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May 31, 2019 Friday 10:36:25 PM IST

What You Learn from Animal Watching-The Cat That Was Afraid of the Mouth Organ!

Guest Column,Reflections

Puss is a common pet name that was given to cats in my childhood days. We had the good fortune to have the company of cats although none of them belonged to us.
The first one I remember was a grey coloured cat with fainted black spots and off white underbelly. She belonged to our neighbour Thankamani and Devarajan who lived hardly 100 metres away from our home in Thiruvananthapuram. Thankamani or her mother used to come as domestic help while her brother Devarajan used to take me to KG classes and back in a cycle. Puss used to come to our house at around 8 AM when it was just time for us to have breakfast. We used to give milk or idli/dosa whichever food we had in the morning. It would spend some time with us. To show its love it would brush its furry body against our legs and if we took it and holded it in our hands just as we do with babies it would show its affection. The best way to play with them was to move a rope and it would bow down on its knees, kneenly observe the movement of the rope and quickly try to catch it. You might have noticed the mother cats give training in catching rats by just moving its tail either ways. The kittens would compete to catch the tail by lying flat, without making any noise it would creep slowly, pounce and stalk the tail just as it would do with a rat.

Puss would return by 4 pm in the evening, again the time when myself and my brother return from school and have some tea or snacks after a tiring day. We could easily know whether it was hungry. It would come near to us while eating and then give a 'meow' sound which is different from the usual and with a stronger tone. 'Meow' tones vary according to the emotional state of the cat-anger, fear, hunger or sadness. We would give some food may be rice or dosa or idli and it would relish whatever we give. Again, it would start playing with us and on rainy days it was fond of lying crouched in a table provided we kept a wick lamp to keep her warm. When my father or mother returned from work, it would be ready to return to its home. This practice continued for a few years and it became pregnant and the delivery was done in the ceiling our house and as it was a wooden ceiling it was quite comfortable for the younger ones. After the lactation phase, the mother began to take one by one to different places and we don't know what happened to them eventually. However, it was nice to see the tiny kittens sucking milk and struggling to walk and play. Rats in our house had a rather tough time if Puss was around.
I had noticed that unlike dogs, cats don't have loyalty to one master or one house. It generally doesn't come with us if we leave the place as it is said that it loves the place rather than the people. Dogs on the other hand would be willing to accompany its master where they go.

Years later when we were more grown up, we had another lovely cat again which did not belong to us but to our neighbour Raju. This one was really beautiful with jet black color and milky white underbelly. Anyone would love to have such a cat. She also shared her time more or less equally in our house and in Raju's house. You just need to throw her into a papaya tree or banana tree, it would climb up in jet speed and once it reaches the top it will survey the whole place and return in super quick time without hurting itself. After all a cat always lands on all fours.

Black Puss was also very friendly with us and it would produce a peculiar meow when it was called puss. It would rub its body on our legs to show affection and it had a delightfully long black tail. This cat also became pregnant and had three kittens, if I remember right. However, as time went the behaviour of our dear Puss underwent some change. She did not quite like us holding and throwing her on the tree top. When we played the mouth organ, it tried to snatch it from our hands and if we didn't stop playing, it would scratch our hands. We couldn't find any reason why it feared or hated the sound of the mouth organ. I later suspected that it may have been affected by some nervous disorder because the initial playfulness when we first saw it was already gone by the time it became a mother. After some time, the cat itself was not to be seen and may have disappeared with its kittens.

When our son Darshan was studying in primary school in Thiruvananthapuram,he saw two kittens abandoned while on the way to school. My wife Aswathy accompanying him also also felt sorry for them. Both of them decided to take it home and we nurtured it with love and affection. Darshan would come back home from school and play with it. Once he was got a scratch wound as one them used its paws to show its dislike or anger. After a few months, as the cats grew up, they showed a tendency to run away. Once it went to a nearby house on its own and we had to bring it back. However, very soon it got into company with some wild cats nearby and by the time we vacated that house, they were in no mood to come with us. Aswathy used to specially cook raw fish for the two which was relished by both of them. This again confirms the long held theory that cats don't love their masters but the place.

Cats belong to the tiger family and dogs to the wolves family. In ancient times, dogs were the companions when men went in groups for hunting in the forests. Hence they continue the evolutionary habit of serving the masters and protecting them. On the other hand the cat belonging to the tiger family is more ferocious and sometimes can easily fight a dog. I remember, the black puss challenging a neighbour dog for a fight and jumping high and using its paws to give a hard slap on its face. 

Having spent some eventful years with cats in my childhood and again experiencing it after Darshan was born, cats were a central character in the stories I told to both Darshan and Diyah to put them to sleep.
However, on some occasions when I was feeling drowsy after telling so many stories, Diyah would still be awake. Once, she was surprised when the cat in my story was taken to Rajagiri school for admission! Then she gently shook me and said Papa you better sleep!

Photo Courtesy: Liselote Brunner,


Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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