A classic 1920s postcard featured an illustration of a bespectacled youth with a cloth-bound volume in his hand asking a simpering young woman whether she liked Kipling. Her reply: I dont know, you naughty boy, Ive never kippled. When it comes to
The Jungle Book,
among those whove kippled are Neil Gaiman (
The Graveyard Book)
as well as the writers at Disney. Now, there's Samrats
The Urban Jungle
which, as the title indicates, transposes Kiplings characters to a metropolitan setting. An interesting premise, but let down by fuzzy execution.
Prepare to meet Jimmy Mowgli, grandson of the original feral child. This naïve lad leaves his family in Haripur to arrive in New Delhi. A sensitive fellow, he finds it hard at first to blend in, and this leads to moments of gentle satire on the ways of the metropolis.
Soon enough, Jimmy makes both friends and foes. Among them, the panther-like Heera, the affable Balu, the lone inspector A Kala and the menacing poacher Shamsher Khan. Jimmys allies include a faction of the Bandar-log, whose president lives in Rashtrapati Bhavan, no less.
The prose is pleasant, barring the occasional sentence such as His hormones started shaking and his heart started quaking. Along the way, the focus on the urban jungle dissipates, and the location shifts to an actual jungle. The narrative strand of Jimmys as a star spy in the employ of the monkey republic peters out, and there are other blind alleys, such as his flailing attempts at wooing women. It all comes down to a drawn-out dénouement: a character introduced almost at the last minute, the sleek Kaushal Acharya, sets out with Heera and others to rescue an abducted Jimmy. The original Mowgli, too, gets into the act with a little help from a band of primates, to make the bad guys stop their monkey business. Taking another cue from Kipling, one could say its a Just So-so Story.
Sanjay Sipahimalani writes at