Here are stories about several cats in a cattery in Bangalore who helped me through my year of cancer treatment, many years ago!
My Cancer’s I Ching Cats!
Kittles and the Water Lettuce
Cat-gardening began to put out its grim but thankfully furry roots on that very first morning when I woke up to finally admit cancer through the front door of my house, heart and head. It had come to visit, as it usually does, without invitation or warning. And the I Ching which I run to whenever horror grabs me, honestly gave me the oracle of 23, Splitting Apart! This eccentric, honest and wondrously wise self-help book can help me to deal with any problem without being crushed. It is also free advice, once you own this mystifying, always startling book. It rattles you and shakes you up and always tells you more about yourself than you want to know! Mostly about where you need to improve to be a happier person.
It was a friend to whom one could easily ask this silly question: “Will there be cats on the other side?” After all, the disease was in the third stage, so anything was possible. The lump was quite big before I noticed it. It made both my doctors look exceedingly grave. They were young, kind and very gentle, like lamps lit in the suddenly graying zone.
Cancer kindly carried its own very huge red suitcase with it (like any cumbersome guest) and brought it inside the house without help, spreading out its loathsome contents. These were: the chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, hair loss, a breast cut off, and a whole floor of cat-gardening: dolorous, doleful and delightful presents wrapped up around the ancient, enchanting classroom of the I Ching. Its 64 Oracles of wisdom rather than astrology, always makes life’s bitterest surprises, easier to solve.
Cancer’s crocodile skinned bag also carried a fetid little impertinence from the past, an old sinister senior, a detrimental, delirious, decomposition at work, with whom I had awfully unfinished business! For some odd reason, we had begun to call him Old Namby Pamby – the office’s most notorious smoker: not stunning like the Marlborough Man who was mowed down by cancer. This pompous toady only mowed down my career.
Cat-gardening began to put out its paraphernalia of fur-laden recipes and remedies, losses that would shred the heart and soul-searing I Ching oracles of wisdom and comfort. Then there was the very big garbage bin stinking with unfinished messes from my workplace, and the terror of the disease itself, the chemotherapy for six weeks, the surgery, then again chemotherapy for six weeks, hair loss, breast loss, then radiation.
Cancer’s crummy red suitcase seemed glad to empty itself of Old Namby Pamby, the 15 years old onerous Office Smoker, (40 to 50 cigarettes daily) who had smoked out my career and smothered me and my work in his jealous slime. I can’t remember how this senior person with his perennially unhappy little goatee beard got such a sad nickname, but he was there to stay lurking through the seasons of Cat-gardening laden with malice and meanness. The guilty but glad smiles that slithered out of him taught me
the real meaning of the word snigger. I could smell the hatred inside it.
The first morning of waking up with this silent sickness snuggled in bed with me I felt Baby Tiger very heavy on my stomach, as if she had put on weight overnight. My tubby little orange kitten blinked cheerily at me wondering what was for breakfast.
Then I found Kittles, her mother sitting behind her!
The shock was as huge as the cancer itself. Kittles, my shy, secretive, suspicious smoke and coal grey cat has never let me touch her, ever since she stalked into my house through the terrace, with Baby Tiger in her mouth two years ago. She trusts no-one and nothing in the world and came into my home as a special favour to me. To try to go close or pet her is to invite hisses and claws!
Why would life serve up such a platinum surprise on a day clutched with terror? I petted the orange and the grey blessings of that morning and decided to have a little snooze with the two snoozers before I got up to face the day.
The delight of this most wary and untrusting cat, having sat on my stomach, through this venomous night, was mystical . Normally she would hiss so fiercely at being touched, that I just left her alone: anything to keep Kittles happy . But it is rather typical Kittles like behaviour. It was only two years after she had adopted me, that one afternoon I discovered her paw sticking out of my soft red blanket when I came home early from work. She had been sleeping snuggly inside it, all those months and how she hadn’t suffocated, only Kittles knew. But the nuggets of sweet and startling surprises kept on spilling out of cat-gardening all through that corroding time….
The joy that this secretive little rainy cloudy grey day colored feline always granted me with her sneaky cheeky weird puzzles (she has gifted me a dead rat more than 600 times before breakfast in her lifetime) stayed with me as I endured the very painful biopsy and the too kind words that began to seep out from all friends and even worse, foes! I came home finally and found that one safe and reliable tiny grey paw sticking out of my blanket like hope itself with its blessed silence.
As my sister and a friend came to stay, the two cats put their furry staunchness on the numbing newness of long hospital encrusted days.
Kittles showed me that cats love the water lettuce. One night I had caught her drinking up the water around it. I used to think it was an amazingly water hungry plant, when I found the bowl almost empty every morning! This tenacious plant breeds babies rapidly and both my cats drank the water around it greedily.
I think this was one of the earliest tidings from cat-gardening deciding to sneak into our house and lives slowly but firmly. There was no stopping it…..especially when it all turned so wobbly and worrisome and cancerous…..Two Oracles, 41 (Decrease) and 42 (Increase) of the I Ching also latched onto the terrible time, with almost daily notes in the curriculum to keep me updated about where I was slipping and sliding, and where I was coming up for air!
My cancer’s cat-gardening unfurled its petals for every new scary or sugared surprise that hurled into my cancerous year till the cats at Mohanthal’s Quilt padded in, and cheekily jacketed by fur and the I Ching’s fierce curriculum of sense and sensibility for the art of cancer-stabbed living…..began to plant their own wisdom inside it….It truly was the oddest kind of cancer that came to strangle everything normal that year, even as it throttled, thundered, tore up some stuff, and then began to investigate, interfere and unbuckle some messes. It was to tell the truth, a horrible but nevertheless an interesting kind of cancer…….literate, mystical and even musical!
To be continued