By Yoginder Sikand
Little Olinj was quite a naughty girl last week, and that’s why Dolly Aunty gave her to me yesterday to mind. In two days she had eaten four of Stephen Anna’s pigeons. But cats will be cats, and they’ll do as most cats would if they are set among the pigeons. And so, even though I was a little cross when I heard about what she had done, when I saw Dolly Aunty carrying Olinj in her arms and heading towards my room, I forgot all about her bad behavior. She looked so naughtily sweet!
Ive never been much of a cat lover, I have to say. I’ve been much more of a dog person, really. Dogs are more ‘substantial’—they are bigger, as a rule, and so you can give them a tight, hearty hug, which isn’t something I suppose you could do to a cat. And then, dogs, I think, are definitely more emotionally expressive, jolly and interesting people. Cats, on the other hand, can be distressingly private, sullen, standoffish, boring even. While a dog will easily make you the centre of his life, a cat just couldn’t care less if you were dead or alive. That, at any rate, is the impression I’ve had all along, although, I have to admit, I’d never bothered to verify it.
And so when Dolly Aunty brought Olinj to my room yesterday and asked me to keep her, you can imagine that I was more than just a little apprehensive. I hadn’t the slightest idea about how I should entertain her. On the one hand, I was, admittedly and despite my deeply-rooted anti-cat prejudices, quite excited. I was going to get a new room-mate! But, on the other hand, I really had no clue as to how Olinj and I were going to get along.
Dolly Aunty wanted Olinj to get used to hanging around my room so that she would stay away from Stephen Anna’s pigeon-pen. She dropped Olinj inside my room, left a bowl full of goodies for her to eat, and went away.
Olinj didn’t even say hello, although I tried being nice to her. Very typically cat, I thought to myself. She went on an inspection round of the room, walking very staidly, as if the place didn’t have her full approval. She sniffed about in the corners, and then, when she had had enough, she hopped onto my bed. Resting her little head on my pillow, she curled herself into a ball and promptly fell off to sleep!
I looked at her closely. Her head was all crooked, and she had half covered her face with her little furry paws. Suddenly, she seemed so very innocent, like a harmless, helpless baby!
When Olinj awoke, she stretched her paws and gave out a little yawn. Then, she looked up at me—with a pair of sparkling, emerald-green eyes. She definitely wasn’t smiling, but she seemed pleased with herself, and with the world in general. She closed her eyes gently as I moved closer to her, as if to indicate that I had received her approval. Then—and this was most unexpected—she lifted her head and began to rub her soft little nose on my cheek! After a while, she jumped up on her fours and demanded to be played with!
Olinj definitely wasn’t as cold and stern as I thought all cats were! In fact, I now had to conclude, she was really quite a sweetie! And, who knows, maybe all cats were, too! There and then, I decided to adopt Olinj as my daughter.
It was ‘Teacher’s Day’ yesterday, and do you know what? Maybe Olinj came into my life on this particular day in order to teach me a lesson that I desperately needed to learn. And I have to say she did remarkably well at her job.
As I indicated earlier, I’ve been prejudiced against cats—and that’s putting politely—for as long as I can remember. I’ve thought almost every imaginable bad thing about them. Now, there’s always an element of truth in a stereotype or else it wouldn’t stick. And so, probably not everything I thought about cats is wrong. But, what I learned from Olinj yesterday was how stereotypes tell only one wee lit bit of a much larger and very complex story, and that too in a heavily skewed way. Little, loveable Olinj reminded me of the enormous hazards of making blanket generalizations, and of how easily tempted we are to think bad about others, rather than good. Not all cats, she taught me, were rude and boring. In fact, none of them probably were. It was only because I hadn’t made the effort to understand them that I had thought what I had thought about them. I had been too closely wedded to my anti-cat prejudices to want to see anything that didn’t confirm and conform to the picture that I had constructed and carefully cherished. Really, if anyone was rude and ill-mannered, it was I, and certainly not the entire cat family, as I was once convinced!
Stereotypes and little knowledge are truly a dangerous thing—that’s something that little Olinj taught me yesterday on Teacher’s Day. Her lesson isn’t just about the perils of unfair stereotyping about cats, though. It extends, if you really think about it, to every conceivable sort of human relationship, too. Conflicts between individuals have, more often than not, to do with deeply-rooted, untested and preconceived beliefs they have about each other which they don’t bother to verify. As little Olinj taught me when she looked up to me with her soulful green eyes and rubbed her nose on my cheek, if only (our egos permitting!) we’d allow ourselves to see people (and cats) as they truly are, instead of viewing them from the prism of our prejudices, the world would be an infinitely happier place!