Sandhya Rao

Loves books, music and the sound of strange words. Is excited about meeting people in their own homes. Believes the language of communication exists beyond words. Enjoys engaging with young people and occasionally takes a shot at writing for them.

Sandhya Rao

Cats rule Istanbul

| Updated on March 09, 2018

Sunshine bright

Black and beautiful

Rubbing shoulders

The Barack connection

As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan evoked water cannons, tear gas, smoke and other drastic instruments to beat the young citizenry of Turkey into falling in line with his latest ‘vision’ for the country, which includes denuding a beautiful, tree-filled park to ‘develop’ a mall and a likely monstrosity to dictatorship, I worried about the cats of Istanbul.

On a very short visit to erstwhile Constantinople, once the richest kingdom in Christendom, I discovered that Istanbul is the cat capital of the world. Wherever you go in the city, on the glitzy European side, round congested corners on the Asian side, on the waterfront, in churches, mosques and busy bazaars, you see cats – black, white, grey, ginger, mixed, and well-fed. Cats rule the caddesis, the streets. There are so many of such varied pedigree and parentage that Istanbul could well be renamed Catstanbul or Catstantinople.

When I first encountered them in a souvenir shop outside the Blue Mosque as magnets, key chains and the like, I wondered why cats when there were whirling dervishes and carpets, tiles and mosaics. It didn’t take long to figure out. They have a free run of the city. You see them everywhere. There was one, right there in front of the ablutions fountain in the Aya Sofia complex, a cuddly, furry number that came and posed right royally for a photograph. Shoot wrapped up, it silent-footed across the courtyard to meet up with a fellow feline and pose some more. In the cobbled compound of the Swedish Counsel’s residence on Istiklal Caddesi, a sort of Mount Road without vehicles only more fashionable, another feline creature made a point of rubbing shoulders with multinational homo sapiens. After a delicious round of window shopping at the Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmet, en route to the Cemberlitas tram station, there appeared a bright orange number, glowing in the sunshine.

Then again, outside the Hodja Pasha Cultural Centre that featured an hour of whirling dervishes, a shiny black one sneaked across the narrow street. Istanbul positively teems with cats. I wondered why. Was it because of all the surrounding water presumably flush with fish? Maybe, said a Turkish frien –, hardly a satisfying answer. So I went to the good old Net, and found a lovely story there. It seems a venomous snake once slithered into the Prophet’s long, voluminous shirtsleeve. An alert cat standing by saw this. It immediately sprang up and killed the snake. The Prophet blessed the cat with the ability to always be able to land on its feet, and encouraged his people to be good to all cats. Maybe that’s why cats proliferate in Istanbul.

In fact, a lot of others on the Net not only wonder similarly, they have also identified the pedigree of some of them – Angora cats, white Van cats with one green eye and one blue, and non-Turkish varieties such as the Egyptian Abyssinian, and Mau.

The big news find for me, though, was this: When US President Barack Obama visited Istanbul once, he met a cat at Aya Sofiya and stroked it as Erdogan looked on indulgently. Was it the same one that had sat beside me? In which case, you are welcome to shake the hand that stroked the cat that was stroked by Barack… maybe. And, on another note, it seems to me the silent, staring protests catching on all over Turkey may have been inspired by the feline hordes that sit silent, staring and statesmanlike.

Published on June 29, 2013

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