Nikesh Shukla is a novelist and journalist, and editor of The Good Immigrant, publshed in 2016, a collection of writing on race and identity in Britain by Black Asian and Minority Ethnic writers. His latest book, The One Who Wrote Destiny, is an ambitious novel, following three generations of a family and exploring the themes of culture, inheritance and home. It was described in The List as ‘A beautifully written and thought-provoking piece of work, which balances humour, anger and melancholy in a way that is charming and utterly engrossing.‘
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
I don’t know if anyone had any real expectations of my life. I did a law degree but I chose to spend my twenties as a rapper. When I came to the crushing realisation that as a rapper, I was average at best, I decided to hone in on telling stories and writing, and dropped the mic for the pen. Maybe I became drearier through that decision.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
The whole The Good Immigrant project, to be honest. It’s something I only made two or three concessions on, that haunt me to this day, but the majority of it, I did the way I wanted to do.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
The work I have done with both Rife Magazine and First Story, mentoring and arming young writers to tell our future stories in their own voices with no compromise. Also, getting my first novel was pretty amazing. It set the path for everything else. Mostly, though, finishing The One Who Wrote Destiny, which took me twenty years to write, I’m most proudest of that. It’s the best I’m capable of, currently.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
When I was called a paki as a teenager by someone who hit me with their car. Also, when my mum died. Both of those have rippled through my entire life.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
To quote KRS-One: ‘I’m not run of the mill cause for the mill I don’t run‘
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
Reni Eddo-Lodge is one of the most courageous and honest writers I’ve ever seen. Her integrity, dilligence and clarity of thought make her an inspiration. Morrissey incarnates everything I’d like to not be.
If you were an Egyptian pharoah and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
My phone and a stack of Spider-Man comics.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing. Toni Morrison
Favourite proverb (from Kenya): A man without a donkey is a donkey.
Favourite joke: Google Aamer Rahman‘s reverse racism joke.
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
This picture of the hero Jayaben Desai: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/dec/28/jayaben-desai-obituary