‘You don’t know what a clan is, do you?’ said Beraal.
Mara concentrated very hard on tearing up the carpet.
‘Mara, do you know what the difference between inside and outside cats is?’
Mara refused to say anything, though her ears twitched a little. ‘Do you understand why I was stalking you a little while ago, why why any cat from the Nizamuddin clan would try to kill you, Mara?’
The kitten’s ears folded back. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t very nice of you, was it?’
(The Wildings, Nilanjana Roy. P34.)
Years of peace are about to be broken. The Wildings – the cats who roam Delhi – have known seasons of peace. Something is stirring in The Shuttered House. The scent of death surrounds the Bigfoot who lives there. When the Bigfoot dies, the feral cats who live behind its walls will come out. Will they obey the same boundaries as the other animals – the boundaries which keep the relationship between predator and prey respectful?
Into the midst of the Wildings comes Mara, a ginger kitten with special powers. All cats can communicate with each other using their whiskers, but Mara can do more. She is a sender – she can read the thoughts of other cats from a distance, and communicate with other species. She can also travel outside her body.
Most of the Wildings would kill Mara straight off. Beraal fights for Mara’s life. Senders come in times of danger. Will Mara leave the comforts of her home to help the Wildings?
The Wildings reminds me of Varjak Paw – not because it is about cat clans, but because it is about how the relationships between clans change in times of crisis. Instead of a tribe of pampered cats who are invaded when their owner dies, a tribe of cats comes outside, full of bloodlust. I found it strange that the cats were portrayed as born killers. The blame lay squarely with the cats. There was no discussion of the circumstances which led to their state. Everything else was perfect. Like Varjak Paw, the relationships between the cats are well imagined. There are rules which govern the life of an outdoor cat, and rules which govern the relationships between the different species.
As in The Jungle Book, there was interesting exploration of the place of man in a world of animals. In The Wildings, Man is neither predator or prey, but can easily become either. I liked the contrast between Mara’s life as a pampered house-cat, and the life of the tigers in the city zoo. The outdoor cats consider Mara to be imprisoned, but Mara is free to dictate her life. It is the big cats in the zoo who are truly imprisoned. Cubs are separated from their parents according to the zoo’s greed for more tiger-cubs, or want for money. Mara’s home may look like a prison, but its doors and windows are open wide.
Novice writers are often told not to write from an animal’s point of view. The Wildings proves advice is there to be ignored – but it handles the point of view well. Like the best animal books – The Jungle Book, Watership Down, Varjak Paw – it is unsentimental about its protagonists. It respects as animals, as much as it anthropomorphizes, its characters. The is some impeccable observation of feline behaviour – you have it from a life-long cat owner.
The language is beautiful. I was particularly excited to find a snake referred to as a ‘nagini’. This is a book which is exciting for its languae as well as its plot.
Be warned – you will cry your eyes out towards the end, not only for the events, but for how beautifully they are handled. The Wildings is part of a duology, and you will want the second book to hand.