A small band of cats lives in the labyrinthine alleys and ruins of Nizamuddin, an old neighbourhood in Delhi. Miao, the clan elder, a wise, grave Siamese; Katar, a cat loved by his followers and feared by his enemies; Hulo, the great warrior tom; Beraal, the beautiful queen, swift and deadly when challenged; Southpaw, the kitten whose curiosity can always be counted on to get him into trouble… Unfettered and wild, these and the other members of the tribe fear no one, go where they will, and do as they please. Until, one day, a terrified orange-coloured kitten with monsoon green eyes and remarkable powers, lands in their midst—setting off a series of extraordinary events that will change their world forever.
That terrified cat is Mara, a tiny orange furball who lives with the Bigfeet. Rescued from a drain, her first message to the rest of the cats is: “Mara is worried! Mara is all alone with the Bigfeet! They are scary and they talk all the time, and I do not like being picked up and turned upside down!”
That powerful sending makes Beraal almost fall off her perch and set the rest of the Nizzamuddin cats’ whisker’s on edge. For Mara is special; she’s a Sender. While all cats can link up and talk to one another, only a Sender is capable of sending strong transmissions, where its fur seems to brush by the listener, its words and scents touching the listeners’ whiskers. But none of the cats except Miao can remember a Sender among them, and even she wasn’t this strong. Since the Nizamuddin cats cannot place the Sender’s scent, they decide to kill her. Beraal is tasked with the job, but when she locates Mara, she finds herself unable to land the killing blow. Because apart from being a powerful Sender, Mara is also a charmer; everyone who meets her soon falls under her spell.
So Beraal takes Mara under her wing to teach her how to control her powers. On one of her experiments, to see how far she can send, Mara travels all the way to the Delhi Zoo, where she meets Ozzy – a Ranthambore tiger, his mate Rani and their cub Rudra. Needless to say, even the tigers fall for Mara’s charms.
But Senders don’t come along that often – they typically come during times of dire need. The cats can’t figure out why the Sender’s here now, because the going has been really good. Little do they know the danger that lurks around the corner, just biding its time. For when the Shuttered House opens, the ferals will come out. This is a band of cats, led by Datura, who live in the house with an ailing man. Having never stepped out of the house, never smelt the outside, these cats have gone rouge. And it’s just a matter of time before their worlds collide.
The Wildings is a stunning, richly imagined debut by columnist and editor Nilanjana Roy. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that the main characters are the cats and the other animals and birds that live in Nizamuddin. The story is told from their perspective, in their voice and language. And it’s so well done that you’d be forgiven for thinking that a cat learnt how to write and spun this yarn for us Bigfeet!
I found myself staying up well beyond bedtime devouring this book. Then, as I reached the last two-thirds, I started getting distracted – setting the book aside and playing a game of Solitaire or checking my Twitter and Facebook feeds obsessively. Not because the book lost pace, but because I didn’t want it to end! In fact, as I was flipping through the pages looking for an illustration that I’d like to share in this review, I found myself getting pulled into the story again! I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m going to start re-reading the book very soon.
I can’t end the review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Prabha Mallya. Her beautiful work echoes the tone of the story without giving much away if you just causally flip through the book. Apparently, she undertook a textured, tactile illustration process, in which constructing, cutting, taping, splotching, stonewashing and layering featured prominently. And it shows. One of my favourite illustrations is the diagrams depicting a cat’s grooming process – I’ve seen all these actions multiple times a day courtesy my very own furball Pepo!
If you’re a cat lover or cat-owed, you’ll love this book. If you’re not, chances are you’ll find yourself falling in love with (or at the very least, developing a soft spot for) cats. But whichever camp you fall in, go out and buy this book. Now! You will not regret it!