Posted on October 13, 2015: Read this book and you’ll never look at an alley cat the same way again. “There are no ordinary cats,” Colette, a French writer had once said. And Nilanjana proves as much in her deliciously original first novel.
In The Wildings (2012), you will meet Mara, a feisty little kitten who learns of her great power as the story progresses. You can’t help feel Mara’s confusion and frustration, thanks to Nilanjana’s skilful penmanship. It is when older and wiser Beraal and Miao take her under their wing that the story really gets set in motion.
You will meet a host of wonderful characters – accident prone Southpaw, Hulo, the majestic warrior (many a manly moggie will spring to mind) and the villainous Datura. While the cats from the Supreme Court are named Affit and Davit and speak only in legalese - “My learned self concludes that the kitten qua kitten is a hypothetical kitten.”; there is a whole host of non-feline characters too – mice from the doomed Shutter House; a proud mongoose called Kiri who communicates with the cats in the generic animal language of Junglee and a neglected and abused Alsatian puppy (among others).
The regal cats in Nilanjana’s imagination communicate through their whiskers and telepathically. The way she has dealt with this unique mode of communication will seem convincing to most of us, especially to those who believe cats to be magical and mystical creatures. Cats are known to communicate with each other non-verbally, so there is some truth to Nilanjana’s cat communication technique.
The story offers a cats’-eye view of the Nizamuddin dargah, boali and Humayun’s Tomb which would strike as familiar even to someone not from the city. The zoo and the Supreme Court also feature in this story.
The author has done a wonderful job of bringing an animal-centred imaging of life to Indian literature. Without being cutesy, it is clever. Without being melodramatic, it is tragic and without being a tome, it is an epic. There is love and loss; war and peace and a fight unto death at the end. Those who’ve read Richard Adams’ ‘lapine’ adventure/thriller The Watership Down will be reminded of the rabbits of Watership Down warren and their epic battle with General Woundwort. I read the last few chapters in one unputdownable gulp.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for that book to lose yourself in.