Of Rabbits and Men
The year 2012 has been a remarkably successful one for Musharraf Ali Farooqi. In the space of just a few months, he has released three works of fiction, the first of which was a novel for adults about two pehelwans in the post-Partition era (Between Clay and Dust [Aleph Book Company 2012]), the second a novel for young adults on revolutionary rabbits in the modern age (Rabbit Rap [Penguin/Viking, 2012]) and the third too a work of fiction – this one for children – on intergalactic travel (Tik-Tik, The Master of Time [Kitab, 2012]). We decided to review Rabbit Rap for Papercuts’s Pulp to Postmodern issue because of its crossover qualities in terms of theme, genre and audience. Billed as ‘a fable for the 21st century’, Rabbit Rap brings together age-old conflicts with present-day social issues in a futuristic context, and we believe it opens up new room for indigenous literature that South Asians will be reading over the next several years.
Writing engagingly for readers of different age groups is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Mr. Farooqi is able to do so for two reasons. First, he is stellar at showing conflict in his characters and their everyday relationships. Sibling rivalry (Between Clay and Dust), intergenerational authority issues (Story of a Widow; Between Clay and Dust; Rabbit Rap), professional jealousy (Between Clay and Dust; Rabbit Rap; Tik-Tik) and ideological friction (Between Clay and Dust; Rabbit Rap) have all been handled remarkably intuitively in Farooqi’s work. Rabbit Rap takes a humorous approach to conflict and the author seems to be enjoying himself thoroughly as he pitches the novel’s unfortunate lead character, Rabbit Hab, against his grandmother in a good ol’ battle of the wits. By distilling the friction down to the lowest common denominator, the author makes it easy for readers from any age group to associate with the situations.
The second advantage Farooqi’s books for younger readers have is that they are lovingly illustrated by his wife, Michelle, who understands his vision for each book and channels it effectively through her artwork. Rabbit Rap is a wonderful example of just such a collaboration. The images are comi-tragic and troublingly familiar. Farooqi writes about a world where rabbits are the dominant specie and are busy wiping out other species with the dubious assistance of ‘helpful’ corporations (where have you heard that before?). Michelle draws that world in black, white and lots of grey. Cute, furry creatures viciously claw and bite each other in these illustrations, while cartoonish, terrified eyes peer out of the darkness of underground rubbish bunkers. “Isn’t it all just sickeningly funny?” the images seem to ask.
As with his other books, Farooqi is bitingly honest with his political and social views in Rabbit Rap. Corporations are not to be trusted – they can corrupt even progressive rabbits. He celebrates youth and its desire to bring social change, but he also talks about its inherent vulnerability to social pressure and ideological burnout. “A young rabbit trudging under emotional baggage is the very item bad company seeks for its congregation. Freddy fell in with the very worst: the Nerd-bred. It was the most thoroughly rotten, rascally, scampish lot that ever hopped on land. That horde of no-good ruffians […] followed the Frump lifestyle. They constantly fought and bickered with each other, and distinguished themselves by their disregard for social order.” The youth need a leader, basically, and that leadership comes from the most unlikely of quarters in this novel. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that even a good leader comes with a bucketful of salt, thus throwing the whole movement into a moral quandary. It seems the writer believes in the need for change but is put off by the absence of change-makers who can be believed in.
For all his claims to the contrary, then, Musharraf Ali Farooqi has produced yet another book that is more than just entertainment or ‘a good read’. As with The Story of a Widow and Between Clay and Dust, he wears the mantle of his idealism (and disillusion) in plain sight – perhaps in spite of himself. Rabbit Rap raises issues that matter to you, me and the world. Importantly, it raises these issues for that cadre of readers whose future is most in peril because of them. Let’s hope they’re listening.