Full disclosure: I no longer have a cat. My dogs do not like cats—and most other animals—so cat ownership for me is very much a thing of the past.
That is why, when a friend shared the brochure of a cat carnival in Gurugram, I made the trip hoping to catch some catty frolicking in the sun. Just as we entered the venue, we met a woman who had brought her ginger cat—named Ginger, of course—in a see-through backpack. I asked my friend why she did not bring hers. “The only cat I could show off is no more,” she replied, talking about the cat she had lost over a year ago while completely discounting the two others she had at home. Nevertheless, the ground had quite a few cats on leashes and carriers who were clearly having a good time, so we promised ourselves that the next time we came to a cat carnival, we would have at least one with us.
Cats and owners sat on the ground with their coffees and kibble, in that order. In the middle of all that, a dog, obviously the original resident of the ground that had seen this major feline invasion, snuck in between humans asking to be petted and probably reassured that he would eventually get his territory back. Adequately consoled by head massages and belly rubs, he went off to sleep in the sunniest patch of grass, perhaps hoping that by the time he woke up, the cat nightmare would have ended.
Overall, a happy picture.
Nothing could have prepared me for what lay inside the actual venue of the “carnival”. The dimly lit hall dotted with ‘Whiskas’ and ‘Farmina’ (pet product companies) boards looked like a mass of human heads at first. It took a little time to spot the rows of grumpy cats in tiny cages with tinier litter trays. A milling crowd was petting the animals through the wires—only one rare owner asked her pet not be touched as she was “feeling anxious”. Most were Persian cats, and there were also a handful of Bengal cats. It was an event for “pedigree breeds” and, as we soon realised, for their breeders.
Grumpy cats, greedy breeders
Many of the cats were handed over to strangers for cuddling sessions, sometimes even when they were not willing. As my friend reached out and cradled one, the owner informed us that she had 22 cats at home, including kittens, for sale. I was unsure whether the sulk on the cat’s face was the natural turn of the mouth that makes Persians look perpetually sad or whether she would much rather be home doing her own thing. For many others, the answer was clear. One cat, a diligent practitioner of the “if it fits, it sits” credo, sat in the litter tray, trying its best to squeeze into the middle of the cage to escape unsolicited petting.
Stalls of cat grooming products, cat foods and groomers had taken up the remaining space in the packed hall. “Are you a cat owner,” is how most conversations began.
When announcements for the championship shows began, their disgruntled four-legged participants were carried to the stage. I winced thinking of how my childhood cat would react if she were unceremoniously dangled by the belly. The event was a competition for Bengal cats.
The emcee talked about how it was bred in the 1970s, in the US, from a leopard cat and a domestic cat to ensure a beautiful but docile specimen of feline grace. As the emcee cracked a joke—“It is not so named because a ‘Bangali’ had bred it”— I started to wonder what would have happened if the offspring of the cross turned out to be a domestic cat with the aggression of a leopard cat. One of the men who had handed us a card for the breeder said there were many such Bengal cats for sale. As my friend murmured under his breath, “We do not pay for pets”, curiosity got the better of me, and I asked how much a Bengal cat costs.
“Depends on the papers you want. Anything between Rs 1.3 lakh to Rs 1.6 lakh,” he replied. It was a good thing that there was a handrail right in front of me.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)