A funny yet moving drama from Karachi. Review of Daddy’s Boy by Shandana Minhas
A novel Daddy’s Boy by Shandana Minhas, set largely in Karachi, is both funny and haunting.books Updated: Mar 25, 2017 09:23 IST
Shandana Minhas sends from across the border a story that is as hilarious as it is touching; one that’s totally bizarre while also being relatable. The writing is witty and rapid, almost like you are reading freshly typed out words. Most of all, this page turner is full of surprises.
The protagonist Asfandyar Ikram is everything you’d expect a boy raised by a respectable, strict, single mother to be. At 30, he has a good job, great health, a suitable fiancée and his virginity. He starts losing it, though, when his mother tells him his father, who hadn’t existed until this point, has just died and that he has to travel to Karachi for the burial. The journey from Lahore to Karachi can be seen as a metaphor for Asfandyar’s life; he embarks on it and things start to go south. He gets to Karachi without any explanations from his mother who promises to tell him everything when he returns. There, he is faced with his late father’s three best friends. The teetotaller feels even more lost with Gullo, Ifty and Shaukoo, the three drunken old men.
What comes next is a series of strange events that make this book hard to put down. The trio of “uncles”, as Asfandyar calls his father’s friends, hide behind their bone-rattling humour and involve him in some questionable schemes in the name of his father’s last wishes. The back and forth remarks between the old men is one of the many reasons to congratulate Minhas for this book.
The jokes Gullo, Ifty and Shaukoo fire at Asfandyar are not new; you see in them the shadows of the jokes your father makes with his friends. Minhas’ triumph lies in her ability to bring to life, in an English language book, an innately Sindhi and Punjabi way of joking. To some, the writer’s clear observation and clever use of the men’s jokes might make this book almost anti-feminist. But Minhas has beautifully mirrored Pakistan’s gender disparity, also talking about how men are at risk of misunderstanding love because society has failed to lift them up to that level of maturity. Daddy’s Boy is as much a political commentary as it is a social one. The characters all belong to the urban middle class and their problems are similar to people of the same class across the world with Minhas bringing out the general yearning for a democratic system in Pakistan.
The drama takes place in Karachi and the book begins with a bomb blast and ends with murders. Through the events, the author brings out the uncertainty that reigns and the enchained press that fails to report on it.
Despite the quality of the writing and the complexity of the plot, at the end the reader might come away feeling like she has just watched a TV series or read a very long short story instead of a novel. Perhaps the book should have been longer than 200 pages. And talking about TV series… Indian readers familiar with Zindagi shows will invariably start imagining Fawad Khan as Asfandyar, just like his mother does in the book. It can’t be helped.
Pradhuman Sodha is an independent journalist.