Nilanjana Roy is a popular journalist and writer. She is a regular columnist at Business Standard. The Wildings is her first novel. Not since reading T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cat” have I enjoyed a book about the feline species so much. Nilanjana Roy has woven a magical tale describing the lives of the wildings (stray cats for uninitiated) and other assorted city animals. This lovely book is written without a shade of condescension.
Spoiler Alert:Please skip the following two paragraphs if you don’t want to know the plot.
The story revolves around the wildings of Nizamuddin, which includes several clans that live by strict rules. The cats communicate with each other by linking to a psychic cat network through their whiskers. One night their network is interrupted by the calls of a strange, new cat, called Mara. The calls are very potent, indicating that Mara is a sender, with exceptionally powerful linking skills. The community gathers together and decides that this intruder must be killed. Beraal, an experienced hunter and the clan-queen, is entrusted with this task.
The plan goes of off-kilter when Beraal realises that the sender is a tiny orange kitten, who doesn’t even know that she is linking. Beraal takes Mara under her wings, and teaches the kitten to control her sendings so that she doesn’t disturb the cat networks. Under Beeral’s tender guidance, Mara begins to hone her linking skills; soon she is able to travel to distant places through the psychic link. She even ends up befriending the tigers at the zoo. When a large clan of blood-hungry house cats attack the community, Mara helps the clan in the most unexpected manner.
The story-telling is fast paced and captivating. While Mara and Beeral are the most detailed characters, we meet a host of other wildings, including the naughty kitten Southpaw, The blue-eyed Siamese Miao, and the villainous Datura. Other animals including a reticent mongoose, Kirri, and a brave mouse, Jethro also make an appearance.
Interspersed with the text, are illustrations by Prabha Mallya. These black and white, mixed media images blend beautifully with the text. My favourite is the small drawing of Mara and Southpaw rubbing noses, and the full-page rendering of Mara looking at the Royal Bengal tiger, Ozymandias.
The most delightful aspect about The Wildings is that it is indeed a world of cats, and not an allegorical reference to human societies. In fact, the book rarely talks about humans except to refer to them as awkward, “bigfeet.” However, some of its themes will resonate with all readers, such as Mara’s fear of venturing outside her house, Southpaw’s unquenchable curiosity, and Beraal’s strong maternal instincts.
This book raises serious questions, such as the dangers of isolation and the cause of insanity, however it’s done so subtly that you never even realise the seriousness of the issues. Reading the book is a complete journey of wonder and thrill, right to the action packed ending. However, it lingers long after the last page has been read.
This curious assortment of cats is sure to win your heart, especially if you are an animal lover.