|Antony and Cleopatra (Dec 2020)|
I was never fond of animals except as objects of spectacle in a zoo. I would prefer a considerable distance between animals and me. I didn't even want pets as they would mess up the place and I admired orderliness. My obsession with orderliness and cleanliness went to such extremes that my wife was convinced that I suffered from OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder].
Three little kittens run around in my house now as if the house belongs to them. Do I love them? How did this happen?
Cats entered my life accidentally. My house is on the roadside in a village. People who find it hard to look after new litters abandon them on roadsides. (Cats seem to have been blessed particularly with a fecundity to multiply like the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore.) These abandoned little creatures cry for a while helplessly, then look around, and finally walk into the nearest house and inherit it. Cleopatra was the latest inheritor of our house.
Cleopatra was a tiny creature that looked more like a famished rat than a kitten when she came. Unlike other kittens, she didn't come to us. We went to her. Her mournful cries rose from the roadside for a whole night and day. The intermittent rains kept me home. Moreover, I wasn't sure where the cry was coming from. Finally my wife pushed me out of home asking how I could be so heartless.
Following the cry that was becoming feeble, I traced the tiny kitten under a discarded piece of tarpaulin on the roadside. There were two of them huddled together shivering and looking hideously frightened. I realised that I wasn't heartless because something melted instantly within me and the tiny skeletal creatures became our guests and in a couple of weeks they metamorphosed into our beloved Antony and Cleopatra.
That was in August last. Antony is no more now. He died fighting a poisonous snake. They killed each other in a dark night two months back under a tamarind tree on my brother's farm. The snake lay dead in the morning and Antony had a slow and painful death in the day which rattled me. I wished nature was less malign. I wished there really was a God in Heaven so that all was right with the world.
Cleopatra littered three cute kittens last month. "Do you want to adopt one?" I asked a female colleague who enquired after them having seen a post in my Facebook timeline. "You want to add the burden of a kitten to all those I already have?" She whined. "It's okay," I said placating her, "I offered you a part of my heart and if you don't want it's fine," I said. She laughed.
But I was pretty serious. I mean the kittens were becoming a part of my heart.
Cats tame you, you don't tame them. It was none less than Mark Twain who said, "Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the leash. That one is the cat." In Kerala where I live there's a saying that the cat will sit on the throne if it is in a palace. Cats have a greater sense of entitlement than our most narcissistic politicians. Look after a dog and the dog will think you are a god, as Christopher Hitchens said. Look after a cat and the cat will think it is the god.
I learnt all these and a lot more about cats after they became the gods in my home. I read about cats, their food habits, likes and dislikes, prejudices and phobias, illusions and delusions, menstruation and mating, littering and kid-rearing. I learnt to administer Bendex and Carmicide. Most of all, I learnt patience and humility. Dogs look up on you and cats look down on you, said Winston Churchill who added that he loved pigs because pigs treat us as equals. I prefer being looked down on by Amar, Akbar and Antony. Oh, those are the names of Cleopatra's kittens until I learn to identify their genders.
Neil Gaiman will scold me now. He will tell me that we people need names because we don't know who we are. Cats know who they are and so they don't need names. That's one thing about cats you shouldn't forget: they know everything. And they are smug about it. They are connoisseurs of self-knowledge and philosophy. If you don't believe me, adopt a kitten and see. I can give you one or even two if you want.