Animals and I
|Kunju's longing was mine too|
I had an attitude of profound indifference to animals. I neither loved them nor hated them. I wouldn’t pet them, nor would I hate them. They didn’t ever draw my attention enough to extract from me even the esoteric attitude of Fritz Perls: “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.”
That was until a cat, which I named Kittu eventually, came along. Kittu was an abandoned cat. Abandoning cats is quite common in the village where I live. When people cannot afford to look after all the kittens that are born to their cats, they abandon the kittens on roadsides. I espied Kittu in the backyard one morning and ignored it assuming that it would go away by evening. When I returned from school in the evening, the cat was still there in the backyard lying under a tree and trying to assess me with a stealthy look that only cats and women can give.
“Come,” I said. I felt pity, nothing more. The cat accepted my invitation instantly. It ravenously ate the food Maggie gave. It never left us after that. Initially I wouldn’t let him cross the door of the house. “Outside is your place,” I told him every time he tried to enter. He was given enough food to eat and there was ample place outside for a cat to sleep. It was only when Maggie insisted that I conferred a name upon him.
“He’s not well,” I told Maggie one day. “Let him sleep inside tonight.” Somebody from the neighbourhood had poisoned Kittu. He must have entered their kitchen more than once during our daytime absence from home caused by our job. His nausea, helplessness and visible agony caught my attention. For the first time in my life, perhaps, I realised what compassion really meant. Kittu’s agony became mine. I consulted a cousin who is a vet and got Kittu the antidote he needed badly. He recovered. He became my first beloved pet.
A year later another tiny kitten walked into our life. It was not even old enough to be weaned from its mother. I hesitated to take him in. But he walked in from the roadside where he was abandoned in the twilight. He refused to leave me wherever I went. I called him Kunju [Little One] instinctively and gave him all the attention he required. And he required quite much of it because he was so little, so helpless, so innocent.
The two cats together altered my attitude to animals altogether. My indifference metamorphosed into love. I pampered them and Maggie accused me of spoiling them when they began to show disinclination towards vegetarian foods. I bought fish just for them. They were not particularly fond of the cat feed I got from the nearby supermarket. Fish was abundant in the village and my cats had their fill every day.
Cats don’t love you unconditionally. Only dogs can do that, I learnt eventually watching my brother’s dogs. Not even human beings and their capricious gods can love like the dogs.
Kittu became jealous of Kunju. The jealousy in his eyes was visible and palpable. I took Kittu in my lap – which he loved and accepted with a unique purr – and told him, “You are my first love. But Kunju is too small to be left to himself. You shouldn’t be jealous of the attention I give him.”
Kittu didn’t understand that. He stayed away from home for long periods. He stopped coming home in the evenings for days continuously. One day he disappeared altogether. The villagers told me that he was spotted a kilometre away one day. I couldn’t find him but. I miss him even today, months after his disappearance.
Kunju had a more tragic end of which I wrote earlier in this post: A Requiem for my cat.
These two cats together had made me a better human being as no other human or god ever could. They extracted tenderness from my heart.
They taught me how infinitely better animals are than human beings. They revealed to me the profundity of Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself, 32: “I think I could turn and live with animals…”
Today the Indo-China border reminds me yet again of the infinite superiority of animals to human beings.