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 centre 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. Crooked Cats 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.
Prologue: Of Two Reigns of Terror
Introduction: The Beastly Tale of the Leopard of Gopeshwar
1. Crooked Becomings
2. Murderous Looks
3. The Cute Killer
4. A Petition to Kill
5. The Leopard of Rudraprayag versus Shere Khan
6. Big Cats in the City
8. Three Beastly Tales to Conclude
Nayanika Mathur is an associate professor in anthropology and South Asian studies, as well as a 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.
"In this captivating book, Mathur offers a sensitive examination of ordinary ethical struggle with cruelties and injustices spawned by human domination of the earth. She writes gripping stories of big cats, mostly from within the villages and towns of Himalayan north India, to bridge the different ways in which the global climate crisis has been imagined, understood, and explained. This is precisely the bridge that must be crossed to reach solutions that are locally meaningful and globally just."
– K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University
"At a time when scholarship is highlighting the phenomenon of extinction, Mathur offers an important intervention that redirects attention from this accelerating absence by focusing instead on imaginatively constituted interactions between humans and animals under threat. Introducing many innovative, intriguing, and witty concepts, Crooked Cats is a distinctive contribution to the ongoing and ever-evolving conversation about human-animal conflict and coexistence."
– Kath Weston, University of Virginia