Of love, longing and reunion: A fable of our times
This tiny book - its prose poignant and illustrations beautiful - may come across as a light read, but is intimate in its moment and symbolic of life's larger picture; a story where human tragedies are conveyed through the beautiful friendship, love and longing of a rabbit and a squirrel for each other.
To summarise, as the author does: "The Squirrel's greatest joy is dancing in the forest with the Rabbit - her beloved friend and equal of the heart. While the duo is inseparable, fate has other ideas: the feisty Squirrel is forcibly married to a wealthy boar and the solitary Rabbit enlists in a monastery."
The simple fable is told beautifully and with a lot of humour. In the book's very brief span, the author succeeds in providing distinct characteristics to both the protagonists. The readers are told that the Squirrel had rejected all her suitors. The Chipmunk was "a dentist's nightmare" for her whereas the Owl was "wise but creepy as hell".
When the Rabbit suggests a young gazelle, the Squirrel remarks: "You trying to hook me up with someone for whom playing the field' is a survival tactic?"
She wanted to live high up in a tree, "avoid everyone and drink in the afternoon" but is ultimately married to a "filthy wild pig simply because he's loaded". The reason? "...Because it is time you were married," her parents said.
Oscillating between rage and sorrow, the Squirrel reflects that she feels like she is "a reduced-to-clear item on the shelf of a discount supermarket". And then she meets the Rabbit again before she would be married. The duo talk of the unforeseen future, in lamentation and in tears, as they are well aware of their impending separation.
But along the way are larger remarks and reflections that lead readers to connect incidents in the fable to everyday life.
At one point, for example, the Squirrel says: "How come no one tells a rabbit to settle down? It's completely kosher for all of you to f*** like bunnies' - in fact, it's part of the job description."
While the loveless marriage that the Squirrel is forced into breaks apart later, life takes an altogether different turn for the lonely Rabbit, who applies to a monastery. Several years later, when he was ordained as a monk, he was told "to sleep with the Head Duck as part of the "official initiation ceremony".
"The Rabbit tore off his rosary beads and threw them to the ground" He later opens a florist's store in a small town, where the Squirrel comes searching for him. The two meet in delight, like lovers long separated.
She tells him of the atrocities of the wild boar, and how she escaped her cruel fate. But now she is sick - suffering from a strange sort of cancer that had got into her bushy tail.
And so they live the moment, and as the author says, "...Our sorrows, when they bloom, bloom with all of life."
"The Rabbit & The Squirrel" is both a devastating and satisfying fable of our times because in narrating the story of its unlikely protagonists, Shanghvi tells of the sordidness that companionship often descends into, bound as it is by societal norms.
But in the end, it is the Squirrel and the Rabbit who take the leap of faith. "The only love that sticks around," as the Rabbit reflects towards the end of the book, "is the love you let go."
(Book: The Rabbit & The Squirrel; Author: Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi; Publisher: Penguin)