My Cancer’s I Ching Cats! Part 2: Mohanthal’s Quilt

Here is story 2 about several cats in a cattery in Bangalore who helped me through my year of cancer treatment, many years ago!

My cancer’s cat-gardening (2)

Mohanthal’s Quilt

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With cancer’s odiously crammed  suitcase again regurgitating Namby Pamby it also dragged out the long, endless clothesline from my career over which hung a huge bundle of unwashed

and soiled mess: a promotion that should have come  17 years ago appeared to have slithered away inside the underpants of a smoker whose passive smoking must have endangered all of the office staff.

Malevolence and putrid injury had oozed out of this sad little twerp for so long I had got used to the disease. And then there was Leprosy: an even more ancient skunk whose scrofulous spit had swirled over my work for too many years. I had put these two aged cretins inside my journals for many years where they had bred like maggots, seething with toxic fumes.

As cancer’s cat-gardening began to muddle its way through that muddied year, it taught me a very important lesson: never put office venom inside journals. It just festers and rises up like a massive pestilence that crashed down over my promotion and thousands of good features and investigative stories that never saw the light of day. While journaling is good for your heart and soul, speaking up loudly is better for a promotion!

A sweeter reminder was that I had to fulfill my life long ambition to own a Tortoise Shell Cat, (as this species lures my heart like a velvety wrap,) and someday visit New York that till now I had gobbled up in books, movies, CSI New York and dreams. Cat-gardening lured a Tortoise Shell towards me rather quickly……..

As the mound of work to be done throttled me – hospital visits, the terror of hair, breast losses, etc. it was time to go to Mohanthal’s Quilt.

Mohanthal was a  cat, who lived in a colony of  60 to 80 cats on two terraces of an old stone house behind my office.  Very often the cats there unknowingly or knowingly (who can tell with felines?) took in all my tumbling bungles of existence when they got too worrisome to handle. And they taught me a solemn, very winning language of surviving with plain and simple cat harmony that amazingly cut down my huge shopping bills on self-help books which I used to buy copiously.

Mohanthal in her mystifying, mysterious way, discovered and then safeguarded inside her, my very own enigmatic inner sewing box for knitting up all the sudden cuts and wounds that arrive seemingly out of nowhere, like this deplorably silent disease. I often wonder if it just came to smoke out the silence that governs my career and my personal relationships with a debilitating power. Something stitches up my mouth when anything needs to be spoken about. I am timid, meek as misery, and cancer too is so very silent……

I met Mohanthal when I had tripped into yet another sticky hurdle at work. Being a very small town girl working in a big city magazine,  I quickly fell into that lonesome office back room where all silent and overtly shy people get imprisoned over the years, being totally without a ‘mentor’ and with no handy savvy tricks for promoting myself or buttering the powers that be. Instead, I pounced on work greedily, obsessively,   ramming into sundry laziness and lethargy that envied and sneered.

.It was a time jammed with two things, my obsessive love of digging out good stories, and that other very decrepit old male Morbidity above me always strutting around officiously lugging a huge sewage green and eerily ominous camera bag. All the tools for finishing me and my career off, lurked in there, I soon began to think, as he reared up like a massive malodorous sewer rat over my career.

To my utter astonishment from the moment I began to shine a little in the field, this very spiteful,  frothing and festering windbag of mediocrity wrapped himself up over almost all my stories,  and gobbled them up, hid them or made them somehow vanish. His bitter, bothersome, boiling envy boomeranged into my career very injuriously. I could almost taste and smell that eerie jealousy, but even more scary were those maddened, peering eyes, which seemed to gloat with reddened rage as he hissed and spat out venom over my work.

The petrifying reality was that he was unable to stop vomiting out this virulence on me.  He was pitiful and pitiless and always revoltingly unstoppable.

He ruled over more than 15 years of my career and dug out the depression beginning to burn in my heart, and began to stoke it with his sullen slaying of my joy of working. It maddened him. As this slouching foxy office Thug  (a forerunner to Namby Pamby) began to bite up huge chunks of my worth and courage, I  had to admit that the Universe had saddled me with my very own weird workplace Leprosy. He appeared to have arrived with this huge, camera bag crammed with sour rancour, just to slide my stories into, where they huddled for months till they died. I was very frightened by him and was clueless about how to handle this poisoned pest.

His gloating smile and insincere and trite humor (trying always to look very blameless and not succeeding, ) was sickening as he hissed and pissed over my work.

After enduring Leprosy, no ghost story or horror film, could ever scare me as much as he did.

All the self-help books I began to devour around that time,  told me the truth – that life always sends us what we urgently need. My office Leprosy was there to clobber me into learning to open my stitched up mouth! But instead I put him inside several journals where he lived and bred, spoiling every bit of joy I got, with some new story or photograph, by stamping on it,….with his very own Leprosy Nailed Shoes.

Then on an evening when I was almost suicidal and being clobbered by this loathsome leech stuck in my heart, head and bones the Universe seemed to have specially kept this cat for me  to meet whose fur was a solemn quilt of gladdening grey-maroon-orange-brown sweetness! I realized she was the colour of Mohanthal. It was my favourite Diwali sweet meat that my mother always made out of fresh homemade ghee, loads of sugar, almonds and jaggery.

It was her look that astounded me with its fierce and yet canny perception, as if it knew exactly what I was thinking, where I was heading, and where I had stumbled, messed up or muddled, and worse, it was saying, when was I going to do something about it? Very eerily she also seemed to have met Leprosy in some weird psychic zone, because she disapproved of me knowing such a catastrophic calamity!

The tatters and bruises of many a Leprosy soiled day that sent me to the terrace, began to shine out of Mohanthal’s eyes to mine, as if she had been taking notes, and I always seemed to be falling short! So though Mohanthal like all cats, was very important to my well being, she was not a very comforting or soothing cat! She always made me want to immediately better myself, and turn into a warrior. And this my nature maddeningly, meekly resists.

I gladly gave the name Mohanthal to this cat with the unnerving habit of inspecting me and the world with critical disdain.

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Mohanthal’s Quilt (on a street behind my office) housed  80 to a 100 cats and kittens at any time in those two terraces of that old stone house.

A very ancient silver-grey-green tree like a batty crone clambered up its walls and shoved itself through them to arrange its largest branches over the lower terrace to make a kind of cat-sofa under the clouds. It is also the death trap, from which many cats have fallen, broken their backs,  and died or suffered a long incarceration at the vet’s.

But the cats and this decrepit tree adore each other. So a darkening always lurks there for me like a sudden slap from the universe which death always brings. It is somewhat like those hundreds of little chicken and hens crammed inside hell ’s cages everywhere in miserable little shops, unbearable, horrendous, always heart-breaking, waiting for sick human beings to clobber them for eating.

My surgeon made us put Kittles and Baby Tiger out of the house, and said I could not visit Mohanthal’s Quilt as chemotherapy would reduce my immunity.  But luckily there was also the oncologist,  so very gentle, and I hopefully asked him about cat visiting, ‘forgetting’ to mention that there would be 80 odd cats involved. He smiled and said ‘’why not?” so I timidly ignored the surgeon’s order though he foretold dreadful calamities, and even threatened not to treat me if I went there.

The Editor had more than once or twice, or thrice even,  come to speak to him about some vital story or work issues, and had to go away, being too polite to disturb his nap.

What a blessing it used to be to leave old Namby Pamby behind on those days when he had trampled on yet another investigative story,  and to clamber up the stairs to Mohanthal’s Quilt, where fish rice and chicken was served to the fur brigade on the lower and then the higher terrace.

My sanctity had begun to hide there when work had become toxic and I first began to soak in the massive benefits of silence from this Feline Fellowship. It always waited for me, to unwind and repair the ravages of the day.

An enormous pink bougainvillea bush had decided to grace the upper terrace richly clad with flowers, along with two large pots of grass, and many stone ledges and more branches from that old, tottering, doddering tree, for the cats to investigate and fall from and break the heart. Between four and five in the evening was the best time to greet them as they came for their supper of high-quality rice, fish, chicken and milk…

I met the Bouncer, during one of these evening feasts. She was a cheeky, busy little ginger kitten madly investigating her world for its treasures.

The first days of the treatment, the wrenching biopsy and the tests over and over again, were all bearable because they were fitted in around the strong need to see the Bouncer. She got this name when I came upon her at the terrace, one evening, when one of the Quilt’s two caretakers, a sour and surly man deservedly and internally named Malignance, (a dismal  carbon copy of Old Namby Pamby, (without smoke rings ) told me she had not eaten for three days and was soon going to die. It was hard to believe.

She was a bright and bold little motherless kitten,  who tumbled into all paper and cardboard box games with zest and hissed at and bullied many an older cat, especially the Toms if they tried to steal the fish in her plate!

But there she lay, in a corner, weak, crushed, hardly breathing. Malignance glared when I suggested a vet was needed at once and stalked off, saying the vet was busy and could not come. All she needed was a drip but I did not know how to give one to her.

I remembered to give her ORS and glucose (having learnt this from one of the City’s only vets who seemed to know how to treat cats) for several continuous hours for two days, after which she almost magically came out of her stupor (dehydrated only) and rushed to her litter box, washed herself diligently and bounced up to the higher terrace to bask under the sun! Hence the name: Bouncer.

The Bouncer visits became the border which held together the disintegrating of everything known and reliable to me. The pint-sized lemony cat and I shared our hospital time comforting each other with catnip treats for her, and meditation (just begun with music) and Tosca for me! How magnificent Puccini’s music was, and also so mystifying, it lured my heart with a deep joy without me understanding a single word of it! And the Bouncer, always waiting to hobble towards me, a tiny sprig of sweet tidings always in the offing. All of a sudden I would find her winding around my feet, having appeared from nowhere!

How I blessed the Spider Plant too, which the Bouncer was very partial to. She taught me that ORS and glucose is the next best thing if a drip is not available to revive a very dehydrated kitten.

As I trudged up and down the hospital’s underground clinics for more tests, reports and check-ups, Bouncer’s chirpy little face shone through these chilling new trips and softened the distress of being prodded, poked and humbled.

The hey do, and the Bouncer confirmed this. Later she showed me that cats are also partial to lemongrass.

To be continued

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