A strange funeral

A strange funeral

There is deceit and deception, a confused young man and 3 wily old ones, and a mysterious woman in Pakistani author Shandana Minhas’s novel Daddy’s Boy. Through it all, the book offers something of a commentary of the current state of affairs in Pakistan, using Karachi as a focal point.

Life for protagonist Asfandyar Ikram was fairly mundane until he was asked to attend the funeral of his father Anis Nabi, a man he’d thought already dead. He has no time to recover from the surprise of his discovery, though. He’s in Lahore, the funeral is in Karachi, and his mother insists he attend, leaving any queries he may have for later. He must also meet his father’s old friends, and his mother disapproves of them. Chaos follows with Asfandyar in the middle of it. Things go wrong the minute he steps out of the airport and realises that nobody is coming to receive him and he must find his own way to his dead father’s flat.

Asfandyar’s father’s 3 friends — Iftikhar, Shaukat and Gulzar — seem like strange old men, and they only add to an already bewildered Asfandyar’s confusion. They laugh, joke and speak of the young man’s father in odd ways — letting Asfandyar discover someone he never knew. At the same time, he’s left wondering at what his father’s last wishes were.

Iftikhar, Shaukat and Gulzar are garrulous and speak in a peculiar rhythm that makes it hard to figure out what they’re actually trying to say. Their banter covers a great deal of the first part of the book, and through it, life in Karachi is detailed. They are unscrupulous and complete each other’s sentences, even if those sentences don’t make sense. They are aware that they might be a little crazy.

And they enjoy ribbing Asfandyar for many reasons. He looks like his father. He’s not like his father. He’s engaged to the apparently well-behaved Lalarukh. He doesn’t drink. The old men also know what it is like to live in a city that is constantly threatened with attacks and bombings. Some of their banter has a tendency to turn tedious and could have been cut down. Each of the old men is also remarkably similar to the other, and given their propensity to bicker, swear, and ridicule, it is difficult to tell them apart.

There’s also Anis Nabi’s funeral and the wildness of it all that leaves Asfandyar, usually a staid young man, gasping for air. At least, it is indicated that he is placid. For the most part, Asfandyar appears slightly off balance, not really in the moment and not away from it either. His internal monologues suggest he’s either on the road to insanity, or he’s already there. The book doesn’t really make it clear what it is. None of the characters are entirely within the realm of sanity, as a matter of fact, not even the policemen who appear much later in the story. That’s a lot of craziness in one book, with everybody acting peculiar more often than not. It could be that the weird times that they live in have contributed to some of their oddities.

The way the story progresses, Asfandyar’s character seems disjointed, and even inconsistent towards the middle and end of the book. He is also described rather amusingly. According to his mother, Asfandyar is perfect, with “…black hair curling on his forearms where he had pushed his sleeves up…” (page 141).

There’s isn’t much of a plot in Daddy’s Boy to begin with, and after the elaborate beginning with far too many instances of bantering dialogue and Asfandyar’s peculiar thoughts, the story takes a sudden and strange turn. New characters are introduced and given swathes of narrative space. There are philosophical musings hidden in the dialogues — there’s a lot of dialogue in Daddy’s Boy — that are often distracting. Incidents happen and they appear largely unconnected and often mismatched. Asfandyar jumps from one problem to the other and then another within a short span of time, meeting a bizarre cast of characters on the way. At times, it feels like there are too many.
And then all of it just ends. The denouement, when it arrives, is abrupt.

Daddy’s Boy begins briskly, and in an interesting way. The mystery of the dead Anis Nabi is well crafted…until it overstretches itself along with the storyline. The novel is short, but the writing loses steam before long. There are moments when the incidents put together are piecemeal and seemingly random. Or even improbable, given how the events unfold after the funeral.

To suggest that the book become shorter would be unfortunate…however, the story could have used more cohesion.

Daddy’s Boy
Shandana Minhas
Harper Collins
2016, pp 219, Rs 499


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