It was not a bright sunny morning when the cat appeared at my door. The weather, nostalgic about its better days, was in a very bad mood. The clouds hung precariously from the sky like the bottoms of those fashionable sagging pants that are ready to drop at any time. And there was greyness all around except for the amorphous pile of white fur at my door.
I didn’t open my door for her- why should I?! – I never invited her in the first place (I am not even sure whether the cat was a he or she; but I just like to think of her as a she). I like to keep my place to myself. So I just ignored her as I ignore all those salesmen and unannounced relatives with their earnest knocks and calls. Eventually they all leave. But not this hirsute persistence; she somehow found her way inside. And I could do nothing about it. Rather I would not do anything about it –I would keep on pretending there is no cat in my house and after a day or two the cat out of frustration or out of boredom or out of disgust or out of my pretension will be gone and done away with. After all, cats are such attention seeking creatures. Show them no attention and they will be pushed to a narcissistic existential crisis.
At least that is what I thought.
But this cat had not taken after her illustrious Egyptian ancestors – the ones who needed to be deified, canonized and even mummified; she rather appeared to be one who instead must have played with the yarn balls at the feet of some Greek rhapsodizer (say a Zeno or Seneca). The rhapsody had rubbed on her as well and she had become a sage immune to misfortune – a week of my pretension notwithstanding, she was still there. Not only was she there in my house, but she was all over it – cat scratches, cat turd, cat hair, cat smell, cat noises, cat marks…She was taking over!
Something needed to be done.
I decided to put in use my problem solving training.
Step-1: IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM
The cat in my house, I wrote on a piece of paper, is my problem. There was no use pretending she is not there. Step-1 was lucid and clear on that point. No use ignoring and pretending. Must be honest about it, and brave.
Step-2: MAKE A LIST OF POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Now here I was at a loss. I don’t know much about cats except for my ignoramus generalization that ignoring salesmen, relatives and cats drives them away; which in any case was not applicable to this cat. So it was better to get a brief knowledge about them before I could think of possible solutions. A kind of brief, ready-to-use, pocket sized handy knowledge. The type usually found in “A practical guide of the first kiss” or “A handbook of good living”.
I opened my laptop and googled PRACTICAL BOOK OF CATS. In response the “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” was the only book that appeared on the screen. I was impressed by the name; Old Possum seemed to be a kind of fellow who must have raised generations and generations of cats and must know his stuff pretty well. I downloaded the book (the fact that it was available free online coaxed my choice) and started to read. To my utter disappointment it was in verse. Of all the things written, poetry is the most useless. I mean what do they write poetry for anyway?! But then I realized all the great books ever written in the history of mankind are in verse. Even religious ones too. And my admiration for this Old Possum grew. He wrote a book about cats in verse!
And thus I read the first chapter, “The naming of Cats.” The title itself suggested practical utility. Before anything else, a cat must have a name – yes it must. Old Possum says naming a cat is a difficult matter because a cat must have three names – first a familiar everyday name, second a particular name that does not belong to more than one cat and third a name that only the cat himself/herself knows and will never confess. Now it was clear that to spend time on the third type of name would be futile, the cat would never confess it to me; as for the first two types I was in a quandary. See, I could choose a familiar name for this cat like Alonzo (as Old Possum suggests) or the name of some old forgotten aunt but the thing is this cat is not familiar to me. For all I know she could be no cat at all, she could be some alien sentinel sent over to study a human specimen before their invasion (a biological drone, if you may) or she could be a cutting-edge super secret robot designed and developed as a prototype of some future weapon and being tested right now. Or she might just not exist at all, maybe she is just my idea of a cat. She might even be someone else’s cat with a name already, who had just lost her way (and fidelity).
Now if I name her that would mean I am appropriating some element of familiar traits or characters to her (like the sloth of my long forgotten aunt) that in effect means she would no longer be the cat she is. As for the second ‘particular name’ it was once again the same problem. I could name her Bombalurina (as Old Possum suggests) or after my childhood crush but then again it won’t do. I don’t love her (remember I am trying to get her out of my house). There is nothing that binds us in a knot of trust and intimacy. If I give her the first ‘familiar name’ and the second ‘particular name’ it would just mean to remove her twice from her reality. Now that won’t do. That definitely won’t do because this cat is my problem not a Bombalurina or an Alonzo.
So I persist with calling her ‘Cat’.
As for the rest of the book, frankly I just read a couple of chapters more. Old Possum was definitely losing his marbles after that brilliant first chapter. It didn’t make any sense: his Jennanydots and Macavities and Old Gumbie cats. And it surely was not of any use to me. Poetry…puff…didn’t I say how useless it is.
Never judge a book by its cover. And never judge a book by its first chapter as well.
I shut down my laptop and returned to my problem. Step-2 of my problem solving was going nowhere. I stripped bare and went in for a shower. I always do that when I can not decide what to do. 2 minutes later I cried, “Eureka! Eureka!” and I rushed to my kitchen where I grabbed everything eatable – from the shelves, from the fridge, from the containers and threw them into the dustbin. Every last bit of it. No I am not crazy and this was not done in a fit. Here is my logic:
‘Why did the cat stay in my house after it was made clear on my part that she was not welcome? She had no love for me, that was obvious (and the feeling was mutual). She had no reason to have any attachment with my place. It was built recently and I was the first occupant, prior to that it was a swamp or something like that. So no possibility of a mysterious history or some long-back-connection. I didn’t believe in reincarnations, as for the cat, they have nine lives; so reincarnation for them would be kind of useless. That left only one thing that must be binding the cat to my place despite all the unwelcomeness – food.’
And looking at the way my kitchen was, even if I was a cat I too would have succumbed to the temptation despite the insulting atmosphere and the unsavory treatment all around. So whatever could be delightfully eaten in my house (particularly by a cat), I threw out. I again opened my laptop and typed ‘ANTI CAT FOODS’ in google. At this google went crazy, so I refined my search and retyped ‘FOODS NOT LIKED BY CATS’ and as a (precautionary) afterthought added ‘IN PROSE’. In response I found that there were all kinds of men/women with all kinds of opinion about this. I went through all the links painstakingly and compiled a general list:
LIST OF EATABLES THAT CATS DO NOT (CANNOT) LIKE/EAT (not necessarily in that order)
1 – Cold food
2 – Spoiled food
3 – Nasty medicine tasting food
4 – Water
5 – Alcoholic beverages
6 – High-carbohydrate, high-fat food
7 – Chocolate, coffee, tea and other caffeine
8 – Fish bones, poultry bones and other bones
9 – Dog meat
10 – Tobacco
11 – Raisins and grapes
12 – Marijuana
13 – Poison (all kinds)
That last option seemed the most promising one but I wasn’t too sure about it, so leaving that one aside, I decide to stuff my kitchen with the various permutations and combinations of the rest of the list till the cat leaves. Satisfied, I returned to my shower humming an old victory tune.
At first my new line of action showed some promise. How can I say that? – Well I observed the change in consistency and smell and appearance of the cat turd that I found all over my place (I knew from a pet food ad how the smell and look of a turd tells us about the health and temperament of a pet) but that promise lasted for only a few days. The turd gradually returned to its abhorrent former self and I was left high and dry. I was aghast. What had gone wrong! I myself was feeling the stress of this anti-cat food despite being a human but here was this cat; her turd getting stronger and better each day!
A week later, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of lazy purrs coming from my kitchen. I walked into the kitchen silently and softly to find the cat nibbling at a cold, spoiled nasty smelling sandwich!
It broke my heart. Here I was reduced to almost insanity and half of my weight under the torture of a strict anti-cat diet regimen while it made no difference to the damned Cat! And I got angry. Angry like a tyrant gets before he orders the hanging of an entire village and then dismembers their corpses and burns each part one by one. So I walked up and kicked the cat in the stomach as hard as I could. I expected an angry meow or an angry scratch or anything that would provoke me into more of my anger. But the cat just looked at me; not angry or hurt or disgusted or afraid but she just looked at me. A look that spoke of fatigued fatality – ‘Pah… No use getting worked up dude. It doesn’t mean a thing. No matter what you do, you are stuck with me.’
My knees trembled and I felt my whole body quivering. I rushed back to my bedroom and cried in the dark, “God why me! There are a dozen people out there who can afford to keep a cat, a dozen people out there who would love to have a cat, a dozen people who need to have a cat (the ones who are about to write a suicide note). But You must make a cat my albatross! Why?”
I wept and wept and wept till I slept.
When I woke up the next day I was very hungry but did not feel like eating. And then I had my second eureka moment (with all my clothes intact). Didn’t Gandhi mould fasting into a weapon against unwanted usurpers? Why can’t I? Out went every kind of anti-cat food from my kitchen. Not a single morsel of anything that could or could not be eaten by a cat or me would enter my kitchen till I was done with this cat. No matter how stoic a cat she is, let me see how she adapts to this.
This, I realized, was my final stand.
It has been two and a half days since I have had something to eat. I sit here with almost closed eyes and I am almost meditating, at least this is how I feel meditation would be. I am no longer angry. My mind is free of turbulence like a lake that doesn’t even have a ripple to disturb its peace. There is silence all around and I want silence all around. (Or maybe it is just hypoglycemia kicking in). Just besides me is the Cat, sitting almost like a statue.
We are both hungry.
Shabir Ahmad Mir from Gudoora, Pulwama Kashmir; gets bored every now and then. And out of this boredom he scribbles- sometimes in prose and sometimes in verse; and occasionally in ink as well-blue and black only. Earlier he used to scribble on loose paper leaves of his class-notes (he sometimes imagines that they were fallen leaves of a forgotten tree) but now he mostly scribbles on his Facebook wall.