“Foxtrot in Fulham” - A Short Story by Janet H Swinney - - published in the Hyderabad Review —October 2020
You may read today’s story here
“Foxtrot in Fulham” is the eighth story by Janet H Swinney to be featured on The Reading Life in addition to her marvelous debut collection, The Map of Bihar and other stories.
I find her stories a consistent delight, elegantly developed with very credible characters in interesting situations. She skillfully makes use of small details to draw us into the lives of her characters.
Following a contemporary short story writers work closely is my strongest form of endorsement, which I give to Janet H Swinney without the slightest qualification.
“Foxtrot in Fulham”,set in London in 1967, follows Perm, from The Punjabi State in India, as he tries to adjust to Life in London. Upon arrival he is shocked by how clean and orderly London was:
“Of all the things that could have caught his attention on arrival in his new country, the one that had mesmerised him was the state of the streets. The earth between the interminable rows of houses was tamped down with tarmac and sealed along the edges with paving stones. The Mother Country’s filthy underwear was firmly under wraps. You could walk along the pavements without risk of breaking a leg, the traffic stayed on the allocated side of the road and behaved itself, and there were signs telling you what to do and lights telling you when to do it. There were no bullock carts, and no dogs with mange and the only animal that left ordure in the streets was the milkman’s horse. He liked it. He felt he could certainly get along here.”
He has a enough money from family to get a shared room with snother recent Indian emigrant. Perm has a College degree as an engineer. I had an embarrassed laugh when a government eployment office clerk listed him as “laborer, unskilled”.
He secures a job as a mess hall helper for an army unit. It is not what he wanted of course but he thinks he can at least tell his
family that he was working for the British Army which he figures they would accept.
He ends up getting fired, he was such a perfectionist his work was to slow.
Then he moves up through a bit of luck to head of a lost and found office for the Railroad. He does a very good job and secures a raise. He gets a better residence.
He has a cousin and a friend who invite him to a Dance type event where they tell him he can meet English women. At first he is reluctant but then he says “why not?” They tell him just ask one you fancy to Dance then out for coffee and “who knows what might happen”.
He ends up liking the lessons and he does meet an English woman, 23, single living with her parents.
Now the story draws us into Perm’s slowly developing relatiinship.
We have already see the prejudice Indian men face from White Brits they Face.
But now John Bull rears his very ugly face.
I enjoyed this story very much, just like I thought I would.
Janet was born and grew up in a mining area in the North East of England and was the first member of her family to go to university. She got her political education in Scotland where she lived and worked for thirteen years and now lives in London where she has lived and worked for considerably longer. She shared her life for forty-five years with the Indian-born composer, Naresh Sohal. Her longstanding connections with India have deeply influenced her writing. She worked for many years in post-16 education, ultimately as a government inspector. During this period, she produced a wide range of teaching and training materials, often commissioned by government departments. She also wrote features articles for national newspapers and journals including Observer Scotland, The Times and The Guardian. In 2008, she was a runner-up in The Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition in the professional class. From 2009, she turned her attention exclusively to fiction. Since then, her stories have appeared in print anthologies and online journals across the UK, India and America. Earlyworks Press have published much of her work in the UK, while in India, it has appeared in a number of online literary journals, including the Bombay Review, Out of Print and the Lakeside International Review of Literature and Arts as well as in the academic journal Postcolonial Text. Her story The Map of Bihar was nominated for the Eric Hoffer prize for prose 2012 and was published in Best New Writing 2013 (USA). In 2014 she was a runner-up for the London Short Story Prize. She has had work listed in many competitions. Her story The House with Two Letter-Boxes was longlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2019. In 2020 she was a guest of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai, with a specific remit to talk about India as seen through the lens of the short story. Her first collection of short fiction, The Map of Bihar and Other Stories, was published in 2019 by Circaidy Gregory Press and was well reviewed by the Irish Times. She has just completed her second collection, from which Foxtrot in Fulham is the title story, and a play based on the short stories and vignettes of Saadat Hasan Manto.