To tell the truth, I quite enjoyed being one of the Sons of Khalistan.

As anarchist groups go, we were pretty useless, poseurs of the worst kind, all talk and no action.

There were five of us. Sikhboy, who was the leader, and Tiger Bedi, a tall, slender boy from Glasgow whose parents owned a grocery store and who was studying management at Oxford Brookes. There was Pritam from LSE, who wore his hair in dreads and pretended he was black, and a short, dark boy from Colchester whose name I didn’t know but everyone called him Happy, who was studying at King’s College and was scared to death of girls. And last of all, there was me, the new boy, the only real Indian of the lot, as none of them had even set foot beyond their home counties, much less actually been to Punjab.

We didn’t do much really. Sikhboy’s uncle owned a balti restaurant in Southall. We met there every day after class.

Sikhboy would make long harangues about all that was wrong with the world while we gobbled down whatever was leftover from the lunch service, gluey chicken tikka masala and cold naans that we didn’t have to pay for.

Like every bargain-basement Marx in the making, Sikhboy loved the sound of his own voice, going on for hours about Punjab and Khalistan, spouting silly second-hand rhetoric that he had overheard from his grandparents and parents, pointlessly bombastic tirades about how Partition had ruined Punjab and the Muslims were our enemy, and that the only way the people of Punjab would be happy was if they broke away from the Indian republic and formed their own state.He was utterly full of shit, of course.

I knew that much of what he was saying was blatantly inaccurate, the immature hyperbole of an ignorant middle-class teenager who had never had to get his hands dirty. But I never interfered or interjected, not even when his ravings became patently racist. Instead, I listened to his ranting silently and pretended that I agreed with him because I was afraid that if I contradicted him, if I got into a semantic debate, he would expel me from his little group and I would end up alone again.

It was ironic, really, to think that I had come all the way to London to end up surrounded by sardars, but they were the only ones who welcomed me with open arms. To tell the truth, I felt quite at home around them, sitting in Sikhboy’s basement in Hounslow, even though it was a seedy little hole with a tattered sofa an draggedy carpeting. The place always smelled of mould and dirty socks, but I liked it there.

I enjoyed listening to the others as they chattered in Punjabi and sang old film songs.

I enjoyed their bad jokes and their bawdy anecdotes, and their interminable boasting about the girls that they had slept with, even though most of these stories were patent lies.I couldn’t help myself. It was the first time I had ever had real friends, that I had found myself around people who treated me like part of the gang.

There was something infinitely reassuring about Sikhboy and his mates, a sense of companionship that I was desperately hungry for. Even though deep down, I’m certain that some part of me hated them, despised what they stood for, another more urgent part needed them so badly, a dreadful necessity that I just could not deny.

Sikhboy had grand plans, as he often reminded us, but more often than not, most of the things we ended up doing were little more than pranks, harmless mischief really, nothing malicious or cruel, just the sort of testosterone-fuelled foolishness that boys get up to.We made a lot of crank calls, mainly to this girl that Sikhboy had a crush on but was afraid to speak to.

Once, during Ramadan, we tore down the posters for the local Muslim Union prayer meeting. Another time, we spent a week strutting about wearing matching saffron turbans like it was our uniform. On Saturdays, we lurked around Hyde Park distributing pamphlets, flimsy leaflets filled with spelling mistakes that Sikhboy had typed up on his computer and printed at home, proclaiming that Punjab deserved to be free.

There was this Pakistani dowager who owned a corner store near Pritam’s house, who always spat when we walked by and refused to serve us because we were Indian. One evening, we threw eggs at her store window and ran away while she chased us with a broom, screaming and cursing in Urdu.

Another time, Tiger told us that there was this pub down the street from his college where a bunch of white city types had abused him and called him a raghead. And so, early one Sunday morning, led by Sikhboy, we pissed all over the front door, all five of us, marking our territory as we shivered in the dawn chill.

The worst thing I did was paint graffiti on the wall of the local mosque. Sikhboy challenged me to do it, and I had no choice but to accept.

One night, we all snuckout, and I got Happy to lift me up on his shoulders while I sprayed the slogan “Sons of Khalistan Forever” in jagged red letters. I was so terrified we would get caught that my heart was in my mouth, but it went off without a hitch and ended up making me a sort of hero to the others, not the new boy any more but one of their own.

More often than not, it was just childish idiocy, but then, one evening, it went bad, really fucking bad. We were sitting in Sikhboy’s basement playing Tekken. He was raving on as usual about how Punjab had been ruined by the English and how the Mussulmans were winning, and that we spent too much time talking and not enough taking action. ‘We need to do something now,’ he said vehemently. ‘Something big, something that will get us some attention.’When he made this declaration, Pritam sat up. ‘I know what we can do,’ he said with a thin smile. ‘Let’s get the Pakistani.’

The Anatomy of Loss: A Novel

Excerpted with permission A, Bloomsbury India.