Book: Crooked Cats: Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene by Nayanika Mathur

Big cats – tigers, leopards, and lions, that make prey of humans are commonly known as ‘man-eaters’. Anthropologist Nayanika Mathur reconceptualizes them as cats that have gone off the straight path to become “crooked”. Building upon fifteen years of research in India, this groundbreaking book moves beyond both colonial and conservationist accounts to place these crooked cats at the centre of the question of how we are to comprehend a planet in crisis. There are various theories on why and how a big cat comes to prey on humans with the ecological collapse emerging as a central explanation. Yet, uncertainty over the precise cause of this “crookedness” persists.

Crooked Cats retells the familiar story of big cats that have become predatory (“man-eaters”) in light of the climate crisis. As the effects of climate change become more evident everywhere in the world, this work pioneers how and why human-big cat relations in India are changing due to the ecological collapse. Accessibly written but building on 15 years of research in India, this is an indispensable account of life – and death – in the Anthropocene” says the author Nayanika Mathur.

Despite the inscrutability of big cats, the state has to protect and regulate them with a seeming certainty of knowledge. Crooked Cats explores in vivid detail the many lived complexities that arise from this conundrum and offers startling new insights into both the governance of non-humans and their intimate entanglements with humans. Weaving together stories and events spun from living with crooked cats, Mathur reveals them to be powerful depictions of life in the Anthropocene. They are what she terms “beastly tales” that deepen our understanding of the causes, consequences, and conceptualization of the climate crisis.

Crooked Cats beautifully tells the story of these big cats in light of the climate crisis. Through creative ethnographic storytelling it illuminates the Anthropocene in three critical ways: as a method, as a way of reframing human–non-human relations on the planet, and as a political tool indicating the urgency of academic engagement.

Crooked Cats is that rare book – solidly researched, exquisitely written – that we urgently need as we try to make sense of the brewing climate crisis. In it, Nayanika not only explores the fascinating and terrifying world of ‘crooked cats’, she does so within the larger context of climate change. Urgent and necessary reading for anyone looking to know more about our rapidly changing environment and the dynamic inter-relationships that exist within it” says Swati Chopra, Executive Editor, HarperCollins India

About the author:  Nayanika Mathur is associate professor in anthropology and South Asian studies as well as Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India.