– Get up! Get up, it’s six AM already! I need to pray.
Vishnu was screaming at the top of his lungs. In between his screams, he was also nudging my face with his nose. I did fall asleep quite early on the previous night. Still I retorted, “So go and pray! Who’s stopping you?”
– C’mon, you know I can only pray over my food. How can I pray without food in front of me?
As a matter of fact, I was duly told about that commandment by Vishnu on the day he reached his puberty at the age of six months. That was almost two months ago. It goes something like, “Thou shall pray to Us, when We, thy Lord Goddess, bringeth food to thee!” He was very adamant that I use capital letters for the noun and pronouns referring to his Goddess. I could not help but ask him, “Why the plurals, isn’t She a singular entity?” I remember he shook his head in dejection, as if his pride was critically wounded by the stupidity of his owner, and told me to study history and theology. If I do, he said, I would know that the plural forms are used for honoring entities that are either divine or royal in origin.
I got up and opened a can of cat food for Vishnu. Before starting to gorge on it, he looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes for a while. Right then I felt a mild headbutt on my left shin. It was Vishnu’s younger brother, named Shiva because of his extremely playful and often destructive nature. Vishnu on the other hand is more docile, except when he needs to pray. Shiva too wanted some breakfast, and being a nonbeliever he started eating without any further ado.
“You don’t need to pray to Felidae?” I asked Shiva in jest. He turned his adorable head around, looked at me and rolled his eyes. Vishnu too turned his head towards me, but his eyes were filled with silent scorns. To take Her proper name without any epithet is blasphemous in his religion. I am lucky, Vishnu keeps reminding me almost regularly that he is a member of the Felis clan. Had he been a member of the Panthera clan, the first time I blasphemed would have been my last. Despite our differences I had to agree with Vishnu on that. Even my ancestors, originating in the East African savannah some hundred thousand years ago, knew too well about the fate of those who crossed paths with a member of the Panthera clan, especially if the latter happened to be hungry or in a bad mood. No wonder, one of the first Gods my ancestors had carved out was the sculpture of a Panthera spelaea, or an Eurasian cave lion in layman’s term. I apologized to Vishnu and was subjected to yet another shaking of his cute little head.
After breakfast both Vishnu and Shiva visited their respective litter boxes. As I was cleaning after them, Vishnu came to me and said,
– Good man! I will pray to our Goddess, the most merciful and benevolent, to let you live on Mount Praeda after you have served your purpose in this transient life.
“I am humbled by your kind gesture, my lord.” I tried extra hard to filter out any traces of irony from my voice as I said those words. But it was in vain, Vishnu’s auditory prowess seems phenomenal when compared to that of my fellow human apes.
– Do I hear a note of irony in your voice, Mister?
Vishnu always calls me ‘Mister’ when he is on the edge. If I pushed him any further, he would retaliate. I had to de-escalate the situation. “Come now, you do realize that on Mount Praeda there will be members of the Panthera clan as well. And what am I but meat on slow legs to most of them?” Vishnu cocked his head slightly to one side, which he tends to do while thinking. Soon he had his answer,
– I said, to let you live there. As long as you are not a part of Mount Praeda, you will not be eaten by its inhabitants. When they want to eat, parts of the mountain will be turned into prey animals. After the feast those parts will regenerate and the mountain will return to its normal stage. Just like the liver of Prometheus. Understood?
Vishnu is a top class apologist, I have to give him that much. But I only said yes to his question and finished my work. By then Vishnu was on his back on the floor, expecting someone to rub his forehead and throat for a little while. Not too much, only for a few seconds at a stretch. Shiva too had sensed the plea and in his adolescent overenthusiasm started advancing toward Vishnu when the older brother let out a muted growl.
– Stay away! I don’t want your filthy, hellbound tongue on me.
Of late Vishnu has started hating Shiva with a vengeance, often biting and clawing at his younger brother, if he ventures too close. And Shiva does have the habit of approaching everyone from their blindsides. I thought the aggression was due to two male cats coming of age in close proximity but the word ‘hellbound’ made me think otherwise. I decided not to press Vishnu any more and talk to Shiva about it at a later time. So I rubbed Vishnu on his forehead and throat for a while. Soon he was in a sound sleep. By then Shiva has climbed up on top of the large steel almirah in the other room, his favorite place for sleeping. With both of them at rest, I was free at last to attend to my morning chores.
In the afternoon, I was getting ready to go out when Shiva came and started scratching at my trousers. Shiva often treats my legs as tree trunks in his habitat. He acquired the habit when he was around four weeks old. Back then both the cats lived with their mother. Living in a bachelors’ quarter they did not have a lot of space to run around or play, nor was their playful behaviors welcomed by the human inhabitants there. Whenever I visited the place, Shiva used to run to me and climb up one of my legs. He seemed to enjoy it, so I started enjoying it too. Now at eight months of age, he has grown too large to do that anymore. Instead, these days he just scratches at one of my trousered legs.
– Where are you heading to? Seems you have stopped playing with me for a few days now.
He is right. I have been going out regularly in the afternoon for a few days now. Usually the afternoons are Shiva’s exclusive hours. Vishnu remains asleep during these hours, so his younger brother has the whole house to himself. When I am home, Shiva would visit me after every mischievous act to check out how I am reacting to it. If I am not scowling, he would go on doing his stuff. I guess Shiva does not know that being a cat person, I can never scowl at one. I was lost reminiscing about Shiva’s early childhood when his witty interjection brought me out of the reverie.
– Hello! Are you receiving visions like his holiness, my elder brother? I hope not. Even one is already one too many for the world, let alone this house!
I had to laugh, though silently lest Vishnu woke up. Kneeling down beside Shiva, I begged him to play alone until my return. Which would be very soon, I promised. He agreed, albeit with an evident lack of enthusiasm. As I was stepping out of the house I said to Shiva that I should have named him Hitchens instead. From inside the house came Shiva’s response,
– Why? Had Dawkins been taken already?
By then I was out of the house, so I laughed aloud without worrying about Vishnu and his sleep.