As a kid we all loved comic books. I remember spending hours on Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, Phantom and others. The natural expectation is that as you grow older, you grow out of comic book reading and start reading novels. Comic books are for kids. Adults do read comic books but they are called Graphic Novels. However, most of the graphic novels that I had come across were again superhero variety and filled with violence. Not really my cup of tea!
Till I happened to chance upon 'Habibi' while browsing in a book store. The first thing that struck me was the magnificence of the art in each panel. Filled with Arabic style and art, Habibi appeals to you to at least browse it, even if you did not know the story. Each panel seems to have been lovingly drawn by the author who must have spend days to get the detailing right and to carry the story forward. From the marketplace to the slums to the palace or harem and the unfinished building, each frame is a story by itself. Add to that the beautiful manner in which the Islamic explanations and stories have been woven into the fabric of the larger story and you can be reading this 'novel' for hours.
Set in a modern day fictional Arabic country, 'Habibi' is a story of two slave kids - Dodola and Zam - and their struggle to find independence from not just their enslavers but also from their enslaved minds and their feelings for each other. Habibi is a harsh love story that has you rooting for the characters while at the same time cringing at the struggle that they have to endure just to stay alive. Dodola is the elder of the two who is sold to a scribe as a young wife by her father for survival at a tender age. When her 'husband' is murdered, she finds herself at a slave camp from where she escapes with a young year old boy. Her journey takes her through prostitution to a favored concubine to falling from grace before realising her true feelings. His journey takes him through adolescence and first love to questioning his masculinity before finding and rescuing his only love. Through these two journeys, Habibi introduces you to some facets of the Arabic world - some true, some fictional - and your learn to appreciate the freedom that you enjoy and take for granted.
As a love story, Habibi tears at your soul. As a graphic novel, Habibi keeps you glued on each panel looking for some nuggets of magic and daily life.
If you loved comic books but don't like the violent graphic novels, if you would like to know a bit more about Islam, if you want to know how lucky you are in a democratic world; you should read 'Habibi'.
I rate it 3/5 for the story and 4/5 for the graphic content.