There is a standoff, I agree.
As an impartial visitor to my locality the first thing you notice is something sinister, something bizarre, something secretive going on between us, seeing the manner in which we pass each other in the street, contempt writ large on our faces.
Cats, I hate them. Our hostility goes a long way back.
Those were the days of my inquisitive childhood when I was busy disturbing little bugs and insects that came my way. Boys did that at an age, you know. But one day I grew tired. The millipedes and houseflies I was relentlessly pursuing stopped to give me the kick I used to get from them earlier. They never reacted visibly to my tortures. No drama. No theatricals.
So I decided to take myself to more emotive species around. Why not cats! I screamed and woke up from my sleep one morning! Yes! Cats! Even otherwise I never liked the unabashed manner in which they strutted around naked making an Eden out of our chaste alleys.
There also existed a few unresolved territorial issues.
Back then, cats and little boys shared the same walkways in cities – crests of the compound walls in the streets. But the problem was that there was hardly any space for a two-line traffic. Collisions were avoided at the last minute. “Emergency… Flight A676 on your path. Change your altitude immediately…”
Usually when we had a face-off like that, it was the cats that made a nosedive to the ground in time to save the day. But not always, I agree. When their looks were too grim, dispositions bad, hackles raised, backs arched, asses pried open and locked to the distant Andromeda galaxy, we boys had the wisdom to read that the scene was dark. Very very dark. Quietly we climbed down the wall on the pretext of chasing an imaginary dragonfly in an imaginary courtyard (See, I could be stronger than a cat. But in a high-altitude brawl the feline advantage is huge. They fall, they land on their four furry legs. We fall, we fall on our clavis, scapula, femur and humerus).
And also on rare occasions when the veteran cats woke up from their long slumber to take their rounds we boys slunk back to our studies much to the amazement of our parents. Have you ever seen very very old cats? The ones we got us in our alleys bore deep scars on their faces – trophies that spoke volumes about their gory fights in the past – their whiskers hung down at the far ends with wisdom, their cold and opaque eyes never for a moment admitting advice from elsewhere.
So when they came heaving their overweight bodies along the crest of the walls, even time could do nothing, but stand still, its second hands resting on its sides. The venerable old cats! All they could make for a smile was a deep guttural purr which we heard as : If you want to kill kill. But make sure boys: YOU KILL (BGM).
Despite all this, there existed in our street an unwritten agreement between the two species: no-first-attack. Until that fateful day when I broke it.
While tiptoeing along the narrow wall I saw a white cat with splotches of grey resting on the roof of our outdoor toilet. I looked away disinterestedly. But… isn’t it cute, innocent, a sleeping cat? Vulnerable? I looked back at the furry opportunity wasting away before my eyes. I sneaked up to the unwary animal from behind. To do or not to do! I don’t remember how the thick stump of a coconut leaf, a petiole, a dried olamadal, got to my hands finally.
Cats! How they overreact!
The one I pummelled, instead of turning its head to check who its enemy was and what caused the sudden pain, skipped the procedures and shot up to space, to some orbit cats only could reach in a state of panic. I counted. Four seconds it stood there, up in the blue sky, with limbs first splayed, but then gathered together after the initial daze and were now up running at a frantic pace even without a ground to push back. I couldn’t hardly catch the flash touchdown on earth and the cat’s frenzied leaps into the bush.
Wow! What a piece of action it was! This is drama! This is theatre! I screamed.
So the next time I sneaked up to a cat I had all the boys in town behind me, curiously lined up on the parapet wall. Bang! The cat bettered the record of the previous one much to the amazement of the crowd. Wow! They cried for an encore. You’re right Manu! There is drama in this game!
Curtains suddenly fell on all sorts of catnap in our street. A cat that dared to close its drowsy eyes in the afternoon invariably ended up in space, wildly screaming, paws writhing, and worse, totally clueless about a sudden intergalactic flight it didn’t pay for.
Excited, one of my friends tried to break new grounds.
He pummelled a sleeping street dog, threw his club away, arched his head, and screened his eyes against the harsh morning sun to see how far the dog had gone. The dog hadn’t gone one bit. My friend had a weird sensation that the beast didn’t even start at all. He checked the immediate earth below. Well, the dog had a good purchase on the ground when the club came hard on him and now it had the same purchase on my friend’s calf muscle which was coming out in slender ribbon-like pieces of red meat. Leaving an obstinate rocket behind, for the first time in aviation/artillery history, it was the rocket launcher that finally took off to the air with the shrillest voice we’d ever heard in our childhood.
Retribution waited for me too.
It was one of those days when I had an exam. SSLC exams, I remember now. Early morning I ran up the stairs at my home to the terrace with a textbook in my hand. I needed a last minute brush up.
On the final landing, in that broad space where I had to open a door to the balcony, a sudden movement caught my eyes. I turned. Uh-oh. I stood face-to-face with a cat-mom lying on the floor with her kittens. A mother tending her new-borne babies can have a field-day on any intruder: Jungle saying. Cannot complain. Before I could explain SSLC, I noticed that the cat-mom’s back had arched, its ass positioned so as the crosshair falls on the distant Andromeda galaxy.
The smooch was long and hard, bordering on French kiss, with the only difference that instead of tongue, I got its incisors, molars, premolars in my mouth. Finally wisdom arrived, I mean the wisdom teeth of the cat. Whiskers were free.
You want to know how I reacted, eh? Buzz off!