The short-story Free for All is written by the Indian author Moin Ashraf, and is taken from the collection Come Brother, Lie Down!: Multicultural Short Stories, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1999.
The short story is mainly focused around the father Sayyid Ali Naqvi and his rebellious son. The father spends the whole story trying to make his son see what is right and wrong, according to his book.
The relationship between the father and son is, from the start, dysfunctional, and they have trouble discussing conflicts and disagreements with one and another. They have different options when it comes to social behaviour and on how to live life, and this conflict slowly tears their relationship apart. Both of them lack the ability to see the opposite side of the story, and this makes the conflict even more entangled.
How they act and their appearance is also very different. The father seems like an elegant and successful man, and because of his profession, as a physician, he is extremely wealthy, which makes him, in a lot of ways, a capitalist, who cares very much for money and material things. The son, on the other hand, feels exactly the reverse. His days are spent playing guitar in the city square and earning money that way, something which is completely the opposite of what the father has planed for his son. If he got it his way the son would be studying to become a doctor or an engineer.
The son is not given a name, while the father’s name is mention on several occasions. This makes the son, in many ways, more vulnerable and can get him more sympathy than the father might receive. The fact that the son’s age is not revealed, even though it is suggested that he his old enough for higher education, makes him seem even smaller and as if he needs to be protected, which makes the father’s actions seem worse than they are.
The son wears torn and discoloured jeans, and his hair is long and covers up most of his, as the father said, charming face. This shows that he, in some ways, his pleased with his son, even though he does not let this feeling shine through in other parts of his son’s life. The father also protest about the son’s guitar playing and behaviour, which is, in turn, affecting the entire family, which consists of the father, the son, a mother and two daughters. The rest of the family seems frightened and unsure about how to react, and remains silent through out the whole short story, which can either indicate that they support or do not support the father’s actions.
Dr. Sayyid Ali Naqvi, a successful doctor and father, is fighting a hopeless battle to try to make his son see right from wrong. He is of the comprehension that what he believes, when it comes to how to act and behave oneself, is right, and he is not capable of seeing that what his son believes might be just as good. The short story illustrates a numerous amount of confrontations between the father and the son, which all end in failure. One evening the father arrives home from work, and finds his son going crazy and the rest of the family sitting frightened in the sofa. Dr Sayyid Ali Naqvi explodes and hits his son, who in turn calls the police to make them aware of the fact that his father is abusing him. Of cause the police sees the son’ side of the incident, and punishes the father. To teach his son a lesson the father brings his whole family to Karachi in Pakistan, where he freely can punish his son, both verbally and physically, and hits his son violently.
The plot most likely takes place in present time; which is suggested when the author mentions a lot of modern things and words, which can not be expected to have existed before; for example ultra-modern kitchen, tranquillizers, king-size bed and access to frozen food. The family lives in a grand and elegant house in a big city in Canada, where most of the action takes place, but they also travel to Pakistan for a short visit.
The action is seen true the eyes of an outsider which has no relations to the characters at all. The fact that the story is told in this point of view makes it easier for the reader to form his or her own opinion on who is right or wrong, and who to have sympathy with.
The theme of the story is conflicts between different cultures, and the importance of understanding each other’s views and respecting them, because they can be, even though you might not agree, just as right as your own opinions. The father and the son in the short story experience such a cultural conflict, where they can not agree on which norms and patterns of behaviour they want to live by, which again creates a conflict between the two of them.
I, personally, like the short story a lot and I think it addresses an important matter. The language is clear and straightforward, but in some places I felt like it was a bit forced; for example “Listen son, I think you should pay attention to your studies and quickly become a doctor or an engineer”. I feel like the language in this sentence, which is part of a dialog, is a bit forced and planed, which makes it a little strange and it seems as if it is meant more like a written language than a vocal. All in all I liked the short story, both the language and the way it was told, and it shed light on a very important issue.