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The further adventures of Nilanjana

Kishore Singh 

Southpaw, the curious kitten who could never stay out of trouble long enough to say “Miao”, was tense as she broadcast a message on the linking bandwidth calling for an immediate assembly of the Nizamuddin and dargah cats at the baoli. “Everyone, now!” she ordered, causing Hulo the warrior and Beraal the queen to twitch their whiskers in indignation. “That little…” Hulo began, “…pipsqueak kitten,” ended Katar, their anger bubbling over the bandwidth. “It’s probably an emergency,” Beraal soothed their ruffled coats over the network, “Southpaw, explain yourself.”

But Southpaw, who was hurrying along the lantana hedges that hid her from the canal pigs, only breathed heavily. A family of squirrels chittered excitedly out of her way, and above, the cheels wondered what was happening as, led by Beraal, the other cats began to follow, ignoring the dogs in the park and cutting across the oblivious Bigfeet “It is probably because,” Miao, their late Siamese elder, used to explain, “they lack whiskers.”

The dargah cats disliked morning assemblies, and Qawwali was quick to speak his mind. “You better have a good reason,” he began to growl, sounding to Southpaw’s anxious ears less like a cat and more like Ozzy the tiger who, already a legend that had been translated in Junglee and posted on the Nizamuddin web, had saved the day when the ferals of Shuttered House ventured out to claim the rich pickings of the colony without abiding by the rules of hunting, leading to a massacre. It seemed such a long time ago, thought Southpaw, was it only last week that the cheels and crows, the mongoose and even the mice had come to the help of the cats as the ferals had begun their murderous assault?

Sensing their impatience, Southpaw turned to Qawwali. “The sender,” he said, “wants to meet us.” There was a moment’s silence. The wildings were suspicious of pampered insiders, but Mara had earned her claws when she joined the fight against the ferals and swung the battle decisively in their favour, even though the casualties had been high. Yet, Mara had never before ventured out to meet them. “I didn’t know what to do,” her nervous voice now boomed into their ears. Levitating before their eyes was an orange kitten. “You must be Hulo, and you Katar, and hello Qawwaliji, Southpaw has told me about you…” Before Mara could say any more, Beraal cut her short, “Come to the point, Mara.”

The kitten took a big breath. “It is my Bigfoot — she’s called Nilanjana, by the way,” she finally said, “I heard her say she is writing about us in a book.” “Impossible,” Beraal spat, “you must stop it immediately. Your Bigfoot once wrote a column – that is something they post because they can’t speak Junglee,” she explained to Southpaw – “that led to other Bigfeet messing about our affairs for weeks. No,” she hissed, arching her back “it must be stopped.”

Qawwali turned to address the cats, “I heard it on the Junglee web that the last time a Bigfoot called J K Rowling wrote about our kind, it caused so much interest in the animal kingdom that the unicorns went into hiding and haven’t been seen since.” “The only creatures to be troubled were the owls,” explained Hulo, who fancied himself an epic star, “because the Bigfeet can’t tell a flubberworm from a fire slug, or a centaur from a nogtail. I’m okay if your Bigfoot wants to record the annals of my hunts. Do you remember the night,” he continued, “I took on a pack of rabid dogs?”

“No,” said a new voice, “but do continue.” Levitating beside Mara was a strange apparition, a Bigfoot with curious eyes and a strange box in her fingers with which she kept pressing keys. “I’m sorry,” said Mara, “but when I was practising my sendings, I sent Bigfoot Nilanjana by mistake to the Shuttered House when Southpaw got into a fight for life with Datura and Ratsbane and Aconite, and ever since she makes me send her to observe you at odd times.” “In my book,” said the Bigfoot, which they understood because Beraal was translating what she said into Junglee, “you are already heroes and heroines.”

“But if you have already written — what do you call it, a book,” said Qawwali, “why do you still come to our world?” “Because I need to write a sequel,” explained Nilanjana. “We’ll see about that,” growled Hulo, “after we review what you have written. As for you, Beraal,” he said, fluffing his tail, “you have clearly failed to explain the code of the wildings to Mara.” “The council will meet next week to decide on Mara’s punishment,” agreed Qawwali, “for now,” she dismissed the Bigfoot, “you are free to go while the faqir reads the book to us. Should we like it, we will decide when, and how, you can meet us again. But should you have erred, you can be sure that all the wildings will be summoned to shed their fleas on you. Now, off with you,” he ordered Mara, “and remember to take your Bigfoot with you.”

Nilanjana Roy
Aleph; 312 pages; Rs 595

Nilanjana Roy writes a weekly literary column, “Speaking Volumes”, for Business Standard

First Published: Wed, August 29 2012. 00:05 IST