She has written a full-length novel from a cat’s perspective. And yes, you read that right. Writer Nilanjana Roy says she grew up with what she chooses to call the “classic attitude” towards animals. “I grew up with an indifference towards animals,” says the Delhi-based literary critic and journalist, who recently released her debut novel The Wildings. “The affinity for animals was always there, but I really didn’t think about their feelings,” she adds and wonders out aloud why there aren’t too many books about species other than humans.
Set in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, the book revolves around a pack of telepathic stray cats, a house kitten named Mara, (Roy’s own cat who inspired the book), and the incidents that follow when Mara meets the strays. “I love walking around a lot,” says Roy, “And because of the cats at home, I started to look at the animals on the roads,” she adds, . “We first had one cat and as more cats joined the family, I started looking at the world from their points of view.”
What started off as a short story many years ago slowly began taking shape. At the risk of sounding “admirably disciplined”¸ Roy says she thought she might as well finish the pending chapter where she’d left off halfway, “And one cat led to another and there was a sudden realisation that it was not just a few short stories,” shesays.
Though she says the world of cats, dogs and stray animals was something she knew quite well, Roy admits that her first draft was “very lumpy” and her editor David Davidar (Aleph) had to point out that she had unconsciously smashed two stories into the same book. As she attempts and fails to explain how much of an editing process went into the book, she decides that figures are the best way to go about it. “I threw out a colony of pigs and peacocks and kicked out the one stray human in the book – it was an animal massacre,” she laughs.
Roy has taken a multiple-perspective approach to writing The Wildings. “It was partly accidental, but it was also partly because of the demands of the story,” she begins. Initially, she wrote from the point of view of just Mara, but when she put on her critic’s hat, she realised that it would be easier for the reader if she included more perspectives. “Just one perspective didn’t work out. It was dead on the page,” she shudders. Roy says writing about animals involves the same struggle that one encounters when getting into the head of a human. “I hope the book does make a difference, however small,” Roy says, referring to the way people look at animals. “To be just a little kinder, it doesn’t cost too much, but it makes a difference.”
Roy is currently writing a sequel to The Wildings, which is published by Aleph and is priced at `595.