Book Review: ‘The Indian Cat’ by B.N. Goswamy

Exploring India's Endearing Feline Tales and Tails

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Book Title: The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs
Author: B.N. Goswamy
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Number of Pages: 240
ISBN: 978-9395853309
Date Published: Oct. 3, 2023
Price: INR 990

The Indian Cat by B.N. Goswamy Book Cover

Book Review

In “The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs,” distinguished Indian art critic and historian B.N. Goswamy embarks on a delightful exploration of the world of cats in India despite confessing to not being a cat lover. This remarkable work unveils a tapestry of feline encounters, art, and cultural significance, offering a unique perspective on cats and their place in Indian society.

Goswamy regales readers with his interactions with cats and their admirers, like the unforgettable Ursula Dohrn, who considered her feline companions an integral part of her family. His humorous anecdotes about attempting to hold conversations with Ursula amidst her feline entourage provide a lighthearted yet insightful backdrop to his exploration.

What makes “The Indian Cat” even more fascinating is Goswamy’s introduction of Sanskrit terms like “marjara-nyaya” and “marjara-vrata,” which are associated with cats and devotion. “Marjara-nyaya” beautifully describes the surrender of kittens to their mother cat, offering a unique perspective on devotion. In contrast, “marjoram-vrata” introduces the notion of concealing malice or hypocrisy under the cloak of righteousness, adding depth to the perception of cats in Indian culture.

The book emphasizes that while cats in India are often associated with cleverness, ambiguity, and even thievery, they are not disliked but rather cherished. Renowned poets like Mir and Ghalib found affection in their feline companions, and the poet Jibanananda Das identified himself with a wandering cat. Goswamy also touches upon Vikram Seth’s view of cats as mischievous but not malevolent. In everyday life, cats are endearingly addressed with affectionate terms like “mano,” “maaoon,” and “mausi.” This cultural acceptance and fondness for cats offer a unique glimpse into their role in Indian culture.

Goswamy’s curiosity about cats, driven by personal experiences and musings, has culminated in this engaging work. He gathers captivating tales, images, poetry, and proverbs, all centered around domestic cats in India. “The Indian Cat” provides readers with a profound understanding of the multifaceted relationships between cats and Indian culture, even from the perspective of someone who wasn’t initially a cat enthusiast.

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In this book, Goswamy succeeds in weaving a delightful narrative that explores the diverse roles that cats play in the lives and stories of the Indian people. For cat lovers and those intrigued by the intersections of culture, art, and animals, “The Indian Cat” is a treasure trove of stories, paintings, and poems, shedding light on a unique aspect of India’s cultural heritage.

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