The land gave her a desolate picture; trees that were full of colourful birds were lying in a heap at the side of the land mass running exactly parallel to her favourite stream. Even the stream was empty of fish now for the constant dumping of garbage from the neighbouring areas, as well as the junk off the nearby garage. Floating rubbish and debris gave out a horrid stench of dying fish mixed with motor oil and decayed vegetation. This is the story of a wild cat, which somehow got close to humans and started mingling with them because she found it a good escape from her loneliness. And lonely she was having lived in a jungle full of animals suddenly being wiped out to make room for some high-rise apartments.
Although in the early stages of adjustment to the concrete jungle the wild cat several times thought of just going out there on the highway and standing in front of a twenty six wheeler caterpillar, she was somehow able to resist the temptation. Or perhaps she had faith in her destiny to find something worthwhile to do. Nonetheless she survived the cutting of the jungle and destruction of her habitat.
Soon roaming about in this new jungle of Grey and black with some shiny stars that appeared to be very gigantic, close and within reach, compared to the ones she saw from within the branches of the luscious green leaves, she made some friends. A few ducks and swans in the city park lake, several crows nesting in the sidewalk trees; once she also spotted a black dotted koel dallying near the crows nest, and she knew it is about to destroy the poor crows eggs and lay hers instead, were a few friends apart from those walking on two legs.
The wild-cat was never short of food especially when near the park as kids and their parents once they got used to her started bringing tit bits for her to devour. Many were daily visitors living in nearby buildings and some were far farers coming once and never seen again.
The old woman and man were one of the few who frequented the park on a daily basis and were also her self appointed daily food providers. She soon got attached to them and looked forward to their presence. They never came separate and often the old lady would be in a depressed mood she noticed. Bit by bit she got to know that they were mates and that unlike her species, they usually stayed with the same mate throughout their life. This fascinated her a lot as she was more used to knowing and having several potential mates at a time. She also wondered about their off-springs, if like hers they left as soon as they were able to fend for themselves or they still lived on them.
This world was very fascinating, she got intrigued and wanted to learn more but how was the question. She soon found out about the teacher who could help her understand these two legged creatures language. Nobody really knew where to find the teacher, only it was considered common knowledge there is one. The wild cat after getting disappointing news from all quarters, finally one night went to the owl living in the tallest Margosa (Neem) Tree and asked him if he could guide her to the famed teacher. The wise owl looked at her with glittering eyes and asked in a grumpy tone:
Owl: Why are you interested in the teacher?
Wild Cat: I want to learn the language spoken by the creature walking on two legs.
She excitedly informed the owl. He looked at her with disdain and yawned.
Owl: And what good pray would come of that? My dear trust me when I say no good has come off anybody who has dared to meddle with these lousy creatures, willingly or unwillingly. Rather most have come to grief even with the best of intentions at heart, and you seem to be a green-horn for this city still.
But the cat innocent about the ways of this new jungle insisted on getting the address of the teacher. Looking at her pleading eyes and enthusiasm the owl told her that she is talking to the teacher and he will help her in learning the new language.
Owl: But make one thing clear my dear, you are not under any circumstances to use this knowledge outside the park and I want it upon your honour that you won’t.
Wild Cat: Oh great teacher! Fear not, I shall not use it anywhere but the park and you can take my word upon my honour.
Thus satisfied, the timings and days for the classes were discussed and it was decided that every night when the park was empty and there wasn’t much noise they would start. The first week she found it extremely difficult to even comprehend the differences in language, but after that she learnt the ropes pretty fast and within a month was able to understand what her new friends spoke about.
The pond between the tall trees looked very tranquil today, even the swans and visiting geese were not at loggerheads and tactfully avoided coming into each others way. The squirrels were running to and fro, collecting tit bits and squeaking at each other about one thing or another. The oldest Mrs. Squirrel in the park was under everybody’s censure for having unruly kids, who not only threw berries at every passerby, but at times also put other children playing with them in danger of getting squished.
The wild cat pondered near the Margosa tree for some time, thinking about her last litter of kittens and the white one she had loved dearly. She had hoped it would perhaps stay near her, so that she can see her once in a while. Nonetheless, it went away and so did the rest of them and though she had known in the heart of hearts that they will, it still hurt her if not much, just a tiny bit. She had always accepted it as a part of her life that kittens will leave her and move on, just like she did with her parents. But today she could not help but think what if they had not?
Looking around her hoping to find some diversion for the gloomy thoughts, she found the old man and woman sitting on their usual bench. Today the old lady had a bag with her full of colourful fur. She had two long sticks in her hand and seemed to be weaving something like a spider. The cat went ahead to get a closer look and tried to discern what type of web was she making with the fur, but it did not seem to be taking any shape right now.
She started wandering towards the chubby little kid sitting on the next bench and while passing the old couple she heard a muffled sob. She turned around again to look at the moping old lady, she was crying today and her hands were weaving the web faster and faster with each sob. To get a hint as to what was ailing the old lady she crept closer and wedged herself behind the bench between the bushes.
Old Lady mumbled: I wish he had told me earlier that he cannot come and has to cancel his trip for yet another year.
Old Man soothingly: He told me about a month ago that he may have to cancel the trip if his boss decides to promote him, and you know dear how it is with jobs these days. It is first of all hard to get a job and then retaining it is tougher. We should understand his problems.
Old Lady: You know it very well he has no need to work for that silly company when he can run his own business here.
Old Man gets angry: And you know it pretty well why he left in the first place. If you had not questioned him at each and every action or inaction of his he would not have left. I told you when you were behaving in that manner that nothing good will come out of it.
Old Lady goes quiet and continues her sobbing. The old man sniffs at her and lights his cigar. He reminded the cat of the old cocky monkey she so despised and who at times would tease her kittens a lot when she was away in search of food.
The miff that old couple had just now did nothing to alleviate the cat’s mood, on the contrary she was reminded of her white kitten with such a force that she did not pay attention to where she was going and ended up falling in a small ditch dug out in the sand pit, where children were playing. The kid sitting on the bench came running to rescue her at the cost of getting a scold from his finicky mother, who according to her guess was not pleased about her son touching the sand and also a street cat.
The Wild Cat felt very indignant and wanted to give the yelling lady a piece of her mind by informing she cleans herself every day at least twice and is not at all infested by flees and ticks unlike other cats of ‘her jungle’. But of course she could not do so and in anguish ran towards the same tree where she took her classes. The Teacher was not to be found anywhere and in disappointment she climbed the tree and sat near the top most-branch that allowed her a great view of the whole city.
Here she stood today in defiance of her teacher to find out more about this concrete jungle. Yesterday’s vista was still quite clear in her mind and although it did not frighten her she did feel a little intimidated by the surroundings. Already there were a few cats moving about looking at her suspiciously as if they expected her to harm them in some way.
She wondered at their funny sideways leaning gait, they were scratching themselves off on weird looking objects, and it took her a while to realise they were doing exactly as she used to do with trees when marking her territory. This is interesting she thought.
As she moved on she saw others of her kind but these she knew instinctively were ferocious, she could sense her muscles going rigid and alert as her nostrils filled with their smell. Nobody had to come and tell her that she had to be wary of this clan, her instincts warned her already. She felt relieved to regain her confidence in her instinctual behaviour; she had always relied on this natural talent when in her own habitat, it kept her safe and also got her food every day.
This new jungle was at times confusing for her, she did not rely on her own instincts to feed herself and that is why at times had to go to sleep hungry. But those were rare days, like when it rained a lot or she heard something had happened outside the park and there was no movement at all. Nevertheless it was a reassuring factor for her to know she had not totally lost her natural gift.
Wandering ahead, suddenly she could smell raw mouth watering meat, and though it was not possible to know what kind, she knew it would be great to taste. Therefore, she started sniffing for the direction it was coming from. As soon as she spotted it right across the street, she saw a kitten that in her opinion had recently left her mothers care, crossing towards her being hit by a big fast moving object. It moved on two round items, it seemed that those were cut out portions of a tree trunk but they definitely looked a little bit different. The kitten must have died she thought so she moved ahead towards the smell and finally found it a bit further down the lane.
It felt like ambrosia after those left over titbits she had been eating for the past few months. After having her fill of the fresh meat, she moved on to check out the other myriad of smells her nostrils could pick on every second. She saw colourful flowers, a place packed with different skins, another one filled with so many big and small objects, overflowing with colours never seen before.
Looking at all these wonders, she could not fathom why the teacher had asked her not to venture out in this new jungle. To her innocent unused eyes this looked like a wonderful new home, adorned with colours she had not known existed and objects that looked from another world. Venturing on she stumbled across many leafless trees and moving and rolling boulders of various colours and sizes. She took note of these things, so she can ask the teacher what they really were.
Exploring whatever her eyes clamped on, she wandered into this wilderness thoughtlessly directionless. As it closed towards evening and the thought of returning to the park struck her, the consciousness of being lost also became evident. As panic struck she started running in the direction she thought she had come from, and suddenly stood right in front of a big black dog.
Instinctively she knew the best would be to climb the nearest tree and hide in the branches. No sooner did she do so, she became aware that all along the path the trunks she had thought as trees were not really the trees she was used to; apart from not having branches they also had a surface her claws could not hold on to; in desperation she climbed to the top and felt safe. She knew the dog cannot reach her any more, but similarly she did not know how to reach back to the ground.
After being stranded on top of this branchless tree for at least two days, she became exhausted and homesick. The sun had gone down on the horizon at least twice when suddenly she could sit there no longer and fell to the ground. To her surprise she fell right on her paws. But as soon as her paws could feel the pavement, she started running towards the direction she thought the park was.
By nightfall, she started spotting familiar objects and places. She could see the place which she earlier saw, stuffed with colourful skins and flowers of different kinds. Then she even saw the place where the kitten had died. She started reminiscing about the time when the stream had been clean and the jungle was green, when it was safe to even challenge the lion, because one knew where to hide and from where to strike.
She thought this place looked stark naked, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The trees turned to mere trunks and those dusty pathways littered with toads and all sorts of critters, turned to a black swamp of some ungodly things. Reminded of what the teacher had said about venturing outside the park, she scolded herself in her heart and made a solemn promise to limit herself within its bounds, once she had reached the safe haven.
This jungle was not for her, it was strange and filled with still stranger creatures. Nostalgic for her true home, she dragged herself into the park and went straight to the Neem, she stood staring at it for some time, and then leaning on the trunk sat down.
She was now ready to accept this mere spec of a jungle, which hardly did any justice to its previous glory, knowing that this was better then what was out there, ready to engulf anything and everything within its path.