Cats, The Dead and Me

Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

While traveling on the tube in London, I came across an ad for a nanny service for cats. The ad claimed they can provide day, night and holiday care for pet cats. Cats are in trend. Everyone loves them.

Either you love cats or dogs, just like the way you love beaches or the mountains. I am a dog person. So many street dogs in Bhubaneswar loved me back. Mom never disliked cats or dogs but she never allowed cat into the house.

Two incidents with cats just send a chill through my spine. One was in March, 2005 and the other was in May, 2006. We were staying in Rourkela, India. My grandfather who lived in our ancestral house in Nayagarh passed away. I was appearing for my board exams due to which I could not travel to our native place to attend his last rites. “Jeje Bapa” as me and my elder brother addressed him, loved us very much and had not seen me since 2 years.

My parents had gone to our ancestral village for the final rites of my grandfather. The last rites take place like a celebration, over a span of 10 days. It is believed that the spirit of the deceased is still in the house and in the process of departure to the heavenly abode.

It was 2005, Ipods were yet to be famous and the only mode of music consumption I had was CD player. The CD player and a pair of speakers were my life, music was my life, it still is. On the tenth day of the rituals of the jeje bapa’s death, a mid-sized cat entered into the house, with a known gaze it climbed atop the table where my music system was, and without a fear it made itself comfortable. The cat had entered the house at around 9 PM in the night. Cats are generally quick and not very comfortable in a stranger’s house. This one was just the opposite, it stayed on the CD player for long.I used to burn midnight oil back then. I read till 2 AM that night, while the cat watched me from atop the music system, without giving a fuck. I had to break my study at 3 in the night. The cat was still watching me, still sitting on the music system.

The next morning when I woke up at 10 AM, the cat was still watching me. Roughly fifteen minutes later, the cat jumped out and left. I still have no idea how a strange cat got into the house at 10 PM in the night, why wasn’t it scared of me, and why did the cat stay so long in the house! Was there a strange connection between jeje bapa’s death and the cat! Maybe yes!

Not long after this incident, on May 12, 2006, I lost a friend Bijay to brain haemorrhage. Bijay was my classmate and a sweet friend who lifted a heavy dumbbell too many times and before he could realize anything he was in the hospital. There was an internal bleeding. He lost his senses and was in the ICU for around 10 days. So many of our friends had visited him. That was the first time I saw a mighty machine, called “The Life Supporting System”. A complex machine was attached to Bijay’s body and was switched on. The machine moved mini parts inside which created a breathe for him. For 10 days Bijay was on the LSS. He was stuck in the ICU and his body had stopped responding to medications.

One fine morning me and a friend went inside the ICU room. He was still on the LSS, trying hard to breathe. A doctor ordered the nurse to bring a blank death report. The nurse wrote the name “Bijay Kumar Das” on the top of the blank death report. The next paragraph in the report was “Cause of Death’’. The doctor was filling it up when he instructed the nurse to pull out the plug. The oxygen mask was taken off his face, Bijay gasped for a while and gave up without a protest. He just fainted one last time, forever. Out of curiosity, I touched Bijay’s feet, the only part that was not covered by the white cloth. They were cold as ice, felt like a block of hilsa fish in our local fish slap. Bijay was gone, forever.

The next day Bijay was cremated as per Hindu rituals. Out of a class of 120 people, only 6 showed up for his funeral. I was one of them. I watched Bijay’s body burn in the pyre. I watched him turning into blisters, into droplets of burning blood and also heard his skull blasting like a Diwali cracker. It was over by evening. It was a hot day in May and on our way back we faced a thunderstorm. We rode our bikes till we could ride no more. Somehow, drenched in the rain, at 9PM I was home.

I was 18 then, and the last 48 hours were traumatizing for me. I hit the bed at 10, keeping the room pitch dark. 20 minutes later I felt a warm and soft thing touching my body. Just 5 hours ago I had been a part of a funeral, roughly 24 hours ago I had witnessed the death of a friend and now a soft warm thing beside me, was horrifying! In one jump I switched on the light! What I saw just freaked me out. It was a cat, not just any other cat but the same white cat that had come to me when jeje bapa died 14 months ago. Now it was on my bed, almost motionless, looking straight into my eyes!

That night I left the room and slept with my mom.

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