The House of Kandan

I was a little scandalised yesterday when I realised that Onam was just around the corner and I had no clue. After I looked up the dates and Aparna Giri reminded me to plan my leave, I started thinking about my favourite Onam story like I do every year.

My parents are not big on religious traditions. They had their wedding at the registrar’s. Gingi and I never had a noolkettu, a baptism or a mundanam (and our hair turned out just fine).

However, as a young couple, they were big on the urban Malayali middle-class rituals from the 90s. Cooking chicken curry and semiya payassam on special days was one of them. They used to do it for Onam too, instead of making sadhya.

So one Thiruonam day, possibly the one of ’91, Achan was riding back home on his Yezdi after buying chicken from Mathews’ (they used to run a cold storage in the early 90s before they decided to make and sell the best cakes in Trivandrum). Someone followed him all the way home from the shop to get a share of the chicken, made sure we adopted him by turning up at the kitchen door the following morning too, went on to stay with us for 8 more Onams, and also opened the (hopefully) never-ending chapter of cats in our lives. 

So while others were welcoming the OG Mahabali into their homes, we welcomed our very own furry Onam visitor and named him Kandan. It was a fairly literal name – kandan means male cat in Malayalam. 

Kandan was a gentle soul, never bit or scratched anyone intentionally or otherwise. He was very disciplined and respectful – he only slept on the bed or couch when we weren’t looking, would be sleeping on the floor when we entered the room, leaving behind a tell-tale warm spot.

Kandan was brave but not stupid. He would never pick up fights with other cats, and when the big ones would try to fight, he’d simply climb up a coconut tree and patiently wait for the bully to leave. But then, he also jumped into a well once to rescue some kittens and we had to rescue him (and the kittens).

He loved eating vegetables. Vazhakoombu thoran was his favourite. I hated it so I would secretly pass my share to him. He went mad at the sound of pappadums and chips. Of course, he loved his matthi and associated the sound of Achan’s Yezdi with more chicken coming home. But I think, deep in his heart, he was more of a sadhya cat than a chicken curry cat.

Many Onams later, Kandan returned to the underworld to rejoin Mahabali. I thought we had more time. We buried him under our Jambakka tree on a weekday morning, Achan and amma left for work, and Gingi and I left for school.

I think every subsequent cat in my life could exercise much more freedom and wield their decision-making power in the household because we didn’t make those allowances for Kandan. So today when Paathu takes apart an entire couch or Picho tries to wake me up by trying to dismember me, it’s all cool. Because that’s how the House of Kandan should roll (their ass all over fresh laundry).

Athre ullu.

Originally published on Instagram:

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