Nilanjana Roy's novel about stray cats in Nizamuddin, The Wildings, has won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize this year. If you haven't read The Wildings, you're lucky. The Wildings is a gorgeous book, thanks to Roy's storytelling and Prabha Mallya's illustrations, but it ends on a note of suspense that all of you who didn't read The Wildings last year have been spared since the sequel just came out. This means, the moment you finish The Wildings, you can plunge into The Hundred Names of Darkness, while the rest of us had to wait a year for our feline fix. The sequel to The Wildings is titled The Hundred Names of Darkness (click for an excerpt). Here's what you need to know about Roy's second novel.
Book No. 2 is not as pretty as The Wildings
Mallya's illustrations adorn the beginning of every chapter of The Hundred Names of Darkness, and they're beautifully crafted. However, there's no comparing the look of the new novel to the stunning visual effect of The Wildings. Unlike The Wildings, in which the illustrations were an added layer of storytelling, The Hundred Names of Darkness is a more conventional novel, with Mallya's drawings popping up at predictable moments and simply illustrating elements of the story.
The cats are back, and they've got company
The Wildings had other animals making special appearances, but the cats were definitely the stars. The stray cats Beraal, Miao, Southpaw, Hulo and Katar made a fierce and charming supporting cast to Mara, the adorable orange fuzzball who learns she is a Sender (meaning she can telepathically communicate with other cats and is a dab hand, er, paw at telekinesis). All the cats who survived The Wildings are back in The Hundred Names of Darkness, along with a few gorgeous additions like Magnificat, the huntress from Goa.
But that's not all. The Hundred Names of Darkness is a delightful menagerie, with other animals who are as cute, cuckoo and charismatic as Mara and the cats. Adding their barks and squawks are, among others, Doginder Singh, an abandoned Alsatian who has dubbed himself Ferocious Attack Dog (with a tail on the fluffy side, if you please); Thomas Mor, whose grand peacock family has been patrolling Delhi Golf Course for generations; the cheels Tooth and Hatch, who is Tooth's son and prefers waddling on the ground to flying. We've also got a soft spot for the Viceroys, a bunch of crazy goats who are mentioned too briefly for our satisfaction.
House hunting is a pain
While The Wildings was about coming together and fighting for home, in The Hundred Names of Darkness that same home is under threat. As Nizamuddin changes as a neighourhood, losing its greenery and gaining construction projects, it becomes more and more difficult for the strays to survive. For some of them, the idea of leaving Nizamuddin is unacceptable; it's the only home they've known. For others, it's a question of survival for themselves and their young. Finding a place to stay as a human in an Indian city isn't easy and it's just as hard for stray animals.
In contrast to the crackling energy of The Wildings, The Hundred Names of Darkness is a quieter novel that is touched with the melancholy that comes from knowing you belong somewhere, but can no longer it home because the place has changed to render you misfit.
Roy doesn't balance out the gloom or darkness, but she does give the reader enough moments of sweetness and humour to leave you feeling hopeful rather than sad.
In the end is a new beginning
Or so we hope. There's a sense of finality to the end of The Hundred Names of Darkness that will disappoint fans who would like to have more stray adventures in Roy's animal kingdom. However, Roy is being Sphinx-like about the possibility of another book about the stray animals of Delhi, so we'll just have to twiddle our thumbs and wait. For the time being though, the story of Mara and the cats of Nizamuddin has come to a neat end, which is yet another reason to get yourself copies of the two books.
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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2013 14:20:16 IST