Wednesday, December 07, 2011

For the Survival of the Unfit


I am fond of cats. Be it any species, even the wild ones. And I honestly believe, there is no animal that you can’t domesticate (I am a little opposed to the term and the concept of “taming”) since I grew up between snakes, had lizards, hamsters, crows and even a tortoise for pets (most of them were not in captivity) as I grew up. Quite recently I had a friend from Russia visiting me, who pointed out that she hasn’t seen a single cat during her fortnight-long stay in Delhi. Here is the fact:

Delhi doesn’t like cats

“I don’t see any cats here. Surprising! If you were in Russia, you could see them everywhere – all sizes and shapes.” She was peacefully sipping tea in the front room.

Well, that’s true. And it is also true that I love cats. I have loved them all my life.

The reason behind the suspicious absence of cats in all neighborhoods in Delhi I’ve lived, can be attributed to two basic reasons:

(a) The abundance of man’s so called “best” friends – canines
Tooth-flashing, tail-wagging, barking and biting canines. It is not that I dislike dogs, but there used to be “a peaceful coexistence” (to borrow the words of Nikita Khrushchev) of canines and felines when I used to live with my parents till the early 90’s.

Here in Delhi, I don’t see that. Both species are at war (as usual) and in Delhi, the dogs outnumber their feline opponents. I found a reason why.

Delhi is a large city and is not immune to such untoward incidents like carjacking, theft, etc. In an effort to control bad incidents, individual neighborhoods and resident societies have employed security guards of all kinds and calibers. In neighborhoods like mine, the security guards prefer to “outsource” part of their work to the stray dogs, so that they themselves can report late for duty or have their way while at work. Dogs will raise alarm if they see unusual people or situations. Unfortunately, we do not have a comprehensive animal management policy for the urban areas, and at the same time it is against the law to kill a stray animal on the streets, no matter what nuisance they create. Hence the security-men feed the stray dogs, who over a period of time, infest the neighborhoods. Since cats are yet to be put to such crime-control efforts, they are not a preferred option for anyone. As a result the canines are large in number and the felines (if they are there) have to constantly be on the watch lest they fall prey to stray dogs. Being a cat-lover, whenever I see a dog chasing a cat in Delhi, I always shoo away the dog.

(b) Delhi doesn’t eat fish like Kerala or Bengal does

Though I couldn’t corroborate the statement with solid facts and research reports, I believe there is an aeonian relation between cats and fish. Naturally you will find felines in abundance in places where fish is a significant component of daily food.

Thus people of states like Kerala and Bengal where fish is an almost mandatory part of the daily food are used to keeping cats for pets. On the contrary in Delhi where “non-veg” usually means chicken, more chicken and much more chicken, it is natural that there is no significant feline population.

A little more than a decade ago in another city, a member of the church where I used to visit, mocked me for being a “grass-eater.” You guessed it right: “Grass-eater” is the impolite expression common in the North to indicate a vegetarian person. Since people in the North are more obsessed with chicken and I was yet (yes, I started falling prey to chicken after moving to Delhi) to taste it, naturally he couldn’t know my choices. I met the same person on a different occasion where I was visiting a Malayali friend in the same city and we all had lunch together. Since there was the typical Central-Travancore “meen curry” (fish cooked in spicy gravy) which my poor Northern friend couldn’t eat despite his hard efforts, it was my turn to throw the same question back. It takes a lot of patience and good practice to remove the bones from fish before you eat, and no matter how deep a carnivore you are, never challenge a Malayali with fish!

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