Book: The Hundred Names Of Darkness
Author: Nilanjana Roy
Last year, author Nilanjana Roy’s book The Wildings changed the way I thought about cats, forever. Her debut novel introduced me to the world of stray cats (wildings), who live in Nizamuddin, Delhi, and speak to each other through a telepathic network using their whiskers. After reading the book, each time I came across one of the many cats in my apartment complex, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were talking to each other about me and other Bigfeet (humans). And it wasn’t just me; fans of The Wildlings claimed to have similar thoughts each time they passed a cat.
In the first book, we were introduced to Mara — an orange furball brought up by humans and looked down upon by the strays. Mara’s story about growing up to become a responsible Sender — a cat who can transmit strong signals and travel far and wide while physically staying in one place — was overshadowed by a fascinating battle between the cats and the ferals (vicious, bloodthirsty cats).
This second book, The Hundred Names Of Darkness, brings focus back on Mara’s journey.
In the second book, Roy takes us back to Nizamuddin, in the aftermath of the battle between the ferals led by Datura and Nizamuddin’s strays; the effects are still being borne by all. As the strays limp back to normal, they face an unexpected enemy: human greed. The Bigfeet’s desire to develop the neighbourhood by erecting high-rise buildings is cutting into the hunting grounds of the cats.
“There had been hope in the air in summer, when many of the Bigfeet had forgotten the battle and its aftermath, the pathetic corpses strewn across the ground of the Shuttered House, the killing that Datura and his ferals had conducted. But then, the old houses had started coming down, and the Bigfeet, who lived in the towering new buildings, had no liking at all for cats, and dogs and small creatures.” The strays now have to find a new home and make the difficult decision of choosing between staying and perishing or leaving behind everything that is familiar and starting anew. As in the first book, Mara comes to their rescue.
The strength of Roy’s first book was in creating a wealth of characters, many of whose stories were explained in detail. There was Miao — the eldest warrior cat and an inspiration to the others, Katar — the leader of the strays, Beraal — the queen who becomes Mara’s tutor and Southpaw — the cat with the ability to always fall in trouble. The sequel has some familiar names and a few new ones.
There is Magnificat — the sender of Paolim in Goa, who becomes Mara’s confidante, Mulligan — the handsome Bengal cat at the golf course, Moonch, Chota Poonch and Chamcha — the over-achieving bandicoots, Doginder — the friendly dog, Thomas — the peacock, who makes Southpaw feel at home on the golf course, and the actually kooky Kooky — a koel, who believes that the Bigfoot are in love with her and attempts to hatch the golf balls that land in her nest.
Reading about the old characters in the new book feels like meeting old friends. However, like old friends, there is nothing radically new you learn about them. Their behaviour is predictable. It is also equally easy to predict how the story will end. After a point the puns tend to get a little indulgent, the preaching even more so. The first book had the suspense build up to a crescendo culminating in that deadly battle. Here, the battle seems tame and the ending a tad too saccharine.
A lot of passage is wasted on a story Beraal’s recounting of The Hundred Names Of Darkness fable. Instead, it would have been more fascinating to focus a little more on the life on the golf course and the animals understanding of the game of golf.
This is not to deny that A Hundred...is an engrossing read. Prabha Mallya’s illustrations are splendid and Roy’s comfort and familiarity with animal and bird behaviour and their world is obvious in the manner she treats the little problems they face — the stubborn young cheel who doesn’t want to fly, the cats inherent mistrust of Bigfeet, and so on.
Roy’s animal kingdom certainly begs for a movie series.