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 work moves beyond both colonial and conservationist accounts to place crooked cats at the center of the question of how we are to comprehend a planet in crisis. There are many theories on why and how a big cat comes to prey on humans, with the ecological collapse emerging as a central explanatory factor. Yet, uncertainty over the precise cause of crookedness persists.
Nayanika Mathur's book Crooked Cats: Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene (U Chicago Press, 2021) explores in vivid detail the many lived complexities that arise from this absence of certain knowledge to offer startling new insights into both the governance of nonhuman animals and their intimate entanglements with humans. Through creative ethnographic storytelling, Crooked Cats illuminates the Anthropocene in three critical ways: as method, as a way of reframing human-nonhuman relations on the planet, and as a political tool indicating the urgency of academic engagement. Weaving together “beastly tales” spun from encounters with big cats, Mathur deepens our understanding of the causes, consequences, and conceptualization of the climate crisis.
Sneha Annavarapu is Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Yale-NUS College. To know more about Sneha's work, please visit www.snehanna.com