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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

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Cat’s tale of woe

I lived in Tambimuttu’s home. It was a very large house situated in the middle of a vast garden and various kinds of flowers grew there. Tambimuttu’s wife and two children lived in the house. The family had two huge mongrels, one of them a female dog. I was the lord of the kitchen which was infested with rats.

I was a good hunter of rats and other rodents, and my master liked me a lot because soon I reduced the rat visitors to the house. However, I noticed Tambimuttu family liked the two dogs more than me. My master took great care to bring home the necessary food, fur powder and vitamin syrup for the dogs and the mistress was very particular instructing the servant to feed the dogs and bathe them in time.

Whenever I litter, my kittens were kept with me only for a month or so and not any longer. The mistress used to grumble whenever I littered. “This fellow has littered for the second time, it’s a problem.” The mistress grumbles. “Let’s keep the little fellows for about one and a half month.” The master replies. “Mummy, it’s a sin to separate the little ones; let’s keep them with us.” The children plead with the mother. “What nonsense? Do you want to have a cat farm?” The children’s mother questions them.

I have littered in this house about four times. One day I heard the master’s voice. “Kamala, tomorrow put the kittens in a gunny bag; when I go to office I can drop them somewhere.”

“But Appa, you must drop them where there are houses. Otherwise the little ones will die without food.” The children said.

“Drop them somewhere far, otherwise they will come back.” The wife advised.

Whenever my kittens were separated from me I felt very sorry. I was never allowed to love and play with my kittens. But it was a different story with the dogs. Long before she littered, both my master and mistress got the servant in the house to build an extra kennel. “Adeyi Selvarajah, you have to make another kennel. Very soon she’ll get some pups.” The master would say.

“Do you sprinkle the powder on the dogs’ coat?” That was the wife.

“Yes, Nona.”

“What about the biscuits? Do you give them regularly?”

“Yes, Saami.”

Whenever the dog littered pups, Tambimuttu family never got rid of the pups as they did to my kittens. When the pups were about three months old, they put advertisement in the papers. One day I heard the wife telling the master.

“This time you must sell the pups for a good price.”

“Yes Kamala, once we put the ad in the papers, there’ll be more callers. Do you remember what a number of callers we had when we advertised last time?”

I felt very sorry the way they treated my kittens. As I grew older my hunting skills reduced and the mistress began to hate me. One day I heard the mistress telling the master, when she saw me in the kitchen, lying crouched up near the fire place.

“This cat is useless. It only knows to eat and sleep.”

”It’s old now, Kamala. It has stayed with us for seven years and now it can’t catch rats.”

“No use keeping it anymore,” Kamala said, “when it litters again, we must take one kitten and chase this one.”

“Sin, Amma, where can it go? It has got used to us.” The son said. I thought some misfortune would fall on the family. It is true they can’t keep all my kittens and make the house a cat farm, as the mistress said. But the mistress is heartless when she told the master that she would chase me after taking my kitten. Why? Because I’m old. Even people, when they reach old age, cannot do well the work they used to do earlier. Old age is not my fault. So I was angry with the Tambimuttu family and avoided staying in the house. I stayed very often on the roof top of the house and searched my food in the neighborhood houses. Tambimuttu was a proud man; so was his wife. They did not associate with their neighbours. Whenever someone came to the gate, he would tell his servant to untie the dogs to chase anyone at the gate. They had money, a big house with high walls right round and two ferocious dogs, whose looks seemed more vicious than their bite.

Before long, misfortune swept across the country, communal riot broke between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Lawlessness was the order of the day; daily there was news of looting, raping, murder and arson. Several Tamil houses were invaded by thugs. Tambimuttu had consolation in his dogs. He told his wife and children who were overcome with fear, to depend on the dogs for protection. “Kamala, don’t worry; these thugs can’t climb our seven foot high wall. If they dare to come, our dogs are there to look after them.”

One night I was on the roof top. There was a commotion in my master’s house. As usual the dogs were let loose from the kennel. Some rabble-rousers were at the gate; they were tapping the gate loud and said: “Doray, getuwa arinna, naetnam api arindada?” (Doray, open the gate, otherwise we shall open) Both the dogs ran to the gate and began to bark furiously. A few thugs climbed the wall and the dogs were ready to pounce on them; they barked furiously and were ready to tear in to pieces any intruder. Suddenly, the barking stopped. I saw both the dogs fallen near each other. The thugs had the day; they entered the house and set it ablaze.

A misfortune did come to Tambimuttu’s family.

(Tambimuttu was married to a Sinhala woman. This story was written after the communal riot in 1983)

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