Being a Woman
I have many friends who are ardent animal lovers and I’ve sincerely tried to follow their footsteps, but due to certain psychological factors, viz fear, I’ve been unable to take my devotion to any great lengths. I love animals, but at a safe distance. I’m especially wary of the bovine section of the animal kingdom. There’s something about these placid creatures which reduces me to a bundle of nerves. I suspect that it must be the blank stare which creeps me out completely. I also have this totally unexplainable notion that when cows see me they’ll be overcome by the urge to chase me. So far, these bovine beauties have been able to resist this temptation and so I remain unscathed.
In spite of my nebulous connection to the world of animals, there are a couple of them who occupy prime space in my memory chest. One of them is a cat called Snehalatha who was my aunt’s pet. The name means ‘creeper of love’ in Malayalam and I’ve never encountered a feline named thus. The name does indicate a tendency to cling but Madame Snehalata came with tons of attitude, like any self-respecting cat would, and with absolutely no inclinations to bestow affections on any mortal. Aunt G used to take tuitions for my friend and myself when I was in college. Along with being a good teacher she was also a brilliant raconteur and used to regale us with amazing stories. In fact some classes were spent more in story telling than studying; something which we whole heartedly approved of. Aunt G stayed in a beautiful old-style house with high ceilings, cool floors and a hodge-podge of rooms. Snehalata was her much-loved feline who had the run of the house. Aunt G also had a dog called Ruby. Maybe it was Snehalata’s absolute sense of supremacy or an inherent sense of inadequacy which made Ruby a slightly sombre canine. He would be pondering the vagaries of life and sighing deeply while Snehalata sauntered around the house with her nose in the air. Aunt G’s younger son was the only person who was singled out for Snehalata’s affections. She would deign to curl up by his side and doze while he gently stroked her. The ‘love-creeper’ had the run of the house while Ruby was let in only at set times.
Ruby reminded me of some people who in trying to prove their love end up causing trouble in their over-enthusiasm. My uncle, Aunt G’s husband, was leading a retired life at that time and his afternoon siesta was sacred. Some days, if we had class in the afternoon, then Aunt G would take care to speak in a lower tone so as to let him sleep in peace. Surprisingly, Snehalata also seemed to sense this and would make herself scarce for a couple of hours. Care was taken to see that Ruby was also kept outside during this time. Once it so happened that poor Ruby slipped inside during the afternoon. Since it was the monsoon season, uncle was cosily wrapped in a blanket and happily lost in the land of dreams. We were writing a test that day and Aunt G had left us to get on with it while she caught up with some work in the kitchen. Any student will testify to the impossibility of keeping awake post-lunch, especially if studies are involved. My friend and I were no different and we were in a somnolent daze more or less nodding off, when the silence of the afternoon was shattered by a roar of anger. My uncle burst out of the room like a shot, spluttering with rage. We knew that Ruby was one of the key players in the drama when he quietly padded out of the room, quickly went to his water bowl and curled up beside it as if he had not a care in the world. Aunt G took some time to pacify uncle and find out the reason for his eruption. Our test was promptly forgotten and we enthusiastically trooped in to listen to his tale. Apparently, uncle had been feeling quite cold and he had wrapped the blanket completely around his torso and his head was the only part left uncovered. Unfortunately he had a generous bald patch which was the only part that was visible. Our darling Ruby completely overcome by love, had given a generous lick on uncle’s head. The poor man initially wondered why his head was feeling so wet. As he was sleepily pondering this strange phenomenon, Ruby generously gave one more wet sloppy lick. One can just imagine the shock to the system when a person in deep sleep is treated like a particularly yummy ice cream cone. But I think our plight was worse because we had to suppress the gales of laughter that were bursting forth within us and utter words of sympathy. The agony of withholding that immense amount of laughter was excruciating. The hilarity of the situation was compounded by uncle’s extremely colourful threats to annihilate Ruby, while the culprit was the picture of innocence. He even managed to look aggrieved as though he was the affected party ! Uncle finally retreated to his room after holding forth for some time on the torture a sleeping man has to undergo in his own house. He was slightly mollified when Aunty G reprimanded Ruby, although only we could see the twinkle in her eyes.
Years passed and I moved away from my hometown on paths dictated by life. I lost touch with Aunty G though I used to get news about her from my parents. Aunty moved to a new house in the same neighbourhood and once when I went to visit her I was delighted to see Ruby lolling around. When I enquired about Snehalata, Aunty G burst out laughing. I was slightly taken aback since that is not a reaction one expects when we are asking about a much-loved pet. Once she had regained her equilibrium she expounded on the reason for her hilarity. In the days when we were studying there Aunty G used to remark on what a loner Snehalata was and how she was not getting pregnant. The matter was not given much importance and we duly forgot about it. It seems that many years after we left, Snehalata fell ill and had to be taken to the vet. Aunty was in a tizzy because her son was not around and she was very worried for her cat. The illness turned out to be something inconsequential, but the vet made a revelation that totally shook Aunty G. It turned out that our Madame Snehalata was not a ‘she’ but a ‘he’ ! Aunty was totally flustered since she thought the vet had done something which turned Snehalata into a tom cat. After remonstrations on Aunty’s part and detailed explanations on the vet’s part, the matter was cleared and it was established that Snehalata had all along been a tom 🙂
So the tale of Ruby the canine, and Snehalata the feline, found a permanent place in my mind. I cannot see a cat without thinking of Snehalata and even the most docile of dogs makes me smile, wondering what mischief they hide within them.