By Nishi Pulugurtha
On the step of the building just opposite my living room window is a cat. A beautiful tabby that is in repose – a blissful repose, it seems, as I struggle to deal with things online. Examinations, messages, mails, calls, meetings, discussions – they just seem to go on. Beyond working hours, on Sundays too – yes, they do keep me busy, maybe keep me sane, however, at the same time they are tiring and exhausting. I attend sessions which tell me of various technical aspects of the online platforms that supposedly will make things easier, my take on them — they seem to be even more complicated.
The cats are not my pets. It is just that I like to observe things around me and working from home my views are limited these days. One of my neighbours has about four pet cats, I can hear her calling out to them – Chini, Mini, Kini, Tini. I hear them purr in response to the call. They snuggle around her feet as she walks out. She picks up one, cuddles it and then picks up another. I see her kneeling and talking to them. That conversation goes on for a while. I hear all kinds of noises – human and feline. She goes in and gets to work and the felines decide to remain in the compound. I guess they want some more of the sun – it is scorching still but that does not seem to stop them.
One of them crawls into the green space in front. She seems to be looking for something — maybe she did get a scent of something that could be a delicious afternoon meal or snack. There is a big noise, an uproar, you could say. That is my other neighbour. I hear her go on. She seems to be shouting at someone. I can clearly understand that she is trying to drive something out of her house. She hollers out to her husband to close the kitchen door. She has just finished her cooking. Well, one of the felines decided to visit neighbours and that was the reason for the commotion. Inspite of all this shouting and hollering, Mita makes it a point to mix a little bit of leftover rice and some fish bones every day after lunch. She puts this in bowls and puts them out in a small dish near the steps. Slowly the cats venture forth. She has been doing this for years now. She has a late lunch, a very late lunch.
I am in between classes then, online classes and need a cup of tea to cheer me up. As I make myself a cup, I see her walking towards that empty space, bowl in hand and a few of the felines following her. She is no longer shouting at them. Rather, she is talking to them, asking them to wait for a while. She leisurely walks, greeting someone in the distant window. As she puts the food, the felines get busy.
Mita decides to catch up on some conversation with the lady who lives upstairs. As I put on my headphones, I can hear their voices. I am off to another world, a virtual one – my classroom these days. The class consists of new students who are more than lost in all this huge virtual space. I tell them I am in as much trouble as they are in. I am still trying to negotiate my way through this maze of platforms, learning something, trying to learn and not always succeeding. They are quiet for some time, and then I see a message in the chat box. I answer, ask them to speak one by one. I have the list of names on a list, a list that has numbers too – numbers that confuse. This is the first time I am unable to associate the name with the person. I have never seen them, do not know when I will meet them in a classroom.
Room 212 on the second floor, a big, warm, airy room that in the summer months burns, is the allotted classroom for my students. The windows of the room look out to the huge playground. A lot of activity is seen there. A lot of noise too, that disturbs my class. I need to raise my voice to be heard by all. A couple of huge trees stand between the windows and the playground — trees that are home to beautiful pigeons and mynahs. Between the trees and the huge playground is a narrow path that meanders around the playground, branching off at two places. That physical space of my college and the classroom, the space beyond lingers on in my mind as I talk to these students who have just joined college. They have not been to the college. All they have seen are images in the virtual world. We go on trying to make some sense of things.
When it is done for the day, I still have work to be done, attendance and the like – there are still things that I need to attend to. I hear the sounds of the cats purring. They are all under my car that is parked just outside the window. It has been parked for most of the time in the past few months. The space beneath the car is the favourite afternoon siesta time for the cats. They play, they rest in the much cooler space there — nice and cozy too. As I walk on the terrace in the evenings to take a break from work, the two little girls on the neighbours terrace call out to me and point to two cats high up on a ledge. Like these two little ones they are at play too. A little later the cats are near the red toy teddy that has been discarded and tied to a pole on the terrace of the house opposite, their play still on.
Dusk settles in and the autumnal sky hues bring in much colour. The clouds, the setting sun, and that all those exuberant colours remain for a while. The cats are in by now. I know I will hear their names being called out again a little while later, at dinner time. As it gets dark and I turn towards the stairs I see a pair of bright eyes sparkle on the verandah grill – comfortably at rest.
Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in various journals and magazines. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010), guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus and has a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). Her recent book is an edited volume of essays on travel, Across and Beyond (2020). She is now working on her first volume of poems.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL