Delhi seen through the eyes of animals, especially cats

New Delhi: The streets and the dark alleys of the neighbourhood of Nizamuddin here has become an unlikely playground for cats as an entire surreal world has been conjured up in Delhi’s mogul backyard where animals “reign supreme”.

Talking kites and babbling birds add adventure to the delightful cacophony of a new universe imagined by scribe- turned-author Nilanjana S Roy, whose first novel “The Wildings” was launched here recently.

The book takes the reader on a ride through the wilder side of Delhi, as it sees the city through the eyes of animals, especially the cats, whose extraordinary qualities inspired the author to imagine a world, according to them.

“Cats have an unfair reputation and they need to be rescued from that. I love cats and I like the black one too, and it is during my sojourn in Nizamuddin area when I actually began to see the beauty and the hardship in the lives of cats and other animals. And, therefore I wanted to paint a world through their eyes, not ours,” Nilanjana told PTI in an interview.

“We are so busy with our lives, we hardly notice them (animals) around us, but it is while sitting on my desk and looking out of a window and observing a squirrel go about a daily life that the moment of epiphany occurred. I realised their world teeming with its own form of life,” the author adds.

So, why did she choose the back alleys of Nizamuddin as the backfor her characters to “come alive” and not the Chandani Chowk of Old Delhi or the modern Lutyen’s Delhi?

“In the initial drafts I did put the old Delhi but the story then became too large and so I discarded a lot of it. Having lived in Nizamuddin for the past 8-10 years and having seen its intricate layers and different sides, I was too enamoured by its sheer beauty and charm. Fifteen years ago I hated it, now this book, is a love-letter to Nizamuddin, the great mixing world I fell in love with, after seeing it up, close and personal,” says Nilanjana told PTI.

“But, yes, I could have based my story in the fancy Lutyen’s bungalow zone too, as I know every part of Delhi, having shifted through 13 houses in  five years, at some time, while growing up. But, then they would be the ‘diplocats’,” she said, adding a dash of humour.

The 40-something author confessed that she wrote the book “for the cats” out of her sheer love for them while growing up, and that she understood  them so well, she wanted to invent a language exclusively for them.

“This book is for all cat lovers. Not just for kids or grown-ups. Just like Tolkien devised ‘Elvish’ for his ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy I too wanted to have my own tongue but it turned out to be a desperate mix between Bhojpuri and Klingon,” says Nilanjana.

Her book is crowded with character names, drawn from everyday life, and injected with a fresh dose of humour and pun. So, one has a “curiosity-troubled-the-cat” called “Southpaw” and giving him cacophonous company is ‘Miao’ the Siamese cat, ‘Katar’, ‘Hulo’ the warrior tom-cat, ‘Beraal’ the beautiful queen, ‘Ozzy’, the seven jungle babblers, called ‘Sa’, ‘Re’, ‘Ga’, ‘Ma’, ‘Pa’,’Dha’, ‘Ni’ who sing and ‘tweet’ or ‘Neferkitty’ or the cats prowling the Supreme Court’s lawn, aptly named ‘Affit’ and ‘Davit’. The humans have been reduced to ‘Bigfeet’, as seen through the cat’s eyes.

The book published by Aleph has illustrations by Prabha Mallya spread across the pages. The author who grew up reading books across genre from science-fiction to fantasy to classics to non-fiction, among others, counts Neil Gaiman, Paul Gallico, Richard Adams and Bengali folktales, and works of Sukumar Ray like “Abol Tabol” and “Tuntuni” as her inspiration and influences in writing.