Monday, December 04, 2006

Daaku by Ranj Dhaliwal

# Paperback: 312 pages
# Publisher: New Star Books (October 23, 2006)
# Language: English
#Genre: Fiction

"Sounds Like Canada" interviews Ranj Dhaliwal

Synopsis: A story of betrayal, cold-blooded murder and the rise and eventual fall of one gangster, "Daaku" is a bullet-riddled grand tour of Indo-Canadian gangland.

Daaku, in Punjabi, is another term for outlaw. A Daaku is a person who has no regard for life and is an outcast in society. This person believes that whatever he does is right, even though it is against all laws of his country. The Daaku can be found in every culture across the globe and has been around since the birth of mankind.

The Daaku referred to in Ranj Dhaliwal's book is Ruby Pandher, an Indo-Canadian gangster. We meet Ruby when he is 7 years old or thereabouts and realize right away that he's a trouble-maker, he loves danger and seeing how far he can go before he's caught - it started with childish pranks like stealing a dime from his teacher's desk, pasting "kick me" signs on his teacher's chair, but he soon grows bored and moves on to arson "I wasn't a pyro, but I loved the power it(fire) had over items and their demise" to stealing cars and to beating up people for just giving him "the look" . Soon he graduates to carrying guns, selling cocaine, making collections for Indo-Canadian drug dealers, organizing a jailhouse smuggling ring whilst in prison ... eventually we see him betraying his closest friends and taking out anyone he perceives as a threat - 19-year old Ruby is determined to be the fiercest gangster in Western Canada.

This is a hard book to read because of its very graphic subject matter. You hate Ruby's attitude to life, his blatant disregard for the law and for human life. You cringe at how easily he will pick a fight and beat another human being to pulp for the littlest grievances, and yet, when he talks about his "poor mom" and how he loves her daal roti (lentils and Indian bread) and how he demands that his friends and girlfriends respect her, or when he holds off having intimate relations with a girl who is coming onto him because he wants to lose his virginity with his girlfriend whom he loves, or even when he beats up a bully for calling his younger brother a "bun head" you realize that somewhere inside that hard exterior there is a heart and you want so much to believe he is more than a hardcore gangster.

THe question I kept asking myself as I read the book was 'why'? Why do kids opt to live on the edge, when they could have stability and security? Why do they knowingly hurt the people that love and care for them? In Ruby's case, a hard drinking, brutal father who ruled his home with violence and a community that appears to respect maschismo and bravado, could have contributed to making Ruby the tough guy that he was, but at some point the lure of fast money, power and the adoration of the female sex as well as the admiration and fear of his peers was mainly instrumental in keeping him in the business.

I was curious why Ranj Dhaliwal, a first-time author, would choose this subject (Indo-Canadian gang warfare) as a topic for his first novel for as far as I know topics like these tend to be very controversial. Apparently, growing up in Surrey (home to the largest population of East Indians in Vancouver) Ranj Dhaliwal was exposed to the Indo-Canadian underworld and saw many young men joining gangs and losing their lives in the process (In the past 10 years in Greater Vancouver, atleast 60 men have died in an Indo-Canadian gang war over drugs, money and women).

Despite losing so many of their young men to gang violence the Punjabi community remains tight-lipped about this ugly phenomenon because of the stigma associated with it. I think Ranj Dhaliwal aims to break the code of silence in Surrey’s Indo-Canadian community and is hoping that his novel will raise awareness of gang culture and will prompt some sort of dialogue about gang violence and the effect of it has on a community. I commend him for that and I commend New Star for publishing his book. I can't predict the effect it's going to have on other readers, but it sure opened my eyes.

Related links:For more about the roots of gang warfare in the Sikh community in BC, Canada read this piece by Renu BakshiThe Roots of Gang Warfare
I'll leave you with this very thought-provoking statement from a letter by the author on his site:

“When you open this novel you enter the daaku’s world, and
when you close it you leave it—unlike the life of a real daaku whose only exit is death.”


hellomelissa said...

ah, a book that relates to indo-canadians (even if they are all the way across the country) is right up your alley as an anthropologist, lotus! i, as always, had no idea of the gangs in vancouver (my only friend from there is quite wealthy) and i thank you for opening my eyes to the situation as well.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Melissa!

Yes! I (or should I say the anthropologist in me) found this book fascinating! I knew our (Punjabi) community was having a few problems, but I didn't know the extent to which gangs and gang warfare was fueling the problem. This book has shown me a whole different world and I feel a whole lot better for being "in the know", ya know? :)

Beloved Dreamer said...

Wow Lotus that was a very powerful review. Gangs are everywhere. Right here in my little town of Lynbrook they abound and this they tell me is a safe place to live. I would not normally read a book such as this but because I love everything Indian, I will put it on my TBR books.
About the WCC Books, how old must they be?
Your blog's looking good :-)


Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Beloved!

You said,

I would not normally read a book such as this but because I love everything Indian, I will put it on my TBR books


Like I've told you before, you are an honorary Indian! ;) Actually, I think you will enjoy the book. It may be fiction, but it's based on facts. People have asked me if it's a "Londonstani" - I couldn't read Londonstani because of the street lingo, this book doesn't mess around with language, making the story so much easier to follow.

About WCC, I think the books must be 50 years or older. I just about made it with Mafouz's "The Palace Walk" but Achebe's book I will have to save for another time.

beenzzz said...

Why is a very good question. It's hard to understand why people would choose this road over a better one. I bet this was a frustrating book to read! I had no idea there was such a gang member problem among the desi's!

ML said...

Gangs and that type violent lifestyle is everywhere in the world today. I agree, it would be a hard read with the horrible violence. It's interesting how you pointed out that that the character can go from cold blooded to others, but soft when it came to his family.

What an excellent review, Lotus. Thank you!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Beenzzz!

I, too, had no idea about this gang problem among our Desis and that is why I was prompted to read the book. All the desis I know are goody two-shoes( and I don't mean that in a bad way because I consider myself one, too!) But as I speak with more and more people about this book, I find that Desis, even at school level are involved in gangs and gang culture.

Hi, ML! Thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed the review. I'll admit it was a hard one to's the sort of book that lends itself better to a discussion. You just want to be able to talk to someone as you read it...ya know?

Susan in Italy said...

It's a surprise to hear about this community involved in gangs (mainly because those immigrants from India that I know are "intellectual" immigrants and so are not vulnerable in the same ways that economic immigrants can be.) My first guess as to why a young boy would join a life of crime is that it may look like the best way to make money in a situation where socially acceptable ways are out of reach. Does this seem off the mark to you?

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Susan

Yes, as I was reading the book it was a surprise to me, too, until I realized that this phenomenon seems to be peculiar to the Sikh Punjabi community in Vancouver (I came to that conclusion because the majority of young men that have died in this gang warfare have been from the Punjabi community). I'm Punjabi, too, so this was quite a shock, until I read "Roots of Gang Warfare" by Renu Bakshi -a wonderful article that sheds light on why we are seeing this trend.

And you like you pointed out, Susan, the allure of fast cash, power and other things that go with a gangster's lifestyle are definite contributing factors -I guess they lack the wisdom to realize that all of this is so short-lived.

hellomelissa said...

just fyi: your site is loading correctly in ie today! yay!

Lotus Reads said...

*phew* Thanks so much for letting me know, Melissa! Nessie suggested I use the beta version layouts and that's what I did. I've lost all my links tho' and other stuff, too. Guess it will take a while for me to learn how to use all the features! Thanks again!

gautami tripathy said...

Will chk it out! Thanks!

Anali said...

This is a great review and has opened my eyes to something I've never heard about. We hear so much about gang violence here in the US and we've been having a serious problem in Boston recently.

On one hand, I think well at least it's not just here, but then I think again and realize that it's an even bigger problem than I thought because it is everywhere.

Angela in Europe said...

Cool, my browser can handle this site better. He is a cutie. I met a Canadian author at the symposium here (can't remember his name) but aparently he only writes really violent stuff. The French were totally shocked because there is a generally opinion that there is no violence in Canada.

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks, Gautami or else, I can bring you my copy when I come to India next, but who knows when that will be.

Hi Anali Welcome back, so glad this new template works for you. Yes, gangs are everywhere now...what is particularly troubling is that they are starting at the High School level and sometimes in even younger classes.

Hi, Angela Welcome back to you, too! Thank you for your patience with my blog. I'm trying to think of who this Canadian writer might be...truth is, I am not really familiar with the "thriller for kicks" genre, but I loved this (Daaku) book because it was fiction based on fact. I agree, Ranj is hot! :)

beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus, I love the new look!

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks, beenzzz I miss my old template but it got messed up and I had to switch!

J said...

Hi Lotus,

I wonder how the old template got messed up? Strange world in which we live. I like the new one, though. :)

I heard a chilling interview once on a radio program, with a man who described exactly WHY he enjoyed being violent. (The comments are lost, back on my blogger site, but the text came over when I moved.) If you're interested, the post is here:

Great review.

Lotus Reads said...

hi, J!

I went to the article you mentioned in your comment, thank you! I hadn't heard of Joe Loya's "The Man Who Outgrew his Prison Cell", but I will keep a look out for it now. It's a cool title but,like you, I was chilled to the bone for the reasons he gave for robbing banks. I guess one's view of the world and one's values can be so drastically altered when violent abuse is experienced in one's formative years. I guess this is how sociopaths are created - add drugs, poverty and a violent lifestyle to the mix and there can be nothing but trouble. Scary.

Beloved Dreamer said...

Lotus my dear,thanks for making me an honorary Indian. :-)
I think I'm in trouble with my list of books and might have to rethink them.
Yes that is a very young me. I must have my son take a more recent picture of me. I'm the one always holding the
The drawing on my poem, I did a few years ago. It's a little light because #3 son had the flash on. It is a picture of my Father's Mother
I love the look of your new blog.


Sruthi said...

wow a new look! nice work lotus!:)

Lotus Reads said...

hi Beloved! You are very talented at drawing, I'd love to see more artwork. Changing your list of books is your prerogative...I'll visit later to check out your new selection. Glad you like my blog's new look!

Hi Sruthi Thank you! The redesign has been, in part, inspired by your blog makeover and in part because my other template went crazy! Sad thing is, I booked a blog designer to give me a new look - but since the beta version is so great I'm not sure I really want or need one now! :)

Sai said...

There is no way I could read something so graphic and violent. I might probably not sleep and this affects me for a much longer time than I would like!

Sometimes if a child is used to a violent atmosphere they do not know anything better. THere are such scars on a child's psyche which kind of explains their general apathy towards order and human decency.

Lotus Reads said...

Sai Had I seen this book in a bookstore I probably would have skipped it, but I heard the author on a radio show and realized I had to read this book to find out what it is about gangs and gang culture that is so appealing to our young Punjabi boys. Now that I've read it, I think I understand the lure...and it's also given me valuable insights to the Punjabi diaspora, the Sikh religion and so on.

Nabeel said...

hmmm .. the word Daaku sounds .. soo interesting .. it has always sounded cooler than chor .. :) the book sounds really interesting .. perhaps I will get it for sugarlips .. let's see what does she say about this.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Nabeel Thanks for visiting. Love the profile pic, btw. Yup, Sugarlips just loves books, she might enjoy this one!

Anonymous said...

I do not recommend this book.

The premise of this book is interesting; however, the writing leaves much to be desired. The entire novel is replete with awkward sentences, awkward and grammatically incorrect sentence structure, and weak prose in general. The weak writing is enough to 'turn-off' anyone who enjoys reading. The book is selling entirely due to the subject matter as the writing needs much improvement.

I say all this as honest and constructive criticism and strongly recommend the author enroll in a few writing and grammar classes. Furthermore, the author needs to find a new editor as his current one has done a piss-poor job in editing Daaku; a good editor would have helped him clean up many mistakes and helped him tighten the writing, to some degree at least.

I know that some will try to justify the weak writing by arguing the author is writing in the first person perspective and the awkward/weak prose are somehow an extension of the protagonist. This is a ridiculous argument.

At most, such an argument could extend to the protagonist's dialogue with others, but certainly not to the writing itself, to the sentences, sentence structure, the prose in general.

If anyone has any doubts as to my criticism, read the first few pages of Daaku and you'll know exactly where I'm coming from. If you want to do a comparison, read a few pages of Daaku and then read a few pages from any book by Rohinton Mistry (Indian writer), or George R.R. Martin (Fantasy), or pick up that book most of us read in junior high, The Outsiders by SE Hinton....hell, pick up pretty much any non-kids book at Chapters and compare it to Daaku and you'll get a good idea of what I'm talking about.

Lotus Reads said...

Hello, Anon!

I am absolutely delighted to have someone who has read the book comment on it. Most of the points you make are totally valid. This is not a great work of literature and people who read books for the sheer pleasure of language will probably wish they had a red pen to rearrange the syntax, phrase structure and so on, but I have to say, the author's style of writing took nothing away from the story, atleast for me it didn't. I found it to be a powerful story and one that I was very glad to read. I think it's a bit unfair to compare his work with Rohinton Mistry, infact, I don't think there are too many authors that would compare to Mistry for he's in a league of his own, but, yes, Dhaliwal could use a keener editor.

I laud him for taking on a subject such as this - it really did feed the anthropologist in me and I would continue to recommed this book to people interested in the subjects covered.

I thank you for your comment - hope you will drop by again.

Anonymous said...

For Ranj Dhaliwal's west coast fans he will be appearing at three Fraservalley library locations:
March 12th - Aldergrove Library (Aldergrove, BC)
March 15th - Clearbrook Library (Abbotsford, BC)
March 21st - George Mackie Library (North Delta, BC)
Copies of Daaku will be available for signing and purchase.
Check out the website for more details under the events section:

Steve said...

Hi, I found your website, Lotus Reads, while tracking down Ranj and his book Daaku to put on my own blogspot.

The day I became interested in the Sikh community was a few years after a old Sikh fellow got upset when I asked them why his daughters and Punjabi women were treated differently from his sons and Punjabi men.

Later, an elderly Sikh gentleman pretended not to know English when I asked him about the current corruption ongoing in Surrey Sikh temple, including the separation of fanatics and moderates with the fanatics building their temples away from the main temple.

Then the rash of gang violence led me to wonder why I had to fear for my life in Surrey, given that Punjabi gangsters usually only kill Punjabi associates.

Then one day some deranged Punjabi man opened fire in a pub in Surrey, killing one man and wounding others -- it turned out he was mad that he was kicked out of the pub for being rude to some strippers. Thankfully he got arrested and put in jail.

Recently though I have been incensed over the fact that more and more Punjabi women are being murdered in Surrey: four of them in the past 6 months!!!

Then it dawned on me: fanatical fundamentalists don't like Punjabi women to dance, wear perfume or have any fun. I thought to myself, "Hey! This is no different from Christian fanatics shooting abortion doctors or Muslim fanatics from the Middle East getting upset for the Danish cartoon or the problem in Sri Lanka over the right of Tamil Hindus participating in a predominantly Buddhist and Sinhalese nation."

Fundamentalism isn't really the problem; it's religius fanaticism. To claim Muslim terrorists caused 911 is false; most of those men were Saudis subscribing to a most un-Islamic sect called Wahabbi, and the founder of that sect could be compared to any number of Christian fundamentalist of the 9th century.

Getting back to Daaku: I want to listen to Raj Dhaliwal in detail. This guy has the right attitude, which is refreshing with regard to Punjabi culture.

Thanks for posting your review. All I could do on my blogspot was reprint the standard blurb for Ranj's book to remain within the copyright law. I did take the privilege to download the cover of Daaku from your site -- which may have come from the publisher or even Chapters Indigo.

BTW what we need is a strong Punjabi female writer to write from the woman's point of view a novel about the challenges a well educated woman like Amanpreet Kaur Bahia went through after getting married in India, only to give up her chance at a career as mathematics teacher and get harrassed daily by her in-laws until one day she is found by her in-laws in a pool of blood, her infant daughter sitting there in it as her body grew cold.

Yes, we need the woman's story in such injustices to be told by a brave female author.

Hopefully one day I'll live to see this happen. Until then, keep us up to date on books of this nature through your marvelous reviews.

Anonymous said...

hi steve,

thank you for your insightful and genuine comments.
a suggested reading would be "of silk sarees and mini skirts"- amrita hundal ...a brave indian woman.

Lotus Reads said...

Thank you, Steve, for your engaging comments and thank you anon for the book recommendation...I am going to be checking it out just now.

Masala Man said...

I just finished reading Ranj's book last night, it was definitely amazing to get firsthand view of the details of the situation that has erupted in the lower mainland re: gang warfare. We only hear the police and the media's take on the subject matter - but its great to see information from the frontlines.

I remember going to high school in East Vancouver in the nineties and being tempted to the whole world of drugs, gangs and corruption. But fortunately with the right support and opportunities out of the gang world I was able to resist the temptation. The sad part is, others at my high school (which was mentioned in the book) aren't so fortunate.

But I completely agree with one of the anon's comments - I wish Ranj had given the writing style more effort and/or the editors did a better job fixing all the grammatical errors, writing problems and word choice. It was a very difficult book to read, not for the explicit nature, but due to the way it was written. Fortunately the subject matter was so interesting it was hard for me to put down.

This story has huge potential, and if it were written better - the book/author would get more international attention (currently I feel the topic which is discussed in the book is getting the attention, but as a book it should be as well).

To all interested in the book the recent anon mentions re: brave indian women. Here's the full citation:

Of silk saris and mini-skirts : South Asian girls walk the tightrope of culture
by Handa, Amita, 1964-
Toronto : Women's Press, c2003.
- Can't wait to read it!

Last comment:
1. Does anyone know if there'll be a movie based on this book, I would be very interested to find this out... If not, I think we should urge Ranj to starting thinking about this!

Lotus Reads said...

hi, Masala Man!

Great to hear from you and glad you liked the book! To be honest, I had no idea this gang culture even existed in BC (goes to show you what a sheltered world I live in) so in that respect this book was a huge eye-opener. While I agree that it was no literary page turner, I felt that its merit was its subject matter which I don't think has been dealt with before. I felt the author was able to engage, very effectively, the reader in an issue which definitely needs more attention from the East-Indian community.

I have no clue if this is going to be made into a movie or not...guess a screen version would be terribly violent, no?

Thank you for giving me the full title of the Amita Handa novel...will try to get my hands on it!

Pally Reddy said...

I just wanted to say, this book is amazing. Some one had once recomended it and when I read it it lead me into a different world, one which I never saw through. Saw through as a Daaku would. It is prety harsh how somone can do all those bad things but still be a loving person inside. I know it becuase I've seen in hapen infront of me and somewhat have an experience of the meaning of this book might have on certain people nowdays. It's true it happens, and it still is hapenning. But this book was something different, made me realize more and understand things in a better way. Once you open it ur in it and you just cant stop turning the pages, you can never expect whats next. Once the books done I just sat there thinking.. for me the tradgedy that it may seem like is over, but for the Daaku there is no way out.

Anonymous said...

this book is incrediable. its serioulsy one of the best books i've ever read. it sucks you into a world you cant even begin to imagine.. and you cant put the book down because you just have to know what happens next. So glad I had the opportunity to read it. awsome! recommend to everyone!

Paul said...

I don't care about the "issues" and all that garbage. So far I like the book. It's a fun read if you like gangster type stories. The setting being local makes it more entertaining.

PunjabiMaths said...

There is so much rubbish written here about WHY there is gang violence amongst Punjabis in Surrey.
Some people even think it has something to do with religious extremism amongst the Sikhs! (Steve...yes, I mean you!)

These Punjabi gangsters couldn't tie a decent turban if they tried! They have no interest in any religion. They are nearly all Jats. Anyone who knows what a Jat is will not be surprised that there is violence amongst Vancouver's Jats.

If you don't know what a Jat is, do your research before coming up with inane theories about why there is violence here in Vancouver! Then ask yourself why Jats seems to be prone to violence. Otherwise, I think you
are wasting your time. You may as well try and prove the Riemann Hypothesis!

Anonymous said...

I think only a moron would assume that all these indo-canadians are "gangsters" and wrong-doers. Every race has these group of people and it has nothing to do with their race.

I could name all types of sickos and weirdos from every type of race and country but that doesn't mean we should cast bad images or notions upon these groups of people. I know indo-canadians who are very honest polite and hard working individuals.

The author wrote the book to make a splash and get attention and hopefully sell some more copies and make money. People will do resort to near anything to make a dollar nowadays.

Anonymous said...

It's like asking why do blacks get lured and join gangs in the U.S. Indo Canadians are treated like garbage in Canada and are look at as dirty s*itskins, by many old and young Caucasians. If you are a woman you would never understand, however, if you are A young handsome strong male with pride, who has his dignity taken away from him through PURE RACISM and told he stinks in front of all the girls ect. When he becomes a gangster, all emotions for humans r gone and he can kill with zero remorse. Also, explain to me why the most attractive young women will eat these guy's fecies just to be with them. Because one of the main factors why these guy literally risk their lives and reduce their life span by around 60 or so years is for the babes. Never met a babe go for a non G type all through my adolecent years. Now that they are all knocked up and the guys are dead or in jail, the babes run to the non G type who havr stability, and education and a future...Women are very twisted creatures.