First published in Countercurrents.org, August 2020
Cats came into Preeti’s life long before camels, around the time cows found a way out of her heart but into her life. She had seen cows ever since she could remember…while riding horse driven tongas in Haridwar in 1970s, creating traffic jams in Delhi, Haridwar, Kolkata, Dehradun, Lucknow and wherever she happened to visit in India. From long before the days they chased her, thinking she was contender for the tempting fare in an open dustbin heap in Delhi, she had tremendous respect for cows and bovine life saviours. So much so that cows were a reason why living out of the country suited her. They were never friends with her. Camels came later because they don’t roam the streets at large, like cows, dogs, monkeys and donkeys…
But before Preeti started narrating the cat and camel story, she confided that she had been craving to have a trip to Egypt on camel back to visit the temple of the feline goddess, Bastet. The reason Preeti referred to her as feline was Bastet had been given the head of a lioness and made into a warrior princess when she started out in the third millennium BCE and ended up as a cat some two thousand years later! Preeti was curious about Bastet.
Why would a warrior goddess adapt and become a cat one? Was she giving some kind of a message to other women as the guardian of mankind? As in a book she read long ago, Volga to Ganga, a historical fiction covering the geographic area mentioned in the title from 6000 BC to 1922, the author, Rahul Sankritayan, claimed that women fought alongside men. Preeti said she had read the translation by Victor Kierman. In that book, the first story set in 6000 BC, depicted women as warriors, leaders, clan chiefs and men obeyed them. Later women as a race subsided. I added that I had seen skeletons of such a civilisation housed in Xian’s Neolithic Banpo museum. The guide had told us the civilisation from 4500 BCE to 3750 BCE was matriarchal. And yet, Chinese women had to bind their feet and go through painful mutilation themselves to make up to standards of beauty till Mao Zedong outlawed the practice! Was that good or bad?
The main thing was why did Bastet from a ruler turn to a hunter of mice? Why would she metamorphose? Gregor did metamorphose into a giant bug and kick up a ruckus in Kafka’s world, and his manifestation was seen often as an externalisation of his inner self, but was that why Bastet changed to a cat from a lioness? Did she feel catching mice and manning (oops…catting) the caps of funeral urns would be a better deal for her than fighting wars? A question that Preeti felt could find resolution if she made that trip to Egypt on camel back.
Preeti was born a Leo and could never imagine being called a female cat instead of a lioness. Many females were feline by nature, she felt, but not her. Neither was that a reason to love cats or her own kind. All creatures great and small.
However, like dogs, cats loved Preeti too… not the strays in Delhi or in other places in India but there was one in Holland — expressed her fondness by sitting on Preetis’s lap every time she settled to watch TV — more than three decades ago.
I told Preeti I was lost, and she needed to start her story at the beginning, instead of starting from the middle — a very bad place to start unless you give a flash back. So, she narrated the flashback.
“I was almost eighteen. My cousin and I were traveling in Europe and staying with some Dutch friends in this little town near Amsterdam. These friends had a black cat with green eyes and a tail…
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