11 July 2007

Funny Boy



Heart of the matter

Author: Shyam Selvadurai
Publishing Date: 1994
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Novel

For a long time, Shyam Selvaduarai’s semi-autobiographical novel Funny Boy has remained my most favourite book. The novel’s backdrop is 80s Sri Lanka, a time when the cracks between the majority Singhalese population and minority Tamilians had started to widen. This external intolerance is mirrored in 12 year old Arjun’s innocent, private world, whose need for natural expression is stifled against the oppressive air of rigidity that adults unleash.
Divided into six chapters, the first few parts capture Arjie’s (Arjun) childhood and the growing confusion in him regarding his sexuality. Arjie does not like playing with the boys, he prefers decking up like a girl and playing bride-bride. However, once Arjie’s ‘queerness’ is recogonised by his family, things start to change dratically for him. His concerned yet stern father makes it amply clear that he does not want a ‘funny boy’ in the family and packs him off to an All Boys Public school. Arjie’s father believes that the strict ways of the institution will “force him to become a man”. But, quite ironically, Arjie’s sexual realization and awakening happen right here, amidst the brutal, rigid setting of the school.
Arjie’s relationship with a fellow Sinhalese student, Shehan Zoysa is probably one of the most touching episodes in the novel. Arjie is initially hesitant about accepting his homosexuality and shuns Shehan’s advances. But when he sees the latter being bullied and cruelly punished by his principal, Arjie’s love for Shehan (Zoysa) comes gushing through.
The author does well to captures the undercurrents in the Tamil-Sinhala relationship in Sri Lanka around the 80s. The prevailing ethnic tension is evident when Arjie’s aunt, Radha is strictly dissuaded from having anything to do with a Sinhalese man. Again, Arjie’s father cannot provide a level playing field to one of his favourite Tamil employees and surrogate son, Jegan, for fear of offending his Sinhalese employees, 'who refuse to take orders from Jegan’.
Then in Arjie’s school too, there are ample traces of racism. Ultimately, Arjie’s family is forced to migrate to Canada almost penniless when a riot breaks out in the last chapter.

Funny Boy has no political axes to grind. More than anything else, the novel is about the gagging of individual free will by the use of brute force. The central theme is primarily how society straitjackets individuals, valourising the macho and lampooning the sissy.
Selvadurai's writing is elegant, real, with an emotional power that compels you to connect deeply with the characters and their situations.


Certainly a book everyone must read.

11 comments:

Sameer said...

Another great review here. Sandy, agar aap ki fav ho to, its definitely a must-read. I'd find out about this book...

sandy said...

Sameer: This is an awesome novel...if you liked Nagesh Kukunoor's Rockford, you will like this even more.
Of course, there aren't too many similarities and the novel goes much beyond the film in any case.

I'm willing to bet my life that you will love it :-)

Qalandar said...

wow, high praise indeed sandy, I know this is one of your favorites, and you are the sort of reviewer every writer would hope for: i.e. you make one want to pick up the book and start reading...

Sameer said...

Sandy, I bought this book today. Let's see how long would it be before I complete it ;-)

Deranged Insanity said...

Before reading, I didn't like the book when I tried to find out about the various themes of the novel. I had never read one like this before. But I gave it a try to come out of my comfort zones and ended up loving it!

A quick and really interesting read!
4.5/5 for Funny Boy! =D

Anonymous said...

awesome novel to read

afee said...

i started up to read this novel for my academic purposes,but ended up with a feeling of unavoidable.
as I've heard the setting of the novel-the situation the writer tries to create from my parents,I am sure to say Shyam has touched those areas tenderly yet strongly.........
Everyone would love to read the novel,especially that "Radha Aunty" chapter......

dmenz veen basumatary said...

This novel by Shyam Selvadurai has been prescribed for my Master Degree course and I've read it and found very Interesting. Nice summing up. hope It'll help me in my course.

Sandagya kalita said...

I have found the book really interesting, i had started reading the book after reading the above summing up... The summery drew my attention twards the book, it is prescribed in my course

epicurean said...

totally great..meticulously written..kick start for the first year students..

Sagarika Dibragede said...

A Great novel by Selvadurai.