Cuddly pussies Enriching language
with R.S. Karunaratne
In Asian countries cats are found everywhere. Some cats are fortunate enough to live in a house. Others roam about in the street looking for a morsel of food. Whether you like it or not cats will be there in your own house or neighbourhood. Some people do not like cats for they leave their poo in the garden. The smell of cat's poo can be revolting to say the least. Some cats, of course, take the trouble to cover the heap of poo with sand or soil.
From where did cats come? According to some authorities they came from ancient Egypt where cats were held in high esteem. Ancient Egyptians associated the cat with their gods, especially with Bastet who was the Goddess of the Moon. Bastet was a cat-headed goddess. Egyptians loved cats so much that they painted their pictures which were considered symbols of fertility.
Digging into the history of cats I found a few gems. A new study of DNA from the bones and teeth of more than 200 ancient cats has revealed how solitary, reclusive and rather ill-tempered wild cats began to pad their way from the edges of civilization into our homes and then to our hearts. Another research found that cats' dispersal took place in two waves, first from the Fertile Crescent and later from Egypt. Their migration most probably included voyages on Viking ships.
We are not sure how the cat was domesticated. Scientists believe that their genes are not very different from those of wild cats.
Strangely, most cats love to curl up on human laps, but some cats prefer to live outdoors and finding their own food.
At some point in history cats seem to have come to an agreement with humans. As a result, humans were happy to have cats to get rid of rodents. And cats too were happy, because they got their food without much effort. Historians believe that cats followed farmers when they migrated into Europe about 7,000 years ago.
The high respect for cats in Egypt diminished over the years when people regarded them as unlucky symbols. People began to hunt them down. Even some ancient Egyptian religions thought the cat was a devil which used magic against humans. Those who did not wish to have cats around tried to get rid of them in many ways. Some people killed cats without showing any mercy and others dumped them in public places. Such a practice can be seen even today in certain cities. A box full of kittens is sometimes left by the roadside. Some of the kittens get run over by moving vehicles. A few would survive.
Mercy towards cats
In Buddhist homes people show a lot of mercy towards cats. As a result, almost every Buddhist household has at least one or two cats. Unlike in the West, most Sri Lankans do not take the trouble to vaccinate cats. As a result, cats are treated as members of the household. In village homes they eat whatever is given to them such as leftover food or bones of fish. What is more, most children love to play with cats. Children find them ideal companions to play with. However, most cats play according to their rules. When they get tired of playing they simply leave the scene.
Unlike dogs, cats can be domesticated easily. Some dogs have to be trained and vaccinated, but cats simply get themselves adjusted to any household. They know by instinct what they should do. Most cats manage to keep mice away. They know that housewives have a difficult time with mice. So, most housewives raise one or two cats to keep the mice away.
Unknowingly, cats have enriched the language. We say some people, especially a married couple, lead a cat and dog life to mean that they keep on quarrelling regularly. Sometimes we let the cat out of the bag when we reveal a secret quite unintentionally. If you wish to take the leading part in a dangerous plan or decision, you will bell the cat. If you get something very good, you say you are the cat's whiskers.
When I was in school my English Master said, "Don't grin like a Cheshire cat!" This is because I used to laugh a lot in the class. When someone is very nervous we say they are like a cat on hot bricks. One day, my brother returned home soaking wet. He looked like something the cat had brought in. Sometimes we play cat and mouse with somebody when we amuse ourselves at their expense. When the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) wants to cause a disturbance suddenly it puts the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) cat among the pigeons!
One day one of my colleagues walked in exclaiming, "It's raining cats and dogs." A burly man walked into a tiny kitchen and said, "There's hardly any room to swing a cat!" These days the Joint Opposition (JO) is waiting to see which way the cat jumps. In other words they wait and see what is going to happen to Ravi Karunanayake. In school we loved the days when the teacher was absent. On such days we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Idiomatically, when the cat is away, the mice will play!
So, we must be extra kind to all cats whether they are wild cats, farm cats or stray cats!
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