For over good 15 years, this land of my father was a mere nothing but a well-mixed of Asian fruit farm. Durian, banana, jackfruit, chempedak, tapioca, always an abundance especially during the seasons of the fruits. Additionally, mango, mangosteen, guava, rambutan, sweet potatoes and some tiny plots of turmeric, ginger, lemongrass scattered around here and there. Life was like a huge fruit-garden, 6-acres of very rough uneven slopes which made me unable to identify, which are the little hills and which are not. Well I was a little kampong (village) kid then. Trimming lalangs, weeds and wild bushes since I was 8, wrestling with mosquitoes, crashing into the nests of Malaysian red ants, trampling over mimosas, and having red lines of lalang-cuts all over my hands and legs, were my little struggles trying to maneuver through this land whenever I followed my father around. Playing with sickles, changkuls, spades and guni sacks since such age, do help me a lot in serving the army in the later age.
Sometime in 2005, my father decided to demolish the whole farm, overhauled the whole land and sell some portions of it. Part of it was to fund my sister’s education, part of it to give some rights to his brother, and a very little part of it for us to keep as a family’s retreat home with a tiny fruit farm for our family’s recreation. But major part of it, was too big to be managed single-handedly by my father alone. Yes, I was young and I could help all I can. But I will grow up and my time will be filled with certain pursuits.
In 2006, we build a tiny farm house for our small retreat activities. In mid 2008, our retreat home was ready. I helped to plan the spaces, and my father designed the house. So over the time, we build and plant around, cleaning and rearranging things, solved certain problems and turning it into a cosy family retreat home. There were wild pigs, a few good disciplined farm dogs guarding the area, birds and bats, squirrels, and of all, cats. Naughty cats, bad cats, good cats, lovely pretty cats, hungry cats and nonsensical cats. I love cats. I’ve had a cat (which doesn’t last long). My wife and I had some experiences with cats, so we are still learning about them.
Now there’s this cat which starts to appear ever since we had our house built. It appears hostile every time, keep scavenging for food, always sneak in here and there, and seems to appear ready for any threats. The colours look pretty much messy. Strokes of dark grey blend with dark brown, little fine blending shades of oranges and ochres, some light brown, separations of spotted lines, it looks as if this cat has been doodled all over with earthly-colored crayons by some 10-20 toddlers ever since it was born. Over the time we allow her presence and she started to feel secured to patronize our home area. So because of her messy colours, my father called her Cheloreng – probably a somewhat Javanese term for messiness, doodles and scribbles.
My wife and I tried to communicate with Cheloreng. I don’t know where she comes from and how she appeared to be in this area, but she looked pretty matured for a female cat. Everytime we called her, she will turn her head to face us and give a hiss. When we gave food, she followed and will give us a hiss before facing the food. Then she will hiss at us again before she pick it up to go somewhere else to eat it. Over the time, she started to be comfortable and ate in front of us. But she will just hiss at us before she pursue any action. When we came to her, she will hiss. Before she eats, she will hiss. After eating she will hiss. And when she is doing some self cleaning, she will hiss. And before she go, she will hiss. So having some cat experiences, we were wondering what she was hissing about? Or what did we do (wrong) that made her hiss?
Over the time, we too learn to understand Cheloreng’s language. She had her tongue slightly stuck out, which probably indicate certain kind of illness she’s facing, and probably her hissing language is a form of greeting, or hostile greeting, like a gangster’s greet or a warning greet. As I recalled, I’ve never heard her meow at all. Sometimes it looks like she’s coughing or sneezing. Probably she was ill and try to behave as protective as can be. So we tried to understand Cheloreng like in human form. She’s probably like a grumpy lady in her mid-40s, poor, lack of nutrition, a little ill, protective, careful and alert of her surroundings all the time, sensitive and frustrated all the time. But harmless. A harmless grumpy aunty cat.
Over the time, the community of this area of my father’s started to grow. We have neighbors, relatives, friends and caretakers all around. Timely, other cats started to patronize this area. Cheloreng was the first cat. So we understood when male cats started to appear to court her, and dominate this territory fighting among other males. At many times, I wasn’t able to visit and attend to this tiny farm home in Malaysia and was distanced away by the hectic life of Singapore.
Cheloreng appears and disappears. Sometimes she stayed at our place because we were not constantly around. Most of the time she stayed at our caretaker’s place. Our caretaker’s place is a community of little animals. Chickens, fishes, birds, others and oh, a baby monkey. So one day, when we visited my father’s place again, Cheloreng appeared as normal. But this time, she meowed! And there are no more hissings surprisingly. So we gave some food, watch her over and soon, a male cat came along. So we gave some food too. A few weeks later, Cheloreng got pregnant. We were delighted and waited. And finally, we got the fun of enjoying playing with her kittens! And Cheloreng didn’t seem to mind at all. Looking at this blissful scene, we decided to feed Cheloreng more so that she will be well-nutritioned to feed her kittens. Five cute little kittens. Some followed the mother, some followed the father, some wrestling over the grasses, leaves and gravels. The kittens grew up and began patronizing all over the area. Other cats started coming and the cat community grew. Cats fighting, cats mating, cats sneaking, cats stealing, cats seeking livelihood with humans, in all it’s a lovely communal blend.
We took notice which is the father cat. Later, Cheloreng got pregnant again with different father cat. That’s the second troop of kittens. Another delightful moment again. Now as other cats started to appear, we realised that they were Cheloreng’s children. This scenario repeated again several times. Different father cats come and go. Her different generation of children also come and go. Over the time, we realised that almost the whole community of cats are Cheloreng’s children! What a mother cat!
Cheloreng now appeared to be the oldest cat in this area. She have the right to deny or accept any courting males from other territories. And she have the right to scold and slap any other younger cats as she wishes. Well because they are her children. She doesn’t hiss any more. She looks much healthier now. Solemn, quiet, gentle and kind. She meowed once in a while and her appearance will make the other cats to a still and seems to give way and respect to her. She will eat the food we gave, while the others stood still not daring to interfere. But Cheloreng is generous. She will give most of the food we gave her to her teenage or adult children. Whatever food we gave, she would eat a little bit, and left as a signal for the others to eat. But if anyone is greedy or disrespectful, she will send a paw off to that cat’s face with a subtle growl. And that cat will either retreat, or sit quietly in a still. Only then we realised that she is their mother. If there are other father cats, they will give way to her too. Father cats will disappear over time, as I believe they will go to other territories to mate with other females. Apart from identifying the father cats, I believe that other cats are Cheloreng’s children. We tried to identify which batch of her children born by which father cat. It was really interesting.
Cheloreng is like an old great mother. She was a grumpy aunty. But actually she’s a harmless and kind mother. She’s been pregnant for 4-5 times over the past 3 years. She’s not domesticated, she was a wild cat that have learned to adapt with humans. She will make her appearance quiet and gentle. She sits or sleep in the kitchen, sometimes slept on the carpet in our prayers room. Cheloreng seems to be the only cat that my mother will let her in. Initially, my mother wasn’t fond of cats. But Cheloreng was exceptional and a few of her well-behaved ones too. Her naughty ones have been frequently chased out by my mother. But despite that, they seemed to be comfortably reappearing in our house premises. Of course, the essence of their great mother dominates not only the whole house, but the whole area and territory. Once they’ve started not to appear again, we knew that they have grown matured to venture out to other territories and seek their own life. Once in a while, they appear again. We thought they are visiting stranger cats. Until we identify the patterns on their fur, then we realised that it was just a long-time child of Cheloreng visiting her mother again.
Now I’m seeing all her children all over the place. They move from one house to another, running all over the grasses and plants, seeking shelters under our vehicles, and of course, queuing by the back kitchen door whenever my mother is cooking. Every each has a different character, different looks, different behaviors, depending on who their father was, but some we can identify the traces of Cheloreng in them. Cheloreng looks old, pretty worned out, not as fit as her adult children. And her husband cats all seems to have been younger than her. I don’t know how long will Cheloreng last. She is one great mother cat, like the head guardian of the whole territory. Indeed, that is Madame Cheloreng.
Be well Cheloreng. Live well.