Funny boy by Shyam Selvadurai is a recollection of childhood stories of a young boy named Arjun aka Arjie. Arije is trying to discover his sexuality while Srilanka of the 1980s blazes in the civil war. Funny boy consist six stories, each highlighting enriching themes such as marriage, nationalism and queerness.
Pigs Can’t Fly
In this story Arjie recalls his monthly play date with his cousins where he prefers to play a wedding game called bride-bride with the girls, whereas the boys play cricket in the yard. Arije loves to role play as a bride until his new cousin and her mother humiliates Arjie by presenting him to his family dressed in a sari. He gets the nickname “funny boy” from one of his uncles, which sticks with him for the rest of his life. Arjie’s parents try to make Arjie be a part of the boys’ cricket team but he refuses and tries to get out of it with the help of his cousins. He asks his mother why he can’t play with the girls and his mother replies, “Life is full of stupid things and sometimes you just have to do them.”
The second story revolves around Arjie’s aunt, Radha, who is set to marry Rajan, a family friend. Arije is also thrilled about this arrangement. Radha takes Arjie under her wings and the two become close. Soon Radha falls in love with a Sinhalese boy, Anil, during her school musical production. However, their families are against the idea of this relationship because of the rising tensions between Sinhalese and Tamilians. Radha Aunty is sent to Jaffna by her family. On her way back she is attacked on the train by a Sinhalese mob. This changes her perspective on the possibility of the unity between the two ethnic groups and she marries Rajan soon after.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
The third story is about Arjie’s mother’s old friend Daryl. He comes to Sri Lanka to discover the allegations of the government torture in Jaffna. During the course of the story Arjie grasps that his mother and Daryl uncle had an affair a long time ago. Daryl goes to Jaffna but does not return. Arjie’s mother realizes that the Sinhalese-run government is probably responsible for Daryl’s death. She visits the civil rights lawyer, who encourages her to forget and move on instead.
In the fourth story, Arjie’s father hires his recently deceased school friend’s son Jegan. He starts living with Arjie’s family and Arjie is fascinated by him. But trouble begins at workplace because the Sinhalese staff workers believe that Jegan is promoted because he is Tamilian. Word quickly spreads of his alleged affiliation with the Tamil Tigers and Arjie’s father reluctantly fires him. Arije now questions his father about rasicm and gets a dismissive reply, “It’s too hard to explain. You’ll understand when you’re older.”
The Best School of All
Arije relives his journey in a new school in the fifth story. He is sent to this school to “become a better man”. The school is divided between Sinhalese and Tamils and Arjie is enrolled in Sinhalese medium class. He befriends Shehan Soyza and develops an attraction towards him. The principal of the school tries to maintain his status and control over the school and organises a ceremony honouring a local politician. He asks Arjie to recite two poems at the ceremony. Meanwhile Shehan and Arjie strike a romantic relationship but Arjie feels guilty and believes that Shehan is corrupting him. But at the same time he somewhere feels protective of Shehan. He also tries to save Shehan from the constant scolding of the principal and deliberately bungles the poems in the ceremony.
The sixth story is about the Sri Lankan Civil War. Arjie learns that Sinhalese mobs are burning down Tamils’ homes and businesses in Colombo, and that the government is actively supporting these mobs. His grandparents are murdered during these riots. Arjie’s parents decide to go to Canada, thus ending Shehan and Arjie’s relationship. In the last entry, Arjie goes to his now burnt house, and cries for one last time.