Purrs of Wisdom

The Hundred Names of Darkness

Author: Nilanjana Roy

Publisher: Aleph

Pages: 310

Price: Rs 495

Halfway through Chapter 2, a discerning reader — especially if she loves animals, with an extra fondness for cats — will come to a realisation: the only way to read The Hundred Names of Darkness, Nilanjana Roy's sequel to The Wildings (2012), a tale about a clan of cats in New Delhi's historic Nizamuddin area, is to accept that, much like the first book, this one is also inconvenienced by the author's inability to see cats as four-legged felines, not quadruped humans. With an (unwilling) suspension of disbelief firmly in place, the reader can then move on, accepting this anthropocentric world in which animals are essentially humans in furry — or winged — form, with human vocabularies and personalities (including temper tantrums); if readers are particularly suggestible, they might even develop a fondness for the many cats and birds and dogs that traipse through the pages.

The sequel cannot be read as a stand-alone book — and this could prove a problem for those who have not read The Wildings. A few months after the great battle with the feral alpha cat Datura and his tribe, the worries of Katar, the Nizamuddin clan's elder, have come true: life is becoming harder for the clan. Once the danger of dog-catching vans, which were called in after the devastation of battle, had passed, the cats (and birds, squirrels and dogs) faced a new threat: rapid urbanisation. The old houses, the trees that offered both shelter and prey, and the parks have been ruthlessly obliterated to make way for towering buildings. The gentle fakir, friend to the Nizamuddin cats, had been forced to leave after the shrine he tended was demolished; without the food he shared, prey dwindling, and the increasingly belligerent Bigfeet — the author's name for humans — the cats have to survive a harsh winter and gear up for a cruel summer.

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