Book Review by Namrata

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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.

Boats on LandThe 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.