‘Wild Boar In The Cane Field’: A Thorough Depiction Of Punjab’s Rural Life
The story set in rural Punjab revolves around the central character of Tara, who was lost by her mother at a railways station. She is found and subsequently adopted and raised by Bhaggan, servant of the rich landlady Saffiya.
Both the women don’t hide from Tara that she is adopted and in fact reinforce this fact whenever they get an opportunity. Despite being handicapped due to her circumstances, Tara nevertheless is fiercely independent and is prepared to take steps to pursue her dreams and desires. Unlike stereotypical rural girl, she is also not afraid to explore her sexuality and is also ready to make the first move. It is her strength of will and character which also makes her take all possible steps when she is forced by Saffiya to become second wife of an abusive man.
Her decision to rebel instead of subduing sets a chain of explosive events ending in tragedy. The last part of the book is narrated by flies who have been observing Tara’s entire life. The narration by flies is a unique and brilliant touch and allows Rana to switch from first person narrative in order to provide readers an essential background about Tara’s birth.
To be honest, the basic plot itself is not unique. It’s a time old formula of a single person fighting against the odds. But what makes this novel different is the setting in which this struggle plays out. Where Rana is unique is that she brings out vividly what a rural woman, born in adverse circumstances, and handicapped by such circumstances, has to do in order to avoid meeting a usual fate.
Moreover, her central character does not wait for a knight in shining armor but tries to take charge of the situation and in doing so ‘violates’ society’s set norms. When pushed against the wall, she does not act like a conventional ‘virtuous’ woman (the kind which is omnipresent in Pakistani TV dramas) but is ready to steal, and even use the power of sex, to get her way.
Rana’s heroine is not a traditional damsel in distress, but a very strong woman, who tries to fight against adversity, while cognizant of her limitations, in this patriarchal society. She tries, to use whatever options she has in front of her, including the so called ‘forbidden’ tactics. Rana makes Tara, somewhat ‘flawed’ and hence much more humane and believable. In fact, all her characters are complex and multifaceted and therefore appear extremely real.
Another strength of the novel is vivid and thorough depiction of the rural social set up. It is an excellent introduction to Punjab’s rural life particularly for the international audience and even urban Pakistanis. Rana does not “Orientalize” or over romanticize the rural life but tries to paint it as realistically as possible and in doing so brings out the strengths (social support system and simplicity) and weaknesses (religious bigotry, misogyny and classism) extremely well. The book also throws light on the role which shrines play in the religious and spiritual lives of rural people. In a very subtle way, Rana gives the reader the context, in which Tara’s life is played out.
Another area where Rana really excels is the prose. Rana writes simply as well as beautifully and makes you part of the environment in which the story unfolds. She is masterful in bringing out the inner emotions and conflicts of Tara who is the chief narrator of the story. The closing chapters narrated by flies add another interesting perspective to the story. The simplicity of language makes the book highly readable and I was able to finish the book within two days.
Overall, in my opinion ‘Wild Boar in the Canes Field’ is an excellent debut novel by Rana and a must read for anyone wanting to know about rural culture and its women, while enjoying a good story.
The author is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. His research interests are the political economy of development, civil-military relations, and political Islam.