This week’s column is dedicated to Rabu, a kitten that was rescued from a gutter in March when he was just a few weeks old. His mistress Désirée who worked in the café that I had walked into at Padangbai sometime ago introduced me to him. The small furry creature with warm watery eyes jumped onto my lap and as if on cue went to sleep. Some months later he was dead, crushed under the wheels of a speeding sepeda motor.
He was named Rabu because he was found on Hari Rabu (Wednesday). Rabu came into the life of his mistress at a time when she was confronted with the ever-changing vagaries of life fraught with fragmented relationships coupled with living in a foreign country. He was a true friend that never judged Désirée but accepted her human frailties just as he ate whatever was put on his plate at mealtime.
Désirée was with me in Ubud sampling the Nasi Campur at Indus when she got a telephone call informing her of his death. The tears came thick and fast.
This may sound inappropriate at this juncture but I am not a cat person. I find their nocturnal wanderings and piercing stare disconcerting. It is as if they are able to travel back and forth between the worlds of the living and dead. So when I encountered Rabu and Désirée’s grief I began to wonder whether cats, like dogs also went to heaven.
Jeroo, a Balinese woman who often does my laundry, was appalled when she heard about Rabu’s death. She promptly instructed me to find out about the fate of his remains as Balinese consider the cat as a creature that signifies wealth. Therefore if a cat dies at anyone’s hands the offender must seek forgiveness by burying the cat under a tree in a small ceremony with offerings placed on the grave. It is believed that the tree would bear succulent fruit.
On making the call I was told that the motorcyclist had carried away Rabu’s body to perform the compulsory ceremony. This is as per the standing orders of the Desa Adat.
The cat is called Kucing in Indonesian and Meong in Balinese. Jeroo told me that at feeding time the cat is summoned in Balinese with the words Pis Meong. Pis means money. So in essence the death of a cat in Bali denotes bad luck – impending loss of wealth.
Many years ago archaeologists discovered a cat cemetery in Beni-Hassan, Egypt, with 300,000 cat mummies. The Egyptian Goddess of love, Bastet, had the head of a cat. In the time of the Pharaohs, to be convicted of killing a cat usually meant a death sentence for the culprit.
In the medieval ages cats were seen as a personification of Lucifer and therefore were burnt alive. Their screams were purported to be that of the Devil. It is said that Devil worshippers revered the cat and usually kissed it under the tail i.e. on the anus. They also used them in animal sacrifices. Black cats in particular were associated with witches. Some historians claim that the persecution of the cat drastically brought down its numbers thereby increasing the population of rats; the result being the onset of the plague that decimated the population in Europe.
The mark of ‘M’ on the Tabby cat’s forehead is believed by some to be the initial of Mother Mary who blessed it for comforting her baby son Jesus Christ. According to some followers of Islam the ‘M’ stands for Mohammed, the Prophet, who had a deep affection for cats. To substantiate the claim of some of his devout followers for his fondness for cats I quote from the net – “Prophet Mohammed apparently loved cats and rather than disturb his sleeping cat, Muezza, he once cut off a sleeve of his robe which she was sleeping on when the call to prayer sounded. It is also said that the reason he loved cats was that one saved his life from a snake that had crawled into his sleeve. Legend says that Prophet Mohammed blessed cats with the ability to land on their feet. One of his writings tells that he had a vision of a woman punished in Hell for starving her cat to death.”
And then we have the legend of the sacred cat of Burma.
Centuries ago, in a valley nestled the temple of Lao-Tsun. 100 yellow-eyed white cats with long silken coats guarded it. This was the abode of the golden goddess with sapphire blue eyes who watched over the transformation of souls. Whenever the head monk Mun-ha knelt in prayer his faithful companion, Sinh the beautiful temple cat sat by his side. The legend has it that on a fateful moonlit night when Mun-ha was in deep meditation the temple was attacked by marauders. Mun-ha was killed. At the time of his death Sinh placed his paws on the master’s robes and looked towards the golden goddess. Instantly his face, ears, legs and tail became a velvety brown colour of rich earth, but his four paws that rested on his master remained perfect white, a symbol of purity. The colour of Sinh’s eyes became that of the golden goddess – sapphire blue. The following day the temple glowed with the transformation of the 99 white cats. Sinh, the 100th cat, never moved from his place and stared at the spot where his master was slain. Exactly seven days later Sinh died. And on his death carried his master’s soul to heaven.
Cats and their association with humans can be traced back thousands of years. For example, the Cahokians’ god of the earth was depicted as a cat-headed snake.
The many legends, myths and religious connections with cats makes me wonder whether I have been wrong all along about these felines who always behave like they are bestowing a favour on humankind by accompanying us through the journey of our mortal life. Have they been sent by the Gods to keep tabs on us?
All I can conclude at this stage is the fact that Rabu brought me closer to understanding another living and loving creature on this isle. And for this I am thankful to that furry little feline who now lies buried under some tree in Padangbai.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om