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When Mowgli got a bit tame

books Updated: Feb 18, 2011 22:44 IST
Sanjay Sipahimalani
Sanjay Sipahimalani
Hindustan Times
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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 don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled”. When it comes to The Jungle Book, among those who’ve kippled are Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book) as well as the writers at Disney. Now, there's Samrat’s The Urban Jungle which, as the title indicates, transposes Kipling’s 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. Jimmy’s 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 Jimmy’s 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 it’s a Just So-so Story.

Sanjay Sipahimalani writes at www.antiblurbs.blogspot.com