A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi
Updated: May 15, 2021
"Feeling damned for the way you are born is hard enough. Having to protect those you love from the truth is harder still".
When you grow up queer, and South Asian, the thought of love is often camouflaged by a fear of rejection. The book captures with Zaidi’s journey from a “devout Muslim community”, to become the “first person from his school to go to Oxford University” before going on to become, a criminal barrister, a board member of Stonewall, the UK’s biggest LGBT rights charity. Zaidi talks of his culture as (having) “beauty of an ornate birdcage. Rustic and delicate but ultimately criss-crossed with bars designed to prevent the bird from flying-away”, something that I think runs across the diverse cultures of the subcontinent. The author grew up in a poor pocket of east London in a devout Shia Muslim community in a close knit, conservative family and community. He became the first person from his school to attend Oxford, and is a detailed account of his life, and coming to terms with his sexuality. He talks multiple times in the book about his self hatred, and his prayers to be cured and different. It is not only Zaidi's story, but also that of his family and their coming to terms with his sexuality. It is a well written narrative of love and loneliness, and of fear and family.
The book got me thinking about my own journey self-discovery, similar in many ways to what a lot of queer kids go through while growing up. It is such as the rollercoaster of feelings and emotions that come with embracing one’s queerness, especially when that means being so different to everyone around you, as well as the terrifying thought (and the even more terrifying act) of coming out to family and friends, and all the struggles that it entails. Before I came out to my parents, and subsequently to everyone else, I was suicidal. Then I read Mohsin’s conversation with his counsellor, and that will stay with me for as long as I live- ‘do you think your parents would rather a gay son or a dead son?”
The prose is not complex, but it sure is poetic. It is thought provoking, harrowing, and yet beautiful. I have always devoured books, but I have never been more eager to turn the page so quickly. But now that I have finished it, I want to start it all over again. This is going to be one of the most influential south Asian queer memoir for years to come. I will not spoil it more by writing about it, but it sure is brilliant.
PS: You might want to get your hands on the audiobook too. It is even better.
My Favourite Quotes:
“I didn't want to waste my life. The only way to do that was to live as honestly as I could and listen to the gut feeling in my stomach. The one that told me to speak the truth even when almost everybody would prefer that I remained silent.”
“My brother was sick and it … he has taught me a lot. We have so little time with our loved ones. Why waste it? God created my son this way and it is me who had the problem, not him.”
“Children are not ours to disown, my son is not hurting anyone. He is a good person. I don’t care what anybody says. I know that Allah loves him like I do.”
“Digging deep into this pit of anger, I felt something shift inside me. My sense of justice kicked in. The anger felt good, powerful. Like rocket fuel. I wouldn’t be stalled by the obstacles put in my path. I would knock them down. I was surer than ever before that I would not marry a woman. I would live my life as a gay man, and, one way or another, there would come a time when I would face my family and force them to face the truth.”