Disclaimer: I’m a cat person. I love cats, my friends will say I’m obsessed with them. In all probability it’s true. I have three cats at home – in a way that makes cats unique “pets”. These felines come and go as they please. They are fed three times a day, scritched when they want to be, given medicines when they are ill or hurt, and offered shelter when the weather outside is too harsh for nocturnal escapades.
No one remembers how the first cat arrived at our doorstep (sometime in 2014), and, over the years the generous tabby has brought paramours, friends (and adversaries), and kittens with him to share food and affection. Most visitors went away after a few days of staycation, save two. And the tabby, of course.
With time we have figured out their dietary needs and preferences, regulated the timbre in our voices to individually call out to each cat, and averted our eyes when the cats copulate in heat – my mother is of the opinion that it’s easier to host BnB guests than it is to cater to the whims of these felines.
It’s been almost a decade since our cat chronicles began and since they keep coming back to reward us with loud hisses, frequent scratches and bites, and occasionally agree to being held and kissed, we have cautiously come to believe that the cats love us too. A coquettish she-cat, a honey-coloured he-cat, and the original tabby (despite their disapproval) have become the source of our joys, worries, and social media content.
When I learned there’ll be a new book about the likes of me, I cited my three cats as proof of eligibility and convinced my editor to let me review Cat People, edited by Devapriya Roy.
Companions and memes
Cat People is an anthology on the wonders of cats and a means of rectification for all cat parents who have been historically sidelined by dog parents. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs and I love watching them do their silly stunts, goofy tricks, and important jobs as bomb sniffers and police helpmates. Dogs are our darlings and rightly so.
But cats, they are not as lucky. Reclusive and mercurial, they are often seen as hostile creatures who make for less-than-ideal pets – these very characteristics however make them excellent candidates for ever-unpredictable meme cultures. Go figure. Returning to my original point, Cat People is an urgent attempt to (and forgive me for the lack of a better word) “humanise” our feline friends and celebrate them as creatures who love without suffocating.
Through essays and stories, cat lovers and cynics have documented the times in their lives that they spent in the company of cats. Some write fondly about stray cats forcing their way into getting fed and looked after, some marvel at how the animal found a place in their homes and heart despite initial reluctance, and some continue to remain suspicious of a creature who seeks shelter and nutrition but remains averse to displays of affection. The pieces are a fascinating mix that illustrate the range of emotions that these tiny creatures elicit in indomitable humans.
A tale for every cat
Devapriya Roy has put together an interesting coterie of contributors – a Bengal Renaissance writer, an animation filmmaker and illustrator, a radio host, college students, a schoolchild – united in their obsession for cats. My favourite in the anthology, Gayathri Sankar’s “The Cat That Got My Tongue”, is a marvellous story that imagines a cat as a professor.
There are plenty of perspectives to pick from – you could thrust Anushka Ravishankar’s essay at your housemate who’s sceptical of the stray you just rescued and insist on letting it stay, or Maneesha Taneja’s essay on her beloved cat Billo could be the sign from the universe that says it’s okay to adopt cats even if your home is already crowded with dogs.
Sandip Roy’s tale of departures and cats could be the antidote for a friend who’s nursing a heartbreak, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (like the many memes on your Instagram feed) confirms that cats are indeed politically aware and most likely socialists, while Natasha Bhadwar’s memories of her beloved cat Rahat remind us that once you love a cat, you are bound together for life.
While not every piece in Cat People is memorable or remarkably written, all of them successfully convey the many moods of cats and cat people – a mission that the anthology accomplishes with elegance. The book makes for a wonderful read for anyone who loves cats or is intrigued by the mysterious descendants of Bastet. It is a project of love and admiration.
It’s almost 4 in the afternoon and as I’m finishing this piece, I can hear Basanti (the aforementioned coquettish she-cat) meowing to be let in. It’s two hours since she’s had lunch and dinner time is several hours away, I have no idea why she’s here. Maybe she’s figured out that I’m writing about her (cats, especially Basanti, are very intuitive) and she wants to keep me company as I edit the draft.
Basanti has been let in and she’s made herself home on the windowsill. In a while she will doze off or lick her fur clean – the possibilities are endless. She might stay for a few minutes or linger around till dinner is served. She’s welcome to lie on the windowsill for as long she wants and do whatever she pleases, and we dare not disturb her highness. We are just incredibly happy (and secretly smug) that of all the families in the neighbourhood, she chose us to spend her nine lifetimes with.
Cat People, edited by Devapriya Roy, Simon & Schuster India.
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