What do football legend and a cat have in common? Definitely the feline grace , the agility, the ability to squeeze out of tight corners , puss in boots dribbling a ball. Ok, the last one may be a stretch of imagination but I have seen illustrations of cats playing with balls of wool, so I suppose that counts.
Anyway in my maternal grandparents house, football was a bigger passion than let’s say cricket . To tell you the truth, I knew the sport vaguely, teams tearing the field, kicking ball, trying to score a goal against each other. I never played so I was never really interested. Therefore my introduction to the football legends surprisingly happened… wait for it …through my maternal grandmother’s cat .
He was a regular alley cat, a nondescript grey, on the leaner side, who decided to adopt my Nani or that’s how the story went; one day he was just there. He kept to himself, came and went as he pleased but like clockwork, he was around during mealtimes. Occasionally he would leave a present in form of a mouse or two for the folks to find but rarely bother anyone.
He was an utterly fascinating creature for me, aloof and yet with the most delicate face and those startling eyes. I was in love and it became a game for me to catch him and hold him in my arms. What better time than when the milk saucer was being topped and Nani calling out to him in her strong Pahari accent, “Aaa Maradona.”
“Nani! It’s Madonna, the pop star.There is no Maradona. You are pronouncing it all wrong.”
While she sagely nodded, I pitched in to help by screaming my lungs out for Madonna.
My uncle materialised from his room with furrowed brows and a scowl. He hissed, “it’s Maradona!”
“Maradona! The footballer!”
So began my education and as a kid I switched off for the most of it but that day I learned that my argument was void. If Madonna was popular, Maradona was legendary .
There is more to the story.
On my next annual trip , I belt out “Maradona” in my highest pitch to draw out the cat . I was immediately corrected by my other uncles.
“Maradona ran away . We have a Platini.”
“Who is Platini?”
The lesson began again .
For many years I lived under the impression that these two were the only ones to have entered the football hall of fame. After all, it was an honour to have our cats named after them. Pele, Ronaldo, Zidane scarcely left an impression, at least on the real decision maker of the family, that was Nani, for she steadfastly refused to acknowledge their greatness.
Hence, many cats passed through the household over the years and yet they remained either Maradona or Platini for my football crazy family.