“Hold it right there, not one more step!” commanded a gruff, thick voice from somewhere to the left but close by on the winding dirt road ahead. Almost stumbling as I came to a screeching halt, I looked towards the spot to ascertain the source of the utterance, which had broken my reverie as I was scurrying towards the creek to capture the rising sun. At that instance a pair of green, brilliantly luminescent, though tiny, orbs of fury emerged from the depths of the darkness. As they walked towards me, the tentative shape around the pair of greens, which I could discern now to be eyes, took the definitive shape of a cat – a black cat.
“Shadow, friends call me Shad, but you are definitely not a friend”, said the cat rather arrogantly. “And pray what did I do to you? I haven’t even laid eyes upon you till now!” pleaded I. “You, maybe not, but others of your kind, certainly. Crossing my road ever so often; and every single time you cross my path it causes me a great deal of grief. Mr. D’Mello at the fishermen’s cove gives all the best catch to that despicable Whiskers. So just wait here while I cross the road or else I will lose out even today”, Shadow kept up the rant.
I was amused no ends and crouched down to face Shadow, “How could humans bring you ill luck by simply crossing your path? It doesn’t make any logical sense”. Shadow stepped up to me, raising his head to look me straight in the eyes, and in a challenging voice asked “Then why do you people make us a target of your stupid superstitions? Associating us with witches and black magic, labeling us satanic? You freeze on the road, as if having seen the devil incarnate himself, if we dare walk across your path! Do you even know how this senseless habit of stopping when a cat crosses your path evolved?” I was fascinated and prodded Shadow to continue.
“Well, I will be quick cause the fish is waiting. In ancient times bullock or horse-driven carts were the only mode of transport from village to village and the roads used to mostly pass through dense forests. Whenever a large predator such as a tiger, leopard or a jungle cat crossed the path of the cart, the animal drawing it used to get scared and went berserk. In order to calm the horse or bullock, the driver used to stop the cart, give the animal some water and run a loving hand over its neck to calm it down. Once the animal calmed down, the journey would continue. This fact got convoluted over the years and what came to remain was a stupid illogical belief!”
I was struck by the simplicity of the explanation. “Well, I for one do not hold this dumb belief, but the rationale behind this is quite enlightening. Let me tell you that the world is now changing. People are questioning the logic behind most blind beliefs. And as for the folks from your side, I have news for you – black cats are actually helping humans understand genetics! You see, black fur is the cause of genetic mutation and the very fact that it has been preserved through evolution means that it has some benefits. Scientists have now found that the mutations that made the fur black also offered cats protection from some deadly infections, including feline HIV. So focused studies are now being conducted on the mutated genes and how the same can be applied in human DNA engineering to improve disease resistance.”
Shadow seemed to be moved somewhat by my attempt to patch up. “Well”, said he, “May be it is getting better for the world, my friend – both yours and mine. Anyways, my breakfast is waiting and you better stand out of my way – don’t want ill-luck today especially cause I am super hungry. Meeooww!” And with a wink from a shimmering eye, and a flourish of the dark fur, Shadow crossed the road in style, his paws hastening towards the fishermen’s cove. I stood up straight and paused for a moment, may be out of a sense of respect for the astute feline. As I took a resolute step towards the creek, I looked up towards the sky to see it lit up with a brightening glow of citrusy and tangerine hues.
– Narendra Nayak © 2017