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by Ranj Dhaliwal

Daaku (Punjabi for “outlaw”) is the ultra-violent, profanity-laced account of the life of Rupinder (“Ruby”) Singh Pandher, the second of five children of a devoted mother and abusive father. Like Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster film, Goodfellas, Ruby is seduced at a young age by the glamour of being a bad boy.

As an East Indian kid who sports a “traditional religious hair bun” in a whitebread Lower Mainland community, young Ruby is regularly teased and occasionally beaten up. It doesn’t take him long to realize that fear and violence can be powerful tools for self-preservation and for getting what you want.

Ruby moves from Punjabi school and choir to petty theft, fighting, and burning the school gym to the ground. From there, he graduates to selling firecrackers and then to stealing cars. By age 16, Ruby is hanging with “guys who drove nice cars with loud stereos and had hot girls who could easily have been swimsuit models,” and his pastimes include small-time armed robberies, smoking pot, getting into fights, and carrying guns.

Eventually, Ruby builds himself a reputation as a thinking man’s thug, violently collecting debts, taunting police, and climbing an altogether different sort of corporate ladder. The drug gang ladder is every bit as formal as its more legal counterpart, complete with rankings, job descriptions, commissions, and dire consequences for competitors who steal customers.

Ruby ruthlessly works his way to the top before age 20, but the risk of getting capped rises, too, making him paranoid. He is never without his bulletproof vest.

Though Ruby’s decision to become a drug kingpin seems a bit arbitrary and forced, Daaku provides a fascinating look into the gang world’s twisted morality, casual murder, commodification of women, and the inevitability of violent demise.