Being a cat lover or should I say cat slave for the last six–seven years, I was quite keen to read the Wildings as it is of course a book about cats. The book is the story of a clan of stray cats who live in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi and includes Beraal, a beautiful back and white “queen” and great hunter, Miao, a Siamese of great dignity and wisdom, the toms Katar and Hulo, and a kitten Southpaw, “rescued” by them and being brought up as part of their clan. They lead a relatively happy life, free to come and go as they like, living under the open sky, having to hunt for their food, and facing a fair share of danger from predators. For the most part, they stay out of the way of the bigfeet (humans) but do get some love and some food from a fakir. They live by a strict code, hunting only for food and showing respect for all life around them, and as a clan they have each other’s backs, always stepping up to support the other when needed. They train little Southpaw, the youngest of their troop and can be strict with him, but they also always protect him and look after him when he gets into trouble (something he is rather inclined to do). I loved the little details that the author puts in of their interactions with their fellow creatures, the environment, like their avoiding hunting the “seven sisters” or jungle babblers, something I’ve also noticed. Each of the cats Roy has created or put in to her tale is a real one, and one can’t help love as well as feel a certain amount of admiration for them. Each of these cats is also unique as are her other colourful creations like the Supreme Court cats Affit and Davit who speak legalese and demand proof.
Into the midst of the Nizamuddin cats, one fine day comes Mara—a little orange kitten with unusual powers, a “sender” which hasn’t been seen for years—the cats are reluctant and wary as a sender is also an omen of dark times to come. But when Beraal actually meets Mara, she can’t help but take to her and, soon takes her under her wing training her to use her powers better. Mara is an indoor kitty, scared of stepping outdoors but goes on great adventures through her powers of telepathy even making friends with a family of tigers—Ozymandias (“Ozzy”), Rani, and the cub Rudra at the zoo. It is also these powers that she uses to help her friends when they need her.
The Nizamuddin cats’ relatively ordinary lives change when a large group of ferals lead by the evil Datura are on the verge of entering into their world and turning it upside down not only posing danger to them but all the other animals and birds in the area, also the bigfeet. Datura and his troop are well flushed out with malice literally dripping from them. They live by no rules and hunt not to eat or defend but just for the pleasure of it. The Wildings must prepare for battle, form alliances, seek help from wherever they can (including the cheels) and face a worse enemy than they ever have.
I enjoyed so much in this book, the writing, the beautiful illustrations (I especially liked how they’re merged into the text in so many places, the bees flying through, for instance), the cats, the stories of their daily lives, their hunts, their code, their whole world, the other animals, squirrels and mice, the magnificent cheels, the tigers, and Mara who was just a little kitten but a very special one (as was the real one on whom she is based—her story appears on the author’s blog). But the author also makes them and their stories realistic, and at times for me it got a little too real (may be a little too graphic too) and heartbreaking (the note on which it ended was somewhat upsetting) and I found myself tearing up and wishing that she had given it a little more of a storybook end.