Images not for reusing. (Not that you’d want to, with stunning public-domain cat photos all around.)
Images not for reusing. (Not that you’d want to, with stunning public-domain cat photos all around.)
I have tried to understand why the idea of felling the trees in our garden sounds so catastrophic to me. A mix of a number of reasons suggests itself. The four main, large trees that stand there today seem to have been always there, ever since I can remember. It’s not that I have taken any special care of them, for I have never taken any care of them at all. But that is what gets to me: the fact that we have never done anything for them, except perhaps planting the seeds, half in earnest, and then they grew up, tall and strong and majestic and beautiful, all on their own. People have stolen their fruits, bent and broken their branches, threw litter at them, but they have never spoken a word. Once, half of a tree crashed down; turned out it had been infested with pests. We thought it wouldn’t survive. After some very basic treatment, it recovered and went on to give hundreds of delicious fruits for which we earned thanks.
The one at the south-east corner of our garden was out-of-reach tall and awe-inspiringly strong. Some months ago I noticed fibre-like things protruding out of its trunk. It looked diseased. I may or may not have reported it. Either way, we did nothing to help it. Neither did we realise the implications of some people burning dry leaves at its foot, so that its mighty trunk became charred black. And then one day, I happened to look up at its foliage and there was no foliage left.
It was peak summer, but every single leaf on its many branches, those that were still sticking to the arms, that is, were dried brown. Beside the other three in full bloom, the sight was not only unexpected but unnatural—uncanny and ominous.
A confused drama and blame-game followed. Everyone thought everyone else had misunderstood or was misunderstanding. I, I think, behaved inexcusably with my parents for letting this happen. Because it is always easier to transfer the responsibility. Then I decided to at least try to do something. I tend to be drawn to lost causes.
The trunk was charred five to six feet from the ground up. Around the foot of the tree was cinder and dry, grey sand-like soil. I scraped away the ash-like dirt from the foot. Then I started watering the dead tree. My idea, I suppose, was more to apologise to the tree than anything else.
A friend is tenant to the vice-principal of an agricultural university—a very amiable gentleman. I sought his advice through the friend. There was the possibility, after all, that the tree had died because of that undiagnosed disease or both because of that and the fire. I could not ignore a fantastic hope either, that the fire had actually killed the pest or the poison that had been infecting it and that after a period of untimely shedding, the tree would start afresh. But these were distant hopes. The gentleman advised me to keep an eye on the branches. If any fresh leaf appeared, he would prescribe a medicine. Someone else suggested some kind of fertiliser. I stuck to my routine of watering it and the others. For the first time in my life, I was going to our patch of a garden regularly and doing any iota of work for the trees. Occasionally, my cat would follow me, try to play with me, be discouraged by the splashing, wait at a distance and then come back with me. It was peace.
Around a week or so ago, the wonderful happened. No, wrong guess, I did not spot fresh leaves on any branch. I don’t think there are any, though I’ll have to look more carefully. The tree has outsmarted us all. A few inches away from the still-charred trunk, on the now wetter soil, sprouted a little sapling, shiny green in colour, looking as if it has never known what flames are. A few days later, there were two more.
“Will you look at this? How beautiful is it?” I asked my cat, who was rubbing her back against the wall of the house.
Perhaps there was some life left in the roots, and finding the normal channel burnt, it brought itself out through a new channel altogether. Perhaps this too, will not survive. Perhaps it’s not even the same plant. Perhaps it’s a really bad idea to have the plant in that part of the garden, so dangerously close to the foundation of the house. Perhaps it will have to be felled one day.
Perhaps so many things.
Right now, the rains are coming to do their bit.
Sunday is a bad day for a cat to get attacked by a dog or dogs. ‘Get attacked’, I say, following the phrasing one sometimes finds in case of other violences, like, ‘don’t get raped, women, be careful’. But to get back to the cat.
The kitten was playing in the garden, and then it went missing, and its mother began to sound a bit anxious. Couple of dogs were barking somewhere nearby. I saw the dogs. Yes, they could be fighting among themselves, but as I looked, I thought I detected the other pattern. One of the dogs was barking furiously at something hidden behind a clump of bush-and-tree-trunk-and-rubbish. They were also growling occasionally. Is it the kitten, I thought. I don’t know why I didn’t rush instantaneously. Perhaps because I knew that if it was the kitten then everything would be over except the long-drawn-out death, blood, pain, dulled eyes, wailing mother-cat and so on. I think it was pure escapism that made me delay for a couple of minutes. Then I stirred myself into walking hurriedly to the spot.
I wonder if you have ever seen a cat being attacked by dogs. This is at least the second time I have had the privilege. This is the second time I saw the cat completely off the ground, in air. The first time I saw this, the feline victim was in the midst of a toss or a jump. This time, it was between the teeth of two dogs, being torn apart. I almost mistook it for a piece of rag.
I didn’t even have to shout or brandish the walking stick I was carrying. Or I may have done both, unconsciously. Either way, the dogs fled as soon as I reached the spot.
A white cat with light brown patches; the commonest kind in these parts. Now smeared with dirt and mud. Or some of it may have been blood. Eyes already dulled. Mouth full of dark blood. I tried to hush it into some kind of comfort. I felt hopeful. It was not dead. It was moving a little. It could be saved. Right? I called a pet clinic, knowing it was almost hopeless. It was Sunday evening and everyone deserves a weekly off. My phone could not even connect to the number. I called another vet, hesitating a little at the prospect of asking him to come see an injured stray cat on a Sunday evening. I need not have hesitated. The number was unreachable. As I said, Sunday is a bad day for a cat to get attacked.
I rushed to the gardener of the park beside which the incident happened. It must be one of his many feline guests. He would know how to take care of it. I was reluctant to leave the injured animal alone, but I had to. As I hurried the few steps to the gardener’s shed, I saw the people in the park, children and adults, sitting, walking, playing, talking, relaxing, enjoying – in blissful oblivion. Why would anyone care or even notice if a cat was cornered, clawed and mauled by two dogs and then lay dying? Why, indeed.
The gardener did not spring into action. He kept asking whose cat was it. His, I assured him; I have seen it in the park. (Sure I don’t know all the individual cats, but it’s got to belong to his brood, and even if it didn’t, so bloody what?) Rather reluctantly, he came quite a few steps after me. When he saw the cat, he asked for my stick and then poked the cat with it. Why the hell would he further poke a severely injured cat I don’t know. Perhaps he had his reasons. Perhaps he was trying to ensure it was alive. Perhaps he was trying to goad it into action. Be that as it may, he then said that it was not his cat.
Take it to the park and I will bring cotton and medicines, I said. I just did not have the courage to try to pick up an injured, unknown animal. Maybe someday I will.
He will go and ask if the cat belongs to that house, he said, and walked off, not showing the urgency I felt. He was gone a few minutes. I watched the cat gasp and bleed through the mouth. I called the vets again. If it did belong to some family, maybe they would come and take care of it and the wait would be worthwhile, I thought.
After a few long minutes, the gardener called out from a distance to say that it was not the family’s cat, neither was it his. Take it to the park and I’ll bring medicines, I repeated. Can you just take it to the park? But he mumbled unintelligible counter-arguments and disappeared.
I made three trips to my house to bring mugfuls of water to gently pour on the cat’s body, hoping to wash away the dirt which I thought must be aggravating its wound. I also tried to pour some water into its mouth, but it jerked its head every time. The third time, I put some antiseptic into the water, hoping to clean the wounds better, not at all sure if it was suitable for cats and taking care to not pour it this time in its mouth. But the third time the animal had stopped moving. The second time it had uttered a few unnatural cries. They must have been a sort of death rattle.
Yup, the third time, it was dead. I poured the antiseptic water over a dead body, I think. Dusk had fallen and it was getting more and more difficult to see if it was breathing. But its immobility, its quietness told the tale. Till then, it had been trying to move restlessly, in hope of a shelter perhaps, or to find comfort.
Even at this minute, if you walk along that turn beside the park, you’d miss it. Only if you peered closely at the lighter patch in the dark grass and grounds, you would see what even this afternoon had been a cat in search for food.
I like to think it suffered less than an hour. I am glad and relieved that our kitten is alive and well – as of now. I still cannot bring myself to hate dogs. All my cats have gone this way. I have not seen any of them draw their last breaths, except one baby, two years ago. I am not sorry to have seen the sad inevitability of it all, this time. I wanted the animal to have someone nearby who would witness – and acknowledge – how it suffered. I like to think that I tried. I don’t like to think how grossly inadequate was the effort. I’ll get there someday. Someday, I pray that I’ll actually manage to heal one.
Kinu Milkman’s Lane.
In a two-storey house
There’s a first-storey room with iron bars
Beside the road.
Patches of sand have collapsed from salty walls
Patches of mould adorn it.
A picture on ’merican cloth
Of Ganesh, the wish-fulfiller
Is stuck on the door.
Besides me, another lives in the room
For the same rent
It’s a lizard.
The only difference being
It does not want for food.
Junuior clerk in a merchant office.
The meals come from the Duttas’ house
For tutoring their boy.
’Go to the Sealdah station
To spend the evening
It helps me not to burn the light.
The dhush-dhush of engines,
The sound of the whistle,
The passengers’ hustle
Calling the coolies.
The clock ticks ten-thirty.
Then return home to solitary silent darkness.
The Dhaleshwari flows by my aunt’s village.
Her brother-in-law’s daughter,
Was supposed to marry this hapless wretch.
’Twas proved that the hour was auspicious—
I ran away at the right hour.
The girl was spared,
And so was I.
She never came to my home, but she comes to my mind every day—
Wearing a Daccai sari, vermilion on her forehead.
Monsoon arrives heavily.
My tram fare goes up,
Some days, I miss my pay.
In nooks and corners of the lane
Collect and rot
Mango skins, pits, jackfruit flesh,
And who knows what other rubbish!
The umbrella’s much like
It’s full of holes.
The office dress
Is like Gopikanta Gosain’s mind
It always stays moist.
The dark shadows of the rains
Enter the damp room
And, like a trapped animal
Faint and become inert.
Day and night it feels as if I
Am bound tightly to some half-dead world.
At the turn of the lane lives Kanta-babu,
Long hair carefully combed,
And a dainty turn of mind.
His hobby is playing the cornet.
Sometimes, the music rises
Through the horrible air of this lane—
Sometimes in the dead of the night,
In the pale of dawn,
Sometimes at late afternoon
When light glitters among shadows.
Suddenly in an evening
The note strikes Sindhu-Baroya
Across the sky plays
The longing of an infinite time.
Right then, in a moment, I know
This lane is a great lie,
Insufferable, like the ravings of a drunk.
Suddenly, I learn in my mind
There’s no difference whatsoever
Between emperor Akbar and Haripada, junor clerk.
Along the melancholy call of the flute
The ragged and the royal umbrella
Travel together to the same heaven.
Where this song is true
In a timeless hour of dusk
The Dhaleshwari river flows by;
Deep shadows of the bay on its bank;
In the yard
The one who’s waiting is she
Wearing a Daccai sari, vermilion on her forehead.
Translated from Rabindranath Tagore’s mind-blowing original.
I watched a film and read a book this weekend, both of which raised the same question in my mind. Yes, I know of the widespread tendency to dismiss such questions in the contexts of cinema or literature of these particular genres: I mean, when you are watching an unabashedly commercial Bollywood film or reading an Agatha Christie novel, a suspension of concerns about feminism or patriarchy is automatically asked for. But even after reminding myself of this disclaimer (“This content is not to be taken seriously”), I could not help being bothered.
Because those who think that there are contexts where these questions don’t matter may be making a dangerous mistake. Certain questions always matter. And even if there are a very few exceptions, a mainstream film or a popular novel is most certainly not among them.
I’ll begin with Dame Christie. A successful, independent, good-looking and intelligent woman is finally about to marry the worthy (reserved, chivalrous and so on) guy she has loved for a long time. The guy, suddenly not sounding very worthy any more, says, “…and you’re going to give up that damned dress-making business of yours.”
I wait before I curse him. Let’s hear how she’ll take it.
“You realise that that damned dress-making business is my venture, that I have built it up myself with hard work and made it into a success, don’t you” she says.
(That’s right, girl. You drive some sense into this misguided man.)
“And you have the nerve to say that I must give it up?”
“Yes, I do. You’ll give it all up and come and live in the country with me.”
“Oh, X, but that is what I have always dreamt of! Of course I will!”
You’re kidding me, right?
I mean, it’s not even incompatible—running the successful business and having a happy family life. And no, even at that time and that place it was not incompatible. It would not even have been difficult.
What I don’t understand is, why would Christie, who not only equalled men when it came to success, but outshone many, many of them, would write about this as perfectly normal. Or was she being supremely ironic and I missed her point? I rather hope so.
And now, the Bolly fare. Of course, if I sat down to list the instances of misogyny in Bollywood, I’ll be writing for a long long time to come. This, however, should serve as a good enough and random enough example.
I won’t name the film. It was funny, fast-paced, incredibly absurd and quite enjoyable on the whole. But how these came to be included—thought of, written, shot, directed, acted, edited, included in the final cut, passed by the censor board and then no doubt enjoyed by a fair number of people who do not share my concerns—baffles me.
Did they? They did, right? After beating the villain and rescuing the heroine and singing the song and dancing the dance, they did rescue these women, right?
The poor, beautiful, scantily-clad women about to be tortured were just details in the set-up. Adding colour, you know.
Not very funny, this. And really, really, not OK.
Lower your voice and widen your eyes;
Punctuate your words with gasps and sighs;
Throw furtive glances behind your back—
If you do it well, you may have a knack.
Giggle in glee every other sentence;
You’ve shocked and you’ve thrilled your eager audience.
A dash of colour here, gory details there;
God forbid that you’d ever be unfair.
Today’s best friend may be tomorrow’s subject,
It’s a story well-told, so who would object?
I can see you can’t wait; to share you’re itching;
Let’s bring it on, then, start the day with ________.
I sat, waiting. Nervous eyes, frozen body, pounding heart. I sat waiting in a pool of blood. Why do they scream so, I wondered, my friends and family and strangers, while they are butchered? Did they not know it was coming? But then a hand reaches for me and I feel like screaming, too. No, not yet. They want me alive. So they tie my feet and hold the bunch in a tight grip and as I hang upside down, I start my scream. I don’t know how long or far we travel. I’m always tied-feet-up-head-down, and always screaming, except when I am too exhausted. Once, they stop and put me down sideways, and I freeze again, wondering. Wondering. What now?
Nothing but a recommencement of the same. An upside-down busy world and automatic screams. Finally, after the longest and giddiest journey, we stop, and it comes. At the softest part of my neck.
I hope you enjoyed the kebabs.
2: How Nemo and Dory keep us busy (7)
6: Can you believe that they have a university as well as an incorporation? (8)
12: Destination of an unlikely but really enthusiastic police officer (8)
13: Think blue, yellow and glasses (7)
1: A leonine adaption of Hamlet? (4)
3: Out now – Hollywood’s take on psychoanalysis (6)
4: They came, they melted, they dawned, they drifted and they collided (6)
5: What do they do home alone? (4)
6: The latest of the lot, following in the footsteps of Brave (5)
7: Cuddliest warrior ever (5)
8: If you have one of these, then you’ll really need a training manual (6)
9: But it may melt your heart (6)
10: You’ve seen it in 2016, but it started as a ____ as long ago as 1894 (4)
11: A scientist’s daughter enters the world of tiny creatures who protect the forest (4)
When Prince Charming
With swag disarming
Got near the enchanted castle;
Oh no, oh hell!
Where’s the bombshell?
The girl he saw had ‘muscle’!
He’d, in his mind,
Pictured his find:
A pretty if revealing frock;
A face to launch ships
Fair to the fingertips…
The fellow got a nasty shock.
She was very much awake –
Was the promise a fake?
The promise of a sleeping one?
And beauty? Oh dear!
A cold, creeping fear
To clutch his heart had begun.
Shorts and shirt,
Smeared with dirt;
Skin of coffee bean colour;
Not even supine;
She looked quite fine;
He felt hot under the collar.
Size zero? Not she.
Manner: dreadfully free
Tall of height, short-cropped hair;
Didn’t swoon or gasp,
But tightening her grasp
On a stick, she gave him a glare.
Then he got it, phew!
“Not the princess, are you?”
He asked with hope and relief;
What ensued then
Isn’t flattering to men
So I’ll keep the story but brief.
Overstate they may,
But people do say
The prince didn’t fare very well;
Believe it or not,
When the chase turned hot,
He was said to have fled pell-mell.
The Princess, we gather –
For it was her, none other –
Advised in a calm, grave manner;
To go on his way
As ‘twas clear as day
That he needed more saving than her.
But when he took offence
And as a weak defence
Cited her womanly duty;
She hit him where it hurt;
His tears did start
“Oh, you ain’t no sleeping beauty!
“Mend your ways;
Don’t waste your days.
You need a man to tell you how to live.”
How she answered then
Is too outrageous to pen
‘Twas very like a woman, I believe.
Such is the tale
Of the forbidding female
Most unbeautiful, non-charming;
Details, if you must:
She was free, brave and just;
Altogether really alarming.
So if you have a plan
To save a Hapless Woman
You know where you should not go;
The Disenchanted Land
Where the prince was beaten and –
Fatally punctured his ego.
Why did you have to…?
I thought I’d ask.
I’d come out of the mist
I was always there
Waiting – to ‘catch’ you
To stop you in your tracks
And ask – why that?
Then I step back
I let you walk on
I hide into the mist once again.
For I can’t let you think
All this infinite time
I stood waiting in the mist.
There are nights when I think
The one thing that can and should be said
Is that always, and, well…
There are days when – phew!
I thank god for Never
Never will be said the inane words.
I have asked She-who-knows
For your sleepless nights
Let him not sleep, Mother; once
May he court sleep
And get only my name
Like a blot in the landscape
That wouldn’t disappear
For all my sleeplessness, just one.
In the same breath
My ever-coward self
Shakes a warning head to kind eyes.
I believe in you, Mother
So don’t listen to me.
May my shadow not fall on anyone.
He didn’t ask, Mother
He didn’t ask for me.
Bless him; save him from my reach.
Why did you have to…?
I think I’d ask.
But then I think, no, why should I?
Why give you a chance
To ‘explain yourself’
To try to pretend, as if to undo…
Let it stay here
Let the story halt
At I love you and you killed me.