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Beyond the Horn: Exploring Masculinity and Self-Discovery in Children’s Literature

A Rhino’s Horn revolves around Robbie's journey of self-discovery, confronting his masculine insecurities without the symbolic horn of his species

Farhan is a social impact consultant at Sattva Consulting. He has contributed to engagements across thematic areas of education, public health, gender equality, livelihoods, and climate change. He has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Statistics and has pursued the Young India Fellowship in Liberal Arts with Ashoka University.

His first book, The Self in Our Times, published in 2021 comprised a collection of seven stories, focusing on the themes of love, home, human connection and the uncertainty of modernity at large. He has published various fiction and non-fiction pieces on different platforms.

We spoke to Farhan about his latest book, ‘A Rhino’s Horn,’ and his inspiration for the unique theme of masculinity, as well as the development of the main character, Robbie.

Robbie’s journey of self-discovery revolves around overcoming the lack of a horn. What inspired you to explore the theme of masculinity through this unique physical attribute?

I was quite drawn towards the symbolic potential of a horn given how it is often used as a means to dominate and intimidate in a rhino world. On one hand, it represented some of the most stereotypical aspects of masculinity, and on the other hand, the fact that the species of rhino are heavily poached only for their prized horns somewhere also revealed how we as humans perceive animals from a distance. I think the horn felt like a strong universal motif to convey how superficially we attach value to things and get carried away by conditioned beliefs. The lack of a horn also proved valuable in exploring the true nature of personal strength and how little it has to do with traditional masculine notions. Robbie’s journey was about recognising where this strength lies within him. I intended to nudge young minds to reflect upon their conditioning but without preaching any direct values, and I think a powerful symbol like a horn becomes an effective way to communicate such ideas.

The book subtly touches upon several themes like friendship, self-compassion, and the loss of a loved one, was there any specific personal experience that influenced these aspects of the story?

I would not trace the story to one particular experience but rather an amalgamation of episodes over many years. Like Robbie, I too possess a drive for perfection and it was also a tendency that developed due to a difficult childhood and experience of bullying.

I also recently lost my grandfather which taught me a great deal about the nature of grief and how it contributes to empathy and growth. My friendships have been some of the most intimate relationships I’ve made in my life. All of those elements somewhere came together and I think the act of writing this story became a point of catharsis in my journey. There was a sense of liberation in me when I finally finished the story.

Beyond the personal journey of Robbie, do you hope to convey any broader message to children on navigating through the complexities of today’s world?

I have come to realise there is so much wisdom in a child’s way of thinking. As an adult, I had to unlearn things to be able to write for children. It was quite a humbling experience to let your armour down and learn to speak the language we’ve forgotten over time. Adolescence is a turbulent phase for children, and Robbie’s journey was supposed to mirror the mayhem inside most young adults at this stage of life. They also find it increasingly hard to communicate the changes they are feeling internally and externally, often creating a rupture between them and their parents. I think such stories can help children acquire a comforting vocabulary to express their angst and alienation and realise where their self-worth really lies. I like how Bell Hooks put it; living should be rooted in a form of “love ethic that transcends fear”. I believe meaningful connections founded on love help children preserve their wise souls.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka