One of my earliest childhood memories feature a scared cat. A scared cat in a deep well. Cats are supposed to be tough. At times they are even braver than dogs, particularly when dealing with humans. But even the toughest of cats would be scared shitless if they fell down a pretty deep well like the one we have at home. And it’s bloody dark in there.
Back then, we had just moved in to the new place and there was still work to be done. Like fitting an iron mesh on top of the well. My father put it off because there were more important stuff to be done first. But then we hadn’t accounted for the incident of the curious cat in the nighttime.
Cats are, as a rule, curious. The well enticed them and there would often be a snoop squad around it. And occasionally, one of them got too curious for their own good and fell over. fortunately, Curiosity did not kill the cats here and unfortunately, we were left with a yowling beast perched precariously on top of one of the lower rungs of the well.
I would crane my neck over the wall of the well, trying to locate the poor beast and if fortunate, some adult around would oblige with a brief lift-up. More often than not, I got reprimanded and warned that I would be following the cat down. The bottom of the well is not a pleasant place to be, and having to share it with an angry cat doesn’t improve it one bit. I would reluctantly step off from the wall and whine “But when are you gonna take it out?”
Cue entry of our very own neighborhood Zuperhero. A spectacle of every other neighborhood in India, the Zuperhero takes on world-saving missions like… well every other errand that needs doing. Replacing a blown fuse, Harvesting – for lack of a better word – a coconut tree, fixing the leaky pipes and when push comes to shove, even climbing down wells to rescue adventurous cats. He is the fuseman, coconutman, pipeman and several other men all rolled into one – to unroll as the situation demands.
So word gets to the Zuperhero pretty soon- I told you, the cat yowls REALLY loudly – about the cat in the well. Whether or not he requires a personal visit from my father depends on his market at the moment. On a relatively stable-fused, sturdy-piped, no-coconutty week he will present himself by the well-side, overlooking the lack of an ornate invitation. But on a typical Indian week, he plays hard-to-get. The time before his appearance stretches accordingly and when the cat is particularly loud, we may make several calls to his PP number – Poyi Parayaam – before the irate neighbour refuses to be disturbed anymore. Of course, this being before the advent of mobiles, I assume it would have taken 10 missed calls today. Anyway, sooner or later, in true tradition to the ilk of Zuperheroes, Arrive he will.
The Zuperhero – henceforth to be referred as the Catman for the purposes of our discussion – has a distinctive style of attire and NO, he does NOT wear his underwear outside his pants. But we can glimpse his bermudas peeping out under his Kaavi – more often than not – lungi. The baniyan would be different shades of white, depending on how long it had been with him. A red towel – a Thorthu – would be draped around his neck and fulfills its multiple functions as a headgear before starting work and simply as a towel AND often as a fan after the mission is accomplished.
An imitation Rado watch – I came to know of the imitation part later – would adorn his thick wrists and is often an bone of contention among the younger bystanders who regard the duty of guarding it as its owner climbs down very prestigious. The footgear is a sturdy Hawai – I reckon the US forces should try it in Iraq – and last but not at ALL the least, a burning beedi stuck in the brown lips completes the Catman.
A silence descends among the crowd – with an average age of 8 – around the well as the Catman prepares to take on the daunting mission. I believe even the cat grew silent as it contemplates the silhouette of its rescuer from down below. He ties one end of the thick rope to a nearby tree and the other to his waist and begins his descent. When a circular array of little heads bobbing up and down around the rim of the well blocks the light he yells to stand back which is promptly repeated by any adult above and we all draw back. for a little while. But we are too fascinated by the art of climbing-down-wells-and-taming-cats to obey for too long.
For it is a sight to behold. The delicate art of descending down wells left me in the same realm of wonder that a Federer shot or a Sachin straight drive takes me to. The Catman shifts around to find the right area of each ledge to step on, with the grace of a dancer and yet never compromises on his speed like an f1 driver. He negotiates the terms of surrender with the kitty ever so smoothly – with a goody in the basket for the more stubborn ones – and gets it into the basket in the blink of an eye. And there is a collective sigh of relief and wonder upstairs with yours truly a leading contributor.
The basket is sent up first and the cat is frantic to get out. The Vaanarsena is warned a good distance off the wall before it reaches the top and leaps off to glorious safety. The rope is sent back in and the hero of the day emerges. From the shadows, the Catman rises with a smile, after saving the day yet again.He humbly – well, with some quibbling – accepts his due and ambles off, nay, strides off.
Friends, this was my very first goal in life, the first of my ambitions – to be the Catman. To learn how to tame cats. To harness the awesome power of going down wells at will and to gain the gratitude of cats and admiration of one and all. Well, all the kids anyway. The Catman was my hero and I had dreams of me pulling seven cats out of a one-kilometer deep well , in less than 5 minutes. Of course the best part of the dream was the standing ovation I receive when I emerge into daylight. Details may have blurred, this is a rough estimate.
Since then, I’ve ran through a long list of ambitions – from a Train driver, a pilot, a policeman………………… to a doctor, an astronaut, an engineer and an MBA. It’s a very long list, I’ve left out about 10 years worth of ambitions in between. There have been sensible ones, weird ones, achievable ones, plain ridiculous ones – how about The Guy Who Gets Paid to Watch TV. But curiously enough, I’ve come full circle now. After a long gap of 14 years, my dreams involve taming the CAT. Again.
All Hail the Catman.
Image credits : rtsunlimited.com
Image credit : people.ucsc.edu
But the Catman still rules. Totally.