My Son The Fanatic, A Short Story by Hanif Kureishi
Table of Contents
My Son the Fanatic Introduction
In a small city in the English midlands, a Pakistani immigrant named Parvez works long hours driving a cab to provide modest comfort for his disapproving wife, Minoo, and better opportunities for his collegiate son, Farid . When Farid breaks off his engagement with the daughter of the city’s white police commissioner, drops out of university and joins a cell of Islamic fundamentalists, Parvez must bide his time and hope that his son will come around to his own liberal, assimilationist views. Meanwhile, a monied German entrepreneur named Schitz arrives in town on business and retains Parvez’s services as not only driver but navigator of the city’s steamy underbelly. Parvez recommends the services of Bettina , a local hooker with whom he has struck up an unlikely but warm friendship. Schitz’s callous treatment of both of his new employees soon, however, sickens Parvez. After his son convinces Parvez to let a visiting holy man move into the family home, the conflicts between Parvez’s nocturnal activities and his home life escalate.
Although it finds a lot of humor in the collision between immigrant and native, liberal and fundamentalist, My Son the Fanatic is actually a bittersweet drama that resists easy resolution of its many well-delineated conflicts. Almost never in the contemporary cinema, even outside the studio system, is a film’s screenwriter pushed as its major marquee attraction. The origin of a film’s script only receives attention when it springs from the mind of well-known or marketable cast members, like Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility or the Damon/Affleck duo behind Good Will Hunting, when the author is equally famous as a director, like Woody Allen or John Sayles; or when, as with Secrets & Lies or The Blair Witch Project, debate arises over how much of a script ever actually existed. Occasionally, a maverick writer earns some marginal notoriety for pushing hot political buttons (Thelma & Louise) or devising plot twists that either are ingenious (The Crying Game) or merely seem that way (The Usual Suspects).
The case of Hanif Kureishi, who penned this much-trumpeted “thinking person’s film” My Son the Fanatic, is therefore quite exceptional. Kureishi, a Pakistani who has lived for many years in Great Britain, achieved what international fame he has as the Oscar-nominated writer of 1986’s My Beautiful Laundrette. Kureishi deserved the praise he received for that film’s generous embrace of racial demographics, sophisticated sexual vectors, and unapologetically political examination of Thatcher-era British society. At the same time, Laundrette would likely have been lost at sea without its charismatic leads (including then-unknown Daniel Day-Lewis) or the eccentric but sure-handed direction of Stephen Frears, who had not yet begun indulging in the bombastic stylistics of films like last year’s The Hi-Lo Country. My Son the Fanatic is more of a literary exercise than a cinematic one, a trait which ultimately stunts the film’s impact.
Parvez, a Pakistani taxi-driver trying to support a comfortable middle-class existence for his family, is the hero of Kureishi’s screenplay, based on one of his own short stories. His eager efforts at assimilation into British society do not always please his college-age son Farid, mostly because the young man cannot tolerate the willful blindness to his family’s racial and economic difference required for his father’s own pretensions as a British bourgeois. Farid ends an engagement to be married to a young, white British woman after Parvez embarrasses his son at the first meeting of the lovers’ families. Parvez, all smiles, chuckles, and too-vociferous handshakes during this scene, effectively portrays both Parvez’s sweet intentions and the social awkwardness that so shames Farid. Unlike much of Kureishi’s work, including My Beautiful Laundrette, My Son the Fanatic actually develops from this early crisis as the story of the hard-working, socially bewildered father, rather than the young radical Farid, who increasingly resorts to a strict Muslim fundamentalism as a way to announce firmly-both to his community and his father–his own racial and political difference. Parvez’s home suddenly becomes the grounds of protracted fasts, examinations of scripture, and other rigorous religious immersions that make Parvez increasingly uncomfortable. His wife Minoo watches quietly as her husband and son grow further apart, not sure on whose side she belongs.
The widening of the gulf between Parvez and Farid constitutes the central action of My Son the Fanatic, but Kureishi counterposes that narrative with another story in which Parvez actually grows closer to a person with whom, on the surface, he has little in common. Bettina, played by Hilary and Jackie’s Rachel Griffiths, is a prostitute whom Parvez first meets when she hails his cab. The two continue to meet and, predictably, develop a certain affinity; they are both treated as outcasts in their community, as social hangers-on relegated to undignified “professions,” and the filmmakers squeeze some rather obvious tension from the delicate question of whether the two are erotically attracted or else just unlikely friends.
My Son the Fanatic asks several interesting questions. Is Farid’s sudden devotion to Islamic law frightening to Parvez because of its severe force or because he views such behavior as conspicuously retrograde within their Western environment? Could his interest in Bettina be motivated by his own wish to “belong” to white society when she herself, regardless of her race, is an outcast in her community? Mainstream movies, as everyone knows, typically eschew these kinds of cultural and intellectual riddles, and so My Son the Fanatic affords the rare and sincere pleasure of stimulation. In a film where difference is often characterized as unpalatable, even damning, the uniqueness of the film itself and that of its characters are undeniable pluses.
My Son the Fanatic Characters
There are two main characters: Parvez and Ali. Parvez is middle-aged man who migrated to England from Lahore. He is a taxi-driver there and has been working so. He usually works when the roads are clear and enough money to be generated by driving. Most of these drives like Parvez have migrated from Pakistan in search of a better future. Like Parvez, they also nave their families back home and wish a prospect future for them.
His life is triggered by the fact that his son has put all his old things such as CDs into the dustbin. He feels that there is something working in the mind of his son. He consulted with his friends and they began musing if his son had become a drug-addict. But the expression of his son’s eyes told a different story. Thus he consults with his girl friend, Bettina and she tells Parvez to talk to him because Ali is a not an ordinary fellow. Parvez talks to him about the state of affairs and finds fanatic elements in his son. Ali tells him father that he has left accountancy because it demands wine, women and other evils and he is expecting to work for the have-nots.
Thus the second most important character is Ali. Although he is good with both his studies and friends. He has excelled almost in everything but suddenly, he develops some fanatic ideas. He doesn’t play the guitar anymore and doesn’t respond to his father in the previous way. He was not lost by the glaring impact of the Western Civilization and rather adopted a reactionary attitude.
He leaves off his fashionable clothes and other stuff and prays regularly. He visits the poor and helps them. He changes his life and also causes to change others. Parvez is stunned at the ideas of his son. While Parvez is fully at home with his call girl, Bettina and his son, Ali busy praying to God, humorously, Parvez gives a good thrashing to his son and when his son asks him who is the fanatic now. We laugh because Parvez is unable to answer him while he knows that he himself has been the victim of fanaticism.
My Son the Fanatic Summary
The narrative deals with the problems of Parvez, who has migrated from Pakistan to Britain and his son Ali. Parvez worries about his son drifting off course because Ali’s behavior has changed significantly. Early in the story, Parvez is afraid of discussing his worries with his friends because his son has always been a kind of showpiece son. Eventually, Parvez breaks his silence and tells them how his son has changed, hoping to receive some advice from his friends. After having a short conversation, they come to the conclusion that his son
might be addicted to drugs and that he sells his properties to earn money to buy drugs. After this meeting, Parvez goes to his Taxi to drive home. But in his car he finds Bettina, a prostitute, who drives with Parvez very often and has become a confidante of Parvez. Since Parvez has defended Bettina from a client who had attacked her, they take care of each other. Parvez tells Bettina what he has observed and that he and his friends assume that his son does all these strange things because he is drug addicted. Bettina instructs Parvez on how he has to observe his son to find out if there is anything physically wrong with him. However, after a few days of observations Parvez decides that his son appears totally healthy. The only physical change Parvez can observe is that Ali is growing a beard now. And apart from that it turns out that his son does not sell his things. He just gives them away for free.
Only now Parvez notices that Ali prays five times a day, although he had not been brought up religious. Parvez decides to invite his son for dinner to have a conversation with him about the happenings during the last days. Initially, Ali refuses this invitation, but later he goes out for dinner with his father. Parvez drinks a lot during this meeting and they start to argue. Ali criticizes his father’s way of life because in his opinion his father is “too implicated in Western civilization” (Kureishi) and breaks the Koran’s rules by drinking alcohol and eating pork. Ali explains to his father that he is going to give up his studies because from his point of view, “Western Education cultivates an anti-religious attitude.” (Kureishi) After this evening Parvez feels as if he had lost his son and wants to tell him to leave the house. But Bettina can change his mind so that Parvez will try to understand what is going on in his son’s mind. During the next days Parvez tries to explain cautiously to his son what his ideas and attitudes towards life are. He even lets himself grow a beard to please Ali. But Ali still holds his father in contempt his for not sticking on the rules of the Koran. A few days later while Parvez is driving in his taxi with Bettina he sees his son walking down the sidewalk. Parvez asks Ali to come in and drive with them. In the car, Bettina starts to have a conversation with Ali, but as she tries to explain to Ali that his father loves him very much, Ali becomes angry and offends Bettina. Afterwards he wants to escape from the car, but Bettina preempts him. She leaves the car when it is still moving and runs away. Back at home Parvez drinks a lot of alcohol because he is very furious at his son. After a while he walks into Ali’s room and attacks his son who does not show any kind of reaction to protect or defend himself. As Parvez stops hitting him, Ali asks his father: “Who is the fanatic now?”
My Son the Fanatic Analysis
We must applaud at Hanif Kureishi’s yet again bold and honest attempt at highlighting a recent phenomenon in the South Asian community: the son going “holier than thou” on the family. This is the first short story portraying South Asians where the wife has some personality and actually speaks out so we see her as a mother, a wife and a woman that I know because she exists in my community. She is dull and fat and stuck in her little world within the four walls of her home. We dislike her but we know her. The subtle emotions and body language of this lower middle-class family might not be fully understood by a non-south Asian critic and that is why some find it moves slowly sometimes. We could not agree with Earnest Hardy more when he says this story (and others by the writer) “endorse a morality of compassion”. I think that is the only moral value worth pushing!
A Pakistani taxi driver in Britain is plagued by a bad cosmic joke that seems co-written by Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis: his son, rather than becoming an unrecognizable assimilate, turns into a jihad-embracing Muslim fundamentalist. At the same time, the warmth of a white hooker beckons, to the chagrin and hissing tongues of his local countrymen. The writer Hanif Kureishi’s onetime Benetton smugness has mellowed into ripe colors of rue, mockery and regret as he eases into middle age, and this adaptation of his short story is a lovely, surprisingly beautifully shot, sneakily haunting small movie. The dialogue sometimes has a novelist explicitness, and the performances are variable. The story has a real subject: the ways in which postmodern culture-hybridity isn’t always a rainbow-colored day at the beach. And the warmth amid desperation of the central relationship suggests what Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa might have been without the smoky-sax romanticism.
My Son The Fanatic demands repeated readings for its appreciation. It is a dark comedy about an affable taxi driver in the throes of an alcoholic depression, and the eventual disintegration of his family unit. It starts off making you think that this is going to be a comedy about a social-ladder-climbing father undermined by his son’s discovery and subsequent rapture of Islamic fundamentalism. When re-viewing the consistency of the tones and hues, it seems that most scenes are being seen through the main character’s (Parvez) eyes. And he turns out to be the most unreliable of narrators — a literary device difficult to translate into film. In most of the darker and smoky hues, Parvez seems to be a warm, loving, tolerant, supportive, and protective soul. In the lighter-toned scenes, we learn that Parvez is actually is clueless to who he is and how he is perceived. The fact is that he is a pathetic failure as a husband, father, and “career” man — a 25-year taxi driver in a poor town in England (Does anyone know what city/town this is supposed to be? It was unclear to me.) where the cab drivers serve as a conduit between prostitutes and their clients. Throughout the movie, he sinks further into the throes of an alcoholic depression. He is an affable and engaging drunk, but a drunk nonetheless.
His son’s rejection of his depressed and drunken father manifests itself in turning to Islamic Fundamentalism. His wife tries to awaken him as to what is going on, but to no avail. Pervez’s sodden eyes see life only in his own terms. Pervez sees the holy man as a fraud, and thus invents a scene in his mind that everyone else denies, played in near-total darkness, where the holy man asks him for immigration help from his (actually non-existent) political connections with the Fingerhuts, who despise him. Someone else correctly pointed out that the son’s adulation of Ayatollah Khomeni is inconsistent with the Pakistani fundamentalist sects that populate Karachi. This is the one well-lit scene where falsehood prevails, but I think that was just a fact-checking error. As he sinks deeper, Pervez conjures up a loving relationship with his favorite whore, the reality of which is depicted in the final scenes as the credits roll.
The story was never really about his son at all. His life was never really about the love he invested in his family at all. It is about a disintegration of a once-noble soul due to depression and alcoholism, and how the world looks through his forgiving eyes. This is a fascinating study in duality, but you need to read it twice to see it that way.
There are slow and murky patches, but worth sticking with as a fascinating exploration into the culture clashes and reality blurring characteristic of alcoholic depression — a disease with an acutely higher incidence in the UK among Asian immigrants.
The “Islam” depicted in this story gave an odd sense of disconnect with the reality that I’m familiar with: it came through in patchy, discontinuous, incoherent glimpses. Maybe Hanif Kureishi’s aim was to show how bewildering this phenomenon looks from the outside, from the father’s point of view. It certainly will not give the non-Muslim audience the least idea of what Islam means in the lives of ordinary Muslims. The maulvi imported from Pakistan is an odd cipher: he conveys nothing at all about his beliefs. Mostly he stays silent, but he’s too superficial a character for his silence to even seem enigmatic. All he does is giggle at a televised cartoon and ask for help with immigration. Maybe Kureishi deliberately meant to show him as totally vacuous; if so, he succeeded at that. Therefore the son’s impassioned conversion comes across as an entirely negative reaction to his circumstances, with little suggestion of any positive beliefs.
The most disturbing element in the story, and the one that hit home the hardest, was to show fundamentalist Islam as heavily male and harshly anti-woman. There was one moment of intense poignancy: the lad’s mother being banished from the family dining table to eat alone in the kitchen. This scene was in its quiet way the most powerful and eloquent of the whole film. The other activities of the fundamentalist crew (starting a squabble in the mosque, haranguing hookers on the street) may have seemed annoying but harmless–but when they firebomb and beat up women, they become truly frightening. Why does fundamentalism always seem to come down to this–violence against women? The Taliban are a nauseating real-life example. On the other hand, we need to ask why filmmakers choose to show Islam only in the ugliest way, without any sense of its beauty and love and peace that keep bringing in so many conoverts. However, there is a counterpoint to this theme shown in the nasty bruises on the hooker, inflicted by the obnoxious German who hired her. Here Kureishi seems to suggest that whether it’s Islam or non-Islam, no matter- all systems still come down to violence against women. Yet he never suggests any positive alternative to all this social nihilism.
It was impossible to feel any sympathy for either of the two antagonists in this story. Each one acted like a jerk in his own way. The son was obviously a jerk for turning so viciously intolerant–but the father, who was supposed to be the sympathetic character, was an even bigger jerk for the way he neglected his family and cared only for himself. The main theme of the movie was not even about Islam at all; it’s about how men are jerks by nature. The only character I felt sympathy for was the neglected wife. Her husband tries to justify his adultery by crying out for “tenderness”–and yet although his wife shows that she’s dying for a little affection, he only responds with cruelty. True, she gets a bit shrewish herself, complaining about missing out on the fun that the rich guy’s wife is having–but is that supposed to be the whole justification for his ill-treatment of her? In the end, he stubbornly refuses to learn anything at all from his experience; when his friend and his son tell him the plain truth of his behavior, he reacts with sudden rage and beats up his son. He just holds on to his swing records and his liquor, for whatever comfort that might offer after he’s gotten alienated from everyone in his life and left all alone. This film was a well-directed, wrenching study in how family members hurt one another, but its contribution to Islamic discourse was insignificant–it never came close to engaging the problem of fundamentalism in a serious way, but only exploited it as a vehicle for jerkitude.