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GB STORY-TELLING – Short story of the month

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TAMING OF THE CAT

AMITA RAY

The prolonged cawing of crows, barking of dogs and shouts of children drew my attention and looking out, my gaze was riveted on this creature; a robust cat with mosaic black and white fur. Little did I know then that this being from the feline species would engage us during our winter sojourn at the ancestral home where our grandparents lived. Situated in remote pristine surroundings, the place was yet to receive the blessings of electricity and other advantages of so called comfort living. But it was the perfect refuge to visit with family, far away from the din and grind of daily life.

There is a saying in Bengali—‘Golper Goru Gache Uthe.’ Literally it means that when imagination runs riot, a cow can climb a tree in a story. Here it was not a cow but an agile pussycat and what I intend to pen down is not the figment of weird imagination. This cat, an adorable being, was a regular visitor to our house and the recipient of love and favour in the form of food and shelter, amply reciprocated by its fondness for mice which kept the garden and house absolutely free from the scampering pests.

The cat, lovingly called Gullu by my grandparents and neighbors, had climbed a thirty feet high tree which stands outside our garden, stationed itself precariously on the crescent of a branch keeping me on the tenterhooks. The reason for the cat’s ascent to that formidable height remains a mystery, but what plagued me most was a sense of morbid anxiety, invincible helplessness and the anticipation of a great fall which could spell disaster belying the myth that cats have nine lives. Nothing could coax or entice the trauma struck cat to retrace its steps back as it clung to the branch shuddering in panic on an alien turf. The children playing around didn’t dare to climb the tree to rescue it. There was a crow’s nest on the tree, whose inmates together with other members of their fraternity vociferously pestered the intruder. The agitated dogs straying around gathered below the tree to join the cacophony. I couldn’t resist the urge to come to its rescue and rushed tothe spot defying my brother Pratap’s forbiddance.

“Why do you have to poke your nose into each and every business?” retorted he at my suggestion that something must be done.

The Good Samaritan in me prompted me to run downstairs, out of the gate of our compound and there I was right at the site. Together with the children, who had thronged there, I tried every possible means to bring it down while the cawing avian clan hovered above the tree. The cat hardly responded to our signals or enticements to come down. It cowered on its foothold pitifully. It finally succumbed to sleep in a unique posture of resignation. I wondered how it could ever go off to sleep or was it feigning? I couldn’t figure out how it had landed up at that formidable height though cats are supposed to be very agile. Once it had, then what logic could refrain it from being downwardly mobile? Was it sheer panic?

Pratap had all along been shouting and gesticulating frantically from the upstairs window of our house asking me to return.I was resolute on seeing a happy end to it, fervently praying that Gullu would come down. But once it had seemingly fallen asleep and didn’t budge, I decided to go back. The crows had by then adjusted themselves to the ways of the intruder and settled in their nests. The dogs fathoming the futility of their aggressive gesture retreated. I mused, “The animal world is much more accommodating than we humans!” The children too were nowhere to be seen.

“So, is the drama over?”My brother quipped as I entered the house. Ignoring the sting, I calmed myself. I wondered how Pratap could be so obtusely unfeeling. The whole afternoon I was restless looking out of the window occasionally. Gullu was up there on the very branch it had nestled hours ago, presumably asleep.Post lunch I had to go out. I glanced at the tree and found it still there. I went about my business in haste eager to return home. The unknown fate of the cat perturbed me. On entering the compound of our house, I was taken aback. Lo and behold! The creature of my grave anxiety was frisking and frolicking about with its dark feline compeer of the opposite sex. Though it was a great relief I felt myself to be an utter fool to have panicked so long. Pratap who was sitting at the doorsteps looked at me with that twinkle in his eyes which betrayed mockery.

“So the object of your deep concern now deeply in love is there. You are the limit I should say.” He remarked.

I protested, “Not an object Pratap how can you be so mean? It has a little heart which beats.”

During the next two days of our stay everything went fine. Gullu with its impish pranks regaled us while we cuddled it showering immense love on the bundle of joy. What amazed me of all things was Pratap’s transformation. He not only joined us in our show of affection but had started taking a visceral liking for it so much so that he didn’t hesitate to sleep with this new-found love by his side.

The eventful night came the day after. Night in such remote places in winter season descends early. We had finished our dinner and were about to tuck under warm blankets. Suddenly a volley of metallic sounds ripped the nocturnal quietude. The silence of the chilly night was shattered by an unexpected din downstairs. It seemed that some intruders were trying to break open the main collapsible gate. The thundering arbitrary blows downstairs grew appalling. Perplexed and at a loss to ascertain the cause of the pandemonium, my mother breathed an inaudible prayer. Soon the courtyard downstairs was abuzz with voices of the inmates of the rooms on the ground floor, the servants and their family. We could see them moving around with flickering oil lamps which highlighted the ruddy glow on their awe-struck visage.

We hastened downstairs to find that the raucous blows seemed to emerge from a room unused and under lock and key. Fetching the keys quickly I unlocked it gently and peeped in the room through the door slightly ajar. The sound climaxed to a frenzied peak as I raised the oil lamp trying to figure out its source in the dark room. Good gracious! We stood stupefied at the revelation. It was Gullu who probably had presumably leapt down inside the dark room through an open window and landed with its head straight inside a brass jar kept near the window. In a bid to free itself from the stifling situation it ran helter skelter, blindfolded with its head embedded in an alien head gear. The sound resulted from its furious but futile effort to do so as the brass jar banged on the ground, wall and every conceivable object in the spacious room. Gripped with breathlessness, sightlessness and helplessness the poor cat banged on erratically. Thank God there was a spout on the jar to let it breathe!

It was now time to tame the cat. We were not surprised when Pratap made the initial move. He had turned over a new leaf in the preceding days. He brought the disoriented almost suffocated creature to rest effortlessly, sat down, caressed it, and cautiously freed it from its muzzled state while we the spectators breathed a sigh of relief.

“Go get some warm milk”, Pratap ordered in a peremptory way. After being pampered with a cup of milk and oodles of love Gullu was eventually set free.What amazed us most was Pratap’s role in the night’s episode. He who had been absolutely apathetic to Gullu, a couple of days before, had turned into its savior. It was Gullu’s endearing ways that had kindled his love for it. At Pratap’s insistence, Gullu accompanied us to Kolkata to live happily ever after.

(Amita Ray is an associate professor in English (Retired) and Ex-Vice Principal of a Howrah college)