The Secret Life of Cats

Cats are the queens of the internet, supposedly because in its nascent days the people behind all those web sites were socially inept cat lovers. Another theory goes that we never really stopped worshipping them.

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The internet is playing favourites with a lot of other animals now. My daily feed consists of adorable animal gifs and videos, mostly cats, but also ‘birbs’, dogs and an assortment of zoo animals. I could while away half an hour every day watching Reginald get his first mani-pedi or Lo on guard duty, safe from behind my computer screen.

Discovering that I was a cat person took me a good many years. My neighbours owned seven cats with eyes like emeralds and shiny, black sinewy bodies that would have been apt next to a witch’s cauldron. My parents considered them a nuisance because they turned our balcony into their toilet and the cacophony of demonic mating calls in the middle of the night could make anyone grumble. I secretly petted them and fed them cream from my hand.

I was told that cats weren’t just dirty, they were bad luck, so when I tried to bring one home from an abandoned litter that my friends had found, the answer was no. We had to deal with the demise of the litter at the claws of an adult cat. Turns out in cat world, the law of the jungle prevailed.

I was pretty much done with kittens… or so I thought.

Turn the clock a couple of decades and I rescued my first stray. I was still clueless as to how to look after animals and poor Moon-Moon (named after a popular Tumblr meme) had to deal with being kept at arm’s distance for two months before I found an adoptive family for him.

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Moon-Moon

While the local animal feeders preferred to deal with dogs and ignored the kittens, I managed to find a couple of people who were willing to help: one nice lady who accompanied me to all his x-ray appointments and another nice lady who gave me sample size kitten food, a litter tray and lots of much needed advice. I visited her house to see her prized rescue cats: Sheru, Chutki and Lola Kutty, well-fed beautiful things with shiny coats and glimmering eyes.

Sheru had been a miracle kitten, delivered to Mrs. R a week after the untimely death of her original cat, a white stray to whom she had been very attached and whose demise had left her feeling so depressed that she swore she would never keep another pet. She was a regular animal feeder in the area and the guard on duty called her to say one of the building dogs, Sir Sits-a-Lot (or something, I forgot his name) was hiding something and not allowing anyone to come near him. He did allow Mrs. R however, and between his paws nestled a little ginger male that she was compelled to adopt. She swore Sir Sits-a-Lot had gifted the kitten to her because animals are capable of sensing depression. Chutki came along after that and then it was Lola Kutty, who had been run over by one of Mrs. R’s relatives. After many visits to the doctor, Lola managed to recover completely, her slightly misshapen ribcage the only evidence left of the accident. Mrs. R’s relative was ready to take Lola Kutty back because they felt responsible for her after the accident, but she couldn’t be separated from Sheru because ‘they were in love with each other’.

Cats fall in love?

“Yes!” Mrs. R insisted emphatically.

Lola Kutty was maturing and Sheru had been sterilized, so he had to bear the rage of her frustration—scratches, swipes and bites–because he couldn’t perform. Chutki, meanwhile, was intensely jealous of Lola because she didn’t understand why this new young thing ought to have any hold over her old mate Sheru.

I liked to think cats possessed as dramatic a love life (despite the missing parts) as we humans did and began to sense the tension in the room with the three cats in it. Sheru began to paw at me and Mrs. R told me to leave the room before Lola Kutty went apeshit with jealousy.

So Moon-Moon, by a stroke of luck, got adopted by a lovely Bengali family who lived five minutes away and happened to be looking for a kitten on the internet.

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Flash

 

My second, Flash, was rescued from the gutter where he had been hiding from the neighbourhood strays. When I brought him home I left him in a cardboard box on the stairs, but he meowed so loudly that a local tomcat came to investigate. I opened the door to the stairwell and found Mister Tomcat staring intently at the cardboard box in which I had hidden Flash. After a long staring match between us, he turned around and left, much to my relief. I didn’t think I could take the sight of another mauled kitten.

Flash turned out to be so feral that it was impossible to handle or feed him without two layers of jeans on and pair of thick gloves. He was built for the streets, ferocious little kitty with the sharp little claws that had to be unhooked from one’s flesh. I managed to keep him for three months before he got too big to handle and then, failing to find a family for him, I got him vaccinated and let him go in the fish market, hoping that perhaps he would find his way back to me with a promise that he’d behave himself.

Well none of that happened.

By that time my family had had enough of my animal social-service and luckily, I didn’t come across any more abandoned kittens to prey on my conscience. For a brief time, and because I had plenty of cat food left, I fed a cat name Pookie who turned out to be the most adorable stray I’d ever met. He’d take a bite of his food, return to rub up and meow lovingly against my ankles, then take another mouthful, return and rub up again and so on. He loved a good petting, but I didn’t like the idea of taking him away from the territory he’d gained in a colony overrun with strays. Plus, if I came home with a full grown unneutered male stray I was pretty sure my family would lose its marbles.

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Pookie

After that, I was packed up and ready to move cities when I heard from my vet that a nearby Persian had whelped a litter of furballs. I couldn’t resist and just had to pick one. Timo was welcomed because he was a domestic breed and cute as a button. He is the worst of the kittens I’d dealt with when it comes to potty manners and I had to change his feeding pattern several times before I figured what his delicate inbred constitution required.

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Timo

I heard from Nice Lady No. 1, who had helped me rescue Moon-Moon, that Pookie was, of all things, fostering a male kitten and sharing his food with him.

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Pookie’s foster son

This was unusual for a male cat and just proved that Pookie was angel sent from heaven in cat form. The youngster that he fostered didn’t make it though, and I’d like to think Pookie might have mourned his death just like Mrs. R had done for her beloved kitty.

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Over My Hill

Hard work, that classic recipe for success. This blind adage was the formula to break all formulas, we just didn’t question it. We gave it names that exposed no fondness for it—to plug, to slave, to slog. There was no excuse for laziness, you had to do well in life, if you didn’t you just weren’t trying hard enough.

My aptitude tests directed me towards the arts and design and thankfully I had the sort of parents, rare at the time, who were willing to cough up the tuition for a field widely considered frivolous. The future seemed simple until then: hard work equals good skills equals success. I tried applying the holy mantra to design and paid for it with my time and, I believe now, a lot of wasted effort. Suddenly one couldn’t work quietly in the background and just submit one’s work; one had to talk, present and ‘defend’ one’s work. All these skills carried points, sometimes more than the real work.

I studied beside people who escaped the painful aspects of visual education by sidling around it, almost always the artsy-fartsy kind, allergic to skill development of any sort but filled with a knowledge and egotism that I greatly admired (because I had zero) and conversely the master craftsmen and the Disney-lovers who hated them and vice versa. Design was more abstract than marks on a mark sheet. Navigating this labyrinth of opinions and fiery judgments required a complex knowledge of human behaviour: let’s just say kissing ass, saying the right things, presenting your work in a stream of well-chosen words, dealing with up to forty-five minutes of ant-fucking with good-natured wit. For someone who could barely articulate a full sentence, this was extremely difficult for me.

Again, if you couldn’t handle it, you just weren’t trying hard enough.

By the time I was worthy of graduation, I had figured a few things out, and managed to wrest my diploma out of their hands. The solution was ridiculous and wasteful: a separate, real world application set of work for my client and a separate set for what the faculty thought was the direction I should take.

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Later, I heard of others whom I would have considered charlatans, whom I just knew, had managed to get there by utilizing slick charm, a lot of social-climbing and a gathering of a loyal, if clueless fan base. The genuine articles made it too and I was happy for them. I went into the real world and I was still shit at human behaviour. For me, success seemed elusive and slippery as a fish and I had lost all faith in the holy mantra. Hard work was for corporate cogs, it just didn’t apply to design.

I had failed to strategise in any way. I realized just I took whatever opportunity landed in my lap, as they weren’t that many. I was wading in shallow water, directionless, waiting for underwater currents to pull me along.

Fast-forward many years, I’d learnt a few things. I forgave my younger self and did a lot of reading and introspection, arriving at a different insight and a better mantra that might sound obvious to anyone reading this: Know Thyself. In meditation terms—looking inward for the answer. It was odd advice to an introvert to introspect even more, but I as I found my desperation fading, I had to find out why. I had wanted to succeed for the wrong reasons and when those reasons seized to exist I was free to rediscover, know myself, on my own terms.

For one, and this was a great big source of irritation to people who have known me: my tunnel vision. I realized I could always hit a good many hours of flow, provided I wasn’t interrupted. I world-build and conceptualize in my sleep, hence the notebook by my bed. I work intuitively and I’m not good at technicalities, again, to the chagrin of others, but I began to embrace it and saw my intuitive logic fall into place. These weren’t defects, they were inborn tools that had been neglected for many years.

The Know Thyself mantra extends to one’s faults as well, and this one was long overdue…I like to call it The Purge. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I needed to stop clinging to the toxic, if well-meaning, people in my life, the ones who had high expectations for me to conform, whether it regarded female behaviour or whether it regarded work. The Purge was the most freeing. It resulted in my stopping communication with every last person I wasn’t related to, leaving me feeling a bit bare and vulnerable the first few months, then emerging as a blessing. For the ones I couldn’t get rid of, I had to draw lines in the sand. In addition, there were other minor faults to address: lack of focus, addictions (hoarding stationery being one of them), and frequent bouts of laziness. It wasn’t a matter of taking control, it was a matter of control clicking into place.

Success, while not being the big stage and prize with fireworks I always expected, is still elusive, but at least I can call myself a published writer now, and I have a loyal clientele that returns to me for commissions. Hard work, that painful, torturous maxim that way too many people stake their futures on, is relative. It still applies, but needs to be applied mindfully, otherwise one might as well spend one’s life trying to catch that slippery fish with one’s bare hands, and continuously fail.

 

*The title of this post refers to Iggy Pop’s adorable song Success.

 

 

 

Drowning in the Wonders and the Was

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Back when we were in our late teens the future hung on a precipice and one’s mental health as well. What we made of ourselves was our primary focus and some handled it better than others. Some were born with silver spoons in their mouths and weren’t as obsessed with success as the middle-class kids. We didn’t have an open relationship with our parents, there were things you just didn’t tell them: failure, harassment, the decisions we made purely ruled by tranference; kids who came from divorced parents, the ones who had lost someone important along the way, the lower middle-class ones with no money to spend, the targets, the narcissists.

Books and music were a substitute for therapy. I still have a tender spot for all the musicians from the 1990’s who saved me but I don’t do that anymore, not so compulsively. If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself and everybody else to chill, but I do miss the riot of emotions and the solipsism that came with every indulgent music binge, lyrics from the cassette case clutched in my fingers.

I’m gonna make a mistake/ I’m gonna do it on purpose/ I’m gonna waste my time…

An artwork of a woman with her calves crossed to the viewer, playing with her tresses and the lyrics to Fiona Apple’s Mistake scrawled around her body adorned the door of my room, scandalizing my hostel warden, and when I moved back home, my dad, who asked me to take it off the wall. When she played, I’d have someone begging me to turn her off. Others, mildly interested, pointed out how this woman seemed to have been through every kind of relationship on the planet. The moodiness, the sound of her piano was like tumbling down the stairs of a haunted mansion–her crooning was both sonorous and soft and somehow effortless.

Oh, you creep uplike the clouds/ And you set my soul at ease/ Then you let your love abound/ And you bring me to my knees

Many years after I had gotten over my rock/pop obsessions, she managed to find her way into my Tumblr feed. This post was a quote from an article on her in Spin magazine, 1997:

[…]She’s standing there, staring hard at the photographer, who’s saying, “Give me sexy, seduce me.” I can see why she hates photo shoots.  “There’s no hope for women, there’s no hope for women, there’s no hope for women,”she says during a break, like she’s the white girl rapper speaking out for her homies[…]

The reporter tries hard to fit her into a box. He is, however, perceptive enough to point out how no one is really in control of their own exploitation, or how their sexualized image will be perceived by anyone who sees it. Now that I’m smarter about that sort of thing, the Criminal video resembles an American Apparel ad: Fiona vulnerable on the kitchen sink, Fiona vulnerable inside the closet, Fiona in the middle of motionless teenage bodies in their underwear. Fiona in her underwear in the backseat of a car that reminds you of a flashy paparazzi shot.

She was way too young to be in any sort of control of that image. So what purpose does Criminal serve anyway?

These ideas of mine/ Percolate the mind/ Trickle down the spine/ Swarm the belly, swellin’ to a blaze/ That’s where the pain comes in/ Like a second skeleton/ Tryin’ to fit beneath the skin/ I can’t fit the feelin’s in

Let’s say you’re drawn by the wink of a diamond in a deep dark cave. That’s Criminal. You go closer and you discover the cave is stacked from corner to corner with gold, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. That’s what Tidal was. They did try to package and sell her like a pop star, but the waif-like sexy image faded quickly because her music was so strong. Now I see her, twenty years later, banging away at the piano or dancing with her dog and being the genius weirdo that actually she is.

The Terror – TV Series

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On 19th May 1845 a crew of 129 men set out to brave the icy chill of the Arctic in an attempt to find a shorter sea passage to the orient. The voyage of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was doomed to fail, as, caught in the ice for years, the journey ended with the remaining crew ridden with lead poisoning and scurvy who eventually, as the marks on the bones found in 1997 suggest, resorted to cannibalism. The location of both wrecks were accurately theorised by Inuit historian Louie Kamookak, who died this March at the age of 58, with information gleaned from oral tales told by his elders about the white men and their ships.

If the mystery of the doomed voyage is not fascinating enough, add a supernatural element and a brilliant cast brought together in the TV series, based on the book by Dan Simmons. I loved it so much I binge-watched the first five episodes on Amazon Prime until I was fog-brained and would have ploughed on had the remaining episodes been available (and when they did arrive I watched them with extra dedication). I googled a few screen shots to put together the fan art in the image above. Jared Harris, whom I remember as one of my favourite characters from Mad Men, brings a layer of charisma to the role of Captain Francis Crozier. I can’t say any of the other actors failed to live up to the their characters either, especially Adam Nagaitis, slinking about as the thoroughly unlikable Mr.Hickey.

 

Getting Started

When I was little, there was something missing from the transitional stage of child to young adult. My parents had high standards for reading, I was scolded because I found O. Henry and Jack London difficult to read. It was assumed that I wasn’t making enough of an effort. I, however, just assumed I lacked intelligence.

Until then, I was enthusiastically writing poor copies of Enid Blyton books (some would call it fan lit today). I realized I needed to grow up, so I sealed my childhood away as some sort of embarrassing phase of immaturity and ignorance, instead of the most amazing childhood that it actually had been.

Movies sucked for me too. Men were fearless and unflappable crime-fighters and women were strippers in the background. There were a few that I liked immensely though I didn’t know why: The Journey of Natty Gann, The House on Carroll Street and Return to Oz.

Then a cousin handed me A Little Princess. Turned out it was the transitional book I needed. Super girly, orphan fantasies…the beginning of the road to introversion and decades of social awkwardness.

Looking back, I realized I wasn’t just looking for strong female love interests, I was looking for strong heroines, but I just didn’t know it. I was expected to read not for enjoyment, but to expand my mind: the children’s classics and then hopefully, higher literature, stuffed with wise thoughts and abstract shit one should never apply to real life. Real life, we were told over and over, was about academics, financial security, marriage and kids.

Until then, I read what was handed to me by my teenage brothers. I went through a Jeffrey Archer phase that didn’t make my parents happy, but they couldn’t say anything because the books belonged to my brothers. I read Roots. I read The Godfather and hated it. I picked up Salman Rushdie and Stephen King at the local library and loved them. I read Gerald Durrell and James Herriot. I tried Pride and Prejudice, but it was a story about a woman who refuses to marry and then marries anyway. I read Jane Eyre and loved it. At least there was some action, it was dark and super gothic, and Jane was plain. At least they made out. By then I had secretly resolved never to marry. I planned to have a Career.

I gobbled up a lot of comics, read the Narnia books and plodded through LOTR to convince my brothers I was as cool as they were. At The British Library, I surreptitiously picked up stuff from obscure female writers that would never have passed the cool test.

Then I hit fourteen and the senior girl’s school library was opened up to me. Holy shit. Here were my heroines, my damsels with words as sharp as knives. They wore dresses. They rode horses. They fell in love with complete assholes. Until then I didn’t know Historical Romance existed. I could borrow four books at a time now, I could stack them up and eat them like sandwiches. I could dream about them when I slept.

These women were writing stories about progressive heroines set in the past, so according to everyone the stuff was fluff. Did I care? Not really. Other girls liked them and discussed the ‘racy’ covers in great detail. Daphne du Maurier and M. M. Kaye made me adore male characters. Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr and Barbara Taylor Bradford were lite versions of the three-inch historical novel. I was reading for enjoyment and never looked back.

The phase lasted three years. I left for college where I secretly nursed a dream of becoming a writer. I switched to fantasy lit and couldn’t get enough of it. Books weren’t just escapism anymore they were armour. College caused enough neurosis to want to shut yourself in a room and read like a bat in a cave, until three days had passed by and you stepped out the door, blinking in the daylight, with three pending submissions and a ‘yellow slip’ that you had wilfully ignored.

I graduated feeling like I’d lost five years of my life. A member of the faculty messaged me an address to a creative writing competition with the advice that I send something in. I did and never heard from them again, but it was enough to send me down a path.

I wrote sporadically, never within the same genre. I submitted a couple of more stories and got polite rejection letters. I began writing a book: my pet project. I intended to finish it in six months but was never quite satisfied with it. More than a decade later I’m still writing it, but it was worth all the discarded drafts because I had trained myself to become a better writer. I stopped reading for pleasure as much as I did for research.

There’s always a new story, annoyingly different from the previous one, sprouting fresh roots amongst half-finished drafts. One was accepted by an online magazine that doesn’t get much traffic, another in an anthology amongst established writers with some of the finest writing I’ve seen. The process of editing too was smooth, though I doubt it’ll be the same experience every time. I don’t plan to set myself up for a smooth ride. Nothing ever is.

I’m just glad I don’t do it for a living.