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Chapter 12


“Nothing is for nothing, and suffering is the price.” And one will remember that, at the time his everlasting Self had left its furry abode and faced the critical moment that was to determine his next birth, Sandy had chosen the way of suffering: — a life of misery for the sake of lying once more, for a few minutes, in the arms of the one he could not forget.

So he came back into the world as one of the five kittens of a poor emaciated mother-cat — an ordinary black-and-white street cat, like Long-whiskers’ mother had once been. But instead of a cowshed in a Calcutta lane, his birthplace was, this time, a garage at the back of a courtyard in Teheran. He came into the world upon a dirty rag, — the remnant of what had once been a sack — under a motorcar that was standing there, with several others, awaiting repair. He was tabby, with nice, regular stripes, and a better fur than his mother’s, for his father was “angora” — or half-angora. He had one black-and-white brother and three sisters: one also black-and-white and two tabby-and-white.

His mother purred as she lay upon the scrap of cloth with her five little ones hanging at her breast. She would lick him from time to time. And for a few hours, perhaps a few days, he was as happy as any newly-born creature could be: it was not so cold inside the garage as out of doors, and not so cold under that car, in the very corner near the wall, as it was elsewhere in the garage; not so cold, also, upon that torn and tattered piece of rag as upon the bare dusty earth.

At times, generally at night, the mother-cat would leave her kittens and go and wander round the refuse heaps in search of fishes’ heads, chicken bones, (or intestines), an occasional bit of meat or skin — any scrap fit to still her hunger — or, when she was lucky, catch a couple of gutter mice. She used to come back early in the morning to find her little ones crying for her. And she would “talk” to them in soft, subdued little mews — “Rrrrmiao! Rrrrmiao! Rrrrm! Rrrrm!” — and lick them lovingly as all mother-cats have been doing ever since the origin of catdom. The


two-legged creatures that worked in the garage, changing tires and repairing motorcar engines all day long, did not seem to take any notice of her and of her progeny.

But one day the car under which the little family was rapidly growing was removed. It was in the morning, but the mother, that had apparently wandered further than usual in search of food, had not yet come back. The five kittens, huddled against one another in the “bed” in which they had been born, were desperately calling her, in tiny, high-pitched voices. A boy roughly pushed the rag away with his foot, and them with it, as though they had not existed; a lorry came rolling in and placed itself in the empty corner. There was a squeal from one of the baby cats, a tragic cry of pain immediately drowned in the noise of the engine. Nobody even noticed that a living tabby-and-white fluffy ball, a creature of beauty that had opened its large bluish eyes to the daylight less than a fortnight before, had just been crushed under the monstrous tires.

* * *

The mother-cat came back, nursed the four kittens that were left . . . and days passed. As the young cats grew, they became bolder, and started wandering a yard or two away from their headquarters. The little tabby tom, that had been Sandy and Long-whiskers, was the boldest of the four; he would sometimes wander out of the shady space under motor-cars and lorries, into the open sunshine-and sometimes even across the courtyard into the street. It is true that he had always shamelessly taken more than his share of the little milk the poor mother had been able to give, pushing aside his weaker brother and sisters with all the brutality of a confirmed believer in the rights of the strong in the universal struggle for survival. The other unfortunate kittens were half his size.

Nobody seemed to be aware of their presence or of that of the bold young tom, or of the skeleton-like mother, whose bones jutted out under her thin fur. Nobody fed them — nobody even thought of putting aside, for them, a few crumbs from one’s midday meal. Nobody loved them. But nobody also did any positive harm to them until, one day, the owner of the garage — a Jew from Russia who, in 1943, had fled to Iran for fear of being deported by the Germans; who had become rich within the following six months and embraced Bahaism, or pretended to, for reasons better known to himself, — happened to notice one of the little ones answering the call of nature in a shady passage between two cars. Turning to his Persian manager, he said:


“Those cats are a nuisance. I wish you’d get rid of them.” “Most certainly,” answered the Persian manager, always on the lookout to please the boss, as long as this did not imply any inconvenience to himself.

So the next day, one of the apprentices was told to pitch the kittens into a bag and to go and throw them wherever he liked, — “sufficiently far away for them not to come back.” The boy found the young tabby’s brother and his two remaining sisters, flung them into an old oily duster, and, on his way home, dropped them as a matter of course into a gutter on the side of the road — to die of hunger and misery after mewing for their mother for days and nights, without a single one of the two-legged passersby even giving them a thought.

The young tabby tom, however, was not thrown away to die with them, for it happened that he was not there when the others were collected, and that the boy — who had been told to take them all away — was too lazy to search for him.

It was later than usual when the mother-cat came back to the garage. She called her little ones as she did every day, in soft, loving mews, again and again, but no kittens’ voices were heard in reply to hers. The poor baby-cats were calling her — calling her desperately, in hunger and distress, at the bottom of the murky ditch into which the boy had thrown them. They were to keep on calling her all day and all night, and all the next day and following night, till their tiny throats, parched with thirst, could call no longer; till their exhausted bodies grew weaker and weaker . . . But they were too far away for her to hear them. So she mewed and mewed in vain, pitifully, for a time that seemed endless to her, feeling as one does when one has lost everything.

At last, a faint kitten’s mew did answer hers — or was it an illusion? Hope, mixed with anxiety, suddenly filled her heart. She ran to the place the feeble voice had come from: a narrow space between a huge case full of iron spare parts and the wall; the place into which the tabby kitten had rushed for shelter, as one of the workmen, knowing (as they all did, by now), that the boss did not want the cats, had kicked him away from the doorstep.

“Rmiao! Rrrrmiao!” mewed the mother.

“Mee-u! Mee-u! Mee-u” answered the baby-cat, as he struggled out of his hiding place the best he could, — and not without difficulty.

The mother-cat licked him, purring for joy. Then she roamed about the garage, sniffing under every car and every lorry, and calling her other little ones from one


corner of the place to the other. If she had found that one, the others could not be far away, felt she, unaware as she was (in spite of repeated experience) of the senseless cruelty of man. She called them and called them, with growing restlessness, amidst the two-legged creatures, busy with their own affairs, who paid no attention to her or to the kitten running at her side. Even the boy who had thrown away the wretched baby-cats did not seem to hear the mother’s mews as she passed near him, while he was putting a new tire to a wheel. Or if he heard them, he did not care. He was ignorant, coarse and heartless, as in fact many are, who have gone to school longer than he ever had, and was at most capable of swallowing propaganda about a dream world in which the poor would divide among themselves the wealth wrung through violence from the rich. He had no feelings for creatures other than human beings, and had not given as much as a thought to the kittens he had flung into the ditch to mew until they would become too weak to utter a sound, and finally to die of hunger. And he would have been amazed, nay indignant, had anybody told him that he well deserved the very fate he had imposed upon them. So the distressed mother-cat went by with her tabby son, thoroughly unnoticed.

The garage manager was the first one to become aware of her presence and of that of the kitten. He was not a hater of cats. Yet, dreading what his boss might say, were he suddenly to turn up and see that his orders had not been strictly carried out, he stamped, and pretended to fling a stone so as to frighten the cats away — out of the garage, across the courtyard and right into the street. There, some despicable children pursued the mother and kitten with actual stones — “for fun” — until they both found shelter behind a pile of empty cardboard boxes, in front of a shop. The shop-keeper chased away the children for having caused one of his boxes to roll into the gutter; and so, the cats were safe — for the time being. Fear kept them in their hiding place as long as there were two-legged ones going up and down the footpath, and in and out the shop. At night, the mother went back to the old garage, mewing, in search of her three lost little ones. All night she mewed for them in vain . . . while they, poor things, were still calling her — in vain, also — at the bottom of the ditch where they were slowly dying. Then, gradually, the haunting feeling of them grew less vivid in her: hunger, and the care of the remaining tabby kitten, that needed her, pushed aside all other worries . . .

The next day, the two starving beasts managed to fill


their bellies with scraps of meat and chicken bones, fished out of a refuse heap, in the back yard behind a restaurant. And they slept well — unseen, upon a bundle of dusters, under the counter of the same restaurant. And the kitten hung to his mother’s breast, purring, before he fell asleep. These were his last happy hours. On the following day, the mother-cat was killed: — run over by a motor-bicycle as she was trying to cross Takke Avenue in a hurry. She lay all day dead, a streak of blood pouring from her mouth, upon the asphalt of the broad, modern way, under the bright spring sunshine. As usual, nobody seemed to take any more notice of her than if she had been a scrap of paper.

* * *

The poor tabby kitten, a little over two months old, for whom she had been everything, was now all alone in the wide world.

He had already experienced the pangs of hunger, the occasional brutality of a dog running after him, and the permanent indifference or cruelty of the two-legged mammal. But he had had his mother’s love: her purr, in answer to his, when he slowly used to go to sleep at her breast; her soft little mews of love — the only kind voice he knew — calling him, when he had wandered a few yards too far away; the familiar feeling of her rough tongue against his young fur. Henceforth he was alone in that huge underworld of desperate struggle and of misery: the cat world of Teheran, as far below the human realm and as thoroughly cut off from it as the latter is, itself, below the invisible realm of spirits, good and evil, and incapable of coming in touch with it, save exceptionally.

Poor tabby kitten! — that had been proud Long-whiskers, and had once known happiness in Heliodora’s heaven-like Calcutta home; that had been majestic Sandy and lived twelve years among people who had loved him, and whose life he had shared! What made things worse was that the River of Oblivion — what the ancient Greeks called Lethe — runs between every life and the same individual’s following one, for cats just as for other four-legged or two-legged creatures, and therefore that the young tabby tom-kitten did not know that it was he himself who had chosen to be reborn into a world of suffering, nor why he had made such a choice. He did not remember the woman who had appeared to him as to so many hundreds of felines and other creatures as the “two-legged goddess.” Nay, ever since he had been frightened out of the garage,


he had not pictured himself the two-legged mammal as anything else but a cruel giant that one had to run away from, as from the worst type of dogs, which are nearly as nasty.

And yet, how many a child of a nobler and kindlier humanity — a child like little Elsie or, in fact, Heliodora herself, had once been — would have been delighted to hold the young tabby in her arms! For he was a pretty kitten, with a sweet little round face full of the usual mischievous expression. He had lovely eyes, which had been bluish-grey and were now slowly turning greenish-yellow. And his fur was long and silky, and his velvet paws big for his size, showing that he was to become a powerful tomcat, if only he was allowed to live long enough.

He would have been the finest kitten in the world, had he regularly had enough to eat. And even so, thin but fluffy as he was, he would have been the joy of any lover of feline beauty.

The tragedy was that very few of these were ever likely to come across him.

* * *

At first, he mewed for his mother, not realising that she had been run over. Then, as he wandered back to the spot and saw her body lying in a pool of blood, it dawned upon him that she would never move again — never purr again; never call him, never feed him, never lick him again. And he mewed, this time out of distress. He felt abandoned. He felt like a child would feel if a car dropped him in a desert place and drove off; or if a ship landed him upon a lonely island and sailed away. “Mee-u! Mee-u!” shouted he, as he stood, a tiny dark speck in the midst of broad Takke Avenue. Had a friendly hand come at that moment and taken him up and stroked him, how he would have purred, for sheer joy of experiencing a little love. But no kind person happened to pass that way, or to notice the slender, fluffy spot of life in the vastness of the asphalt desert. Several cars rushed past — one, so near him that the kitten was actually flung off his feet through sheer strength of the wind that the vehicle roused on its way. And before he had time to get up and come to his senses, another huge thing on wheels was following the first, at full speed — this time a lorry, that made a terrific noise. The tiny creature was panic-stricken. He threw himself across the avenue at the risk of his life, and finally found himself projected by a last gush of wind into a ditch.

The place was cool, compared with the asphalt of the

“He was a pretty cat, with a sweet round face” (p. 102)


avenue; cool and safe. In spite of the noise they made, motorcars and lorries seemed to roll past far away, over one’s head. And one neither saw them nor felt the wind they provoked. The little tabby kitten wandered in what appeared to him as a shady valley, until he discovered a road leading upwards: a way along which he climbed, over a heap of pebbles and crumbling earth, up to the level ground on one side of the avenue. He found himself at the foot of a hedge and finally, — after he had managed to struggle through the latter, — in an open, grassy expanse a lawn in the garden surrounding the American Embassy, in which he frolicked about, running after beetles and butterflies until he grew tired. There, too, nobody noticed him: the garden was broad; the gardener was not there that afternoon; and the offices were too far away for anyone who walked in or came out to become aware of his presence.

Then, all of a sudden, the air became cooler. Daylight was different. The Sun was setting. And soon night came; night, with all its stars. And the poor little tabby kitten wandered in that well-kept garden as he once had — fifteen years before — in the back-lanes of Calcutta between Dharmatala Street and Corporation Street, before he got himself, by mistake, shut in that “go-down,” out of which Heliodora had rescued him. But then, he had at least had his mother. Now, he was all alone — and more and more hungry.

He mewed. And just as then, the repeated high-pitched cries of distress — “Mee-u! Meee-u! Meeee-u!” — marred the solemn majesty of the starry night. But this time there was nobody to hear them. The one who had come, then, in answer to his despair, was now some five thousand miles away. She would come, but not yet. “Nothing is for nothing; and suffering is the price.” Such is the decree of an implacable and universal Destiny; the law of Creation.

For the poor tabby kitten, a life of suffering had begun. It was to become worse and worse-till the end . . . and the long-forgotten reward.

* * *

Until the day before, he had often known hunger. But he had had his mother’s love. When the thin, miserable she-cat that she was had no milk, still she would lick him; still she would “talk” to him in such undertoned, caressing little mews that he used to feel protected, nearly happy, in spite of all. Now he was hungry, and had no mother’s love. He mewed and mewed till the first light of


dawn; till his little throat was sore. Then, he fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion . . . only to wake up suddenly, two or three hours later, completely drenched — for the gardener watering the lawn had not seen him; or not cared, and directed the jet of his hose right upon him.

The kitten got up, terrified, and ran away as fast as he could, out of the wide-open gate and across Takke Avenue, where his mother still lay dead. Traffic was not so intense, then, as later on in the morning, so no accident happened to him before he reached Roosevelt Avenue, just opposite the Greek Orthodox Church. But from some courtyard near that church, he then heard a dog bark. And although the sound came from so far away that, reasonably speaking, he had nothing to fear, he ran faster . . . until he found a passage — the narrow space between the side wall of a house and some big case full of rubbish that was there, before it — to rush and hide into.

There he remained long hours, hungry, but too afraid of the thousand-and-one unusual shapes that he saw passing by, and of the various sounds that reached him, to dare put his nose out. In the end, however, as evening came, the persistent smell of roasted meat that the breeze brought to him from a neighbouring restaurant, incited him to muster his courage and walk towards the place, for he was by nature carnivorous, as all felines. For his good luck, just at that moment, a customer who was eating inside the shop a portion of chicken with some rice, flung on to the footpath a bone with a little flesh and a long bit of skin hanging to it. The kitten rushed and picked it up, and, after dragging it to his secret “corridor” between case and wall, greedily ate the skin and whatever scraps of flesh he could find to gnaw. But as he came out once more, and hesitatingly made for the entrance of the shop from which the smell of food was coming, a nasty child threw a stone at him. Quickly, the poor kitten ran back to his precarious shelter, and remained there too frightened even to thrust his head forwards.

At night, as the pangs of hunger became more and more unbearable, he cautiously crept along the wall and finally into the shop, the door of which was still open, and managed to eat a few scraps: bits of skin and bits of hard meat fallen from the customers’ tables, and an occasional bit of soft bread that he took a long time to chew with his sharp, but tiny little newly-grown teeth. He fell asleep at last under a stool in a corner, where nobody had noticed him.

But the next morning, as he woke up and started walking


about, a servant stamped and shouted (as the garage manager had once done) and chased him away. He ran to his former hiding place, behind the case in the side street. But it was, alas, no longer there: — the case had been removed. The poor kitten looked up pitifully and uttered a feeble mew: a mew of distress; the mew of a baby-cat abandoned among men. Then, he followed the wall. Where to? He did not know. He only knew — and that was the result of his first two days of lonely struggle — that the foot of the wall was, after the gutter, the least dangerous place in the street. The gutter being, then, full of water, he followed the wall. He had begun that awful life which is that of all stray animals in the towns and villages of the East; that hellish life which very few cats indeed are able to endure to an advanced age.

He wandered and wandered: to the junction of Roosevelt Avenue and of the next great artery of Teheran: and along the latter, to the right, for fear of crossing it. He wandered and wandered, and did not find anything to eat apart from a spoonful of rice pudding that he discovered near the foot of a customer’s chair, in front of a tea shop. And when his legs were unable to carry him any longer, he lay down upon a heap of planks, in a courtyard into which he had rushed for shelter, to avoid falling into the hands of some cruel children, and slept like a log. The following morning he was abruptly thrown — still asleep — from his plank on to the hard cement floor, and woke up as in a bad dream, feeling sore from top to toe. Limping, and more hungry than ever, again he wandered and wandered, finally coming back to the crossing of Roosevelt Avenue, where he had been two days before — thus roughly fixing the limits of the area which was henceforth to be “his,” i.e., over which he was to wander for the rest of his life (save if exceptional events forced him to change his habits) and every nook and corner of which he was to get acquainted with.

* * *

Days passed. Weeks and weeks passed. In spite of terrible hardships — permanent hunger, fear and misery, and occasional human cruelty — the tabby kitten grew. And he quickly learnt from experience a few useful things: first, that it is preferable to be out at night than in the daytime, if one possibly can: for not only is it, then, easier to hunt for food, but one does not come across so many two-legged creatures, most of which are devils that throw stones at one, or water (nay, sometimes boiling water) or


best dust (that gets into one’s eyes) when they happen to very young and not strong enough to throw anything else; second that, notwithstanding the better scraps that one sometimes finds there, one should avoid places where two-legged creatures are seated: one runs the risk, there, of getting kicked, or perhaps even crushed. If one spots on the floor anything that really looks appetising, one should rush and snatch it away in the wink of an eye, and go and eat it in a safe corner — not among the tables and chairs and two-legged creatures’ feet, where the worst may occur. Third, that it is advisable never to go into the places in which the two-legged creatures prepare food. One might, of course, have there the exceptional good luck of getting at a really big and fresh chunk of meat, or of lapping up any amount of milk, undisturbed, provided one creeps in when the place is empty and takes care not to stay there too long. But it is very risky; dangerous, one should say. One can never tell what the monsters might do if they catch one before a saucepan of milk, a joint of meat, or even a heap of poultry intestines (which, by the way, they don’t eat themselves). It is much safer to go, at night, and scratch and sniffle into the malodorous hillocks (generally twice or three times as high as an average cat) that are to be found along the streets, sometimes in courtyards, or into the bins, also full of foul-smelling refuse, that most of the time stand nearby. In the beginning, one has, of course, to overcome the nauseating smell of decaying vegetables, flesh and fish. But one grows less sensitive to it, bit by bit. And in the end, when one has not had anything to eat for three days, and can find nothing else, one is glad to pull a knot of chicken’s entrails of the day before, from under a disgusting heap of ashes, curds gone sour, bones, and half-putrid rice and vegetables. It stills one’s hunger; it is better than nothing at all!

And finally . . . avoid those big, noisy box-like things that move about on four or two wheels; those that purr, but much louder than cats, and in a vulgar, ostentatious manner, releasing a breath that stinks like poison. And . . . avoid the two-legged creatures. I mean the two-legged mammals (for birds do not do one any harm and are good to eat, when one is clever enough to catch them).

The tabby kitten’s one direct contact with the human species had been exceedingly nasty: half-a-dozen evil-smelling and yelling boys had cornered the poor young beast at the end of a blind alley where, dead with fright, he still had courageously faced them all: claws drawn out, and spitting at them as much as he could. Then, one of

However, in spite of that miserable life, he slowly became a half-grown cat (p. 107)


them had managed to grip him by the tail and, after whizzing him around several times, had brutally flung him to the floor, head downwards, causing his nose to bang against the stones. The kitten had run away from them, stunned and bleeding, and, for two days, could not eat, on account of his sore, swollen lips and aching body. The episode left him a terror of the two-legged mammal in general, and of the younger ones of the species in particular. He would run for his life at the approach of any human being, especially at any movement of a human hand towards him. And there existed in his little head a sort of loose association between the two-legged enemy and those huge boxes that went about upon wheels, at terrifying speed, with so much noise and such smells: he had often noticed one of the devils step into or out of such “boxes,” and had seen many sitting in them.

However, in spite of that miserable life, he slowly became a half-grown cat — and a beautiful one, whose thinness was partly hidden by a soft and well-kept angora fur (well-kept, not through the use of any brush and comb, of course, but through the ever-repeated and thorough licking of the animal’s rough tongue. Whenever the cat was at rest — neither afraid nor too hungry — he would take care of his fluffy coat). And he would have been amazed, had one been able to let him somehow know that he was enduring all his hardships in order to obtain, one day, the supreme joy of meeting once more a two-legged creature who was not a devil; one who had loved him, and whom he had loved, not long before. For not even in his wildest dreams did a fleeting memory of her enter his dim consciousness. It was — or seemed — as though she had never crossed his path.

Fortunately for him, the merciless struggle for life — the daily search of some twenty dust heaps for scraps of skinny meat or, maybe, just one or two bits of dry bread, lost under kitchen ashes; the nightly hunt for mice or crawling creatures, black beetles and such, fit to eat, failing anything better, — did not leave him time to become aware of any “aspirations” or even of desires beyond that of stilling his hunger, of avoiding pain, and of sleeping, whenever too tired to go on hunting for food. He was not quite old enough yet to appreciate the presence of female cats. And had he been, like the two-legged ones, gifted with the power of speech, his definition of “happiness” would have been a negative one. “Not to be hungry; not to be frightened; not to be in pain, that is to be happy,” he would have said. For he knew nothing better.

And yet she was coming; she, the Friend of Creatures,


especially the Friend of Felines. She was crossing the sea and she was crossing a continent to hold him once more in her arms, — although she did not know it herself. Among the many forces that drove her on and on was, along with her own will to serve her sacred Cause to the utmost of her capacity . . . a cat’s destiny.