Whitey, Mom’s tomcat (as she named him) disappeared from my mother’s house (The Nest) one cold, January Shillong night. It was in the year of 2005. He had been nursing serious injuries caused by regular nocturnal territorial battles with other male members of the feline family, not to mention some members of the canines too. Earlier in the month, Lon, my younger brother carried him to a nearby vet residing in Motinagar Hill that was situated directly opposite Whitey’s domain at Lummawri Hill. The vet, who also happened to be an old school friend, shook his head sadly and recommended an immediate mercy killing. This was of course not allowed to happen and the big fellow was brought back home. Dad was very surprised when he realised that his objections of having the cat back was overridden (which was unlike our usual selves); but the tomcat’s character and his sense of values were something that can perhaps account for such behaviour.
This could also perhaps explain why Lon, despite being teased for his ‘outrageous view’ insisted that the creature was a reincarnation of an earlier life form, and not just a regular ferocious looking pure white tomcat. Lon’s constant refrain was that Whitey was ‘different’. Indeed, Whitey was something that normally all cats are not!
From the very beginning, when he joined the household as a thin kitten, he did not behave like a normal cat. He showed disdain for all those savouries that are universally adored by all cats. He abhorred fish. He would eat only raw meat – prime cuts of beef or mutton procured by Mom at premium price – and follow it up with dessert, a gulab jamun, jalebi or a cake. Relations and friends who knew about this habit said that he was unique – a cat with a sweet tooth. This was not the only eccentricity he had. At night, he would stretch out on the floor (like a dog) with hind legs apart and snore. He also lacked all sense of personal hygiene and his coat took on the appearance of a dirty grey blanket; except in those times when my mother resorted to bathing him. That is when one saw him in all his glory – snow white in colour, without even a hint of shade and with the proportions of a full-grown, clouded leopard. To be precise, he was the opposite of ‘Snowy’ of the Stuart Little. While Snowy was fluffy, Whitey was sleek with a very fine coat, except for one similarity; both were inclined to be laidback in nature.
Another characteristic, which set him apart from other tomcats, was his disinterestedness in mice and rats. He rather beat a hasty retreat whenever he encountered a kitten. But, if another tomcat intruded into his space, he transformed into a fearless fighter. Dogs, even more than tomcats, were his numero uno enemy. So, he waged lone battles with stray dogs that trespassed into our compound. This was probably his undoing. He did not know when to run even when the odds were stacked heavily against him. This habit of refusing to buckle under pressure was an outstanding leadership trait noticeable in this big cat!
Loyalty, honesty and most of all, compassion were the dominant traits that endeared him to the extended family. My father used to sit in his favourite chair (an antique that had been left along with the house by some long forgotten previous European owners), to watch his favourite TV programmes. If he happened to vacate it, Whitey would sit on it and snarl at any pretender to the throne. Sometimes on Friday nights, when Lon, Phum (another brother) and friends would congregate in his office (next door) and have late night music sessions ending in the early hours of the morning, Whitey would intervene. Showing concern for Mother’s plight with having to stay up late for serving dinner, he would try to disrupt the musical proceedings and mostly, he succeeded.
In retrospect, I have begun to come around to Lon’s belief that maybe, just maybe, Whitey was the reincarnation of a personality, perhaps a courtier in a previous life. Maybe he was a descendant of those legendary cats who were worshipped in ancient Egypt as reincarnations of warrior kings. (That could have explained his ‘sweet tooth’). Or maybe he had come from a distant galaxy. He came into the house, and harnessed all the positive energy while neutralizing the negative vibrations. In the midst of the usual sibling quarrels catalyzed more by ego and personality rather than by issue, his presence was calming and Mom in her refereeing role, at least had one ally. Without much fuss and most importantly with dignity, he chose to disappear when he knew that his time had come. This was certainly the main reason why Lon did not agree to euthanasia for Whitey. Maybe, he was a time traveller, not ceasing to be, but travelling light on the galactic highway.
Considering that, maybe some day he will turn up in another form, somewhere in this world rendering yeoman service to whomsoever he chooses to serve. A forlorn hope is that maybe he will turn up one day to beat some sense and values into our leaders and legislators, in fact the entire community and relieve us from its overpowering sense of ‘angst’, which seems to justify our indifference and inaction to adapt to sweeping changes happening today – indifference to our environment, in particular. In short, give us all a kick on our collective backsides!
Words: PS Thangkhiew
This short story was first published in The Eclectic (August 2009) issue