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Capital Letters: Outlook City Limits

this was for the Capital Letters section in Outlook City Limits’ new issue

In A Dream of a Thousand Cats, Neil Gaiman wrote that cats ruled the
worlds before humans did, and could dream themselves back into power –
if only a thousand cats could dream of the same world at the same
time. Cats being cats, this is unlikely to happen in the near future,
but it is a commonly known fact that cats live in a parallel
dimension. They see more than we do, their goals and ambitions are
completely distinct from ours, and possibly much more evolved.
Cities, too, have souls; they are complex organisms of steel and
concrete and plastic and blood, evolving messily towards heavens knows
what future. And as they grow and mutate, their essence leaks into
their denizens – humans, by and large, are excellent indicators of
their cities’ evolution, but if you really want to understand the soul
of a city, you need to look further. Not much further, though, because
an answer to all your queries is found in that most sophisticated of
sentient urban life-forms – the not-so-humble domestic cat.
In Calcutta, I was owned by a cat named Ao. Ao was a gentle
rice-eater, slothful, beautiful and utterly loveable. Summers she
spent in the garden, casting coquettish looks at bumbling, earnest
neighbourhood toms. Winters she was found curled up on blankets and
voltage stabilizers, purring Rabindrasangeet and only stirring a
muscle when offered fish.
I was recently acquired by a kitten in Delhi. A tiny, helpless,
grey-black striped bundle who won my heart completely by chewing
gently on my finger within a minute of getting to know me. Since
then, she’s driven me completely mad. Now about two months old, Sherpa
(climber of all, daughter of tiger, biter of foot) is cocky, brash,
violent and greedy. She’s noisy, dirty and unfazed by cold water,
yells or dogs. My entire flat, myself included, has been chewed to
bits. My guests have been assaulted, my newspaper articles defecated
on, and my flatmate’s family-creating potential possibly destroyed.
And yet Sherpa remains the most adorable kitten I’ve ever seen – she’s
graceful, bright-eyed, wild and utterly lovely, and now I can’t
imagine what life would be like without her. As I write this, she’s
toying with the remote, changing channels and waiting for the
opportune moment to take a flying leap and land on my keyboard.
What would she type, if I let her?
I’m Delhi, she would say. Deal with it.
It’s not much of a theory, as theories go, but there’s something to
it. The only Bombay cat I know is pure Bollywood. He’s called Mithun
and is the essence of all things disco – he’s glamorous, promiscuous
and clearly has underworld connections. There’s really no end to
discovering cities, or cats, both smug in their infinite complexity,
both sublimely aware that you need them more than they need you. If
you’re thinking of changing cities, visit in advance and spend a few
days observing cats – they might choose to tell you everything you
need to know.


About Samit Basu

Novelist. Best known for fantasy and science fiction work. Most recently, The City Inside (Tordotcom)/Chosen Spirits (Simon and Schuster)


12 thoughts on “Capital Letters: Outlook City Limits

  1. My kitten stretches one paw high,
    With the other she’ll touch the sky.
    Then says “Meow” and turns around,
    Then folds her paws and sits right down!

    – nursery rhyme

    Posted by nancy the nibbler | December 26, 2005, 7:35 am
  2. Oh, I love this post! Kitties have always ruled the world and always will.

    Happy holidays and hope 2006 has nothing but goodies for you.

    A virtual kiss for Sherpa,


    Posted by Sharanya | December 26, 2005, 7:39 am
  3. Lovely piece Sumit, utterly lovely..

    My last cat was a green eyed, jet black lithe creature who liked to perch atop shoulders like a reincarnated bird. I called her Selina. But well, she’s missing for a while now.

    Posted by Manish Bhatt | December 26, 2005, 7:39 am
  4. Unrelated, but you’ve stopped writing the Look column?

    Posted by Srin | December 26, 2005, 7:39 am
  5. And I thought I was the only person who thought of blogging at wee hours of the night…
    You still beat me by an hour, though.

    Posted by The Nameless One | December 26, 2005, 7:39 am
  6. I’m a dog person myself, and think cats are nasty, stealing creatures whose mystical aura eludes me at all times, but brilliant piece.

    Posted by The Marauder's Map | December 26, 2005, 1:24 pm
  7. awww. i’m a total cat person (obvious, isn’t it… lol). my mom just doesn’t let me have them at home because she has decided i’m messier than one. i suspect it is more because she happens to be a fish person. aquariums and all, that sort, you know. fishy, very fishy.

    Posted by Tiny Black Cat | December 27, 2005, 1:59 am
  8. lovely analogy. reminded me, if i’m allowed an intellectual aside, of eliot’s preludes – where the movement of a city fog (and eventually the city itself)is compared to feline grace…

    Posted by augustusina | December 27, 2005, 6:57 am
  9. sir.. i wasnt sure as to how to address you so i thought it’d be better if i called u sir! I heard of you from a friend of mine at college. I could’nt help wondering why the hell he was absolutely crazy about your writing.. The mystery’s been solved now, the case cracked! Your blog and your books, the way you write is beyond description. Hats off to you sir..

    Posted by deepakgauri | December 27, 2005, 4:48 pm
  10. this is briliant and, okay, turn nose away disdainfully, so cute!

    cats never give me the time of the day. i am, therefore, a dog person. in other news, it’s probably a typo, but you’ve been called Sumit.

    Posted by Rimi | December 29, 2005, 3:42 am
  11. I am NOT a cat person but this post got me-maybe they may not be as bad after all. I’ll re-consider.

    Posted by Jane Sunshine | December 30, 2005, 11:58 am
  12. Agree with deepakgauri and severally about this hatsoff piece – but Delhi then has MPD? My two cats were quite pea and peaberry.

    Posted by Monica | January 2, 2006, 7:13 pm

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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
December 2005


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