Hanif kureshis short story “My Son the Fanatic” was originally published in The New Yorker in 1994. The story deals with a father-son relationship and has anticipated discussions of Islamic fundamentalists recruited in apparently assimilated second-generation immigrants. Because of its topicality, “My Son the Fanatic” has continuously exerted interest since its initial publication. The story appeared in Kureishi’s collection Love in a Blue Time (1997) and as an appendix to the 2009 paperback edition of the novel The Black Album (1995). In 1997, Kureishi adapted “My Son the Fanatic” into a film of the same title, directed by Udayan Prasad and starring Om Puri, Rachel Griffiths, and Stellan Skarsgard.
Parvez is a Pakistani immigrant living in England. He works as a taxi driver and has assimilated to Western ways of life. His son, Ali, seems to have embraced the lifestyle of his British peers. Parvez, however, is growing more and more suspicious of his son as he notices apparent changes in Ali’s behavior. The taxi driver talks about his worries to his colleagues and to Bettina, a prostitute who has become Parvez’s friend (the relationship between the two is fully developed into an extra-marital affair in the film). All his “dreams of doing well in England” (which include a happy wedding and a safe job in accountancy for Ali) crumble when his son confesses that he is disgusted by his father’s neglect for Muslim precepts about prayers and his father’s disregard of the ban on alcohol and pork meat. Increasingly disturbed by his son’s religious fundamentalism and contempt for assimilation, Parvez one night repeatedly hits Ali. The son reacts with only a question: “So who’s the fanatic now?”
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The narrative deals with the problems of Parvez, who has migrated to England with his son Ali. Parvez worries because Ali’s behaviour 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. After having a short conversation, they come to the conclusion that his son might be addicted to drugs and that he sells his things 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. 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 observes is that Ali is growing a beard. And it turns out that his son does not sell his things. He just gives them away.
Parvez notices that Ali prays five times a day, although he had not been brought up to be religious. Parvez decides to invite his son to dinner to talk to him about his recent behaviour. Initially, Ali refuses this invitation, but later he accepts it. Parvez drinks a lot during this meeting and they start to argue. Ali criticises his father’s way of life because in his opinion his father is “too implicated in Western civilization” ( HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kureishi” o “Kureishi” Kureishi 2001: 157) and breaks the Pakistani rules by drinking alcohol and eating pork.
Ali tells his father that he is going to give up his studies because, from his point of view, “Western education cultivates an anti-religious attitude”. Parvez feels he has lost his son and wants to tell him to leave the house. But Bettina changes his mind and Parvez resolves to 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 grows a beard to please Ali. But Ali still holds his father in contempt for not following the rules of the Qur’an. 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 prevents 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 furious at his son. He walks into Ali’s room and attacks his son who does not show any kind of reaction to protect or defend himself. When Parvez stops hitting him, Ali asks his father: “So who’s the fanatic now?”
Analysis – My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi Analysis – My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi
Analysis – My Son the Fanatic by Hanif KureishiThe short story, ‘My Son the Fanatic’ is written by the British author Hanif Kureishi and is set in a possibly middle-class suburban-city of England. The short story is told in a third person perspective and has two main characters, Parvez, the father and Ali, the son. Parvez is an immigrant who has lived in England for at least 20 years, given that this is the period of time he has worked as a taxi-driver there. It is also suggested that the neighbourhood where the main characters live, is home to a lot of immigrants, seeing that the father mainly works with people from his own country and where the people have to work hard to achieve what they wish for. Parvez, for example, working for long hours and spending a lot of money paying for the education of his son.
The short story unravels the difficulties and challenges, a huge amount of immigrants face in their new country, especially the difficulties involved in finding a place to belong. Parvez, the father of the teenage boy Ali, begins noticing changes in his son’s behaviour and at first sees this as a good thing. He believes that his son is finally growing out of his teenage attitude and taking more responsibility. However, when Ali begins throwing out valuable belongings and his friends start avoiding him, Parvez gets seriously worried and feels as if his son is ungrateful and that he himself has done something wrong as a father. Finally he opens up to his colleagues who instantly believe that Ali has a drug problem and that he is selling his things to afford drugs, which later is revealed to be incorrect, seeing that he is giving his belongings away to charity. Parvez begins watching every movement Ali makes, but cannot find that anything is physically wrong with his son. Shortly but suddenly he finds out that Ali has become interested and fascinated by the religion Islam and that he spends all his time praying or going to the mosque. While Parvez feels relieved, he cannot help feeling frustrated and afraid at the same time. After telling his friends at the taxi-driver office about his son’s sudden interest in religion, they become unusually silent and this makes Parvez even more nervous.
Parvez’s wife, and mother of Ali is given very little importance by Parvez. As a matter of fact, he does not see it fit discuss any thing with her, regarding Ali. On the contrary he finds it comfortable to turn to his English prostitute friend, Bettina whom he has befriended while at work as a taxi driver. By their actions towards each other, it is fair to believe that their relationship goes deeper that they like to admit.
Ali, Parvez’s son is good looking and resembling his father. His exact age is not determined, though he seems to be a teenager, soon to move out of his teens. He did have an English girlfriend and before his behaviour changed, he was a very good student and had a lot of friends. It is not made clear when or why Ali’s interest for religion occurred, but one thing is obvious: his interest for Islam, in many ways had gone a bit too far. Ali develops a sharp tongue and his friends pull away from him, something which he does not seem to mind. He encloses himself into his own little world where nothing which is against his belief can be accepted. Ali’s fanatic behaviour when it comes to religion and his urge to have something to belief in, might be owing to his desire and need to have somewhere to belong and something to indulge in, which can give him a sense of belonging.
On the other hand, his son was now a religious fanatic and Parvez’s dream of seeing Ali excelling in a number of fields like cricket, football and swimming, getting a good job as an Accountant, getting married to the right girl and settling down with a family begin to crumble. Parvez expected his son Ali to be totally westernized, as a ‘Britisher’, eating pork, sausages, consume alcohol, socialize, etc. as he always says ‘This is England. We have to fit in’.
Conversely, Ali sees Britain and the West as immoral, oppressive, corrupt and “a sink of hypocrites, adulterers, homosexuals, drug takers and prostitutes”. Ali’s identity is not British, nor does really see himself as his father’s son. Instead, Ali seems to define himself in opposing to his father’s ideals. He is against drinking, gambling and socializing with women and as persecuted and oppressed by a country he has never left.
Ali is full of rage at the sinfulness of Western culture and speaks of the ‘millions and millions of people’ that share his beliefs. He hates that his father consumes alcohol and has a relationship with an English prostitute. Parvez is dumbstruck and makes no further attempt to understand these beliefs or even to discuss or debate them. His reaction is, instead, to consider evicting his son from the family home and ultimately his inability to understand leads him to resort to violence with Parvez beating his son, to which his son’s only response is the statement “So who’s the fanatic now?”
The short story ‘My son the Fanatic’ woven around immigrants, focuses on the relationship between a father and his son, a relationship which slowly but most certainly declines and is broken down bit by bit. Parvez’s anger is most likely disguised fear. He is afraid that his son will be ill treated by people who do not accept his belief and that he will get his life destroyed because he becomes to be caught up in his belief that he will not accept anybody else.
The short story is also well written and informative. It does address an important subject; the urge for us to belong somewhere, might lead us onto an unexpected road and that we should not be too hasty to condemn other people’s need to do the same, even though it might be in a different way than we had liked.