The cats of the wild at Sanawar

Most of the cats in the campus of the Sanawar school live in the wild and yet can be affectionate pets. They become pets of not just one or two but more families residing in campus at the same time

The cats of the wild at Sanawar

Bharat Dogra & Srishti Priya

When we sit in our courtyard on a sunny winter morning engrossed reading some delightful book, Cute and Cola would suddenly appear out of nowhere. Sometimes they are accompanied by their mother. They keep mewing, one of them following the other, till one of us relents and gets up to get them their share of milk.

We keep grumbling that they are a nuisance but if they fail to appear, we find we are unable to read, looking up and frequently getting up to look for them. It becomes difficult to concentrate on reading.

One day they did not appear at all. We dreaded at what could have happened to the kitten. We went round the neighbourhood and looked for them in various nooks and corners, hoping to spot them somewhere. Then as darkness began to descend, we feared the worst and fell silent. Therefore, when our little friend sauntered in a while later, nonchalantly as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, we were not sure whether to be angry or relieved. But we felt a bond that was strong, an inexplicable affection for these cats from the wild.

Most of the cats in the campus of the Sanawar school (Himachal Pradesh) live in the wild and yet can be affectionate pets. What is more, they become pets of not just one or two but more families residing in the campus at the same time.

It is clearly more profitable for them than to stick to just one family. It is also a good strategy to ensure food security. Even when one family goes away on leave, the cats still have alternative sources of milk.

This winter too other neighbours went away for longer periods but we were away for only three days. In our absence our friend Yash fed them. They thus remained well-fed through the long winter break. This convenient arrangement probably evolved over the experience of several generations of cats in the campus.

They retain the vigour and agility which living in the wild ensures. Their swift runs and the deftness with which they climb the trees are a delight to watch. Cute became an expert tree climber soon enough, but Cola is physically weaker and still trying to climb.

While they retain their links with the wild, they can be very affectionate with human beings. One way of showing their affection is to roll over in the dust close to your feet. They did try jumping into our laps but once we indicated our displeasure, they understood and stopped doing that.

They lick each other a lot, even while drinking milk. Once when Cute was drinking milk with Mom, Cola came in and started licking both of them, instead of drinking milk. It is a happy experience to sit and watch them at play or cuddling or licking each other. They also engage in a lot of self-licking, to keep themselves clean, it appears. Curiously, they almost never litter our verandah or courtyard, often digging a small hole at a distance for themselves.

When we are sitting near them, they tend to sleep more comfortably, their instinct telling them that they are safer near our chairs than in the wild. Cute is the more curious of the two and likes to peep into our home, trying to discover hidden mysteries.

When they are hungry, they cuddle near the door and mew more loudly. Occasionally they rub themselves against the door. On a few occasions they upturned the shoe rack, possibly upset at the delay in service. But they have not caused any real harm. In fact, on cold, stormy days, they like to take shelter in the shoe-rack.

Fond as we are of them, we do maintain our distance. But there are other, more adventurous neighbours in whose homes the cats find easy entrance.

A neighbour confided that a cat became so comfortable that she would often turn up for a nap at her home. One day she was sewing in the afternoon and the rattling noise of the sewing machine irritated the guest. The cat got up and gestured at her to stop making the noise. The lady was both amused and a little annoyed. She took a short break, but as she returned to continue sewing, the cat came threateningly close to her and with a trace of menace gestured impatiently for her to stop disturbing the siesta.

Cats are said to be afraid of dogs. Once when Cola and his mom were sitting near us, a dog appeared. She deposited Cola under one of the chairs and advanced growling towards the dog. It was a very angry meow! The dog it was who retreated meekly.

(Bharat Dogra is a writer. Srishti Priya is a student of the Lawrence School at Sanawar. Photo Credit: Srishti Priya)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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