“I was shot down by my crew who thought they figured out a way to take my business, but they failed to seal the deal with a bullet in my head. I’ve been given a second chance, a real chance at doing what I didn’t get to do. Will my sins dictate my actions in this new life or will I be given a chance to make things right? I’ve been reincarnated and this is my karma.”
– Excerpt from Daaku: The Gangster’s Life
Lying in his hospital bed, Ruby Pandher thinks back to what began as a seemingly normal night. The night he got shot.
He remembers the sounds – shouting, shuffling of feet, squealing and beeping. And then his memories fade, as does the beeping noise.
The next thing he feels is a warm hand on his arm. It’s his mom’s. Tears in her eyes, she calls Ruby her prince and tells him “Puut, Rubb nay tenu buchiiya.” God saved you.
Ruby, the protagonist at the centre of Ranj Dhaliwal’s second novel, Daaku: The Gangster’s Life, is a big-time criminal who this time, instead of delivering the violence, has been on the receiving end. And in hospital, he’s come to the realization that it’s his own crew who has targeted him.
The story picks up precisely where the first novel, simply titled Daaku, ended. The debut book, released in 2006, introduced the reader to Ruby and followed his progression from committing petty crimes to becoming a powerful daaku – Punjabi for outlaw.
Now recovering from four bullet wounds and separated from what he thought was his loyal gang, Ruby is torn. As a gangster who deftly climbed the underworld’s corporate ladder, his instinct is to seek revenge. But a chance at love and the prospect of his ill-equipped little brother following in his footsteps has him doing battle with his conscience.
The ever-present lure of glamour and wealth makes Ruby’s decision even more difficult.
“It’s like a magnet that life – it keeps trying to pull him back,” explains Dhaliwal, a Surrey resident. “That’s the way the gangster life is – the money is good. And he loves the power and pride.”
The 275-page book illustrates the almost-impossible struggle, with Ruby involved in drug trafficking and targeted hits, mixed with violent temple politics and an old boss who has big, albeit sinister, plans for him. Still, he wonders, what would a normal life outside the underworld be like?
“What I wanted to show was he wants out,” Dhaliwal says. “He knows what right and wrong is.”
The 35-year-old author initially began writing his gangland saga after watching friends and classmates become consumed – and some eventually killed – by the deadly lifestyle. It was something people seemed to know about, with rumours swirling in the community, but was a topic no one wanted to talk about.
Dhaliwal has since become heavily involved in political and community activism, often speaking on organized crime to high school and university students and working alongside police, speaking to officers about gangs.
He also became an initiated Sikh in late 2007 (after the publication of his first novel) and is now helps coordinate programs for youth and is responsible for bringing Sikh leaders from India to tour various Panthic Sikh temples that abide by the Sikh Code of Conduct.
He works as a paralegal and, balancing his volunteer work, writes on a part-time basis only.
“It’s still my hobby,” Dhaliwal says.
His eight-month-old son, he admits, is also winning much of his attention these days.
“He just learned to say Daddy,” he laughs. “It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, when I hear that, I go straight to him.”
So far, Dhaliwal says he’s been getting great feedback on the new book – and that, he says, is only encouraging him to further pursue and perfect his writing.
“That makes me think ‘I want to do an even better job next time’.”
A third novel in the Daaku series is due out in 2013.
Daaku: The Gangster’s Life is available at Chapters locations across Canada.