Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I set myself to read this book with the same feelings I had when reading the only other biography I’ve read, that of Mahatma Gandhi – my experiments with truth. Biographies have a beauty of their own. Gandhiji’s was honest, very intellectual and deep. And I found to my surprise that Nargis’ Daddy – A Bouquet of Memories sent more vibes of the much simpler “To kill a mocking bird” kind – not exactly a biography but a story inspired by the author’s father’s life nonetheless. Nargis’ book is not only honest but has tongue-in-cheek humor, an exquisite and unique witty style, pranks, irony, and heartbreaks. The book is so full of witty sentences that you can’t put them all in a review, nor choose the best. You’ll read the book with a smile most of the times and occasionally burst into LOLs and ROFLs.

The first 10% of the book including the foreword strikes as a bit too emotional, even a bit Bollywood-filmy, and verbose. We aren’t familiar with her father, Dr. Ferose Ali yet.

But in the rest 90%, the verbosity triggers a torrent of simultaneous feelings quite like the genius of Gabriel García Márquez. The author ties world historic events to the turning points of her father’s life, past and present, weaving contrasts with irony, all in one sweep of a sentence,. The exclamation marks that seemed one-too-many in the initial 10% lend a natural vivacity to the voice of the author. The initial emotional play gives way to witty detachment even in the face of a shift in fortunes and the disappearance of her father’s fair-weather friends.

The page-by-page build up of the personality called Doctor Ferose Ali, is so natural that by the end of the chapter, you are convinced he was an angel in human form. The realization has a humbling effect. No matter how much we talk of spiritual successes through meditation and activation of chakras, the truth of our life is that anger does rise when someone cheats you, fear and anxiety does form when your daughters enter their teens, hatred fills your heart when friends turn away and your own kids become your worst critics. But the likes of Dr. Ferose Ali are so full of
love that none of the above can shake the integrity and unconditional love they feel towards others. After reading the book, I felt the rest of us could at the most pray for forgiveness and penance from the almighty for frequently strolling into narrow-minded selfish thoughts.

I could identify with the most important message of harmony between religions and the true essence of Islam. Often when I post stories based on real-life progressive muslims, I’ve received responses from some non-Muslims including NRIs and Americans that – “I don’t believe you, do such Muslims exist?”

Besides the ‘10%’ the only other sore point that I have with the book is the Foreword. That could be due to my bias towards forewords as I feel they break the flow and is used to explain the story, give reasons for a reader to read it, and describes the pains that went into the making, all of which kind of takes away some magic from the story.

I suspect the book could have touched the world-wide success of “to kill a mocking bird” if it were written as a story than a biography. Biographies tend to be read by people curious about the life of a well-known person. Are they just as curious about unsung heroes? I have my doubts. Perhaps as a story, Doctor Ferose Ali could have been more of a ‘sung’ hero. Who knows, perhaps the author would have been as famous as Gabriel García Márquez.