The Indian Cat – B.N. Goswamy


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The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs is a most unusual book.

In it, renowned art historian B. N. Goswamy illustrates all the varied ways in which cats have made themselves a home in our art, literature, and speech, as well as in our hearts. In the Jataka Tales, cats turn up as characters whose clever tricks or pretensions are generally foiled by the Bodhisattva. In Vaishnava bhakti, when a devotee approaches God in utter surrender they follow marjara-nyaya—the act of a kitten who passively submits to its mother as it is picked up by the scruff of its neck. The Hadith speaks of the Prophet who once chose to cut off the sleeve of his robe when he had to stand up and go pray rather than disturb his pet cat, Muezza, who was sleeping on it. In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana repeatedly charges the noble Yudhishthira with observing the marjara-vrata, ‘cat-like observance’, denoting hypocrisy. Great poets like Mir and Ghalib are known to have loved their cats to distraction, the poet Jibanananda Das saw himself in a cat that went here and there, always following the sun, and Vikram Seth saw the cat as being full of mischief and cleverness but no evil. All in all, on a daily basis, as everyone knows, the feline in India is often addressed with affection.

The Indian Cat first presents a delightful picture of the cat in our written and oral literatures. This is followed by a catalogue of paintings, each showcasing a different aspect of the place accorded to cats in our society. Then there is a selection of poetry about the cat, much of which is translated from a wide swathe of languages including Urdu, Hindi, Persian, and Bengali. The final section presents proverbs, sayings, and idioms on the animal. An enchanting and gorgeously designed book, The Indian Cat will appeal to a wide array of readers.


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