I have never been particularly fond of cats. Dogs, with their utter neediness and hopeless, vulnerable love, have been more my friends.
Years ago, almost two decades ago, I was nicknamed the ‘Cat’ at university. I am not sure why, but I think it had something to do with my inherent sarcasm and laziness – not really an ode to my coolness (Sadly). It’s a nickname that’s still in use, even though I hope it’s now more because I am really a cool cat and not for less desirable sarcastic qualities.
When eager friends show me their cats, I gingerly pat them to avoid offending them. The friends that is, not the cats. The cats don’t care. One friend had three Persian cats, their fur a carpet-like invitation to relax.
They mostly ignored me when I visited him, staring out the window before lounging to his wardrobe for their nap. I admired their indifference to me – not many do that in my life – and it felt oddly comforting. The friend moved to a different part of the city, and in Bangalore, that’s akin to moving to another country. My visits ceased, and the friend dropped out of my life. I rarely think of him, but I do think of his cats.
Just as I remember Hanuman, a dear friend’s beloved cat, who sadly moved on to one of his other lives a few years ago. I remember the cats I read of in books – with Chibi, a particularly annoying memory from ‘The Guest Cat.’ I remember my cats, even if they aren’t really part of my life. I preferred it that way; the cats and I regarding each other from a tepid distance.
Meanwhile, dogs bounded around in my heart, their rambunctious love fulfilling a need I didn’t know I had: to be just loved without condition. They laid their paws on my heart, leaving imprints of their foolhardy ways there. And the cats? They weren’t around before they came back arrogantly into my life last year.
They snuck into my parents’ garden, snuggling their kittens in empty pots. I don’t know why they chose this one house, but that’s what cats do. They decide. We obey. We let them be, even as my mother delighted in their prancing. I never tried to pet them – we never had that relationship, which was kinda cool, if you ask me. If only all my human relationships had learned to give me that space…
And then, there’s the cat that haunts me here in my own apartment.
We passed each other warily on the stairs a few times before I left for my run. I would come back, chased by stray dogs, and the cat would be waiting, never snarling at my ankles as the dogs. I ignored him. He liked that, perhaps.
Because I opened the door one day in the early hours of a cold morning and stepped into something soft and squishy. I glanced down, horrified, to see that my bathroom slippers were coated in blood. The blood of a tiny bird, now unrecognizable. How did a tiny bird end up crushed to death at my door? I live on the second floor in an apartment. Birds don’t come calling to my door, dead or alive. I glanced up, and there he was. The cat. His black and white fur glistened in the dark. Glaring at me. I glared back and slammed the door.
The cat often roamed outside, and I would catch him from my workstation, stalking the basketball court. I wondered whose cat he was because the apartment association wouldn’t really allow stray cats to roam around. But does anyone really own a cat? I guess not.
Once, I left the door open while attending to a call, and he swept inside, not even bothering to knock. I jumped when I saw him near my bedroom, and I don’t know who ran faster: he or me.
A few days later, another bird lay at my door. Tangled intestines, claws sunk in blood. I sighed. The ‘gifts’ came at odd intervals and always at my door. I didn’t know what to do – how do you tell a cat you don’t eat birds, however delicious you think they may be? I grew to open my door warily lest I step into that mess.
One day, on my way to a meeting, I caught the cat digging into a pigeon. He stared at me, challenging me. “Look, this is how you eat a bird,” he seemed to be telling me. I stepped past him. “Enjoy your meal,” I said. He turned, a feather flying into my vision.
And just like that, after a few weeks, the gifts stopped coming. The cat grew tired of my non-response, perhaps. Or do cats do what cats do: Move on?
I can’t say I miss the gifts. My life is better without seeing mangled birds. But when I told my therapist about this, she grinned and said the cat was trying to be my friend.
No, we don’t usually talk cats in therapy, but my therapist has a cat called Idli, who, at that time, was also listening to our session, which led me to stop talking about stale things like trauma and inner child work and instead talk about cats. “This cat considers your home a safe space and is inviting you to be part of its family,” she said, offering her ‘diagnosis.’
We laughed. But later, I realized I liked that. I like being a safe space for someone. And I like being invited to be part of a family. Somehow, without being part of my life, cats have been a presence. I see it now. That I sit at a desk that has a cuddly stuffed cat gifted by a friend. I see it in the cat’s gifts. I see it in the cats who lounge in my parents’ garden. The cats I read in books. The cats at monasteries. I come across cats everywhere, even though I thought I would never want them.
I don’t have a relationship with cats, but they have one with me. And I feel I can purr in contentment at that.