Who says animals are dumb? If anybody says so I am sure they never had an experience like mine with a very small animal i.e. a cat.
The usual belief is that animals go by their instinct and that all their actions are motivated by instinct. But the unique experience I had with a cat taught me that there is much more than instinct which governs their actions, which I would like to share with others. I feel that they are capable of experiencing or expressing all the emotions that humans do. Since they cannot verbally express their emotions we call them dumb.
Our servants’ quarter has become a dumping ground as we dump all unused items in that room. Once in a while I get it organised by hiring a helper and sorting out things in three categories such as really unwanted items, occasionally used items and rarely used items and get the room cleaned. Adjacent to this room is another room where the maid washes and hangs out our clothes to dry. Three months ago the maid complained about a foul smell coming from the servants’ quarter. After listening to the complaint for two consecutive days I personally went to check and found the complaint genuine.
The next day I called our helper and made him open and check the quarter for any dead rat or a lizard. To my surprise, he showed me three kittens rolled into tiny, fluffy balls in a corner of the room. Though there was no dead rat or lizard the mother cat and the kittens were together responsible for the foul smell. As the helper was about to pick up the three kittens, the mother cat appeared from nowhere and stood in front of him, staring viciously and making peculiar snarling sounds. The helper was paralysed for a few seconds, yet he managed to come out of the room and began to shout “Madam! Amma! Amma!” When I came to enquire what was wrong the helper was standing outside the room. He was quite agitated and the cat was still hovering around the kittens. My husband also rushed to the spot when he heard the commotion. The helper, my husband and I debated as to how the cat could have entered the room and delivered the kittens when the room was always under lock and key.
After some investigation we noticed a few opening on the top portion of the iron door of the servants’ quarters through which the cat could have gained entry. The main aim of getting the room cleared of the foul smell could not be achieved without evacuating the kittens. This was impossible with the cat hovering around. So I called the helper on the next day at a time when our mali would also be present. Under my guidance the helper and the mali succeeded in picking up the kittens and depositing them safely under a bush in a corner of our garden. Then the helper rearranged the items in the room, cleaned it thoroughly using water, detergent and phenyl and left.
At about 12 noon, I was disturbed by the growling and wailing of the mother cat. I came out and found the cat sitting in the open space outside our dining room. When I looked at her I felt she was accusing me of moving her kittens to some other place. I felt she was demanding to know where I had moved them and why I had done so. Though she could not speak like a human being I could feel all that in her expression. I started explaining to her in English that the kittens were under a bush and that she would surely find them. I began to lead the way to the bush. She followed me but in spite of our combined efforts we could not find the kittens. I walked back and the cat followed me and the cat followed me. After sitting there for a little while she left with a forlorn look. It was our lunch time and finding me looking very worried my family started teasing me for my imagination about the cat looking for her kittens, accusing me and leaving with a forlorn look.
The cat returned at 4.00 in the evening and sat at the same place and began to meow persistently. This time I spoke to her in Telugu and tried to make her understand that I had meant no harm to her kittens and that I had no idea where her kittens were. The cat left after sunset but I couldn’t sleep that night imagining all sorts of tragic endings for the kittens.
The following day I called our helper again and made him search around the bush. Since he could not find them there I asked him to find out from our neighbours if the kittens had strayed into their houses. As I did not get a positive response from the neighbours I instructed the helper to go and look for tell tale marks of other bigger animals mauling the kittens. No such marks were found. In the meanwhile the cat reappeared and I asked the helper to let the cat into the servants’ quarters to look for her kittens herself. The cat went to every nook and corner of the room looking for her kittens and not having found them, came out of the room and sat at its usual place outside the dining room.
The helper left and our cook walked in. She found it a little odd that I was talking to a cat but consoled me by saying that the kittens might have strayed to a safer place. I asked her to talk to the cat in Hindi and Marathi which she knew well. She spoke to the cat, took her into the servants’ quarter again, told her that her babies were not there anymore and then brought her back. The whole drama went on for a week and my grandchildren began to poke fun at me saying, “Grandma is getting catcalls!”
My husband got the opening of the iron door of the servants’ quarter blocked by strong wires so that even rats could not enter. After that the cat suddenly stopped coming. I haven’t seen her till today but I had got so used to speaking to her in all possible languages and its incessant wailing. The cat’s persistent visits, its silent protest and its demand for its kittens left such a permanent impression on me that I can never believe that animals are dumb or mute creatures.
After all this agony I was happy when our helper announced one day that he had seen the three kittens with the neighbours servants and that they had divided the kittens amongst the family members to drive away troublesome rats in their houses. They had not told us this for fear of losing the kittens.
The news was a great relief for me and I could sleep peacefully that night.