Farooqi’s heroes and scoundrels

April 20, 2014

Farooqi’s heroes and scoundrels

The author of the two books under review, Rabbit Rap: a fable for the 21st century and The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, is well-known as a novelist, translator and children’s writer.

There is a lengthy list of popular rabbit and hare characters in folklore and literature, as well as in films, including Easter Bunny, Jackalope, White Rabbit, Peter Rabbit, Miffy, Brer Rabbit, Oswald, Bugs Bunny…and it seems that Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s ambitious and dauntless farmer, Rabbit Hab too will go up in this list of well-known rabbits. It is a political satire about modern living, corporate greed and much more.

Rabbit Hab, the main protagonist in the book is a FRUMP -- Fat Rabbits Urging Modern Perspectives -- who attempts to show the way to his family to move out of the burrows and into modern pre-fab homes.

Wonder what the rabbit farmers in France, Spain and Italy (apparently where "more than three quarters of all rabbit farming in the EU takes place") would say to Rabbit Hab siding with the big agro-tech corporation that creates a pesticide that kills rabbit predators on touch. Dreadful suffering of the rabbits was documented in those EU rabbit farms where the animals were kept in tiny cages, unable to move freely, disallowing their natural instincts to dig or hide and bins full of dead rabbits were found during the investigations.

In the book, Rabbit Hab’s use of the company’s fertiliser, Vegobese, helps grow enormous vegetables, though not without a few unanticipated side-effects. And a newfound affluence and freedom from predators leads to a number of transformations in the rabbit society’s lifestyle, such as above-ground lodgings that marks a massive cultural change. But the aspect of greed growing larger than any pumpkin or beanstalk is at the centre of this fable.

As chairman of the Lapin Alliance for Progressive Sowing Endeavours (LAPSE), Rabbit Hab, though quite shrewd, has no control over the happenings in his life, and out of which he and all other main characters of the book; Fud, Gran-Bunny-Ma and Freddy, as also a few minor characters like Missy-Give-and-Take and Sud hop in and out of. Farooqi’s characters have been modelled on the human variety, and although no humans inhabit this rabbit world, the protagonists and antagonists of Rabbit Rap have their ample share of aspirations, jealousies, intrigues and even an instinct for self-destruction.

This light-hearted book could have been slightly shorter than it is; over 302 pages. It is recommended for ages 12 to 16 plus. Nevertheless, it absorbs the reader completely. Suffice it to say that it isn’t ‘rabbit rap’ but a rabbit trap!

The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories, written by Musharraf Ali Farooqi and illustrated by Michelle Farooqi has been published in English as well as in Urdu (Moochhander ki Nirali Moochhain aur Doosri Kahaniyan). Although the author himself writes with equal facility in both languages, the Urdu translation is capably done by Zeenat Hisam. The book was short-listen for the Comic Con India Award (2011).

There are five delightful stories in the book, namely The Giant of the Bakery; Profundus and Madam Snotbog; Monkeyshines; The Cobbler’s Holiday or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes; The Amazing Moustaches of the Iron Man.

The Giant of the Bakery has a giant baker (obviously) called Molka, who sets up his bakery in a ‘nice little town by the sea’. However, his ‘giant-ness’ comes in the way as all the yummy wares he bakes are of gigantic proportions. Although each morning the people of the town are attracted to Molka’s bakery by the irresistibly inviting smells, they run away as soon as they set eyes on the giant-sized products, for fear of getting crushed under them. However, what one gets to take away from this story is the struggle of the giant to be accepted and assimilated in a new place as an immigrant.

However, the next story, called Profundus and Madam Snotbog is more on the lines of ‘never trust a stranger’ in which a little lamb called Profundus solves the case of the missing lambs that are devoured by an ogress-pig, Madam Snotbog, who is a new arrival in town. It is good to see that Farooqi’s book is inclusive of an animal that is otherwise never written about in this country even though children familiar with stories in English have grown up on Three Little Pigs and other stories, and more lately on Peppa Pig.

The story, Monkeyshines is adapted from an old Urdu folktale. I was reminded of a similar story ‘Chuha Phiray Aadi Baadi’ that I had illustrated many years back in which, instead of the Monkeyshines monkey with a golden hair that gets cropped by a barber, there was a mouse who got a thistle in his tail and went to a barber to get it out. The tail got chopped instead! What transpires in the rest of that story is pretty much the same as in Monkeyshines, except for the end bit, which has been changed by Farooqi, but I wonder why?

The Cobbler’s Holiday or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes is a charming story about ants and their eternal desire for shoes to wear at parties or for walking and running around to do their endless errands. But when the cobbler takes off on a vacation and the ants’ shoes get worn out from the heavy use and are in disrepair, the stylish ants eventually settle on first going without heels and later with no shoes at all! Having read the same story by Farooqi as a single story book colourfully and brilliantly illustrated by Eugene Yelchin made me wish that the same illustrations were a part of this collection as well.

The last story, Amazing Moustaches of the Iron Man, is what the book gets its title from. This circus artist was strong, and his moustaches could do just about anything: from lifting weights to pulling cars, he was the main attraction at the circus. Then something happened and the Iron Man was no more as strong as he once was. He grew old! Nevertheless, his amazing moustaches resurrected his profession.

There is a common strand running through these stories: the main protagonists are individualistic and uncompromising characters. It will be most interesting and, perhaps a tad inspiring, for children to read about them.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rabbit Rap: a fable for the 21st century has received the Comic Con India Award (2011). The error is regretted. 

Rabbit Rap: a fable for the 21st century
Author: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Illustrator: Michelle Farooqi
Publisher: Viking/Penguin Books India
Pages: 302
Price: Rs895
The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories
Author: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
Illustrator: Michelle Farooqi
Publisher: Kitab Pvt Ltd Pakistan
Pages: 88
Price: Rs395

Farooqi’s heroes and scoundrels