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Why did you write The Rabbit & The Squirrel?
It was a gift for a friend who was leaving the country; it was something to remember our shared time.
If it was a private gift, what made you publish it?
Accidental good luck. I read it out to an artist friend, Stina Wirsén, who offered to illustrate it, and a private thing found a more public form. The book was published by Hemali Sodhi at Penguin Random House—a close friend and ally who also worked on The Last Song of Dusk. This book was entirely a consequence of friendship.
The fable as a form has timeless appeal. What life lessons does The Rabbit & The Squirrel offer?
To remember there are few equals of our heart, and imagination; if we are lucky to meet them, then hold on to them. Love knows no form, gender, age.
Is your latest book at least partially autobiographical?
Why haven’t you published a book for a decade? What’s kept you busy?
I head an arts foundation in Goa. I design houses to pay my bills. I write little pieces and do photography. The idea of being defined by what one does, does not appeal to me.
You’re a bonafide globetrotter. Have your travels shaped the book in any way?
Travel is a way to resign to the world’s terrifying beauty, which can be a form of healing. If I hadn’t gone to Stockholm, where I read the story to Stina, how would this book have come to life?
Describe Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi in one word?
THE RABBIT & THE SQUIRREL: AN EXTRACT
The Squirrel had rejected all her suitors. She had said the Chipmunk was ‘a dentist’s nightmare’. The Owl was ‘wise but creepy as hell’. Moreover, she told her friend the Rabbit, ‘We keep different hours, although that could have been the best thing about the marriage.’ When the Rabbit had suggested a young gazelle, she held up her paw and remarked, ‘You trying to hook me up with someone for whom “playing the field” is a survival tactic?’ She cocked her left eyebrow.
‘Oh, Taily-boo, what will become of you?’ he asked her.
‘I’ll live high up in a tree, avoid everyone and drink in the afternoon.’
‘You won’t see me either?’
‘Perhaps,’ she said, although she was holding on to his lucky foot for dear life.
One day, her parents suggested a suitable—and titled—boar from a wealthy family.
‘You want me to marry a filthy wild pig simply because he’s loaded?’ she shrieked, hoping to shock her parents.
‘Yes,’ they said. ‘And because it is time you were married.’
A fortnight earlier, her mother had hosted a charity gala for orphan palm squirrels and expected her only spawn to attend. But, much to her chagrin, she saw her daughter make tracks from the gala dinner. Later, she was spotted with the Rabbit at a local bar, tap-dancing drunk on tables and whatnot.
Her parents had been annoyed and distraught. They had lost much sleep over the Squirrel’s affinity for the Rabbit, whose reputation as a rake and castaway was notorious.
In protest of her arranged marriage, the Squirrel shut herself in her tree house for two days, oscillating between rage and sorrow. She hated the phrase ‘Time you were married’. It made her feel as if she were a can of beans with a sell-by date.
‘That’s what you make me feel like,’ she later complained to her mother. ‘A reduced-to-clear item on the shelf of a discount supermarket.’ Her mother told her to comb her fur and appear to meet with Count Boar, who was expected with his family in an hour.
‘I hope to be dead before then!’ she howled, but her mother did not hear her.
While she waited for her future husband, she put to good use her skill as an expert roller of joints. She appeared for the meeting with eyes so glassy that it was only fair that the Boar described her to his loutish buddies as ‘angelic, divine—as if she wasn’t really there’.
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