Cats can be more truthful and loyal than many human beings, teaching us something new about the universe in a way that no educational institution could.
LONG before the “crazy cat man” became a subject of memes, I proclaimed my adoration of cats. When I was nine, I wrote an ode to my cat Lizzy, and the whole class either sang it spiritedly with me or asked me to shut up.
Apparently, my enthusiasm was expressed to the point that a teacher had to remind me that humans were the superior species, as much fun as cats were to observe and play with. But as I grew with Lizzy – a tomcat whose name was derived from a lazy demeanour rather than a nickname for Elizabeth – I learnt that a pet is much more than mere observation and playing.
His purring, head butting and slow blinking were signs of affection that he would generously endow in times of need. He was my favourite of that first extended family of cats, all with rhyming names.
Drawing out his family tree constituted my first foray into genealogy, particularly since Fuzzy, his mother, went on to have more children from different partners.
Last week, the last cat of the second extended family passed away, and reflecting on her role in my life has made me conclude that the teacher was wrong. Cats can often, in fact, seem very much superior to humans.
Just before I began university in London in 2000, Tabby (fully Tabitha, daughter of Fluffy Jabba) was born in the storage drawer in the corridor leading to the dining room.
Due to my being away for most of the year, I got to know her only gradually, together with her siblings and her gorgeous mother, who was a Persian Cross whose soft long fur sported a dark tortoiseshell pattern.
Once, in the TV room, soon after I returned home for a holiday, Tabby greeted me and wanted to be petted more comprehensively than ever before.
It turned out she was pregnant, and the names we gave her children – Gateway (the second to bear this name), Fistandantilus and Pikachu – encapsulated cultural influences of my childhood, representing a now-defunct computer manufacturer, a wizard from the Dragonlance series of fantasy novels and the then-new Pokemon universe.
Just before I left – because cats always know when bags are being packed – she would ask for a goodbye manja session too. Thus a routine was established: every time I would return, we would have regular catch-up conversations, even though we would not hang out all the time.
That’s partly because my new favourite, Black Lizzy (an unrelated grey male cat), was insistent on following me everywhere.
He was able to detect his favourite fried chicken I was bringing home (now that I could drive) from outside the car.
Devastatingly for me, however, he contracted Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and eventually, during one of my trips home, he passed away at the vet’s.
Tabby and Black Lizzy were close, and she missed him as she did Fluffy Jabba, who died after a distinguished life as the grand matriarch of the felines of the house.
The three remaining cats – Tabby, Gateway and Midnight (from a later birth) – moved to Seremban where they enjoyed the gardens and more interesting wildlife.
After I returned to Malaysia permanently, the pattern of greeting Tabby and the others took place in her favourite spot in the store room, usually on her gigantic yellow pillow. She famously had a lot to say, and loudly (as seen on my #hellotabsn9 Instagram posts), and a number of our discussions made me late for events, particularly since she would not let me leave until I had fed her.
Sadly, Midnight and Gateway both predeceased their mother – Tabby spent a long time inspecting her son’s body before he was buried, and she was the only cat in the house for a while until the arrival of a handsome Bengal and a spirited adopted stray.
Before travelling this most recent time, I visited her in the store room as usual. Her cancer had visibly spread, and she had lost the ability to groom her fur. I had to call her name a few times, but when she woke, we had one last chat, a head butt and of course, a feeding of tuna.
A few days before passing away, she slept on Gateway’s grave – which she had never done before – telling us she was going soon and wanted to be buried with her son.
I still have cats, and will have more in my lifetime, and I’m confident they will prove more truthful and loyal than many human beings.
Like my past feline friends, each will be special in their own way, teaching me something new about the universe in a way that no educational institution could.
Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin is a crazy cat man. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.