Sunday, October 24, 2004

Remembering Sandy

“We must remember. They are a part of us, aren’t they – those we once knew?”

This line from M G Vassanji’s elegiac The In-Between World of Vikram Lall keeps coming back to me and now – I’m not sure why, maybe it has to do with the torpor-induced melancholia of a quiet Sunday afternoon – I’ve been thinking about Sandy. About how it’s been over 10 years since he left us, whether he might still possibly be living somewhere in one of Saket’s colonies, not too far from our house (or, for all one knows, miles away in another part of town – for cats have a knack for travelling long distances under duress, and little Sandy was very frightened that night in early 1994 when he shot out of our house for the last time, driven away by our older cat Kittu, whose exclusive male preserve he had begun encroaching on).

But on the off-chance that he is alive, he would be very old in Cat Years, and that’s a thought I can’t bear – Sandy being old. I’m still only 27 myself! It wouldn’t be right.

Sandy entered our lives yowling sometime in June-July 1993 (haven’t checked my diary for the exact date). My mother and I were visiting relatives and had just hailed an auto to go back when we saw this little ginger-coloured thing, not more than 20-25 days old, looking up at us through astonishingly bright, intelligent eyes. Lots of things about him were surprising: he had a remarkably bushy tail even at that age, and an incongruously gruff, guttural voice for such a beautiful, delicate-looking kitten. Picking him up and taking him home was an instinctive move, and came more out of our concern – there were cars tearing about on the road at the time – than anything else.

There were breaking-in problems. On getting home and actually thinking about what we’d just done, we worried about how Kittu might react, but things went off surprisingly well on that front (there being no threat to Kittu’s sole-bachelor-in-colony status at the time). We fed Sandy milk with a dropper and initially fretted that we might have separated him from his mother when he was too small. When he started teething, I happily offered him the entire length of my left arm as a chew toy (for weeks, all you’d see on that limb were several parallel red lines and fang marks).

Have you heard of a cat on a leash? We weren’t yet ready to let Sandy go out by himself the way Kittu freely did; but he was a stray after all and needed to explore the wild occasionally. So every morning (very early, 6 am or so, before I left for school) and every evening I would take him down for 15-20 minutes on a very long leash (a couple of them tied together). I even gave him his first rudimentary lessons in tree-climbing; okay, that’s an exaggeration but I would goad him up the trunk of the solitary tree of note in our park and watch (still holding on to the leash) as he cautiously tested branches.

Would it be too sentimental to admit that I learnt a lot of things about responsibility and care during my time with Sandy? When Kittu first came into our lives a few years earlier, he was almost entirely my mother’s responsibility – except for the tummy-rubbing, which I helped with – and it mostly stayed that way. With Sandy, I had a coequal role to play: in the feeding, the walking, the providing of general entertainment, the collecting/disposing of sand for the kitty litter. I’m not comfortable with the idea of using a fixed set of experiences to conveniently explain a human life, but I think I did grow a lot as a person during those months.

I’ll rush through the rest of it. Once Sandy was a few months old and started going down by himself, it became obvious that a dangerous rivalry was fomenting between him and Kittu. Things reached a point where if they were both in the house at the same time, they had to be kept in different rooms, which caused much tension for all of us. Eventually, there came an evening when we had guests over, someone got careless, the two cats had a brief scuffle in the living room and we hurriedly allowed Sandy out the door while keeping Kittu locked within. Sandy never returned. I spent 15 minutes each morning for the next two months or so scouting all the familiar spots where I used to take him walking, but with no luck.

Sandy was with us for only a few months compared with Kittu’s 8-odd years, and it might seem strange that I feel a greater ache for the former. To a large extent, it has to do with the lack of closure. Kittu was with us for a cat-lifetime, or nearly that. We watched him progress (?) over the years from being a reasonably lithe young cat into an undignified, burping mound of corruption and laziness; gluttonous, hang-jowled, scruffy and torn from the occasional tom-fight. And when he died (in 1998, from a kidney ailment) we knew about it. I found the body, buried him in a spot just outside the house. There was completeness, and a sense of a life full-lived. None of that with Sandy. His time with us was so ephemeral, it’s still easy to wonder whether we dreamt him up.

Anyone who believes it’s possible to be as close to an animal as to another human being will know that it’s completely pointless trying to explain or defend the feeling to someone who can’t empathise with it. So I’m leaving countless things unsaid here. Suffice it to say this is a more personal blog than I ever intended to post on this forum. But it just happened, and I’m sort of glad it did.


  1. Your blog on Sandy was fantastic... I adore cats... they're my friends and to be honest I'm addicted to my three kittens (people call them mini-tigers) and my four cats. This must be the fifth generation or the sixth generation of cats in the house. Mother cat is now seeing Maamu cat though earlier she was going around with the grand-dad tomcat. There's also the touch-me-not daughter cat who unfortunately lost one of her kittens and decided to become the surrogate mother to her nieces and nephews. It's a complete soap opera happening out there ... I'm so used to living around with cats now that somehow I prefer them to dogs (horrible thing to say this esp as I call myself a pet-lover)... Oh! By the way, it's an amazing sight when the kittens scare away this stray dog from the main gate of the house ... (I swear this is true)... they guard the house at all times ... we've kept an old cane cabinet in the balcony area and they've created their own bunk beds there... I could just go on and on 'bout them but guess it's best to just stop here...Once again... a fantastic blog...always an amazing feeling to find a cat-lover...

  2. Hi Arjun,

    Just stumbled upon your blog. Thought I should tell you all your articles have a nice flow.


  3. 'Peter'-A poem by Marianne Moore.
    Strong and slippery,
    built for the midnight grass-party
    confronted by four cats, he sleeps his time away--
    the detached first claw on the foreleg corresponding
    to the thumb, retracted to its tip; the small tuft of fronds
    or katydid-legs above each eye numbering all units
    in each group; the shadbones regularly set about the mouth
    to droop or rise in unison like porcupine-quills.
    He lets himself be flattened out by gravity,
    as seaweed is tamed and weakened by the sun,
    compelled when extended, to lie stationary.
    Sleep is the result of his delusion that one must do as well
    as one can for oneself,
    sleep--epitome of what is to him the end of life.
    Demonstrate on him how the lady placed a forked stick
    on the innocuous neck-sides of the dangerous southern snake.
    One need not try to stir him up; his prune-shaped head
    and alligator-eyes are not party to the joke.
    Lifted and handled, he may be dangled like an eel
    or set up on the forearm like a mouse;
    his eyes bisected by pupils of a pin's width,
    are flickeringly exhibited, then covered up.
    May be? I should have said might have been;
    when he has been got the better of in a dream--
    as in a fight with nature or with cats, we all know it.
    Profound sleep is not with him a fixed illusion.
    Springing about with froglike accuracy, with jerky cries
    when taken in hand, he is himself again;
    to sit caged by the rungs of a domestic chair
    would be unprofitable--human. What is the good of hypocrisy?
    it is permissible to choose one's employment,
    to abandon the nail, or roly-poly,
    when it shows signs of being no longer a pleasure,
    to score the nearby magazine with a double line of strokes.
    He can talk but insolently says nothing. What of it?
    When one is frank, one's very presence is a compliment.
    It is clear that he can see the virtue of naturalness,
    that he does not regard the published fact as a surrender.
    As for the disposition invariably to affront,
    an animal with claws should have an opportunity to use them.
    The eel-like extension of trunk into tail is not an accident.
    To leap, to lengthen out, divide the air, to purloin, to pursue.
    To tell the hen: fly over the fence, go in the wrong way
    in your perturbation--this is life;
    to do less would be nothing but dishonesty.

  4. I felt the need to read this blog again, because yesterday I unearthed a picture of Maria, my beloved Russian-mix feline familiar. A bad moment, I can tell you. Time went into weird whorls and loops without fair warning. Anyway, Maria was my constant companion, till the neighbour's cat Vikram showed up. Vikram, a magnificent ginger Tom, tried to woo Maria, and was sternly rebuffed. Then in true SK-Darr-style, he declared war, and hounded and traumatised Maria till she refused to step into the house, preferring instead to roost in a tree or inside a bush. Whereupon, Vik, who WAS quite loving and cheerful with everyone else, ensconced himself in our house, going to his official home only at mealtimes, or when two burly manservants came to collect him for his inoculations. Time came for us to move...Maria was put in another home, Vikram went back over the wall, I never had the guts to look back or inquire after them, for fear of who knows what... and thats how I know about never getting closure.

  5. This was probably a bad time for me to read this - I hadn't cried all day.


  6. A kitten came into our family's lives one sunny day when the neighbour's cat deposited her look-alike kitten on our doorstep. Blackie, as we called him because of his completely black fur and white socks, got himself adopted into the family to the extent that he forgot that he was a cat and insisted on sleeping on pillows, and had to have the lights switched on if he wanted to go anywhere in the dark and was terrified if he saw any cats in the vicinity. He was a music-lover, mainly a fan of western music and himself had a musical meow, loved gold chains, purses, umbrellas and bright-coloured cloth (and some insist that cats are colour-blind, my cat always went for the bright colours).

    After five years of living with us, sheltered, and just completing his cat-adolescent years, he disappeared within a couple of days after my parents had moved country and he had been left with my brother. I returned the following weekend from my hostel to see how he was coping and to reassure him that we were still there for him, only to learn that he had vanished. It was very difficult not to even know what he had gone through, who had stolen him or who had got rid of him (we had a neighbour who hated cats and my Blackie had got into a bad habit of standing on its hind feet to peep into their windows when the children played or laughed together).

    It was extremely painful and for a long time, none of us in our family could speak of Blackie without a lump in our throats. I have always prayed that either he had found a loving home or that he had died immediately with minimal pain, after his disappearance and that he did not have a hard life on the streets.

  7. I am known in my neighborhood as the person that walks their cat on leash. wow! thought, I was one of a kind.