Book review | Devapriya Roy’s ‘Cat People’ Is Much More Than Cats and Humans Who Love or Hate Cats – Art-and-culture News, Firstpost

‘Cat People’ may be the ‘light’ read you’re looking for, although this review focuses on stories of grief.

Among the animal species, I hate men the most. Cats and dogs come second. Therefore, it may seem absurd that someone who doesn’t like animals should revise a book about cats. But the last part of the subtitle of this anthology on cats edited by Devapriya Roy, Cat People: A collection of cat stories by mostly cat lovers but also haters (Simon & Schuster, 2021), kind of convinced me to give it a shot. You must be wondering why I dreaded reading this book. Even if you are not, I must tell you this. In the locality northeast of Delhi where I live, men, cats and dogs have raised hell.

There’s a group of indomitable cats running amok, sometimes making us laugh and most of the time angry. Dogs, the less said the better. They poop everywhere. I hate the sight of shit every time I step out of the house. Shit reminds me of men. Here we have either violent drunks or someone I know. I skillfully avoid both. Imagine, with this emotional baggage, I had to open this book. However, contrary to what I had imagined, I immediately felt engaged. Full of humorous cat stories, moving essays and a photo essay, cat people begins with an introduction from Roy, who writes that his student P believes cats are “writers’ friends.” Or maybe writers and cats share something in common, which is why this kind of camaraderie?

Janice Pariat, in her essay on Vincent, a rescue cat, makes an argument, invoking an essay on Virginia Woolf. Calling this an “artist’s sense of privacy”, she writes that there is a core of individuality that writers do not share with everyone. Then she goes on to conclude: “Cats, I think, share this [sense of privacy] with writers,” which perhaps explains why cats, like writers, are often portrayed as moody and quiet, yet calculating, unpredictable, and, probably, ruthless creatures. This collection successfully presents all these shades. Covering diverse themes that cross the human-feline love-hate spectrum, this immersive anthology consists of 33 works by journalists, writers, editors, translators, poets, teachers, students, artists and a photographer.

People at Ashoka University, however, outnumber them for obvious reasons. Luckily, it’s not about them, but about feline creatures: the joy they bring, the hearts they break, as well as breaking things and ruining sofas, and the emptiness they leave behind them when they left. In one such essay, Natasha Badhwar remembers her “adventure-seeking tomcat” Rahat. “He was small, but he lived largely,” she writes. There is nothing happier I have read or heard in a eulogy for the dead. Although she wrote successfully about Rahat, it seems that words failed her during this process. Grieving is certainly a place where we find it difficult to adapt to events.

For my part, I could not share the same pain that Badhwar had to endure; however, there is no denying that I was moved. Another such test was Along came Billo. Remembering Billo, Maneesha Taneja writes, “She brought joy when things seemed chaotic. At a time when he (her husband Ashutosh) was struggling with his disappointments and the way forward, she provided relief.

I digress. At this point I remember Kaalu– a stray dog. Yes, I, the animal hater, remember him fondly. (I wonder why I use a gendered pronoun, maybe it’s better than “that”?) It was a creature that made its presence felt the whole time when my father died. Wherever we went (especially my mother), he followed us like our shadows. He was well fed by my mother. Since he was particularly fond of our family, we tried to invite him to our home, but he vehemently refused. There was something about him that was pleasant and disturbing at the same time. He was like that complicated lover we all had to have in life. He stayed outside, always. And one day he disappeared.

My mother remained sad for a few days, perhaps months, but she reconciled herself to yet another disappearance of someone she loved. What was it Kaalu? “Pets love you no matter what,” writes Taneja, concluding that there is no one else who can be “a life booster.” It’s natural to feel a sense of loss when they leave. We were doing. My mother, more than anyone. With this anecdote about a dog and my mother, it is appropriate to invoke the essay of Jai Arjun Singh Through the Sands of Time: A Dog, a Cat, and a Mother Who Were Both. Towards the end of this moving essay, he writes: “By now it is probably clear that this play is as much about my mother as it is about cats and dogs. My interest in animals came from her, was directed by her, is inseparable from her direct admission that her non-human children were as important to her as her biological child (and in a way, in terms of responsibility as we owe a creature that cannot understand our language or the workings of a man-made world, Continued important).”

That’s why I have to say that this book is much more about cats or those humans who love (or hate) cats, it’s about an experience that is life, that we share with everyone on this planet, even though we seem confident that everything revolves around we. You can’t help but wonder like Nilanjana Roy, who in the essay Stray Cat Blues, writes: “I will never understand what makes animals trust and take risks when approaching humans.” If I can just delve into this: isn’t that true for just about any relationship? What makes us trust? What drives us to take this leap of faith? How to negotiate this fine line between risk and resilience? And above all, what should be done when their lover, on whom they have bet all their bets, disappears?

When I got to the end of this anthology, I felt like I had read everything about cats. Or about the experiences that enrich our lives. But at that exact moment, I came back to the part I had underlined while reading nine lives, an essay by Aneela Babar: “As a people, we are guilty of repeating our histories. But what if it’s not because we have no more stories to tell? What if we got stuck in a time loop and are now reliving the same anecdotes that we love to share so much? »

Perhaps these questions are related to that of trust, love, loss, relationships, grief and vulnerability, as the stories stem from experiences or lack thereof. We tell ourselves stories that help us take control of things. We constantly attribute causes to a reality that faces us, because it is often ruthless and brutal. At such a time, we never tire of stories that help us endure, which is why we find ourselves in a time loop, according to Babar. However, some stories or experiences inevitably repeat themselves no matter what. It’s an endless cycle: a cycle in which humans and these feline creatures get stuck. Maybe we are luckier because we have a language to evacuate it or give it meaning. I wonder how the cats brave it. I think that’s why they ruin the sofas?

Saurabh Sharma (He/They) is a queer writer and freelance journalist based in Delhi. Instagram/Twitter: @writerly_life.

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