I’m a dyed-in-the-wool dog-person and I’m being beleaguered by cats. There are swarms of them in the complex I stay in — grey and white, ginger and white, all grey, all ginger, mainly white and even one deadly all-black with green eyes. I raise the blinds in the morning and find I’m being stared at by appraising grey eyes from the bottle-brush tree just outside. Sometimes there are as many as three of them, scrabbling up and down, halfway up the tree, giving the squirrels and birds hysterics. I want to sit out in the sun to read in the afternoon and see that my chair has been usurped by one or sometimes two, curled up like commas. They look at me coolly: “Yes? And pray what do you want? Kindly leave, can’t you see we are resting?” To top it all, I’ve recently finished two splendid “cat-books”: Nilanjana Roy’s The Hundred Names of Darkness and Suniti Namjoshi’s Suki. If I were a politician, I’d declare this was a deep-rooted conspiracy to, dare I say the word, “convert” me into becoming a “cat-person”. The trouble is, even while looking at them straight in the eye, I can’t figure them out or have the least idea of what they might be thinking.
See, with dogs it’s different. You’ll know at once — they’ll wag their tails and slobber all over you and put their paws on you, or raise their hackles and growl if they don’t like you. With cats, all you get is a regulation icy stare, which you think is rude (and unnerving) and then find that they’re rubbing themselves against your legs and purring like miniature steam engines. And then, just as you begin to think, hey they’re quite sweet after all, they’ll stalk off with their tails in the air as if you didn’t exist.
It’s also said that generally, girls identify more with cats than guys do. Both the above books were written by women who love cats. Guys, they say, would rather deal with dogs and their rambunctious ways. And also, I wonder because dogs can be trained to accept and obey orders and if you’re good at giving commands — which most men think they are — will even “roll over” and “play dead” when told to. It’s the sort of thing men like to do not only with dogs but with other men — and women. Catch a cat rolling over and playing dead! If a man were to “get involved” with a cat, it has to be a tiger or lion or leopard or cheetah, though frankly cats are nothing but downsized versions of those.
And maybe there’s this other thing: Cats, they say, like jumping into your lap and being cuddled — no grown macho man will be caught dead doing that. A dog, on the other hand, can be briskly patted on the head and thumped around and will jump all over you, barking joyfully. But, having closely observed the complex cats and their interactions with people here, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s really true. Because here most of the cats’ friends are men: Big hefty men who drive elephantine SUVs and even raucous adolescents, who bang and slam around. They’ve seen these cats grow up from kitten-hood and have developed a rough and ready affection for them, nothing soppy or mushy, mind you. They shout out to them — presumably when their milk is ready — in guttural voices — and the greedy blighters come running.
As for the cats themselves, I think like Garfield and some politicians, they have entered into an unholy alliance with rats: Because rats regularly party in the kitchen at night, which is disgraceful, given the number of cats running around.
They can be affectionate and playful with each other, but when they fight… I witnessed and photographed a catfight once, right in the porch and it was the most horrific thing I have ever seen. They were going for the kill — one looked like half its face had been scraped off with a cheese grater… ears down and flat, backs low, they circled yowling menacingly before launching themselves at each other (I doubt the loser survived).
Cool, independent, moody and able to snub you right royally — that’s what cats are about, right? Ah, but I’ve discovered a chink in their ice-cool armour… The other day, I had chicken soup simmering on the stove all afternoon… When I opened the front door, I found the whole cataphony of them pacing up and down just outside in a frenzy of excitement.
Ah yes, they got the bones.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher. In this column, he reflects on the eccentricities and absurdities of natur.