Book Review by Namrata
Title: Animalia Indica –The Finest Animal Stories in Indian Literature
Editor: Sumana Roy
Publisher: Aleph Book Company (2019)
Edited by Sumana Roy, Animalia Indica is a first of its kind collection of animal stories in Indian literature. From classic story tellers like R.K.Narayan, Premchand, Rudyard Kipling to the most recent maestros like Kanishk Tharoor, Perumal Murugan, and Nilanjana Roy, this collection features them all.
Sumana Roy is a Siliguri based author whose previous works include a non-fiction title (How I became a tree), a fiction novel (Missing) and a poetry collection (Out of Syllabus). She went on to win the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award in 2017 for her debut book How I became a tree.
This anthology, with its beautiful cover, has twenty-one stories about humans and animals. It can easily be called a collector’s edition with the who’s who of Indian literature featured within. Not all of the collection is made of short stories. There are some poems; excerpts; two are novellas and one is an entire novel in its own. The selection is classic! It includes stories translated from regional languages and from Indian writing in English, with interesting end-notes about the narrative, authors and translators. The magic of the stories makes something written in 1981 an equally intriguing read as one written recently. What makes the book even more eye catching and unique, are the sketches by Rohan Dahotre before each story (he has also done the stunning cover). Depicting the animal/s featured in each story, these black and white sketches set the tone for every tale that follows. Read more
The shortlist for the 2013 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize has been announced. There are six books in contention for this year’s cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh and trophy: Boats on Land by Janice Pariat, India Becoming by Akash Kapur, The King’s Harvest by Chetan Raj Shreshta, The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy, Foreign by Sonora Jha, and A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and Other Stories by Aranyani.
Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings is as much a modern fable as it is a floor-level point of view of cosmopolis, largely through the eyes of cats. Roy “spent most of her adult life writing about humans before realising that animals were much more fun”. The writing itself is cleverly feline and engaging. The tales’ strength and narrative drive urges the reader on, compelling one to go on with the shadowy hovering of cats tailing you to move forward, sure-footedly—and this at the arc-looped behest of a skilled writer’s cadenced baton. The dialogues are well handled and convincing, a task many novelists find hard to get pitch-perfect.
Here is an instance of Roy’s finely stylised phrase-making in the chapter, ‘Kirri’s Dance’: “The mongoose woke with the scent of copper in her pointed nose. She sniffed the air, her beautiful eyes wide and entirely awake; Kirri always went from sleep to alertness without stopping at the frontier between the two.” Or take another example from ‘The Summer of the Crows’: “All through that winter, Tigris saw dark visions. She dreamed of black clouds coming down from the sky until they became shrouds for the wildings”. Not only is Roy’s writing fluent and controlled, it is also exact, almost spare in parts, and understatedly beautiful.
When journalist and literary critic Nilanjana S. Roy took in a stray kitten, little did she realise that the feline would introduce her to her world; one that would lead Nilanjana to pen her debut novel – The Wildings.
Says Nilanjana: “Mara, my cat introduced me to her friends, cats from around the neighbourhood. They had such different and distinct characters. One of them was a tomcat who loved lying on the stairs and look up women’s skirts. Another was an elderly cat who was very maternal and groomed all of the neighbourhood kittens.”
Finding the lives of these cats intriguing, Nilajana began writing a few stories based on the lives of cats and other neighbourhood animals. She stopped writing in 2007 when Mara died.
But then Bathsheba entered her life. “She is a stray like Mara. She is called Bathsheba because she was found in a bucket and needed a bath. She sees my computer as her domain and feels free to change the names of files on it. One day, she opened Mara’s file, entered question marks and sat there with a smirk on her face. That was it, I had to complete Mara’s tale.”
She adds: The various stories on the cats led to the novel. They grew and demanded grooming, feeding and my undivided attention. In that sense, writing’s a bit like having cats; once you’ve brought it into the house, it takes up as much of your time as it can.”
THERE ARE no ordinary cats,” the French novelist Colette said once. Anyone privileged enough to have rubbed noses with these volatile balls of fur will know this is correct, but Mara — an orange kitten in Nilanjana Roy’s debut novel — is preternaturally gifted even by the standards of her species. All cats, The Wildings tells us, can “link” with each other across large distances through whisker transmissions, but Mara is that rarity, a Sender: a cat who can transmit extremely strong signals and even travel far and wide while physically staying in the same spot. Though she lives with humans (or Bigfeet) in a Nizamuddin apartment, her existence poses problems for the neighbourhood strays. When you’re constantly hunting for food and surviving by your wits, it can be unsettling to head, yelling, “Thank you, O Bigfeet, for releasing me from the fell captivity of the fearsome sock drawer!”