Punya reviews a bestseller by James Bowen
It is not just any stray cat. It is a ginger cat with his crazy perks, a strong character and a sense of pride only animals can display. James looks after Bob, as he is named by his new owner (maybe the first one in his life) and the cat’s health and well-being becomes a focus in his life, a purpose which will change it forever.
The plot – very touching in places – is ripe for a Hollywood tear jerker, but luckily it is written by a Brit – only they have the ability to leave out kitsch sentimentality from even the most heartful story.
One day, not wanting to leave Bob at home while the cat is unwell he brings him to work so that he can have an eye on him. He is a busker, singing and playing the guitar in downtown London. Passers-by start to stop and notice him – because of the cat. Certainly not only because it is unusual to see a cat sitting silently next to a musician, but because he is a special cat. And special is the connection between the two, which everybody can sense.
The attention brings in more cash, and more special treats for the two, but also the opportunity for many of the busy workers on their way to work, or back home, to take a moment and be in the present, a moment of relaxation where they can come back to themselves, where their humanity has a moment to breathe, just looking at the cat or stroking his fur. The two become an attraction for tourists, photographs are taken, videos rolled and uploaded on YouTube. The pair – now in their new job as street vendors of the magazine The Big Issue – becomes an international attraction – which then evidently spurs the writing of the book.
Not all is rosy in the life on the streets. It is dangerous and stressful. We as readers get immersed in intense situations where only the survival instinct of a street-wise man can know his way out. There are moments of despair when the frightened cat runs away and is finally found again. Fear of loss of a best friend.
The book brings back memories of meeting street people in our cities and, if we ever asked ourselves how their lives would be, we are now given an insight into them, from their side. If you lived in England or Scotland you have your favourite Big Issue vendor, from whom you faithfully buy your magazine every week. You do it because the magazine is a good read but also because you know that half of the revenue goes to him. He is not a beggar but a sales person and that gives him the dignity and maybe the help he needs to get back on his feet. Sometimes when the vendor does not show up in his usual spot you are extremely worried that something has happened to him and you start asking around – and indeed a few times you see him with scars or bruises in his face.
James treats and talks to the cat with the same respect he would use for a human being and the cat, still being a cat, displays affection for the man and great intuition for situations. The display of pure humanity from a man who has survived sleeping in the rough for years with a drug addiction, the honesty and wholesomeness of the story telling makes this book not only a wonderful read but the memory of it enriches our lives forever.
As travellers in places and spaces, although not necessarily going through drug addiction, we feel an incredible affinity with the story, the adventures we lived through ourselves while moving from one home to another or while diving into our own psyche and memories, our ability to come back out wholesome and grateful. We understand the connection with a creature not of our species, the love and understanding, the suspicion that the friendship – as the author mentions himself – has a past beyond our present life.
In Germany you can find the first book under the title: Bob, der Streuner: Die Katze, die mein Leben veränderte
Review by Punya, Osho News