Neighbours, Visitors, Guests

So this is the world.

 

Quickly, before the crows come.

 

I just called to say…

 

… I love you.

 

none the worse after a shower
colours and colours
Is that a bit of stale bread I see there?
Look what I can do now!

 

Name unknown
Goodnight, love.

 

Images not for reusing. (Not that you’d want to, with stunning public-domain cat photos all around.)

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Till We Meet Again

Perhaps when I die, I shall get a warning or a notification of sorts: your time has come; please prepare yourself. And how shall I get that warning, you ask? My cats will come to see me. My cats who are no longer here, that is. Till now, I used to think it would only be my first cat, the beauty in black-and-white, my beloved friend, the wonderfully mature, intelligent and warm one. Now I think: perhaps I shall be lucky enough to see all of them. The one who was white with orange spots, who scratched me in play and made me take an anti-tetanus and understood that she had made a blunder; the one who would simply come and fall asleep behind the statue in our veranda; the one who would begin with a snappy ‘Meaow!’, and after some milk would take it down a couple of notches and respond with a mild ‘Mew.” The same one who, while passing outside the window of our kitchen one day, called my attention to herself with a “Hi,” and after I had expressed my pleasure to see her and asked her to come in, replied with a ‘Nope. Bye,” and walked on.

If I am lucky, the one who has gone away now to join these others, the one who left most recently, shall also come to see me again. She’s the one who looked a bit like a tigress – a young and playful tigress. This is how we became friends: one evening, I realised that the dogs in our alley were barking at a cat who had ran up our frangipani tree. I went up to the roof to help her because cats do this: they often climb up to a height and then have no idea how to get down, the intrepid explorers. On seeing me, she greeted me with a subdued mew, which meant as clearly as possible: ‘Oh, hello. Here we are, in a bit of a spot. Bit scared too, to be honest… Anyway, could you lend a hand?’

So I got a small tub and extended it towards the tree so that she could jump into it and then I would bring her inside the roof. But she made the leap directly into the roof herself, and was soon rubbing herself against my feet, possibly to show her appreciation of my moral support. The dogs were still waiting and barking below the tree, so that could not be an exit. I tried to show her a different route out, stayed with her a few minutes till she had relaxed enough to start the all-important grooming, brought her some milk and left her sipping it.

A few days later, during the day on a weekend, she came and sat down on the wall in front of our house, below the frangipani, and I had no doubt that she had come to renew the acquaintance. I also realised that I had met her before, on the park wall, mewing uncertainly. I had taken some milk to her then too, and she had not only had some of it, but had also rolled over on her back, possibly to assure me that she knew my intentions were noble. Rolling over on her back was her mannerism, actually; we came to see that in the following months.

And today, she has been missing for a week and someone who takes care of cats tells me two of them have been killed recently by dogs near our house. Two plus two = our playful little tigress (perhaps also the timidish tom who would sneak in to lap up the milk she would leave undrunk) is gone.

So long then, love.

 

One Sleepy, Rainy Afternoon

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Pool of light
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Three men on a wall

 

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Angry bird?

 

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Hungry bird!

 

Frangipani
Frangipani

 

Rain-washed
Rain-washed

 

Mirror
Mirror

 

Ms Woodpecker
Ms Woodpecker

 

Spot the fly!
Spot the fly!

 

Anything interesting?
Anything interesting?

 

Hide and seek
Hide and seek

 

Broad and beautiful
Broad and beautiful

 

Lessons in Love and Loss

Last night, not for the first time, I dreamt of my cat. It was a vague dream, remembered but vaguely, but I think, in it, someone said she may have come back and pointed out a cat to me, and I looked, thinking, of course, she has returned finally, but then thought that it wasn’t her but some other…

Because I have not seen her dead body, I shall always keep alive the possibility that she merely went away. And sometimes, when I consider getting another pet, I wonder whether it would hurt her if she decided to come back and found that someone else was in her place. Of course, no one shall ever take her place, but would I be able to explain that to her?

But I need hardly worry so much. For one thing, she doesn’t seem to be coming back. For another, I strongly doubt I shall volunteer to bring another pet. The only time I did so was when I bought two bunnies who died within a fortnight. Guilt had been a predominant feeling at that time, as I regretted that I should not have brought them in without knowing well enough how to take care of them. And I wished that they didn’t have to die to prove how irresponsible/ incompetent I was.

I certainly hope to have a dog some day. Right when I have figured out how not to get my heart broken whenever I look into their eyes. And when I am confident about being able to take care of them. If that ever happens. I am also toying with the idea of rabbit(s) once more… It’s a bit like thinking of pizza and delighting in the very thought, so that I do not ultimately have to end up executing the plan.

My cat came to us of her own accord. It was natural, spontaneous, unplanned and therefore, destined to happen. She would come in the hope of fish, would be shooed away, then I indulged her a little, then some more, and before we knew it, she was raising four newborns in my bedroom. And now, the moments that I think of the most, miss the most, are those that we spent together in silent companionship – apparently almost unaware of each other, but actually very glad for it. At any rate, I was.

No friend like the friend you can be comfortably silent with.

Something Beautiful

I do not follow the news. About current affairs, my ignorance borders on the criminal/moronic. This, of course, has spelt trouble or very near it more than once. A disastrous interview at a higher education institute comes to the mind, for instance, where, when asked what are my opinions about the important political transition my state was facing, I had to admit that I had no opinion, being very uninterested in politics. The silence that followed told me, before the official declaration of results, that I would not be studying there.

There is a simple reason, however, behind my deliberate avoidance of the news. The news seems to be all bad. Every headline yells that the world is going to hell, one sure step at a time, and what’s the point of learning to what new lows people can stoop, is my feeble argument when I am reproached for being so foolish. It is a feeble argument, I suppose, somewhat like burying my head in the sand. To try and improve matters, both in the way of being slightly better informed and to feel slightly less hopeless, I am considering scanning at least one newspaper everyday, with a very definite purpose: to find at least one really good/ encouraging/ hopeful/ heartwarming news. And preferably keep a record of them.

Just last week, a friend asked for a happy story. I too, would very much want to read (and write) happy stories. Stories, of course, do not necessarily mean “fiction”. The articles in news media are also “stories”. I shall hunt and hope and hold on to happy stories in all senses of the term, then, and surely that would be an even better reason for reading the paper than preparing for interviews.

As an introduction to that project (The Happy Story Project?) and a conclusion to this week’s post, here’s a piece of niceness, not fiction but very real, unlikely ever to make it to any news medium. Near where I live is a park. The gardener who tends to it lives in the park with his wife in a dwelling for which the term ‘shed’ is too grand. They are childless. They keep cats. I believe some cat landed on their doorstep and they never turned it away and she gave birth to a litter, so that their part of the park has been dotted with about a dozen cats for some time now. Even the other day, someone dumped four kittens on them, and they didn’t turn away a single one. What is that cliche about those with less being more generous?
Anyway, the gardener and I were discussing how sad it was that so many stray cats are killed by dogs, and among a list of cats he had known who had met the same end, he said he had buried one in the park. It was a nice gesture in itself, I thought. But what made this moderately nice gesture rather remarkable and memorable to me was his casual addition that he had then planted a tree on the spot where the cat was buried.

I suppose this is what I may call a sense of beauty.

Who Is It?

I realised some time ago that I unconsciously imitate people I love. ‘Imitate’ is not the most accurate word perhaps. I incorporate their certain idiosyncrasies into myself – that’s more like it. And some of those remain with me after the people are gone out of my lives. Their habits become my habits. Then, one fine moment, I catch myself in a word or gesture and realise that it had not always been mine.

It does not always have to be people I love, though. But it most often is. Even if I don’t like to admit it. For instance, sometimes I catch myself uttering a thoughtful “Hmmm” like a certain person often does. Because I am now conscious of it, I can observe myself and remember the other and compare what exactly am I doing that is imitation. Is it the tone? Is it the accompanying look? The half-smile-half-frown? As if that person is considering a serious matter but is ready to break into a smile at the slightest mention of a joke?

Sometimes, I feel like laughing out loud, and I am inclined to do so the way one of my friends, who is no longer a friend, used to laugh. Some other times I want to laugh like another friend – lowering and hiding my face for a moment as if trying to suppress the laugh. I occasionally pass my hand over my head; I think one of my teachers used to do that and more recently I have observed two other teachers do that as well, with complete disregard to their hair, so maybe that gesture of serious thinking is common to teachers, and I do it when I am trying to give the impression that I am thinking about something while I am actually thinking about something else.

I have also noticed a tendency in myself to gesticulate with my hands while I am explaining something, and that is probably borrowed from an ex-classmate, and there really is no affection to speak of in this case (neither is dislike!); just that the gesture was noticeable – even rather irritating, but what do you know, I came very near imitating it. Sometimes I’m inclined to act like a spoilt child, and that is not (just) because I am a spoilt child, but because an ex-colleague I used to be very fond of could pull that off really well.

The way I sit at a table is copied from both my mother and my father. And probably my sibling. So is the way I sleep. The way I sometimes struggle with chewing food or tying shoelaces is a straight lift from Dad. But then, all of me, the very fibre and the skeleton, the flesh and the blood, are derived from them, so that it’s rather pointless to try and list traits I’ve inherited from the family.

The unconscious imitates what it notices, so that every time I repeat another’s word or gesture, it can remind me of that person. Is that it? This is how I keep the other with me when I cannot keep the other with me? I got you, Unconscious. That’s one of your cats out of the bag. No longer unknown, but possibly unacknowledged, uncertain, uncanny, unrhymed – this trick of yours.

(Only I know which of those words I love and which is loved by another.)

 

Watching the Rain

On Sunday afternoon, the rain paid a visit. My cat, her only surviving kitten and I sat and watched her. There is something about the minutes before the rain, when I can hear her footsteps, smell her perfume, see her light — gosh, that light! Silver with a hint of golden. Warm and mellow. Bright and beautiful. No wonder that in paintings and films and photography they say the lighting is everything. Everything looks new, different, lovely. Not so bad, this! How green the leaves in this and that garden. The paint on that house not so dull after all…

A nerve on my right hand has been twitching for some time. I am a bit nervous about nerves. Ever since he had to have a major surgery in his spinal chord. Ever since she suffered excruciating pain in her hand because her nerves got entangled with each other. Ever since my shoulder started aching persistently from sitting in front of a computer for hours every day. So much that I practised and became quite good at wielding the mouse with my left hand. It still ached. Well. Hell.

Couple of days ago, I was waiting for a mail. I am not waiting, I told myself, and then got up in the middle of the night and turned on my computer and signed in to my account to check if it had come. It hadn’t. When I got up in the morning and signed in again, it was there. It was probably being written when I had got up between my sleep and checked for it in vain.

I like emails. Of course not from anyone and everyone. But written messages are fascinating, I think. However, there is this problem with them: one sentence, one word can be read in so many ways that sometimes an email leaves room for doubt. Of course, where there’s room for doubt, there’s also room for hope. But doubts are aggressive, like the kitten that survived. Hopes tend to be timid — at least my hopes, sometimes — like the kitten that didn’t.

A dear friend says that she ends up calling her dear ones exactly when it is important to do so. She calls it prayers. I call it telepathy. And I wonder, when I think of someone particularly strongly, when I cannot help thinking of them, rather, and then end up knocking, is it also telepathy? Who or what has been urging (that is the word) me to write/call/remember? And I always half expect the recipient to reply: fancy your writing now/today/this! Sometimes, the other one, a dear one, writes that: you wrote exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it. Isn’t that wonderful? And I smile and nod and feel good. Sometimes, another one, also dear, doesn’t say anything to clear the mystery. But who knows, maybe the other person has glimpsed a wonderful thing but won’t admit it. I remain suspicious. And/or hopeful.

In a Room Elsewhere

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In winter, when evening came early, too early, before I closed the heavy curtains on my wide window, I could see lights on the hill opposite. Outside my window is a garden – rather unkempt. After the garden, tall trees. Beyond them, the ground slopes down. It rises up again to a hilltop in the distance. The hill is lined by roads, studded with houses. After dark, their lights glow all over the body of the hill. From my window, they look like hundreds of twinkling lamps. It was a warm sight on a cold evening.

Of course, in winter, the tall trees were all leafless. They stood with their bare arms raised in prayer to the sky. But the dark, bare trees made for a novel picture if I looked out of my window through the parting of my lighter, translucent, white curtains, over the dew dissolving on the panes.

The winter when I was here, it rained quite often. Many a night, I woke up in the small hours and could hear the wind whistling, the rain pouring and the trees swaying outside. It was strange but not fearful. Beautiful, maybe. I forget the date – but it was the threshold between two years, when I was completely alone in the house, and it rained heavily and the cold subsequently intensified. I made no attempt to go out. Public transport would have been too limited anyway. I sat alone in my room, alone in the house, most of the day listening to the rain and the wind.

Another sound is a part of the nights here. The rushing of the trains. There’s a bridge very nearby. All day long, I hear trains rushing by. They don’t stop to rest even when night falls. Where are they off to, I wonder. Who are the people travelling at this time of the night? Why not earlier? Why not tomorrow? What can’t wait till tomorrow? What kept them busy today? Where will they turn up? Will the station be small or large? Will there be anyone to receive them?

Now that it’s spring, the bare trees have all filled up with green foliage. (Prayers answered?) I can still see the hill in the distance, where the leaves have not closed the view, but the twinkling lamps rarely. It doesn’t get dark enough, I suppose. Usually, when I close my curtains, even if it is a late hour, some light from the sky lingers.

In the unkempt garden springs up flowers of their own accord. Daisies grow as easily as weeds here. Some larger ones are right outside my window. Farther away are roses. Something white, something lavender and something pink also appear. Squirrels keep visiting, with their fat, bushy tails and alert eyes. Magpies are very common. Seagulls come but not in large numbers. There’s no room above mine. I have seen from a different window that the roof is filled with pebbles and there’s a small and rusty birdbath on top, complete with a tiny metal bird. Sometimes seagulls or other birds land on that roof and make a noise among themselves with the help of the pebbles. I wonder what is going on upstairs.

And the seagulls can always be heard. Though, right now, I can hear other birds too. Unfortunately I don’t know them. But the shrill cries of the seagull are unmistakable. Very noisy birds, these, but also very lovely. Almost twice the size of a crow. Spotless white with a yellow beak and grey wings tipped with black, they are a trademark sign of this city, I think. I have seen them floating on the waves of the sea. They look peaceful as the green gentle waves rock them to and fro.

This country is so beautiful in spring mostly because of the profusion of flowers. Such large roses and bright lilac sprigs grow in the neighbours’ gardens. In one park, I photographed so many kinds of flowers that finding out all their names became quite a task. Daisies and daffodils are the commonest, I suppose. In another, I clicked some flowers which I recently realised to be narcissus. Lilacs, buttercups, tulips and periwinkles are a few of the rest.

(Image belongs to the writer.)

Leaving in Autumn

To leave the city when She is coming…

Pujo has always meant to me the end of another year. True, a couple of months remain after the Mother Goddess arrives, stays and departs, but they are more like the endnotes than the body of a composition. Pujo is the evening – when the party is in full force, when the activities reach a peak. Post-Pujo days are the time to go home and to bed.

From September, if not earlier, one can sense it in the air. Many regard Bishwakarma pujo to be the official and final signal that Ma is coming. Soon. Weeks before that, the hoardings start hinting which locality has what plans to adorn the Mother this year. Every advertisement begins to incorporate Her face or at least the image of a few kaash flowers in its layout. The word ‘sharadiya’ appears so often that one stops noticing it. Every time I get out of home, the pandal structure at our field has developed a little further, and guessing what the final shape is going to be is one of the happiest games I’ve ever played.

To go away when the pandal’s almost complete…

After all, when a day draws to an end, we should be heading home, not setting out from it. Friends and family in other cities are negotiating with their bosses whether at least a couple of days cannot be spared during that special week. For no, coming home at Diwali is not quite the same thing; not at all. Friends and family at home will be saying that it’s much too soon to make plans for Pujo, but in reality they’ll already have a very good idea of what they want to do on which day at which hour. My dad, for instance, pushes aside fatigue and physical weaknesses to stand before the majestic idol at Santosh Mitra Square every year. This year, I won’t be standing before Her, beside my family…

So much has been written about Pujo; I am not even going to try. Who the hell wants to write about it rather than living it? I wanted to try to describe how it feels to be packing my bags when the winds have begun to hum that She is coming. I am trying to pinpoint the slight ridiculousness of the idea. This will probably be the first time that I’ll be away during all of it – the mounting, delightful anticipation; the heady, astonishingly short six days (it starts from Panchami, no matter what anyone says); and then the contented recapitulation. I’ll miss all of it. Will She miss me at all, I wonder?

Does that sound absurd? I think it is a valid question. I am inclined to believe She remembers all Her children who cannot make it to Her festival. For mothers can sense their children’s loneliness. Yes, I may have asked Her to help me reach a certain place to achieve a certain goal, and I am thankful to have been given what I wanted. But that in no way implies that I will not deeply miss meeting Her in my city. No matter where I am, no matter how different the place looks from “Pujor Kolkata”, no matter how oblivious the people around me are to the celebrations going on in my home, do not doubt that during those days, I will be thinking of Her. I will be thinking of home.