Emma Lee’s review of Rishi Dastidar’s ‘Saffron Jack’

Reviewed ByEmma Lee
Rishi Dastidar Saffron Jack review

‘Saffron Jack’ 

By Rishi Dastidar

Nine Arches Press 

ISBN 9781911027898 

£9.99

Saffron Jack is the man who has never fitted in and feels he’s simply not destined to be part of the crowd. Therefore, why not execute the ultimate in ambition and become king? This narrative sequence is presented in numbered sections, as if following a legal protocol. There are hints, however, that Saffron Jack’s plan might be flawed, 

’15. You are a king. Until someone points a gun at you.

                15.1 Majesty disappears like dew in the

                morning when confronted with an AK-47.

16. It is not that you set out to become one. This.

                16.1. Become this.

                16.2. It just happened.

                16.3. And you are most comfortable being it.

                Wearing these clothes.

                16.4. Who hasn’t put on a toy crown, and

                wished it real?’

He’s a coward and wants the title without the responsibility. But he also justifies his ambition in terms of how natural it feels to don the apparel, convincing himself that being king is his destiny and therefore he needn’t worry too much about details. The huge advantage with no plan is that no one can pick it to pieces. The model here is Kipling’s short story ‘The Man Who Would be King’ where a man manages to convince villagers in a remote part of India that he is their king. The villagers initially go along with it and all seems well. Saffron Jack just needs to find his kingdom, 

’57.2 Che had his motorcycle trip, where heroes

                 were found, destinies forged, myths made

                 57.3 You? You had the Eurostar.

                                 57.3.1 Your heroism stretching as far as

                                 trying to sneak champagne from first

                                 class.

                                 57.3.2 Stuck in the tunnel for hours ‘due

                                 to the inclement conditions and Calais’.

                                               57.3.2.1 The conditions are

                                               always inclement at Calais.’

Not the smoothest of journeys perhaps, but there’s a sign,

’59. A bang on the TV. A splutter into life. And then on it

                 59.1 The Man Who Would Be King.’

Ramped up, Saffron Jack starts looking for further signs within the film of the short story,

’63. And you thought, wouldn’t that be bloody cool.

Well, not just to be Sean Connery, that obvious would

be bloody cool. But. You know, it’d also be cool to just

control somewhere, especially a somewhere when

you’ve felt that you’ve never fitted in wherever the

where is you’re from. And then have loads of people

suddenly decide that, yes, despite the fact that you

look different, sound different, talk different, and scare

them with your gun and what have you, still you’re

a better bet than the current fat nabob they have, who

goes around taking their bread from them.’

After the train ride is a taxi ride to a war-torn country where Saffron Jack stakes his claim in a bombed out building. Sunlight on a Union Jack, changing the colours to saffron, gives him his flag. Now he just has to figure out what kings do and how to get his country recognised. He finds a bookshop and a book, surprised,

’98. That there actually was a how-to guide.

                 98.1 Well, not actually a how-to guide.

                 98.2 But someone had bothered to go round,

                 document all the attempts people had made at

                 cocking a snook at the existing nations.

                 98.3 And thereby discovered the things you

                 need – officially – to be a country.’

Saffron Jack begins to waver. Has this been too easy so far? He starts to think about how he didn’t feel he fitted in back in Britain. A descendant of immigrants, he wasn’t welcome. His skin too brown. Attempts to fit in merely made him stand out. He begins to ponder about what it means to be a citizen and how to unite citizens, even though he doesn’t have any yet,

‘166 Your imagined country.

                 166.1 Did you think it would be enough?

                166.2 Of course this is an imagined country.

                                 166.2.1 Every country is imaginary.

                                               166.2.1.1. Collective fallacies in

                                                a sea of flags.’

In ‘Saffron Jack’ Rishi Dastidar has created a man, a rather inept, average man with ambitions but not the drive to see them through. A man who doesn’t feel he fits in amongst his fellow men in the country he was born in and thinks the solution might be to rule over somewhere else. Somewhere he is respected and revered. In doing so, he explores what it means to belong, to become part of a greater whole and discovers that, to some extent, the feelings of not belonging are more common that he’s credited them. The comedy here raises serious points without being droll or boring. ‘Saffron Jack’ can be read at face value as a narrative romp about an inept king. It can also be read as an exploration of citizenship and race, things that drive people apart or unite them.  The dry, numbered paragraphs aping legalese and the technical manual layout conceals many layers. ‘Saffron Jack’ successfully combines being thought-provoking and cerebral with wry entertainment.

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