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Long-Whiskers at play




Chapter 1


This happened in one of the innumerable by-lanes of immense Calcutta, on a beautiful, warm starry night, during the Second World War. . . . A soft, subdued call of love and of distress broke the silence at regular intervals “Rrmiaou; rrmiaou; . . . rrrrmia-ou!”

One of the many half-starving mother-cats that existed on the refuse heaps of the narrow, dirty lane, knew that her kitten was somewhere nearby — very near — but she could neither see it nor get at it. In fact, she knew where it was: there, behind that high wooden wall, that stood, impenetrable, in front of her. And she knew that it wanted to come to her; that it was hungry, — poor baby-cat! And although she hardly had any milk — for she was herself but skin and bone — she wanted to feed it. It was calling her — answering her smothered mews with desperate, high-pitched shrieks, as loud as its tiny young throat could cry: “meeou! meeou! meeou!”

But the forbidding wall — the double doors of a “go-down” — stood between the little creature and her. For the thousandth time, she walked to and fro, to and fro, along the stone edge that ran at the foot of the “wal,” in other words, the first step that led into the go-down. And for the thousandth time she mewed and mewed — and tried to find a crack, a hole, an opening of some sort between the ill-fitting planks; some means of reaching her baby-cat. And for the thousandth time the baby-cat mewed back in its turn, in high-pitched calls of despair: “meeou! meeou! meeou!”

As long as there were cars and buses, and tramways and bullock-carts continuously going up and down the nearby bustling Dharmatala Street, and rickshaws and bicycles going up and down the lane, and open-air sellers shouting for customers at the corner of both, the mother-cat’s voice, and even that of the kitten, was drowned in the general noise. Nobody could hear it, save, of course, the people who stood just before the closed go-down. But these busied themselves with their own affairs, as though they heard nothing; for they did not care. As the traffic grew lesser and lesser, even in the main street, and as the lane gradually became empty and quiet, the mews of distress became more and more audible. Yet nobody seemed to pay the


slightest attention: one after the other, the people who dwelt in the lane closed their shutters and went to bed.

Millions of stars now appeared in the deep, dark immensity above; millions of suns, each one with its satellites whirling round it, at God alone knows how many thousand light-years’ distance from this tiny Earth; all going their way, in mathematical harmony.

But upon this insignificant Earth, a speck of dust in fathomless infinity, out of the gutter in that obscure lane in Calcutta, the mew of the poor emaciated mother-cat calling her kitten, and the cry of the poor kitten calling its mother, rent the divine silence of space, again and again and again, without end. How many other cries of distress or cries of pain rent it from other places in that self-same city? How many, from other places on earth? How many, from other worlds, where living creatures struggle and suffer?

Then, at last, all of a sudden, somewhat far away, a tall white form stepped forth on to a balcony of one of the houses of the main street, the back-windows of which overlooked the lane from a distance. It remained there for a while, and disappeared, — only to be seen again, five minutes later, walking up the lane. It was that of a fair woman wrapped in a sari; of a lover of dumb creatures, and especially of felines, who had never seen or heard an animal in need of help without doing all she could for it. Guided by the sound of the kitten’s cries, the woman went straight to the closed go-down.