The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 29, 2000

Cat capers
By Sansar Chandra

OF all the animals, the one that beats the rest in being ominous is none else but the cat. Itís very sight is resented by a majority of people. If it happens to cross your path, you may feel as if a calamitous event is on the way.

When my wife informed me frowningly, the other day, that a stray cat had made our garage her home, I felt a bit alarmed, because of the association of the cat with an imminent calamity. The other reason was that of trespass. I knew no woman allows another to sneak into her jurisdiction. In such a situation, women do not even spare cats was what staggered me up to the hilt.

My silence did not hold my wifeís tongue. The feminine monologue continued, "This is a cursed cat, see, how our problems have multiplied". Even then I tried to pacify her and also warned her not to resort to force while driving the poor soul out. God forbid, if the tiny creature was slain in the process, she would have to give in charity a gold cat at the sacred banks of the Ganges to atone her sin. Despite being a dreadful one, the threat did not work and there was no let up in her fury.

The famous maxim "Adversity never comes alone", seemed to be literally true in my case. My son, a teacher in the local government college, who was like a pillar of strength to me in my old age, was suddenly transferred to a far-flung area under the new policy of the state government. The Income Tax Department wanted me to understate the value of my house at Ambala, which I sold two years ago. The municipality had not only demolished the gardenerís cottage on my premises but had also served me with a notice to show cause why I should not be proceeded against for illegal construction. I was, no doubt bogged with problems but I failed to see how a small cat could cause them.


I forgot the cat and began to attend to my problems seriously. I gave top priority to the cancellation of my sonís transfer. I made repeated supplications before the officer in-charge of transfers. I mentioned the unsullied 30-year-record of my service; I pointed out to my grey hair and gout-stricken knees: I told him of the illness of my wife who was unable to manage the kitchen without the help of her daughter-in-law. I showered him with all possible tales of my woes and ultimately elicited his sympathy. He sent a note to his assistant that the transfer should be cancelled and asked me to see the assistant. I had to thank him profusely but was really dismayed. The assistant was a hard nut to crack. But obviously I could not ask the big gun to handle the small but fiercer gun.

This gentleman was an expert in not getting things done. He was generally absent from his seat and if he was there, he would smoke or read a newspaper. But as soon as he saw a supplicant like myself he immediately delved in the files stacked on his table. One day, after standing there like a fool for ten minutes, I ventured in a trembling voice, "Bhaisaheb, please spare a minute for me."

He raised his eyes, flashing across the lenses, at me and snapped at me, "Donít you see how much burdened I am with work at this moment? Look here, all these files have three or four flaps on them. These have to be completed immediately. I can attend to your business only on Monday."

I knew he would do nothing of the kind on Monday. One of his colleagues had already briefed me on the officerís routine of the week. He would never miss visiting his native town, about 150 km away, on weekends. Mondays and Fridays were his journey days. He was late on Mondays and would leave office at about 3.00 p.m., on Fridays. As a matter of policy, he would never touch an important paper or take up a new problem on these days. On Tuesdays he was on fast as he was an ardent devotee of Lord Hanuman, and obviously you cannot expect a famished man to work. Wednesdays and Thursdays were his jolly good days; his friends knew it and they would come and be entertained and no one can be a good host, if he attends to files all the time.

An astrologer had told me ó profusely quoting from Sanskrit classics ó that if you are to pursue some case with the officialdom it should be taken up on Tuesdays and Saturdays only. Ancient sages had failed to envisage the two-days weekly off in the late 20th century. Hence I decided to try my luck on Tuesday. On that day I worshipped Lord Hanuman in the morning and after the breakfast raised the shutter of my garage for taking the car out. I was apprehensive that despite my devotion to Lord Hanuman, the Hanuman-worshipping assistant would not budge an inch from his no-action posture.

Imagine my surprise and chagrin to see the unwanted cat facing me as I entered the garage. Usually it would run across my path, which was a bad omen. Now it was impending my way; it meant a greater misfortune. I raised my hand to frighten it but it did not run away. It gazed at me with tearful eyes as if asking me to own it as my pet. And when I persisted in my hostility it slowly walked away with head hanging. I had almost a feeling of remorse but I could not give much attention to the feline feelings when I was on my mission to get the transfer of my son cancelled.

As I entered the office and asked the despatcher whether the great assistant was in his seat, he almost jumped up with enthusiasm. He said, "No need to see the Babuji. Here, receive this order for cancellation of the transfer. Professor Saheb, you seem to have moved the heavens. It is nothing short of miracle to get the Babuji to work within a week. Ten minutes ago he asked me to send the copy of the order to you. Now take it and do not forget to send sweets on this historic achievement."

"Certainly, certainly, both you and he will have sweets in plenty," I said and after receiving the copy of the order went straight to the confectionerís shop. I had decided that the first piece would be given to the cat whose presence before me caused this happy development.

But there was no cat in the garage. Later my wife told me that she had asked the servant to catch the cat and leave it in utter wilderness four miles away. I remembered its tearful gaze at me. My joy was killed. My wife complained about my glumness even on the happy occasion, for I accepted only a tiny bit of sweetmeat. But I kept mum. There was no sense in incensing the madam by declaring that the cat had provided a good omen instead of a bad one.