MB Recommends: ‘The Wildings’ by Nilanjana Roy
Best known amongst littérateurs for her blogging, Nilanjana Roy seems an unlikely candidate to wrest the mantle of cat-based artistic accomplishment from YouTube. With The Wildings she has scored one for books. A prolific columnist and editor but a first-time author, Roy has given us a hair-raising read that wears its print proudly: an entrancing fable in the tradition of The Rats of N.I.M.H. and Watership Down. Unlike its predecessors, The Wildings arrives in our post-Potter era of blockbuster crossovers, in which “childish” subjects no longer consign a novel to the Young Adult shelf. David Davidar’s Aleph Book Company has deftly walked the YA line, lacing Roy’s absorbing narrative with powerful illustrations by Prabha Mallya. The result is a beautiful book fit to curl up with.
The Wildings centers on a clan of Dilli billis—Roy couldn’t resist the phrase, either—inhabiting the Nizamuddin dargah. The cats maintain an intricate culture: a form of singing evocative of qawwali; rules of deliberation and of dueling; fables providing ethical guidance for the hunt. This tribe of sage but undomesticated animals superimposed on the Delhi humanscape was prefigured by another recent debut, Samrat’s entertaining The Urban Jungle. One sometimes wonders why other species should behave so much more nobly than we do, but it’s no wonder that they should fear and scorn us. Roy’s cats refer indiscriminately to humans as “Bigfeet” and sneer at their feline cousins occupying pampered indoor sinecures.
They also possess powers of perception and communication unfathomable to humans. Each species, we learn, inhabits a separate world. Birds of prey, as explained to a kitten, “don’t see the empty sky we do. They see roads and pathways and intricate webs that tell them where to go, and how far away they are over the tops of the trees, and when to swoop and when to hitch a passing current.”
Roy’s tale romps through a Delhi populated with scale-tuned songbirds and sophistry-spouting Supreme Court Siamese. But like the best children’s stories, The Wildings turns on episodes of savage violence. These animals take pride in their bloodsport. Perhaps in deference to a younger audience, Roy’s language sometimes feels stifled. She invariably has sparring cats “scrabbling”—suggesting a fantasy that, having gained the gift of speech, they will also begin to share her preference in board games.
Though as kittens they playfully seek out other creatures, the elder cats are mindful of the draw of nature, “the silent songs of instinct, the calls that ran in the blood”. As a parable of community and trust, The Wildings provides meagre grounds for optimism in our ability to communicate across cultural divides, or even through the generations. But that, as they say, is another story.
The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy, Aleph, Rs595. Buy it from Flipkart.com.Tags: book reviews, Books, MB Recommends, Nilanjana Roy, The Wildings