Review: The Cat Who Came in From the Cold by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

With keeping in my rotating genre to expand my knowledge I always find the most challenging read is finding a book that helps me learn more about cats (please recommend any animal genre books for me to read I would love that). I guess not just cats animals in general. This book, although a fable, does explore the various relationships between animals and humans to explore the way humans treat different types of animals to explore whether or not their intentions are pure.
The storey takes place over 1,000 years ago in the forests of Southern India with a newborn Billi running on the branches of a mango tree trying to get his footing in the world (Did you know billi means cat in Hindi?) The book talks about this beautiful asian leopard cat who is just new to the world with his brothers in sisters. Living in a den their mother cares for them and they never know their father. They fail to stay connected with their family after a few months. One by one Billi awake to find his familly to has left their den as they got exploring into the world. Only Billi stays behind in the Mango orchard taking in all the festivities that occur right before Monsoon season. The festivities bring all the “two-foots” out in celebration as they participate in different activiies in the beginning of October.
In his observations the cat notices a dog and a little girl and questions the whole nature of the relationship. He remembers a tale that his mom had told him about when she was trapped and caged by a human. It is then that Billi learns that humans only care about their social status and what they have to show to the world. Maybe just maybe humans were not concerned with a mutually beneficial relationship. In fact maybe humans only acted and cared for what would benefit them. He also is curious to what the dog could possibly benefit from this union and he sets out to find out the answers.
The first animal he encounters is a cheetah who is hunting antelope for man. He watched as the majestic animal cornered the animal and then waited off to the side as man with the spears ended the hunt with a victorious slay. As 5 men descended on the antelope another man went to the cheetah and covered his head with a hood. The Billi going over to his cousin cheetah noticed he looked hungry but was curious to the nature of their relationship. He inquired if he enjoyed hunting for the men and if he was treated well. The cheetah told the young Billli that there was no way the relationship between the two was out of love. The humans kept him hooded and caged at all times. They only see the cheetah as being a resource to hunt and nothing more. Questioning the cheetah he enquired about how if man took him when he was a baby how could they not form the bond of love after teaching a being how to hunt and survive? Laughing the cheetah explained to the young Billi that man could never teach man to hunt. Man has to catch an adult cheetah who has already taught himself to hunt. Man can’t protect and care for a cheetah any better than what a cheetah can provide to themselves. They already know how to hunt so the idea that a human is needed to provide food is utterly ridiculous. When asked why he wouldn’t just escape the answer was simple. Man is still fearful of the big cat and they fear retilation from the best if he was to escape. It was better for the cheetah to accept his fate for what it has now become.
He came across a Buddhist village that reminded him ahimsa (the religious doctrine of harming no living being). The buddhist golden rule is to harm no being. Most buddhists do not mean but it is written that a buddhist can accept food if it was not killed on their behalf. What a round about way of thinking. Dead is dead no matter the reason behind it. It just seems that this little clause is just a way for some to justify their actions. Some people will always look for an excscuse to justify their behaviour.
While getting a drink from a watering hole he encounters some water buffalo. Surely these beasts must appreciate the human gestures of taking care of them. Wanting to solve this mystery of animals and humans he asks the buffalo about his life with the humans. The buffalo feeling exasperated tells the young Billi that the relationship that the share seems to only benefit man. Questioning the meaning behind this the water buffalo tells of a time when the herd protected a young boy from a giant tiger. There was no reward after. They were only talked about for only a day and then no other thought was given to them. The only thing the man cares about is that they are so strong. The only animals that appear to be important to them are the animals from mythology. All others like the water buffalo, chicken, geese are all invinsible. You see there has been no tale of a Buddha taken on any of these forms. The water buffalo was seen as not having an inner life (soul) and only acted out of instinct to save the boy. The water buffalo expressed great sadness when talking about how humans have deemed them as dirty and they are not able to be near holy place. This made the Billi sad as he saw how the treatment of man affected the buffalo. Man and buffalo was a very one sided relationship where the buffalo worked hard and man got all the benefits.
Coming across another temple he stopped to explore the Hindi artifacts that resided there. He was practically found of the sculpture of Ganesh which symbolized the desire for a new beginning. Not wanting to get trapped in the temple he moved on to an old barn. Once in the barn he came across a cow that he believed to be worshipped by humans. Surely the cow would have something great to say about the “two-foots”. Cows are worshipped by humans and they are the ultimate symbol for female so surely these beings of worship must be regarded in the highest. Billi is shocked to learn that not even the cows were saved from the evils of men. Men ony cared about how they could benefit from cows. They would seperate babies from their mothers and steal their milk to feed themselves. The cat goes on to ask the cow about specific examples of how the humans honour the cow and surely the cow must be greatful that in all of India their species is regarded the highest. In all true fashion it is a matter of action over words. Put your money where your mouth is. All talk is cheap but until you actually put them into action they are just hollow empty promises. Man will only do what benefits themselves. Nothing more nothing less.
Continuing on with his journey he came across an elephant hunt. You see much like the cheetah humans look for elephants that are over 20 years. It is at this age that their legs are strong enough to do the tasks that the humans require of them. The problem when acquiring a being after 20 years of freedom is the level of resistant that one will put up to keep the quality of life that they have become accustomed to. To make these magnificant beasts succomb to their will they are starved, mistreated and beaten. It is for this reason that it was rare at the time for elephants to bare young in captivity. They didn’t want their offsprings fate to be the same as theirs. Billi asked a female elephant about why late at night he could hear the screams of the young coming deep from the forest and was curious as to why. The female elephant replied that it was the orphaned babies of elephants that had been lost in the hunt. These babies are having nightmares. Elephants are extremely sensitive beings and have been known to die of heartache.
The next species he encounters is one of a mongoose. When he asked the mongoose about his relationship with the human his whole body stiffened. The nature of the relationship between the two can only be explained by this tale. Nakula (a family mongoose) was left in charge of the families young while they went into their village for supplies. Apon their return they saw Nakula covered in blood. Assuming the worst the father grabbed their beloved pet and through him against a wall beating him over and over again. It was only then that they noticed the rattlesnake that had come close to their babe. The mongoose you see was protecting their young from their own naturally predator, the rattlesnake. The blood they had seen was a mixture of both Nakula and the snake. The moral of this storeyis that if man valued and respected the relationship they had built with their pet they never would have expected the worst of that sweet being. Instead they let their raw emotions bubbly over and their natural instinct surfaced.
Exhausted from his travels he needed to make one more stop to try and understand these humans. He stopped at a Jain village who were even more strict than Buddhists or Hindus. They were cautious of the insects that may be underfoot, bugs that could be breathes in and organisms that could be swallowed in water. “All beings shun destruction and cling to life. They long to live. To all beings life is dear.”
-Mahavira
He learns that even Jains fail to properly care for the beings in their immediate surroundings. Only one dog is properly cared for and the rest are malnourished and covered in sores. Even the dog in captivity wishes for a life where he is able to know his brothers and sisters. The Billi wonders why humans spend so much time cultivating these beautiful temples and religions if they have no intentions of actually following the practices.
The cat through all the knowledge he has acquired his curious to the life that these humans could provide. He wanted to have a relationship with them but only on his terms. The idea of having a companion and somebody to admire him for his beauty was appealing but what was not so much was the idea of being told what to do and how to do it (this rings true even for us humans). If they were able to respect these limits imposed on them he would reward them with love and frienship. Setting off for home he hopes to find a suitable family before the monsoon season settles in for a second time. Finding a suitable human companion that met all the requirements would proove to be a challenge. Some would be captivated by his beauty and try to confine him. When this happened he waited till he could escape and ran off into the woods. It is only when he befriends a little girl and shows his sincerity on being her friend does he begin to win over the “2 foots”. When the villagers saw how a sick little girl reacted to when he curled up beside her everybody in the village wanted to have a cat for a companion.
Sure enough in time Billi was able to find a mate and he was able to bring her back to the village. The villagers began opening up their home and hearts to give this furry little majestic beast a warm place in which to live out its days. Free and safe from the elements, coming and going as he pleases Billi and his mate started a family. Billi and his mate ended up having 8 little fluff balls that became the hit of the community. Everybody loved these cute little balls of fur that appeared very adult for their age. The parents taught their young to appreciate humans and they even decided in time they would let their youngin venture off into the world to live their own lives with humans.
This fable was a great introduction to the religions that appreciate all beings. It explored the nature in which humans have take animals for granted and the possible consequences of such behaviour. It was a very interesting and cute read that captivated my attention from page 1 till I closed the book in the end. I will always be one to appreciate all that is the domesticated cat and love the relationshps that I have built with them.

gray and black tiger walking on forest
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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