Our Garden; The reluctant cat haven

As a family, we never much bought into the idea of keeping pets, at least in recent years. It was simply too much trouble. Why on earth would we put ourselves through the agony of carefully separating hair from upholstery fibres, keeping an eagle eye on the toiletry needs of the pet in question, and number of other tasks, the time spent on which could be used elsewhere.

However, cats don’t seem to care particularly for the opinions and preferences of humans. They have their own minds, and put considerable effort into training the sadly rather dim humans they encounter (or as Nilanjana Roy has named our species in her book The Wildings; Bigfeet).

Some years ago, a female cat had given birth to a litter of four. They took up residence in a nice shady bit of land, with plenty of trees, and far enough from the main hustle of the city. In other words, our garden.

The mother decided that she needed help in taking care of her litter. Asking for it however, was out of the question. The procedure she preferred was demanding it, and we hapless humans had no real choice but to obey. Milk she claimed regularly, and her displeasure was made clear if we failed to deliver. Aristocat, we named her.

Just for the sake of reference of course. They would eat, and grow, and leave. End of story. There would be no attachment.

The littlest one, the runt of the litter, got her leg jammed between two stones. It took us a whole afternoon to realise what had happened to her, and even longer to free her. After that, we started keeping a slightly closer look on that particular one. Just to make sure that she was alright after the accident, after all, she was limping after that.

Then she ended up climbing the amla tree (the small variety). As these things go, she couldn’t manage to come down on her own. We ruminated on whether we should help her down or not, wondering of our touch would cause the mother to disown her. Eventually her mother managed to guide her down. After this point though, we decided on a name for her. Sherpa. The first one of them to climb.

Despite growing up, she stayed the smallest of the litter. When we fed them (and yes-we had moved on from just milk to feed as well), she would be pushed to the side by her siblings, who had no qualms about muscling each other out. We tried to look out for her, but it was hard.

Eventually, the others left. The mother first, then the siblings (who we named as well).

Sherpa visited. Occasionally. Now that her siblings had left, we thought that she would be free of competition. But while it didn’t come from the siblings, there were other sources for it. Another cat had decided that our garden was a wonderful place to be in, and Sherpa was never very good at defending her territory. The other cat, a calico who looked remarkably similar to Sherpa, started edging her out of the garden.

Sherpa’s visits became increasingly sporadic, guzzling as much as she could in the few moments that she had while looking over her shoulder to see if the other cat was anywhere near.

Eventually, even these visits stopped, and where she went, or what happened to her, we don’t know.

The other cat continued to visit. We chased her off when we could, but that didn’t deter her. She had litters. Several over the years. We occasionally left milk but stopped bothering with names.

Every now and then a calico female will show up with brown and grey patches and a black tipped tail. If it is still the same cat, or one of her descendants, we aren’t sure. They have more litters in our garden.

A few weeks ago, one showed up and had two kittens. They have gone now, but maybe when they grow up, at least one of them will return.

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Poetry in Rock- Brilliant is Springsteen’s Disguise

Doubt and insecurity. Masks and real people. This is the focus of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Brilliant Disguise’, part of (and one of the best known tracks) of his 1987 album ‘Tunnel of Love’. While rock lyrics do not receive the same acclaim in terms of literary quality as say, songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, there is definitely a poetic quality to this, and other songs by Springsteen.

Throughout the song, the doubt that the narrator or persona faces is brought it, with him continuously ‘missing’ the other person, implied to be his significant other whom he addresses. By missing, I mean that they aren’t able to connect. They are around each other, but slip past.

There are many interesting images evoked. ‘I heard someone call your name/From underneath our willow’ for example, where the willow, a commonly recognised symbol of unrequited love, is referred to as ‘our’. The persona owns the imbalance in the feelings.

The ‘disguise’ that is the title of the song is evoked in other ways. ‘Now you play the loving woman/I’ll play the faithful man’. Society’s roles are laid out, and the persona seems to accept that both he and his significant other are playing them, and pretending with each other.

Springsteen moves the focus of the doubt from the other person to himself over the course of his song. His lack of trust stems from his own insecurity, to the point where he ‘doubts what he’s sure of’. What ‘he’s sure of’ seems to be the love of the other person and the solidity of the relationship, but the previous line ‘God have mercy on the man who’ gives an impression that to doubt what he does, may be even equal to doubting God, if one would believe in it.

In all of this doubt, only the persona can change his own mind. Not his significant other, and not even the prophetic ‘gypsy’.

In Defence of Happy Endings

The last year and a half have been extraordinarily difficult for everyone in a variety of ways. Just a glance at any (trustworthy) news site will yield vast tracts on the current situation, the horrors that people are facing, and how much worse it is all likely to get.

            We hover over news pages and social media, continuously refreshing the pages to stay on top of the latest developments. When all the outcomes seem grim, of what use are happy endings in stories and fiction?

            Why should we read (or watch) stories with happy endings when we more or less know that the reality will be different?

            There are many ways to look at it. One is that it is an escape. Reading about the pandemic, and the rest of the less-than-pleasant things happening in the world on top of living it is overwhelming. Stories with happy endings offer a respite, even if it is brief, from the rest of it.

            Another way of thinking about it is hope. Even when stories end happily, the journey to reaching that point need not be. (Often the harder and more painful that journey, the sweeter that ending). However, the characters persevere, and prevail. While there is no guarantee that their lives will stay that way, at least the note that the story ends on is hopeful. This can give us hope for our own lives; that even through such difficult situations, people still eat and drink and laugh and fall in love, and live, rather than exist.

            Another interesting idea on happy endings that I’d encountered was that reading or watching such stories is an act of rebellion. Maybe not a ‘conscious rebellion’ in the strictest sense of the word, but a rebellion against the direction of the times. That we refuse to let the narratives of the situations we face be the only ones, and refuse to let go of the idea that the stories offer us.

            However we may look at them, the point remains that they are important to people. They may not be the norm in our day to day life, maybe only a minority, and a small one at that. But these stories remind us that they exist, and offer a counter narrative. This is not to say that we ignore the facts of what we face, but that we can imagine ourselves getting past it.

Reading Middle Grade fiction as an adult

                                                     

Children’s books and young adult fiction formed a large part of my reading from a young age. However, this kind of literature and books continued well into later years, when by general standards I should have outgrown them.

More recently, in the last year or so, I find myself going back to that genre, or more specifically the genre called ‘middle grade’ fiction, which commonly features protagonists aged between 11 and 14 years; somewhere between children’s and young adult books.

This age range isn’t unfamiliar. Many of the staples I grew up with at that age (and as did many others) feature people of that age (to take a couple of examples- Harry Potter and Percy Jackson). However, the kinds of middle grade books I have been reading are different, regarding the topics they cover, and what it felt like reading them. These rarely become bestsellers in the same way that the others I mentioned do, but they have their own weight. The topics they cover are serious and are dealt with in an appropriately serious way.

To take one example of these topics, race and racism is dealt with (most of these books are set in the US). In From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks for instance, the protagonist’s father is wrongfully imprisoned, and while it is not dealt with in the explicit way that say, The Hate U Give, it is covered honestly and directly, while at the same time, being honest to the voice of the protagonist.

Another example is grief. In popular middle grade fiction, there are instances of loss, but to cover the entire grieving process as experienced by a person of around 12, as in The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, is more difficult.

There are numerous other topic that could be thought of as ‘appropriately serious’, which are dealt with in these books, and it is a different experience reading them as an adult, when though the protagonists may be younger, the impact the books have is no less significant than any ‘adult’ books.