellers in Madras and buy some educational ones," Dhondy recalled to a Times Literary Supplement contributor.

After finishing his secondary education, Dhondy moved to Bombay to study chemical technology, which his parents considered a worthwhile subject. Still, his fondness for reading continued, and he read what he could between solving mathematical equations. Eventually, the young student had second thoughts: "I was completely bored with the great prospect that yawned before me. An utterly predictable life: you know what kind of house you will have, what sort of person you will marry, where your children will go to school," he told Anwer Bati in the Times Literary Supplement. Quitting college, Dhondy instead began to travel throughout India; he also began to immerse himself in literature, reading works by British authors such as D. H. Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster. He also applied for a scholarship to study at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Moving to England, he became active as a playwright in the Black Theatre Cooperative, contributed articles to the literary magazine Granta, and edited a magazine called Carcanet.

After graduation, he became a teacher of English at a secondary school in London, England, but was fired from his job for being too radical in his thinking. Dhondy found a better fit at the Archbishop Temple School, where he eventually became head of the English and Humanities department. It was while teaching at the Temple School that Dhondy began to observe the lives of British teens and also study their slang and dialect.

Dhondy's first book, 1976's East End at Your Feet, profiles young adults in London's ethnically diverse East End neighborhood. In "Dear Manju" he chronicles the life of a traditional Indian family living in London. After his father dies, fourteen-year-old Bhupinder, now the oldest male in the family, is required to take care of his elder sister, Manju. However, Manju has other ideas: She chases after boys, is irreverent, and casts off her Indian upbringing in favor of British teen culture. In another story, "K.B.W. (Keep Britain White)," a white teen tries to make sense of the violence and racism that drove his friend's Bangladeshi family out of the neighborhood.

Come to Mecca, and Other Stories showed Dhondy's talent for dealing honestly and openly with the racial problems of Asian and West Indian teenagers in Great Britain. Neil Philip, writing in the Times Educational Supplement, praised the 1978 story collection and called its author "subtle, penetrating, witty: one of the few children's authors able adequately to reflect racial differences in the texture of his language." Written for a broader adult audience, Poona Company contains stories about the gossip-filled, spirited atmosphere of a Poona gathering place, where locals gather to catch up and tell tales. The result, according to some reviewers, is illuminating. According to Dervla Murphy in the Times Literary Supplement, in Poona Company "Dhondy is illuminating not merely a sliver of the Indian scene but a chunk of universal human nature." Gillian Welch also praised the volume, writing in New Statesman that the collection "is the work of a natural story-teller, entertaining and funny and truth-telling in a way that no lesson about other cultures could ever be."

In Dhondy's first young-adult novel, The Siege of Babylon, he focuses on three East Indian teenagers who are persuaded to rob a car rental store by Kwate, an older man who has been involved in political controversy. When the robbery goes awry, they decide to take hostages, but are ultimately captured. Margery Fisher, writing in Growing Point, praised The Siege of Babylon for its well-developed characters, "tight structure and the forceful, idiomatic dialogue which distinguish this book for the intelligent middle teens." A. R. Williams, reviewing The Siege of Babylon for the Junior Bookshelf, cited Dhondy's insightful social commentary and pronounced the novel "stimulating, if often uncomfortable or even disquieting."

Black Swan, Dhondy's second young-adult novel, tells a more intricate tale as it follows an aspiring actress named Rose. When Rose's mother becomes sick, Rose takes over her job as personal assistant to the mysterious Mr. B. On instructions from her employer, Rose begins translating a long and complicated document written in Elizabethan English, and for readers this document contains the story within Dhondy's story. The document, written by Elizabethan physician and amateur thespian Simon Forman, tells about a dark-skinned man named Lazarus who is involved in much intrigue, including faking his own death, and about Kit Marlowe, who also fakes his death and falls in love with Lazarus. Together, Marlowe and Lazarus write several plays under the name William Shakespeare; Shakespeare himself, a mediocre and drunken actor in this tale, becomes a front for the pair's work.

Although Lucinda Lockwood, writing in the School Library Journal, dubbed Black Swan "a wobbly mystery with a very muddy solution," other reviewers begged to differ. A Junior Bookshelf contributor found the book complicated but interesting, stating that "multi-layered is for once an apt label for a work which should be thoroughly enjoyed by adult readers as well as budding literati." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel's "intriguingly complicated construction" and added that Black Swan is "a fast-moving, idea-packed read that will stretch young minds." Praising the book as "Multilayered, challenging and filled with mysterious beauty," a Publishers Weekly reviewer cited Dhondy for revealing to sophisticated teen readers the "revolutionary power of the written and the spoken word."

While Dhondy has gone on to write for television, pen the adult novel Bombay Duck, and produce a highly regarded biography of athlete, writer, and Pan-Africanist C. L. R. James, his contribution to late-twentieth-century young-adult literature remains significant. Noting the dearth of children's books written by minority authors, David Rees commented in Children's Literature in Education that Dhondy filled that gap. "One of the reasons for his success is that, being coloured himself, he experienced and is able to present vividly some of the complexities of race relations that often escape the notice of white authors of children's books," noted Rees, concluding that Dhondy serves as a role model to newer multicultural writers for "showing the way."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Children's Literature Review, Volume 41, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 65-81.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Booklist, February 15, 2002, p. 1001.

Book Report, May-June, 1994, Carol Jean Pingel, review of Black Swan, p. 43.

British Book News, October, 1990.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1993, p. 8.

Children's Literature in Education, summer, 1980, pp. 91-97; spring, 1983, pp. 35-43.

Growing Point, July, 1978, pp. 3363-3364.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1978, p. 200; August, 1992, p. 163.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1993, p. 932.

New Statesman, November 28, 1980, review of Poona Company, p. 31; July 30, 2001, review of C. L. R. James: Cricket, the Caribbean, and World Revolution.

Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1993, review of Black Swan, p. 79.

School Librarian, March, 1983, pp. 53-54; August, 1991, p. 111.

School Library Journal, December, 1985, review of Poona Company, pp. 98-99; September, 1993, p. 248.

Sunday Times (London, England), May 13, 1990, Anwer Bati, "Exposing the Fraud Squad," p. H10.

Times Educational Supplement, January 18, 1980, p. 42; March 18, 1983, p. 35; July 15, 1983, p. 18; April 26, 1991, p. 24.

Times Literary Supplement, November 26, 1982, Dervla Murphy, review of Trip Trap, p. 1303; July 15, 1977, p. 866; April 7, 1978, p. 379; November 21, 1980, Dervla Murphy, review of Poona Nights, p. 1322; November 26, 1982, p. 1303; May 13, 1990, p. H10; June 1, 1990, review of Bombay Duck, p. 585.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1993, p. 289.*