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     Volume 11 |Issue 24| June 15, 2012 |


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Photo: Courtesy

Playful Dogs and Wary Cats

Syed Badrul Ahsan

A few nights ago, about seven or eight dogs were playing happily on the empty nocturnal streets. A little whelp jumped clear across the back of a large bulldog-like creature. Three others were simply running here and there, oblivious to the world around them. Ah, but the world, the human world, was fast asleep. And that was not so bad, for when men and women keep awake, something of profound sadness comes into the world of God's other creatures. They have no place to go to. In the old days, trigger-happy men, flunkeys in tow, cheerfully went off with loaded guns into the woods, to shoot tigers, deer and birds. They did not eat the meat of the tigers but made it a point to skin them dry in order to give their urban drawing rooms a look of adventure. Some had the heads of the murdered tigers and deer hoisted on a hook, quite giving the place a macabre look. And the meat of the deer was swiftly consumed and so was that of the birds.

Photo: Courtesy

It then naturally follows that dogs will take over the streets once the laws of nature liberate the city from human predatory instincts in the deepening night. They will play raucous games through the silent streets, in the manner of absolute children, screaming in delight as they leap and roll over and around one another. The sight of a lone dog lying on its back on the grass at the intersection of four city roads and giving itself a vigorous roll on the grass to put an end to that itchy feeling, only to get back on its feet in huge satisfaction, is an image you do not ordinarily come by. But such happenings do occur, as do the times when from tiredness and the excessive heat of summer a dog, hungry and thirsty, decides that its priority is something else: it needs the shade of a tree to have a nap in. And it will find that tree and that shade, but then someone in our image, a man or a woman, will spring out of nowhere to shoo this tired creature out of that coveted spot.

At a home in distant London, ten cats enjoy what you could reasonably call the high life thanks to the fundamental humanity of their master and mistress. They are healthy and each is possessed of a personality where self-esteem and something like urbanity underpin their movements. They eat good food. They sleep well. They have all the freedom in the world to go about the streets and alleys of the neighbourhood. They are, if you would like to know, well-grounded in the aristocratic traditions of feline civilisation. And they have three friends, cats who have homes nearby and are apparently not as well off as they. You could say they are upper middle class, but middle class all the same. Every evening, these three friends join those ten cats over dinner, a rather quiet affair, before they go back to their homes. You wonder at the affluence in the lives of all these thirteen cats. The human rights you speak of are essentially those they enjoy because their owners understand their needs and their sentiments.

Photo: Courtesy  

But these are lucky cats, patronised as they are by people who have hearts of gold. There are the other cats, the have-nots forming the majority of the cat population and particularly in the under-developed regions of the world. These are cats which eke out a bare existence and frequently find themselves engaged in squabbling with one another. Society is largely impoverished; and as so often happens in such a social structure, the struggling masses of cats fight over scarce resources. Their mood is always low, with nothing of the sophisticated about them. You will see them go stealthily toward a kitchen when no one is watching because they have smelled milk or fish. And then, like a sudden storm, they turn tail and run. Someone has caught them coming on tiptoe and decided to give them a run for their life. It is a sad situation. When in the middle of a dripping monsoon night you wake to the sound of huge commotion, wondering if the heavens are about to come crashing down, you realise it is two cats, steeped in poverty, lost in a war of words. They have nothing to look forward to, in the manner of people bereft of the last shreds of dignity. They think nothing of humiliating each other in the light of a confused moon.

There is that certain tinge of the human about cats and dogs as there is about other animals. As the dogs play under the stars in the silent night, it is Creation you recall in all its diversity. You feel that ripple of guilt rising in you when the headlights of your car interrupt their game. They stand, in stupefaction, wondering why you must encroach on their territory. It is almost the same with cats, except that cats are a little more conservative and are not willing to be the kind of extroverts as dogs are. Cats have their own hauteur. Where dogs become your friends in precious little time, cats seem to take time to scrutinise you before they can be sure you mean well and are sincere in your offer of friendship.

That is quite a human thing. Sure it is. So let the dogs rule the night and let the cats fight their own bitter battles. Who are we to come in their way?

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.


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