Monica Ali’s family in Brick Lane is outwardly happy but inwardly troubled. After twenty years, Nazneen’s arranged marriage to Chanu Ahmed has gone wobbly. She’s never loved Chanu, but at the time of the picnic, she’s conflicted by guilt and lust-fueled by Karim, a Muslim political activist, whose notion of romantic love is to tell her to take off her clothes and get into bed. When she poses for family photographs at the picnic, Chanu asks her to smile more, not realizing that her face betrays her inner anxiety. Ironically, when the negatives are eventually developed, the images are blurred “like when a monsoon washed away the shape of things.” (The camera never lies? Maybe.)

The picnic is supposed to be a lark. About sixty, paunchy and jobless, Chanu decides that after twenty years of living in London, he wants to see the city as a tourist. So, they pack up a cooler, head for Buckingham Palace, and a picnic in St. James’s Park. Having done all Of the cooking and all of the preparation, Nazneen now sets out the food—a  mix of traditional Bangladeshi and British: chicken wings with yogurt, hard-boiled eggs glazed in curry, fried onions breaded with chilies, chickpeas, tomatoes with cumin and ginger, chapatis—and Dairy Lea Triangle Crisps. Chanu loads his plate, “Quite a spread,” he said in English. “You know, when I married your mother, it was a stroke of luck.”

Stuffed, Chanu falls asleep; Nazneen thinks of her lover.

Featured Image: Typical tourists in London. Nazneen Ahmed (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Chanu Ahmed (Satish Kaushik), and their children breakout of East London for a picnic in St. James’s Park. Sarah Gavron. Brick Alley (2007)

See Monica Ali. Brick Alley. New York: Scribner, 2003; Sarah Gavron. Brick Lane (2007). Screenplay by Laura Jones and Abi Morgan is based on Monica Ali’s novel (2003).