Friday, July 30, 2010

The Legend of the Condemned Cat

The events I am going to narrate have become some kind of a legend in my part of the world. And like all legends few things get added to it and few are obliterated from it forever.

Felix had two very close friends: Ankur and Rana. They studied in the same school and sat next to each other in the same classroom and shared their lunchboxes too. During Christmas time, the school would close for holidays and Ankur and Rana would visit Felix to savor some homemade ginger wine and plum cake. But their association with Felix was not limited to the Christmas delicacies. Felix had a pack of home bred animals: a pair of rabbits, a rooster and a hen and a very fat cat which coincidentally was also named Felix. He liked all his pets but was particularly close to Felix, the cat. Rana liked to chase the rooster all over the barn and Ankur could not help but caress the rabbits. If there was one thing in common that was between the trio, it was this: They would put the plum cake pieces in their pockets and carry the rabbits to a relatively unknown corner of the barn which was not in the immediate vicinity of Felix's Mom. They liked to watch them get playful.
Now in the Christmas of nineteen hundred and eighty nine an unfortunate event changed the course of things forever. Customarily Ankur and Rana came to Felix's house but instead of Felix, it was his mom who greeted them and presented the eagerly awaited ginger wine and plum cake. She called Felix and he came. He looked shaken and sleep deprived. There was a round of silence only broken intermittently by the sound of the cake getting crushed by Ankur’s molars. Seeing the deadlock his mom spoke.
Felix killed one of them hares.
The gulp of wine that Rana was just going to devour to his ever parched throat just came off his mouth.
Why Felix. Why did u do that? It just ain’t Christian to kill a rabbit  in Christmas.
It wasn’t me. It was Felix, the cat-said Felix.

Then Felix went on to describe how they had left the pets to attend the midnight prayer at the community church and when they returned he saw Felix busy tearing the hairy skin out of one of the rabbits in the barn. After cursing the cat and calling it names unthinkable, Felix was of the view that cat be served severest of the punishments. Ankur seconded his views. However Rana wanted a full fledged investigation. The trio agreed to give the cat a fair trial. Luckily Felix had not allowed his mom to clean any part of the crime scene. First they examined the dead body of the hare. There were tooth marks on its neck suggesting strangulation. Apart from that most of its abdomen was gone. A close look of the cats mouth revealed minor scratch marks, presumably that of the rabbit. But why was the body found in the barn when the rabbits never left the house by themselves. They looked every nook and corner of the house, in all probable places for clues. At last in the living room rug they found remnants of some soaked up liquid. Ankur immediately cordoned off the area and after sniffing and taking the rug part between his fingers asked Felix to give him the magnifying glass. He then pronounced that he found traces of rabbit pee, rabbit semen and rabbit blood in that coagulated matter. Drag marks were faintly visible at some distances between the living room and the barn.
The trio gave a complete Christian burial to the dead rabbit or whatever remained of him. Felix read few lines from the Good Book. Ankur read an eulogy to the rabbit . His voice was mournful and it felt he would break into tears anytime. Rana recited some excerpts from the Gita that he had picked up from a television show. It talked about karma and reincarnation. Then they decided to go for the hearing. The barn was to be the makeshift court room. Ankur would be the prosecutor attorney and Rana would be the defendant attorney. Felix the guy would preside as the judge. But before that, they had a hefty lunch prepared by Felix's mom as they apprehended that the proceedings might continue for longer than expected duration. The main course for lunch was the chicken from the barn. Nobody among the three spoke during the lunch. Whether it was because of the deliciously tasting chicken or the pondering on the points to be brought up during the trail, is hard to tell.

When the old wall clock chimed two, the hearing started. Prosecutor spoke first. He alleged that this was no ordinary crime. It was preplanned and the defendant’s violent nature was manifested through this crime. That he had killed the harmless rabbits that were in no position to retaliate made this case rarest of the rare. He demanded severe punishment for the defendant to set an example-the capital punishment. The Judge said if the defendant needs to be severely punished in the capital city to set an example, it would cost them some amount of money for the itinerary and also it would require approvals from their parents. The prosecutor went silent for few moments. After munching the leftover cake and taking a sip of water he explained that he wanted death penalty for the accused.
Hearing this demand, the defendant attorney raised an objection. He said the evidences against his client were circumstantial and none could prove conclusively that he committed the crime. When Felix, the guy saw Felix the cat that fateful night, eating the rabbit’s abdomen, by all accounts the rabbit could have been already dead. Felix, the cat, was a carnivorous feline creature and it’s his right to eat dead rabbits. There was no concrete evidence that the murder was committed by his client.
He presented the following arguments in favor of his client:
1. Isn’t it a possibility that the other rabbit, the mate, could have already killed the victim when Felix, the cat, found him.
2. The victim could have been already been killed by any of the nocturnal creatures that prey on rabbits when the defendant found him.
3. Isn’t it a possibility that Felix, the guy, could have sneaked out of the prayer, come back to the house, killed the rabbit and went back. He knew that the cat would act according to his nature and try to eat the dead rabbit and thus it would be easy to pin the charges on the accused.

The third argument enraged the Judge. He asked the defendant attorney to immediately take the argument off the records else the court would be adjourned. The attorney complied. But he said, the only witness to this crime was the rabbit mate and it was necessary to examine and cross examine this witness to reach a verdict. The Judge said although this was correct but no one among the trio possessed the ability to understand and speak the rabbit language. Although the prosecutor attorney, Ankur,  has been known to experiment with the language of the frogs, but it could be a while before he can master the rabbit language. The prosecutor said that this was all a delaying tactic by the defendant attorney and the Judge should not prolong the trial. Judge agreed.

After debilitating for fifteen minutes, the Judge pronounced the verdict. Considering all the arguments and evidences, it was clear that Felix, the cat, had committed this heinous crime. His crime was unpardonable and hence he is being awarded the death penalty. When the verdict was pronounced, Felix the cat was busy licking his paw. Now appeared the most difficult question- How how this death penalty would be executed. Hanging was out of question. So was death by a firing squad. Ankur said he could prepare a guillotine kind of ensemble, but would take at least three days. So that option was struck off too. Whatever had to be done had to be done in complete secrecy so that their parents didn’t get involved. Rana then came up with an ingenious plan. At quite some distance from their place, but not a place too far, ran a small stream-a tributary of some mountainous river. Few miles downstream was a secluded spot not frequented by picnickers, as was customary during this time of the year. That spot had a small bridge over the stream. It was called the red bridge. It had no connection to the Red Army and neither it was in a leftist constituency. No one knows why it was called so. Before Rana could finish his proposition Felix, the guy, was already excited.
So you are saying is that we take this infernal being to that bridge, smash his head with a rock and drown him from the bridge.
Well that could be done but I was thinking of something cleaner. If we could drop him in the stream and let the water do its job, it would be less painful.

Then Ankur spoke.
We can do that. We put him in an enclosed sack. Tie the sack to a rock, heavy enough to take the package to the bottom of the stream.

Everyone agreed to this plan. Felix told his mom they were cycling to the town and would be back after an hour or two. He grabbed the cat and put him in his school bag. The trio took off in their cycles. En route they stopped at Ankur’s house. Ankur got the sack according to the needed specifications and told his mom exactly the same words as spoken by Felix to his mom. Now after cycling for about forty minutes the stream was visible. Due to the terrain, it was not possible to continue cycling. They got down from their seats and dragged their bicycles further upstream when the small bridge became visible. Two banyan trees growing on its banks had almost shrouded it completely and it was visible only in parts. The place sure did have an
eerie feeling. Ankur was assigned the task of finding a rock of correct proportion. He searched a while and got it. Then Felix the guy took out Felix the cat from his school bag. The creature was completely still. He did no meowing nor showed his usual lazy reflexes or any resistance. Rana held the sack with its mouth opened. As Felix was putting the cat in the sack, their eyes met. All three could feel that Felix, the cat, was aware of what was coming his way. But he had resigned himself to that fate as he found himself not in a position to alter it.
That freeze in time was broken by Rana's voice.
Felix, if you want to reconsider...
No, let’s do what we have decided-replied Felix the guy with a determined voice.

The cat was inside the sack and Ankur fastened the string on its mouth. Then he carefully fastened the heavy rock and made sure that it won’t come off when inside water. Now everything was set but there was a problem. Who would be the executioner? Ankur and Rana said they couldn’t do it because of their religious obligations. As practicing Hindus, if they kill a cat, they need to make one gold replica of it. Considering their parents annual income, this was a remote possibility. Hence the job was entrusted to Felix. Ankur and Rana were to guard the two entry points to the bridge so that in the event of anyone coming that way they can alert Felix. The sun was almost setting now and a faint hint of redness was visible among the December clouds in the western sky. Felix positioned himself to a place in the bridge which according to Ankur should have the greatest depth. Then as instructed by Ankur , he first dropped the rock and after a time lag of thirty seconds he released the sack. Down went the rock and it took the sack along with it. There was no agitation of the water except ripples caused by the rock drop. Ankur and Rana joined Felix in the middle of that bridge. They watched the point of rock drop for a few minutes expecting the cat to come out of the water anytime. After all they had heard a cat is supposed to have nine lives. Nothing came out. It was getting dark and chilly.
Let’s leave guys-said Felix.
Nobody spoke as they silently dragged their cycles out of the dirt track. Sensing the heaviness Rana decided to break the silence.
Hey you guys come to my home tomorrow. My cousin got a VHS of a cartoon show that he says is a hit in US. It’s called Tom and Jerry. Let’s get together and watch it tomorrow afternoon.
Then they left.
Years have passed since that fateful day but no one till date knows for sure whether the cat died or survived. Like the water of that stream the details are murky. Although the trio had made a covenant among themselves of not speaking about this to anyone, but the fact that I am narrating  it must have made clear to you that the story got passed from one person to another. Each one told it according to own interpretation. One of the legend variations says that the cat got out of the stream and went to another town and lived happily for quite some . I would surely like to believe this variation. It gives a kind of happy feeling. But I know it is not true. For some weeks later the fire department did a cleanup operation of the stream in search of a missing person who had allegedly committed suicide at the very spot. Among other things that they came upon apart from the unfortunate dead body, was a sack containing a decaying feline creature.