Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Nature Speaks to Us: A Little Kitten's Encounters With Life and Death

THEY SAY cats have nine lives. Maybe. The other day, as I watched a little kitten’s encounters with life and death, I realized there is something in this old saying.

It was a new-born, just a few weeks old, still suckling on its mother who had given birth to five little ones this time. The mother is called Surumi, may be because she has beautiful eyes and she has been a favoured one with kids at home.

I think Surumi invited herself to our house the same way her ancient ancestor had walked into the abode of a tribal family in Mesopotamia, who had settled down to a life of agriculture some 12,000 years ago. Ever since, cats had been domesticated and women and children had a special relationship with them.

So Surumi was part of our household ever since she was a tiny kitten, and when she gave birth for the first time a few months ago, she had a poodle of five. They were living in the small work area near the kitchen and a few weeks later the little ones started playing around in the yard. But soon she lost all the kids for some reason or the other, and one of them got run over by my office car one day as I watched helplessly.

The driver had parked the car in the courtyard and nobody noticed the little kitten which found a nice place to play beneath the vehicle, and as I was coming out of the house, I saw the driver move the car a bit forward and then, a terrible cry erupted and in a moment I saw the blood-splattered body like a soiled piece of cotton behind the wheel.

I was shaken as I witnessed death taking place just in front of me. It was Surumi's last surviving offspring in her first delivery.

So this time, as she got pregnant again, I was keen she had better luck as a mother. She gave birth to five again, and one of them simply disappeared a few days later. Probably the stray dogs on the prowl might have made an excellent meal of her. These days the street-dogs have developed a taste for blood as they feed on slaughterhouse waste, dumped everywhere.

She was living happily with her remaining little ones and, everyday as I watered plants in the afternoon, I watched with amusement their play in the garden, often running and fighting and then training themselves in climbing up a tree or trying to catch a fly or a lizard. Surumi was not only a good mother, but a vigilant guide and a watchful teacher.

Day before yesterday, as I was sleeping I heard a soft mewing after midnight in my bedroom and I realized one of the kitten had got trapped in the room. But it was afraid of me so much that as I tried to coax it out, it withdrew deeper into the recesses of the room. Early in the morning, she got wind of her mother and ran out of the room, like an arrow released from the bow.

I remember it was the one with a long black line on the back of her white fluffy body. It was a weakling, often preferring to keep herself close to mother, while her brothers and sisters played around.

My wife was away and I had to get some breakfast ready before the children went to college and so I hurried to the kitchen. As I was working, I heard the same soft and weak mewing again, this time more terrified and pathetic. I looked around, but there was none to be seen. The mother and kids were there, but this time one of them was missing: the black-spotted one again.

It was surprising. The terrified mewing was heard continuously, but she was not to be seen. I searched all around and as I looked into the well in our little compound, I saw her precariously perched on the small round ring just above water.

So she had managed to fall herself into the well. It was unbelievable. The well has a protective iron ring around it with small holes and above it my wife had kept a wire-mesh net to stop leaves falling into the water. It was simply beyond me how she had got over all these obstacles to fall into the well.

But I had a rescue mission on hand. There was no way to climb down the rings and try to rescue her for two reasons. First, I could not go down easily because it is beyond my physical powers and secondly even if I went down how could I get hold of her? She was so terrified and surely she would struggle and might even jump, and that would mean both of us ending up in the water.

It was a tough to decide what to do. Then my friend Devadas, a historian who incidentally has written about Poochakkanam, the cat tax that Arakkal royal family in north Kerala had imposed on the beaches to protect the cats, rang up. He suggested sending a bucket down and trying to coax her to jump into it. I had requested Sujith, another friend, to come and help me in the rescue mission and we both got the bucket ready and tried our luck.

The bucket went very close to her and of course she knew it was a rescue mission. She touched it with her paw and as it moved a bit, she withdrew again in fear. It happened a few times.

Then I thought we should keep the bucket there and allow her to take her on own time. Let her decide whether she must choose life or death. And summon the courage to act. So we tied the rope on the iron grill and waited...

A few minutes later, she decided to take a chance and jumped into the bucket. She landed safely at the bottom of the bucket and then she lay there like a piece of cloth, wet and shivering...

Now as I write this, I can see her playing in the garden, happy and without a trace of the terrified look I had seen then. But what keeps me wondering is how she got my message. How did she guess the bucket that came to her was the proverbial ship in the deluge, that hand of God coming to lift her to safety and deliverance? Is there a universal language that helps all beings to be in communication with each other? I keep wondering about the mystery of mother nature as I see her there.


JS Adoor said...

Chekkutty, this is an excellent piece of writing- good enogh to be a part of an English text book in the school!!


I enjoyed it thoroughly, so tender and moving and so well written.It has all he elements of what is called a 'light essay' in English-you know, Lamb, Hazlitt, Beerbohm...Thre is drama, suspense and concern here and the discovery about the survival instinct that nature has so abundantly given its creatures..

govindan kutty said...

oh, how thankful i am, you took me back to our own cats, whom we once loved like children, and then decided enough was enough. they were so attached, so affectionate, and, then, contrarily, so loveless. the span of their attachment is so short. in an anthropocentric fit of rage, i curse them for forgetting us so fast.

i admire them, i wonder at their love, the mother cat's play with the kitten, her protective concern, her training for the young ones to climb a tree and catch a prey, even taunt the captured prey as it writhes in pain, i wonder at it all, and then i wonder with dismay when the mother goes her way, the kitten theirs, sometimes indulging even in what we humans call incest.

you brought back all those memories. thank you, chekkutty. we kept leaving our house now and again, and we had to decide to force our cats to find another abode. we had gone through the trauma of watching a mother and her kitten starving to death in our cupboard which we had not opened for a month....

you reminded me of che guevera, on whom i was asked to write a small piece in all my ignorance, whose essay on a murdered puppy moved me no end.

you reminded me of desmond morris and his handbook on cats, catwatching. poocchayaaNinnente dukham keeps ringing in my ears, though it had a lot to do with more than cats.

you reminded me again of whitman who said i would rather go and live in the midst of animals, they do not fret and fume, they do not discuss their duty to god, they are not demented by the mania of owning things.

you brought back so many memories of love and unconcern. thank you so much. and keep giving me such fun. so long.

Mohamed Salahudheen said...

A rescue mission means a responsibility. You did it very well sir. With prayers,

enkilo pant said...

Theme is good. Lot of room for improvement as far as style of story telling is concerned.

Marakkar said...

Your narration about the kitten took me decades back to my childhood where cats were around me as naturalised pets. Many generations (!) of cats enjoyed living in our household. Often I got to sleep listening to the purring lullaby of the fluffy stocks, some off my shoulders and another on my palm.

They lay guard to my mother's fish pot from the foraying chicks for that they will get the head and tail when she cut the fish. No wonder, they are entrusted as she has trained them. Eating time in the kitchen, I too seated on the ground level, they gather around me, mewing and prodding with head and tail to incite me to share, where half of my provision will go to them. Salted dry shark fillet, my favourite of all fish dishes, will never go off my hand. That day one of them has realised that waiting is futile, after long tail-brushing, prodding and mewing on my face, and the last piece of shark fillet is going to go. All of a sudden, he dared to pick the piece from my bowl and chomped twice. A loud cry erupted from me made him put the chunk back to my dish! Back on my senses, I returned the piece. I did not know how happy the kitten was about, however, it gave me a life long lesson; share the stuff that the most one likes.

They dig ground and cover droppings. Wakes me up to open the door to go out or even some managed to open window hooks of their own. Cats are more attached to the place of living than to the people. A cat will make a comeback even if sent kilometres away. What I watched is cats never like to die in their living place, will crawl into bushes away as much as possible.

This country of scorching sun and sand where we live in the air-conditioned cubicles of high rises hasn’t got the grounds for rearing pets naturalised. Alley cats are all around here but they are treated too coarsely. I feel sorry for my children who had no chance to pet them.

Abu Dhabi