‘My Thai Cat’ by Pratoomratha Zeng: Short Story Analysis
‘My Thai Cat’ is a famous story by Thai author Pratoomratha Zeng. It is a charming story that brings out the superstitions and customs of the Thai peasants and a direct singular message. The message of this story ‘My Thai Cat’ is that at the end of the day, it’s the faith and belief of people who can work miracles, not customs, bizarre ancient traditions, and superstitious practices. In the name of rituals and customs, we should not abuse animals in any way. The proud and clean Siamese or Thai cat was harassed in the name of tradition by the writer’s village folk. She was on the verge of hysteria and fury but was saved by the writer’s timely intervention, who took her back home to safety.
The name of the Thai cat is Sii Sward, and for a day is made the ‘Rain Queen’ of the writer’s village. The story is simple and brings out the Buddhist and Hindu religious roots at the heart of the Thai culture. It is a pleasure to read. It is a short story that is interesting, fascinating, and humorous in parts. Sii Sward happened to become the ‘Rain Queen’ of the writer’s village in the year 1925 in Thailand when drought had hit the land. There was not much water for farming and other purposes. The Thai people of that village decided to appeal to the Hindu God of the rain, Lord Varuna, by enacting the traditional peasant ceremony of the ‘Rain Queen’, and the Rain Queen would be an avatar of Lord Varuna. The Hindu god had once taken the form of a feline cat to fight a demon. He defeated the demon and continued to bless the land with water in the way of water, sea, and rain. Over the years, the custom developed among the Thai peasants, who followed a form of Hinduism and Buddhism, to parade the most beautiful and popular cat in the village in a heavily decorated bamboo cage, to supplicate Lord Varuna and remind him of his promise to humankind to ‘shower’ his blessings upon them.
Notice that Thai culture is a mixture of early Vedic Hinduism and the Mahayana form of Buddhism, which focuses on the worship of Lord Buddha in the Hindu style. This is not surprising; Hinduism is indeed one of the main religions practiced by the people of Thailand after Buddhism.
Sii Sward, the Siamese cat, was considered a beauty by the people in the writer’s village. She had a luxuriant brown coat and blue eyes. The cat had been gifted to Pratoomratha Zeng by his father’s friend when he was five years old. Zeng spent a lot of time with his cat Sii Sward and loved her very much. So when his father approached Zeng to allow the villagers to use Sii Sward as the ‘Rain Queen’ that year, Zeng was flabbergasted. He thought that the villagers were going to make a cat sacrifice of his precious pet. He was aware of the ancient Chinese ritual Trut-Chine, where chickens were annually sacrificed, boiled, and eaten. In his naivety, Zeng thought that the villagers were out to sacrifice his cat, Sii Sward. He is placated by his father and then allows the cat to be taken for the grand ceremonies.
Sii Sward is subjected to a lot of honor, which would have made a human feel quite grand. However, she appeared not to like anything about the whole ceremony. Sii Sward was subjected to the following harassment, which can be labeled as animal abuse:
- She was placed in a bamboo cage, which was heavily decorated with sweet-smelling blossoms, flowers, and leaves.
- She was kept close to a lit candle in the heat of the afternoon sun.
- She was sprinkled with large quantities of sacred water, sacred perfume, fragrant scents, and scented water. She was sprayed with so much of these liquids that by the wee end of the ceremony, poor Sii Sward was dripping wet and in a terrible state, and appeared to the writer as being helpless and forlorn.
- She was paraded about the temple, then the marketplace, and back again to the temple through the same route.
- During the procession, she was continuously being drenched with perfumes and scented water. She was getting disturbed by the noise of the people, the chanting of the Buddhist monks, and the beating of the sacred drums.
This was the Nang Maaw or ‘Rain Queen’ ceremony where the abuse of a harmless cat would bestow the rain’s blessings upon the land. The writer is sympathetic towards poor Sii Sward, so when the last person from the village enters the Buddhist monastery for prayers and chanting, he slips off with Sii Sward and goes back home. Sii Sward soon forgot the torture that was meted out to her in the latter part of the morning and the whole hot afternoon. She slept hidden under Zeng’s bed. By the time Sii Sward was calm, it was 9:00 pm. Zen’s family arrived home by 11:00 pm and were surprised to see the cat at home instead of in its bamboo palace.
Zeng doesn’t mention whether his family reprimanded him for making away with Sii Sward. In the climax, by 3:00 am, a heavy thunder shower descended upon the village. It rained continuously for three days in a row. Thus, the farmers’ crops were saved, and they managed to get water that year. Sii Sward was unaffected by whatever was happening around her, especially concerning the rain. But the writer Zeng mentions that the people of the village were sure that it was only because of Sii Sward that they were blessed with rain and so gratefully fed her with meat and dry fish, her favorite food.
This is obviously a story told from the perspective of a precocious child who innocently brings to our notice that one must not give in to superstition and ancient customs. More importantly, one must not harm animals, be they sacred or taboo. The story is a beautiful kaleidoscopic depiction of Thai culture’s uniqueness and life in a Thai village. This short story was a fascinating, charming, and simple read.
I love cats. They are my favorite animals. That is the reason why when I saw this charming little story by Pratoomratha Zeng in my collection, I decided to review the short story here for you on my blog. I have several cats as friends. In fact, I have no other friends except cats. I’m a recluse who reads and writes all day long in my office-cum-writing hut. I teach for a living, but from home; I did mention I was a recluse. If you want to know more about my bookishly delicious life, then you can check my memoir on Amazon titled Scenes of a Reclusive Writer and Reader of Mumbai. I will analyze more writers from South East Asia in the coming days. I’ve got a pile of books and short stories written by them.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check my blog insaneowl.com. If you wish to purchase my books, you can check my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you all this week!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan