Sunday, 2 September 2012



After his acclaimed novels, Musharraf Ali Farooqi has written an illustrated novel, Rabbit Rap. He tells Biswadip Mitra why the ‘crossover’ work is a ‘21st-century fable’

Rabbits living freely without the fear of predators and trying to break free from an old order in their warren. Sounds like another Disney cartoon, but the Rabbit Rap is an illustrated novel by Pakistani-Canadian author Musharraf Ali Farooqi whose novels The Story of a Widow and Between Clay and Dust received much acclaim. Illustrations in this new book are by Farooqi’s wife Michelle Farooqi, a noted artist in her own right.

The idea of this illustrated novel came quite “simply,” says Farooqi. “I was standing at a traffic signal or crossing the road when I suddenly thought what might happen if the rabbits could order from the IKEA catalogue. That was the seed of the story. The rest I made up,” he informs. But why rabbits? “It could easily have been the prairie dogs or the groundhog, but the rabbits were the first I imagined,” he replies.

So we have the rabbits trying to deal with a lot of issues that we human beings do — there are technologies, hazards and sky-high aims that could be destructive and detrimental. The rabbits try to tame Nature and they get an enterprising honcho in Rabbit Hab. The story moves on through self-examination and humour that comes out nicely in Farooqi’s storytelling.

The book describes itself as ‘a fable for the 21st-century.’ I want Farooqi to elaborate. “The world depicted in Rabbit Rap is the contemporary world. All the technologies mentioned in the book can be easily developed if they are not already in use,” he says. “The issues of pollution, food safety and environmental threats are also very contemporary.” And since these are universal, Farooqi didn’t have any particular country or society in his mind while writing. But when asked about readership, he says: “This is what you would call a crossover book which is accessible to everyone, from adults to teens.”
I wonder how the transition from writing a novel to writing an illustrated novel was. Farooqi says there was “no transition” as such. “I think of myself as a storyteller and I always plan my plots, so the nature of the work is the same,” he explains. The subjects that he writes on are quite diverse, and Farooqi makes sure that he doesn’t use “the same kind of language.” He cites his works and says: “You will notice the difference between the language employed in The Story of a Widow, in Between Clay and Dust and my children’s fiction The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories, and this book. Not one is similar, because each story plays out in a particular world and that world suggests a language for that story.” Agreed.

And how was it working with his wife? Farooqi sounds happy as he shares an anecdote: “I remember we could not decide on the look for Rabbit Hab. Then one day I returned from work and found that she had drawn another version, the one you see in the book, and I knew that was him!” And the entire project being a wonderful experience, Farooqi has plans to come up with more such illustrated novels. And who knows, as the media reports suggest, he may win the Comic Con India Award for them.