The Now Newspaper – October 21, 2006 – ‘Daaku’ poses a riveting question on gang killings

‘Daaku’ poses a riveting question on gang killings

October 21, 2006

By Carolyn Cooke – The Now Newspaper

What’s with Indo-Canadian gangsters killing each other?

Ranj Dhaliwal has been asked this many times; he also wanted to know why, enough that he started to put together some rumours he’d heard in his youth with stories friends had told him along with new reports on the gang violence. Out of that came the fictional novel, Daaku, Punjabi for outlaw.

Daaku (New Star Books, 312 pages, $21) hits book stores next week. The author, who has never been in a gang, says the characters and plot of the book are entirely fictional. Really, Dhaliwal said, the book is more of a question – is this how it is?

The novel is the story of Ruby Pandher, a teenaged Indo-Canadian who lives in Surrey in the early ’90s, a time when many first-generation kids sought big money and a glamourous life through the gang scene.

A young Ruby suffered many beatings at his drunken father’s hands, as well as bullying and beatings from classmates at school. Ruby is a likable but mischievous child who gets into trouble regularly; generally though, Ruby discovers he can get away with ever more elaborate schemes. He finds he likes to steal just for fun – at first a token item and eventually big ticket items. Ruby, being the enterprising young fellow he is, quickly learns to put other kids to work for him for extra income.

And he learns that fighting back gains him a reputation that is most useful.

Once a teen, Ruby starts his own gang and begins doing “collections,” where he’s hired by the big-time guys to collect outstanding drug debts, and he occasionally picks up work roughing up temple leaders’ opponents before votes and such things. It’s not long before he comes to the attention of the drug lords, as well as the police. He’s busted for stealing cars and probation violations.

Ruby sees the glamour of the big-time boys – easy cash, parties, groupies (male and female). All you have to do is get into the cocaine trafficking business, make the right friends and keep your head about you.

The competition is intense, the prize is huge and sometimes people do die in the pursuit of it.

Dhaliwal takes a straightforward approach with his first novel: Ruby recounts his life in a very factual way. The story focuses on the fast-paced action – who does what when and what happens because of it – that makes for an engrossing crime novel.

One thing to beware of is the enormous cast of characters. It can be a bit much to keep track of, but it’s believable. After all, it’s a matter of business to know your competition as well as potential allies.

The tale is riveting and even though it’s hard to see Ruby as a truly sympathetic character, Daaku gives a clear understanding of why, once a person is into the life, the otherwise unthinkable seems a necessity.