Cat’s Got My Heart

The cat went on a sabbatical recently. A break from his routine of sleeping, eating, grooming itself, occasionally chasing a grasshopper down the garden, meditating and generally screaming for food at the kitchen window. Perhaps he wished to see more, more than what this home and garden would allow him to. Maybe during one of his meditative trances, he had a moment of epiphany (or perhaps it was while being chased or beaten up by other neighbourhood strays) wherein he realized what a comfortable, sheltered little existence he had; and that in order to come into his own, make his mark in the world, he would have to challenge himself, push his limits, face his fears, dare to go beyond, well, the garden.

Or maybe he just lost his way back home from the dustbin.

In any case, my mum woke up one day, and he wasn’t screaming at the door. He didn’t ‘apparate’ when the fish-wala came around either. Nor did he maul the old uncle next door for chips in evening – as he always does when the devout tambram lights his holy lamp at the tulsi vrindavan every evening. Obviously, the family was tensed. Even the uncle next door, who spent majority of the cat’s life despising him and subsequently feeding him chips in the evening, seemed perplexed. This had never happened before.

Let me tell you something about Tyson: He has never gone away. He isn’t a house-cat, but he does treat himself like one. He wandered into our building along with a litter of two others, and I, ecstatically scooped them up and adopted them. My mother begrudgingly so. As they grew up the others went away, probably died too, but Tyson survived (D’Uh, he’s Tyson, after all) at our doorstep. We fed him, played with him and wiped his poop. Well, okay my mom did most of the feeding and the wiping of the poop, but we helped. A bit. So since then he’s always been with us.

He’s quite a cocky cat. And a darned good-looking one at that. I’m yet to see a cat as good-looking as Tyson. He’s like got the perfect face that’s makes him look incredibly cute & vulnerable at all times. The patterns of colours on his fur are distributed symmetrically and optimally to produce an instantly aesthetic appealing visual everytime he sits or sleeps or does just about anything. He’s got the cutest meow. And since he’s been fed by us his whole life he lacks any kind of survival skills whatsoever. To be precise, his only defense strategy is my mom and her broom.

Tyson has spent a large part of his life growling at, and in turn being chased or getting beaten up by our other, older cat – Coco, as well as any other stray in the society. My guess is they’re all jealous, of his obvious good looks and lifestyle. And also because he makes very good entertainment – can’t fight to save his ass, but makes a hell of a racket. He’ll be down on the ground, paws up in the air, growling and screaming for all he’s worth until someone from the family comes and shoos away the molester. I guess the other cats just get a kick out of it.

Obviously then, to find Tyson gone poof one fine morning was worrisome. I mean this is a cat who knows nothing about surviving in the big bad world. The only hunting skills he possesses is screaming in the morning, jumping into the fishwalas basket, mauling our neighbour’s dhoti and at times, climbing the iron grill on our window in a bid to find a way in. He’s never caught a thing in his life and wouldn’t last more than 5 seconds in a street fight. We were quite worried.

And most of all, everyone missed him. Terribly. Even my dad, who’s a self-proclaimed dog-lover and cat-hater. My mom found her mornings uncomfortably quiet, my dad had nothing to complain about and no one to cuss at and my brother had no one to be mean to.   They also honestly believed that he might be dead or injured pretty badly. You see, pesky as he was, he was a part of the family. We knew what he liked, what he didn’t, what he would be doing at any given time and how he would react to a given situation. Just the way we know our family members. Every morning he was there, and every night he was there too. We talked to him, talked about him. We laughed at him, and joked about him. When he made a mess we yelled at him. When he got sick, we got worried. He was, in every way, one of us. And then to suddenly see him gone was a nasty shock – one that no one was prepared for.

Eventually, 5 days later, while standing at the door one morning, my dad saw a cat limp into the society gate at a distance, looking scared and bamboozled. Instantly my dad knew – that’s our cat. So he walked to the edge of our garden and whistled lightly (This is probably Tyson’s only surviving skill – he can recognize our voices anywhere). He looked up, saw my dad and started mewing like his life depended upon it. Obviously, this caused some of the stray dogs in the vicinity to descend upon him (Tyson never really possessed much common sense) and my dad had to show considerable aggression to get rid of them. Eventually my dad, okay – get this, my dad ACTUALLY PICKED HIM UP in his ARMS and brought him home.

Tyson seemed worse for wear. He was thoroughly shaken up. Even had bits of fur missing – probably the result of pulling a very stupid stunt of some sort. (Overconfidence is his biggest flaw). The family was obviously very happy, even the neighbour – I can’t say the same for Coco, however. Yet, Tyson remained disoriented and slightly jumpy throughout the rest of the week. One would have thought that he’d be all relieved and thank his lucky stars for being reunited with us – ‘home, and safe – at last!!!’. But that did not seem to be the case. Far from it, in fact. He’d become terribly thin, and yet, seemed to have lost all his appetite. My mother found it quite upsetting when he didn’t ruin her morning cuppa with his howls. Dad cussed at him for not being gratefully joyous. My brother got irritated because he couldn’t be mean to him when he was looking so pathetic. By and by though, things got better.

Or rather, stranger. Tyson had, well, changed. He was quieter, calmer. Almost sombre. He didn’t mew as much as he used to, nor did he get into unnecessary trouble. He kept to himself. At times, I almost thought he couldn’t recognize us. It saddened me. But everyone was glad he was still there. And to be honest, my mum didn’t really miss the morning ruckus.

He also started going out of the garden a lot more. Not away, but OUT. For the entire day. And return in the evening as if it had been his routine the whole time. I was surprised, to put it mildly. To be honest, I didn’t like it one bit. My cat was becoming wise. And independent. It didn’t suit him. I liked him silly & stupid & vulnerable. This newfound sense of identity was getting right onto my nerves. I mean, if I called him, he’d look at me, and then look AWAY. As if to say, ‘Yeah, whatever. See ya.” Well, HELLOOO!! But that wasn’t even the worst part. The Worst part was – he no longer liked to be petted or played with.

He no longer liked being stroked till he was comatose; he would no longer latch onto your foot if you tickled his underbelly. He would no longer entertain our non-sense. Basically, he just plain ignored us. Like we were some senile family members he had to put up with. I absolutely hated it.

Absolutely. I wanted to smack his cute little face for this insolence. Walking about with his tail in the air, sitting on our stairs with his back to us, looking at us for exactly 2 seconds when we called only to completely ignore us; actually refusing, REFUSING to become a puddle of fur when scratched at the neck and basically pretending like he was better than us. But god forbid we refuse to feed him. He growled like we were offending his very existence. It was just not a very nice time for me. I wanted to throw him to the dogs. Really.

Then one day, I was sitting on the stairs, staring, at well, nothing in particular when Tyson actually decides to get up from where he’s sitting and actually come sit next to me. And get this, he’s sitting so that his underbelly lies along the side of my foot, touching me. As if to say, ‘Here, I won’t let you pet me any longer, but you can have a feel of my underbelly if you want because I’m just feeling so generous & affectionate right now’. Wow. Thank you. And, although I’m not exactly proud to say it, I pretty much lapped up the chance – careful not to move in case he gets irritated and decides to get up and go back to his spot. Sigh. The things one does for those one cares about.

So there we are, sitting foot to belly, in complete & utter silence. I tried to avoid looking at him. But after some time I found myself wondering if he’d stopped breathing because he was SO freakin’ still. So, very silently, with as minimal movement as possible I put out a hand and stroked his head. He purred. (God, I’m so gullible)

I was quite elated (Internally. There’s no way I’m letting this wretched, ungrateful feline know exactly how much this meant to me) So I pretended to absent-mindedly keep stroking him, and I wondered – ‘how did we come to this?’. When did things change? What happened to him – when he went away? I wish I could know. I wished, with all my heart, that he could talk. In English. maybe then he’d tell me – all the amazing, horrifying & wonderful things he’d seen. All the people & cats he’d met. Where he’d slept, what he’d eaten. Who he’d humped, (if he had). What walls or trees he’d climbed. Whether he’d met some other girl or boy, who’d taken him home & fed him. If someone had gushed over his cuteness while he licked his paws. If people had been nice to him, or if he’d just been jaded by life. I wondered if he ever thought of us – or missed us. I wanted to know what made him back. I wanted to know – so much.

But there are things that we will never know, that we can’t. Or rather, things that do not become known to us, in the way we’d like to. I had known this cat all his life, but now, I couldn’t know the very things that I really wanted to about him. I could just guesstimate. And well, accept. That he’d changed. And that he was here. And in that moment, purring and resting his underbelly on my foot, my cat taught me what it meant to ‘be cool with it’.

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