Cat life

Someone wise once said, ‘Cats are like potato chips, you can’t just stop at one.’

If there are two things I am very sure of in my almost-50 year life, it is that I like chips. And I like cats.

Long time readers of my blog know so much about my allergies and at least two of my cats. But a lot more of them have entered (and gone) from the picture since I lost the ability to write with joy and humor about my day-to-day six years ago, and almost all of my blog community has vanished into thin air too. When I revisit old posts and read the comment section now, I feel so happy to remember that I had so many friends here once, and I miss them and their familiarity with my idiosyncrasies, and all the conversations we got going.

I am told (and I agree) we should greet each day with enthusiasm and positivity by saying hello to everything we see, it helps to set the tone for the day. I may not always articulate it, but my heart always does send a greeting to the sun, the sky, the sunbirds that visit my courtyard, the plants in my house, each cat that graces us with its presence.

Today I met Fuzzy first, petting his soft head. He stands by the fridge patiently until he is served a tiny saucer of cold milk, which he sometimes finishes, sometimes not. Having been around the longest means he has had to get used to an increasing number of feline presences in the house, first Minnie, then Mowgli, and now Jimmy Choo. Being the only long-haired cat in the house (a little on the threadbare side now) makes him the only recipient of brushing and bathing (the others take care of their own grooming.) He is also the only one who will be hungry and there will be a bowl of kibbles at hand but he won’t touch it. However, he will happily polish off the entire bowl if I pick up a kibble at a time and let him snatch it from my fingers. Once he is satiated, he will look disdainfully at my proffered kibble and slowly back off as if to say ‘get the f*** away from me hooman’. Fuzzy likes to sleep in a corner of the kitchen and is probably very proud of the fact that he has never used a litterbox in his entire life. A few years ago, a vet told us he had only 4-5 months to live, diagnosing him with kidney failure after his pee puddles started to show some blood. I should probably go tell that vet Fuzzy is still living his best life, munching the occasional spaghetti and watermelon, french fries and little pieces of uncooked zucchini, still eating raw chicken like his life depends on it, with gusto and entirely without assistance.

Jimmy Choo gets the most love nowadays, as he is the most unfortunate of the lot. The man who guards our gate drew my attention to him earlier this year, telling me I should take him under my wing or he would surely die on the streets. One look at the little guy was enough to indicate he had some serious issues with his back legs. He could only get around by dragging his whole body using just the strength of his front ones.

I am now familiar with the feeling that comes over me just before I adopt a cat. Perhaps this is what divine guidance feels like, I don’t know. I really don’t understand this mixture of resignation and responsibility, but I knew in my heart this beautiful black and grey tabby could do with some love and care. I know there is always a choice to be made, but often if feels like the choice isn’t really available to me. Like the ‘me’ drops away and Spirit takes over. And it seems Spirit doesn’t want me to be a normal person who gets to travel with abandon or have nice furniture.

It was evident that the cat had a misaligned spine, either from birth or perhaps due to some injury. An x-ray confirmed this, and the vet said chances were he could very likely recover his mobility if he received some care. How fortuitous for this little cat to have found people like us, as Amu and I proceeded to administer lots of physiotherapy, soft food, cuddles and love. By the end of a month he was back on all fours, his personality swung from pathetic to playful, and we laughed with delight when he began to dash about with the zoomies, something we never could have imagined when we found him.

He still has issues though as he is not a normal cat, unable to use a litterbox, which means there is a lot of cleaning up to do after him. So far Jimmy has been treated for a series of afflictions which he is prone to because of his situation in life, the latest thing to strike him down being the most horrifying to witness (I cannot bring myself to go into the details as I am trying to erase the memory of it as quickly as possible.)

But I love him and I love seeing his cute little burger-face (his nickname) every day. He has brought with him plenty of distress but a lot more joy. And he welcomes and receives my morning affections happily, unlike Minnie and Mowgli who quickly turn predictably vicious when they’ve had enough. Jimmy seems incapable of snarls, and always keeps his claws retracted. I love watching him sitting quietly in the dappled sunlight under the tree, looking up at the sunbirds hopping around on the branches and the butterflies flitting by.

Minnie being a nocturnal cat sleeps all day in various locations around the house but will show up at my bedside at night, meowing for attention. She has a way of looking deeply and meaningfully into my soul with her blue eyes almost next to my face. Her sweet spots for being scratched are her cheeks and her chin, but the sweetest spot is the one right above her tail. I think she doesn’t know what to do with herself when I scratch that and will headbutt anything that’s close enough. A very vocal cat, she will even talk to me while fast asleep. I love playing with her, and she enjoys the interaction too, but things can get painful very quickly when her bunny kicks turn violent and her playfulness brings on her teeth and claws. I still let her grab my arm and have some fun with it for five seconds though, but heaven help the vet if she ever needs any kind of treatment.

Minnie is a very dangerous cat indeed, and yet the only one who gets to sleep next to my pillow. I call her my snow bear and I know she secretly adores it when I smother her with my love, picking her up and flinging her over my shoulder for a little stroll around the house. Huz only pets her tentatively on the head when she lolls around seductively on the floor inviting a belly rub, but sadly for her, her cuteness doesn’t fool him much.

Perhaps it is Mowgli’s response to my morning greeting which I find the cutest. She has a way of winding about my feet, stepping on them as I stroke her head and back, rubbing against my leg as her tail twines around in ownership. She is just as vocal as Minnie and will talk to me endlessly if I speak to her. Mowgli is blind in one eye, and I think that’s what makes her movements more abrupt, almost edgy, and I approach her slowly and gently so she doesn’t get spooked. She is the most intelligent cat in the world I think. There are so many things she does that the other cats can neither do, nor display the desire to. She will come running from wherever she is if she hears the tv being switched on , and will watch whatever I’m watching with avid and unwavering interest, especially if there are fellow animals on the screen. Mowgli has very short hair so I think that makes her the most sensitive to cooler temperatures, and she is the only cat who will purposefully climb onto a warm lap and snuggle in cozily. She can open doors by jumping up and putting her weight on the handle till she manages to turn it down, one trick that just doesn’t get old. It is astounding to me that she figured it out.

This post was meant to be an introduction to the cats that co-habit the bubble, but I haven’t even mentioned the ones that got adopted (Mano) or abandoned (Emmet, Molly and the Scruffies) or the ones that crossed the rainbow bridge (Georgie and Grey) It has been very difficult to shortlist a few pics from amongst the hundreds in my collection, but I must figure out a good way to showcase more of them here. They’re my legacy after all… After Amu of course! 😉

On the edges

The moon is a 71.4% waning gibbous and supposed to have risen at 21:50 pm tonight, but it wasn’t visible yet even at 22:25. The sole beautiful cumulonimbus cloud of the earlier evening sky had given way to a whole fleet of poofy ones. I climbed up to the top of the water tank as Molly and little Scruffy looked on anxiously, all bright-eyed and pointy-eared vigilance. They soon joined me there, Molly curled up at my feet and little Scruffy hell bent on smothering me with her (ever-welcome) love. I lay down on my back for an unhampered view of the panorama around and over my head.

Sunset today was marked by a red sun in a hazy sky, nothing to reflect the last rays save for the aforementioned cumulonimbus, the poofy top of which turned increasingly neon shades of pink , capitivating all our attention. To my great surprise, there was a sudden flash of lightning within it, followed by more every 15 seconds or so. I had never witnessed anything like this before. The show went on for a good half hour as we sipped ilaichi chai in awe.

pic courtesy my dear Amu

Lying on top of the water tank, visualizing my body being earthed even on a concrete surface 30 feet above, I seamlessly slipped back into the otherworldly realm where I’m infinitely more attuned. Thoughts float through my head like the clouds above, city lights twinkling, an awareness of other lives, parallel universes playing out like stories all around. Where is the moon?

I ignore the mosquitoes and the threat of dengue, running my hands over my arms and exposed feet while little Scruffy grabbed my thumbs to give them a thorough grooming. Her tongue is rough while her fur is unbelievably soft, and I am overcome by so much love for her, so much gratitude for her presence. I tell her she is so very beautiful and I love her ever so much, and she responds by sticking close and looking up at me and I can tell she would totally lick my entire face if I would let her.

I sit up and look all around. I feel like I’m the same awareness I was when I was 9 years old , in a similar position on a distant long-ago rooftop. Nothing has changed, though everything has. Is this what I’m here for? To gaze at the sky and the wonder of it all…..because it feels like it would be a life well spent, just witnessing miracles and beauty.

There must be a word for someone who feels lost if she doesn’t have access to the expanse above her.. who feels grief for the loss of starry nights , thanks to electricity and the loss of true darkness.

I’ll miss all this love once we move out, cos’ I can’t take all the grown up siblings with me. They belong here, together, safe on this rooftop where they’ve grown up.

I stroke little Scruffy’s head and say a little prayer for her well-being, and wonder if she’ll miss me as much as I will.

A weird turn of events

Of course Mini had to go. That was a foregone conclusion for Huz.

But for Amu and I, the story was far more complex and fraught with emotion to have such a neat ending.

With great half-heartedness, we started a campaign to find adopters for little Mini. But I was becoming more and more certain that Fuzzy’s presence in the house was no longer something I wanted to tolerate. I felt like I was done with him. Even Amu was indifferent by now. He was just a badly-behaved, spoilt-rotten cat, hell-bent on making sure I couldn’t have a pretty house. I found myself looking at him with a mixture of sadness, frustration, anger and despair. I began to neglect him and stopped brushing him, esp since he had begun to flinch and back away even from the thing he loved the most. I didn’t care that this was only a manifestation of his anxiety at Mini’s presence in the house and began to look for a shelter to give Fuzzy up to. I just didn’t want to handle his spraying and marking anymore. I even thought of abandoning him somewhere, immediately dismissing the idea even though urged by well-meaning but ultimately misguided parents and siblings to do just that.

The dissonance in my head over the cat conundrum was causing a great deal of just-under-the-surface stress, the kind that makes you broody and think dark existential thoughts. I was really tired of cleaning up cat pee on a daily basis, failing at administering antidepressant, failing at finding another home for Mini, failing at not loving her so it wouldn’t be difficult to give her away.

So it certainly didn’t help that Nazish had begun to come in later and later for work. Her expected time of arrival had gone from 12 to 2, and I was getting increasingly irritated by what had really begun to seem like her taking advantage of my good nature. I decided I would let her go too.

I told Huz and he looked at me like I was hysterical, sternly telling me to calm down. Nazish was a good maid, trustworthy and quiet to boot, so what if she always looked depressed and we barely communicated with each other? Firing her at a time when we needed help keeping the house pee-free and dust-free was the stupidest thing I could possibly do.

So of course, I proceeded to do two stupid things.

I wrote to the only animal shelter in Karachi to ask that if they would take Fuzzy, we would not only donate money on a regular basis, we would even provide a cage to keep him in.

And when I opened the door for Nazish to enter on Monday, (the day after Fuzzy and Mini’s poopy battle) I waited till she had begun to wash dishes before breaking the silence between us by saying she should start looking for other work as her schedule was no longer acceptable to me.

She took the news stoically, only asking if she should leave immediately or stay on till the end of the month. I was immediately regretful, as I felt I had somehow failed her by not understanding her problems and her reasons for coming late, failed her by making her feel so disposable. But all I said was there was no need to hurry, she could take her time finding another job. Then I left the kitchen and left her to mull over her immediate future as she continued washing dishes. Huz just shook his head and warned me that my imminent housework-related stress would only mean he would have two stressed creatures to contend with in the house, one human, one feline.

I avoided Nazish for an hour, but then she struck up a conversation as I chopped veggies, confessing sheepishly that she knew my anger was justified and that she really had troubled me greatly with her erratic timings and that she was willing to ask around and get me a replacement.

It was as if she had only to speak for me to soften. Of course I didn’t really want to fire her, I said. I liked her work and I trusted her and had no desire to go through the hassle of employing, training and getting used to the presence of another person in the house at all. Come to think of it, did it really even matter what time she came as long as the work got done? I told her how stressed I was about Fuzzy and Mini and how I was thinking of giving Fuzzy away as a solution to my problems.

Nazish looked at me and asked, “Kitne mein deingi? Main le jaoon usse?”

She had mentioned once or twice before how much her little daughter adored cats and how she loved playing with one that lived at her mother’s place, where she left both her daughters each day before coming to work at my place, as she couldn’t possibly leave them alone at home in an environment like the Colony where she lived, a dense settlement of mostly Pashtuns.

I looked back at her, incredulous. She actually thought I was selling Fuzzy! But my incredulity turned into hope…giving Fuzzy over to Nazish and her little daughters seemed so much better than giving him up to a shelter….

We started talking nitty gritties. All talk of firing Nazish had been banished, and I figured her sudden talkativeness and animation stemmed from nervousness at having come very close to losing a job she really depended on./

She reassured me that Fuzzy would be safe in her ‘store room’ and could romp in her courtyard if he liked, and that as long as I provided his kibbles, they would take care of him for us.

I bounced off to tell Huz what had just transpired. He looked at me and shook his head again, laughing at how rapidly the situation in our house managed to swing with such mercurial changeability, but completely approving of Nazish’s acquisition of the errant Fuzzy.

I set about packing his things, his bath towel, shampoo, food and water bowls, his brush…not allowing myself to feel the slightest tinge of wtf-am-I-doing.

It was decided that she would fetch her daughters from her mothers house and bring them back to my place, after which I would pack Fuzzy into his basket and drop them all home. I had never seen where she lived, in a year and a half of her working with us, and it seemed this was the day I would finally make the leap across the class barrier that divided me from Nazish’s world.

She sat down on the floor in my room, where I was brushing Fuzzy for the last time, feeling the first glimmers of sadness at what I was doing. It was late afternoon and the sun’s presence was waning as Nazish began to talk to me in a manner she had hitherto never done. I listened as she started telling me detailed stories about her life and her childhood and her complicated family dynamics, her husband, her marriage, her parents and siblings, her uncles and aunts and cousins, all caught up in traditions full of patriarchy and misogyny. I listened to her talk stoically about the difficulties she faced, the bad choices she had made or that had been made on her behalf and which she was now trapped in. She talked about her daughters birthday and how she danced with her uncle, the weddings that she loved to dress up for, the intrigues and scandals that were the fuel of their family get-togethers. She told me about all the places she had ever worked at, the kinships she had formed with men who never disrespected her, the employers who helped pay for her elder daughters schooling and rebuked her for getting back together with an uncaring, sometimes abusive husband. She had been engaged to him when she was little, but he had defied his betrothal to her by eloping with her erstwhile school friend, then divorcing her out of remorse at being ostracized by the family and marrying Nazish eventually. It was as if she had been propelled into self-disclosure by the faith I was displaying in her, by entrusting my pet to her.

We talked till it grew dark, me asking curious questions that she had no qualms about answering, and I confess I found myself fascinated, witnessing and undergoing a complete transformation in my perception of who Nazish was, not a mournful, depressed girl, but a thoughtful yet feisty individual with strong convictions and aspirations despite the challenges life was constantly throwing at her. But more of this in another post.

For now we finally got to meet her daughters, 9-yr old pretty Ailya, who shared her birthday with Amu, one of the reasons I felt Nazish was destined to work for me, and 3 yr-old pixie-faced Sidra, the future mistress of a fallen-from-grace Fuzzy. Little humans and cat were introduced to each other and I spent some time explaining the do’s and don’t’s of dealing with him.

Nazish and her daughters slid into the backseat while Amu cradled Fuzzy’s basket in front. I smiled uncertainly at her, she smiled uncertainly back, and then we were off to Nazish’s house in the heart of a slum we had never set foot in before.

(to be continued…)

Demon kitty and the depressed cat

Fuzzy, our charcoal gray semi-Persian has been the resident cat for eight years, which seems a long time indeed when one ponders the trouble and anxiety he brought to our lives.  It was because of him that we had to construct partitioning doors so he couldn’t get to our good furniture and pee on it. No way could we have artsy floor rugs to prettify our place, as he would promptly pee on them too. A LOT would be the number of things we have had to throw away because of this. But he has a cute face, so we dealt with it instead of throwing him out too.

I realized early on that he was the proverbial scaredy cat, frightened by sudden noises, shy around visitors. You could forget that he even existed, given that he spent long hours sleeping/hiding under the bed, only to emerge for food and his precious water.

When he began to display an unusual interest in a certain ugly tomcat that taunted him from the balcony door , I began to think (twisted logic, I know) perhaps Fuzzy would like some feline company in the house.

Cue little lost rescued kitten, whom we called little billi at first. She looked sweet and tiny and pathetic, but was actually the devil in disguise. We kept the two physically apart initially, though little billi was still visible through the glass separating door and I could see that her presence was making Fuzzy edgy. When they played ‘pawsie’, the Fuzzster was curious and wary but the little one was feisty and playful. She’d stick her skinny paws way out to swat at him, while Fuzzy stayed just beyond reach, watchful.IMG_0258IMG_0092 Eventually I let them spend time together. If she didn’t appreciate her tiny butt being sniffed by the persistent Fuzzy (she is quite a smelly kitten) she’d turn around and jump on him or swat and nip at his paws to make him back off. He would beat a hasty retreat then, clueless about how to deal with this aggressive little creature who had taken over not only his space but his family’s time and attention. So we were amazed and delighted to find her sleeping snuggled next to him one day on his wicker bench…and that he had allowed it! I decided Fuzzy was ambivalent about this newcomer, quite sure he only pretended to get annoyed by her presence, though I did have to yank her away from him when the attacks got too annoying. My Instagram bears evidence of quite a few of her antics. (do check them out!)

When little billi joined him once too often on his bed, Fuzzy stopped sleeping there altogether. IMG_0369 I should have known better than to give them food at the same time too. Little billi was a voracious eater and ate hungrily and greedily, even taking over Fuzzy’s bowl forcing him to back away slowly and be patient until she was done. It was hilarious to hear her grrs as she attacked her food bowl. She was tiny, but she already had the large personality and attitude of a street cat. IMG_0360IMG_0361 Little billi morphed into demon-kitty for the way she ambushed and attacked, biting and swatting anything that moved. Her appetite for play was insatiable, and for the first few weeks all we did was watch her and play with her and delight in her presence. Her favourite game was scrunched-up-newspaper-football. It seemed what we had on our hands was the most playful kitten in the world, lighting up our lives with her craziness. What was most amazing and joyous however was the fastidiousness with which she took to her litter box. She knew exactly where to go from day one. I was in love. IMG_0270IMG_0304 She liked sleeping snuggled with Amu, and Amu loved her snuggliness too. She was going through a rough time in school and it was comforting to have such a kitten-like kitten to come home to. She kept her company while she worked on assignments at her desk, either curled on her lap or shoulder, or just hanging around watching her write, swatting her hand occasionally or trying to chomp on her pen.

But as Amu’s cloud of school-related gloom lifted, an altogether different cloud seemed to have descended elsewhere. Fuzzy’s behavioural issues were beginning to enter new territory. If we had been dogged by his peeing and marking before, we now suddenly had to add spraying to his repertoire of activities, something he had never done before. Now, he started to back up against a variety of vertical surfaces, quiver his furry tail, and let loose a jet of particularly foul-smelling piss. Up till now, we could handle his daily misdemeanours near the windows and doors. What was horrifying was when I realized he had begun to mark us. I found a patch of piss on my side of the bed one day. The very same day he peed on the bathroom mat as well. He also peed on my favourite chappals. Also Huz’s. He sprayed my bedroom door. He peed under my dresser. He sprayed my chest of drawers. He sprayed the bass speaker on my table. He wandered into my room one day and sprayed the curtains, all things he had never done before. Little billi/demon-kitty became my official pee detector, sniffing out places when I couldn’t figure out where the odour was wafting from. AlI these things led to Huz becoming firmer in his resolve to convince me that two cats in one house cannot possibly stay. As for me, I was mostly to be found with a bottle of pet deodoriser in one hand and a bucket of water and a mop in the other.

IMG_0354 Demon kitty was unabashed in her exploration of furniture and bounded onto tables and counters with a casualness, agility and will which had never manifested in Fuzzy. But seeing her boldness, Fuzzy seemed to gain heart. He probably began to think that if she could do it, so could he. The final straw for me was when we realized Fuzzy had perched on the back of a chair and proceeded to empty his bladder. I didn’t really understand what I was dealing with were the signs of a very stressed cat. All he was doing of course was responding to perceived threats. His entire body language had changed and why wouldn’t it? He was being ambushed every day by demon kitty, his food was being gobbled by her, she was drinking from HIS WATER BOWL, his bed had been taken over, she was using HIS litter to do some extremely smelly poop in. I was guilty of ignoring all these things, expecting him to take it in stride while I was busy catering to the kitten’s needs.. His world had suddenly become unpredictable and chaotic. He was forced into persistent contact with another feline against his will. Of course this couldn’t go on! Fuzzy took to staying awake all night, keeping up an unbearably mournful dirge which woke me up from my sleep every couple of hours during the night. I was getting dark circles under my eyes and I couldn’t function like a normal human being anymore. You could safely say I was pretty stressed out myself.

I asked around for advice and all I heard was to keep the two cats apart….I had no idea how to accomplish this. But we had been dealing with Fuzzy’s peeing problems since way before the new kitty ever came along to exacerbate it. He was already neutered…what more could we do?? PAWS advised me to go to Dr Isma, the more upmarket vet in Karachi, for a consultation. I packed a very smelly Fuzzy into a basket and off we went.

Dr Isma was lovely. Just seeing the sympathetic expression on her face as she listened to my cat story was balm for my frazzled nerves. She pronounced Fuzzy to be an extremely stressed out cat indeed and there were only three options she could think of to deal with this unfortunate event: 1. To inject Fuzzy with female hormones. 2. To get a calming spray, like Feliway. 3. To administer an anti-depressant on a daily basis.

The first two options being overlooked perhaps due to unavailability or being expensive, Dr Isma recommended a quarter pill of an antidepressant called Clomfranil. We bought a few strips of these from a pharmacy on our way home, 20 rupees ($0.2) for a strip. Maybe I’d pop one or two myself.

That evening, I cut one pill into four uneven pieces and stuck the largest one into a piece of cat food. Fuzzy ate it. From a worried-looking anxious cat that paced relentlessly around the living room, I found him a little while later, stretched out languorously near the balcony door. There was no distressed yowling outside my bedroom door that night, and all the sheets of newspaper that we spread in all his usual spots were piss-free the next morning. The house didn’t smell foul, and Fuzzy was fast asleep peacefully on his wicker bench. My brain did a whoop of joy! My problems were solved!

Or were they?

(to be continued..)

p.s. All beautiful images taken by Amu 🙂

New kitty on the block

After a warm meal of diluted milk with a spot of honey, little lost kitty received a nice rub-down with cotton wool soaked in Frontline spray and a clean cloth to get as much grease off as possible. I could tell she didn’t like the smell of the flea medicine, nor the feel of being wet, but she took it like a sport. Amu and I spent all day checking up on her and watching as she ran around and explored, dying fleas hopping off one by one. That night she spent outside, but safe and away from cold draughts in a big empty litter bag. The maternal instinct had already kicked in as Amu and I worried about the little kitty all night. Needless to say, we had already asked the chowkidar to keep an eye out for a motherly looking cat with babies. He said this one seemed most likely to have wandered into the parking lot from somewhere outside, though there have been a few cat births on the roof in the past.

The next day, and not without a little trepidation, we let Fuzzy (the resident cat) meet the newcomer. We stood alert, and though Fuzzy wasn’t as relaxed around her as we would have liked, nothing untoward happened. I began to get visions of a multiple cat household.

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Fuzzy follows kitty

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kitty marches up to Fuzzy unafraid

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Fuzzy backs away

DSC_0343 DSC_0345 DSC_0349 DSC_0350 DSC_0351 DSC_0355 DSC_0357 DSC_0358 DSC_0359 That afternoon, I gave the little kitty a much needed warm bath with shampoo, as I had noticed that she was quite smelly. I kept it quick so she wouldn’t catch a cold, drying her off with a soft towel and finishing up with a gentle blow-dry. Now she was fit to not only stay inside the house, but to curl up in what was to be her favoured perch for the next few weeks….our neck and shoulders. DSC_0364 DSC_0367DSC_0372 Fuzzy was most certainly not sure what to make of this development and stayed close, keeping a beady eye trained on the new entrant. I read up on how to introduce resident cats to new kittens and everything pointed to keeping the two separate initially and only slowly allowing them to interact. Separate litters, separate bowls for food and water, separate rooms. I rubbed kitty with a piece of cloth, then rubbed Fuzzy with it too, allowing their scents to intermingle. They could see each other through a glass door, but no touching for a few days. Then I let the door stay open a crack and the two cats played ‘pawsie’. But though I was optimistic about the two getting along eventually, I couldn’t possibly have been prepared for what happened in the following days and weeks. (to be continued)    

Things that happen

A simple thing like waking up unusually early one day can change your life forever, or at least for the life span of a cat. Here’s what happened one beautifully crisp morning in December.

Decided to take Amu driving at 7am as the stretch of road where I teach her is relatively car-free and less intimidating then.

In the parking area of our apartment building rang out the forlornly incessant mewing of a decidedly small cat. The mysterious mewing kitty was hiding in the space between the top of the wheel and the chassis of our car, rendering us incapable of driving away without getting it out first.

Seeing us standing around helpless, the chowkidar fetched a stick to get the invisible noisemaker to jump off and run out. What emerged was a tiny grease-covered creature of indeterminate colour and scared blue eyes. I picked her up to stop her from running under the car again, and after ten minutes of confused debate decided to put her in our courtyard for the time being to keep her safe.

When we returned from our driving session, the tiny kitten was quietly curled up behind one of the potted plants, but ran out and started mewing again when she saw us. She was obviously hungry and cold and infested with fleas, and there was no choice but to clean her up and feed her and keep her warm….

(to be continued…)

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Friend or foe?

Ever wondered what a ‘bete-noire’ is? Let me enlighten you if you haven’t. It is a person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads. It is another word for enemy, who is, of course, someone who hates, attacks or harms another. An adversary, something that threatens someone or something. Literally, it means ‘black beast’.

Fuzzy, our pet, who for the last seven years has mostly just slept, keeps us as his slaves and wants for absolutely nothing (apart from the occasional bits of raw chicken as I cook and a slice of watermelon or two, or so I naively suppose)

But is the most wonderful thing about being Fuzzy ‘really’ that it seems you’re The Only One? If you have never seen another cat ever since you were separated from your sibling when you were a wee kitten (unless you count the weirdo in the mirror who got startled every time he saw you) do you recognize the yowling beyond your existence as the sound of others like you? And what is that potent aroma wafting towards you from  the balcony and courtyard doors? Smells like cat-pee but not your own…

Fuzzy lost no opportunity making sure that if what he suspected was true, there should be no doubt in anyone or anything as to exactly WHO was Master of this Domain.

Every morning to our dismay, we began to find puddles near every entry or exit point in our house. We dealt with it by putting our daily newspaper to good use. Yes, he had been neutered…or at least the vet did the best he could (since Fuzzy is monorchid)

One of Fuzzy’s favourite hangout spots is also one of mine, the breezy top step of the stairs that lead down to our courtyard. A swing door separates the stairs from the rest of the house, so in the evenings when someone opens that door, Fuzzy steps out for some fresh air. He prowls around downstairs, sniffing pots, inspecting different areas, marking his presence discreetly. Guilty as we feel keeping a living thing in such seclusion, the least we could do is allow him this little bit of freedom to experience the outdoors. This little freedom expanded to such an extent that we even let him spend the night outside since he loved it so much. It’s not like he would ever be able to scale the boundary walls and actually go out to explore the Outside World. He’s just not built that way. He’s the kind of cat that ponders and dilly-dallies before jumping on or off chairs and coffee tables.

Many years thus passed and a routine established itself. Fuzzy snored under my bed in the morning and all afternoon, emerging in the late afternoon, stretching out his back legs, yawning humungously. He’ll sit outside my bedroom door, disoriented and a tad cross-eyed. Then he’ll wander over to the netted balcony door, tucking his legs comfortably under him and sit there basking in the last golden rays of the sun, ears twitching now and then at sounds of passing cars, human voices and chirping birds, eyes half-closed.

Soon,  he will unfurl and walk lazily but purposefully over to his water bowl, positioning his body around it, enveloping the bowl in an embrace. He loves his water bowl.

No one could ever describe Fuzzy as a fierce cat. He is the very essence of docility, unless he’s in a playful mood. His mouth is so small that he can’t manage food that is larger than the tip of your finger. He will patiently chase a piece of kibble that drops from the bowl to the floor until he can latch on enough to be able to chew. He’s not the kind of enthusiastic cat who’ll run to his food bowl when he hears the rattle of kibbles. If he wants food, he’ll go sit by his bowl and wait with equanimity. But if he wants water, he’ll come into my room and get my attention by meowing softly till I get up. Then he’ll lead me to his water bowl , trotting ahead and looking back again and again to make sure I’m following. Sometimes he’ll swat at my ankles with his paw to hurry me along.

The only time he’ll betray any excitement is if he hears the rattle of ice cubes. An ice cube in his water bowl is like Eid for him. He’ll hover over it like he does on hot days in front of an open fridge. Such sweet small happinesses. And then of course, there is the anticipation of being allowed to go down to the courtyard.

We realized why Fuzzy had been acting extra territorial and so very eager to dash out of the house when we found him sitting on the stairs one day with a cat sitting across from him. They were staring at each other emitting low guttural sounds, not fighting but just facing each other. We shooed the other cat away and it ambled off lithely, scaling the wall and disappearing while Fuzzy looked on, unable to fathom how.

Another time we heard some fierce howling only to find Fuzzy having a face-off with the same trespassing cat, but this time, heartened by my presence perhaps, he began to chase the other cat round and round the stairs until the cat managed to jump onto the trellis from the balcony, scale the wall and get away, Fuzzy breathing in huffy bursts,  fuming with prickly antagonism. This was the first time I had ever seen Fuzzy so intensely worked up.

Late one evening a few months ago, we returned after several hours spent away from home, me worrying about Fuzzy being alone and hungry. As we climbed the unlit staircase, my worry turned into a strange sense of foreboding when I noticed clumps strewn about the landing halfway up…I was almost afraid to inspect closely, but then I discerned something dark smeared on the floor and my fears turned to panic as I turned to Huz to ask if Fuzzy was inside or out. Huz fumbled with the keys (why does it seem to take forever when you’re panicking?) we all ran in and called for Fuzzy but he was nowhere to be seen. We usually find him waiting for us by the door alerted by the sound of the keys turning in the lock. Heart hammering, I stood in the balcony and called his name…it is usual for him to come dashing up like lightning. After a few seconds I saw some movement and Fuzzy came out slowly from under the stairs and started climbing with some effort. Turning on the lights, I realized the dark blobs on the stairs were bunches of Fuzzy’s hair and the smear was blood.

Horrified and shaking, and too scared to touch him in case he was badly hurt, I let Fuzzy walk into the house unaided, limping visibly and looking rather subdued. I stroked his head and checked him tentatively for wounds, but couldn’t see anything through all his fur. Huz joked that the blood might belong to the other cat and the thought made me feel a little better, but I was sad for Fuzzy and outraged at the other cat for violating Fuzzy’s territory and consistently looking for a chance to attack him. I took Fuzzy to the vet next day and was told he had a sprained shoulder which was causing him to limp, but there were no wounds anywhere. I looked at Fuzzy with a degree of skepticism. How could a spoilt, evolutionarily challenged semi-Persian defend itself against a ruthless street cat and draw blood?

Nevertheless, Fuzzy had to be protected from the wily building cat and stay withiin the house at all times from now on. As a result, he became ever more vigilant at the balcony doors. The anticipation of more confrontations was palpable…Fuzzy was alert and tense on the lookout for further trespassing, eagerly waiting for the building cat to show up and he wasn’t disappointed. The other cat kept coming back and there were further face-offs through the netting (which occur with regularity around the same time every day.) I’ll be sitting in another room and I will hear Fuzzy yowling angrily or I’ll hear the door rattle loudly and I know he has flung himself at the door with force.

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I don’t know how he gets his paws so muddy but there are fresh paw prints on the balcony walls and the floor every day. I began to regard the building cat as a friendly foe since he added so much spice to Fuzzy’s life and suggested leaving a bowl of food for him in the balcony, which Huz and Amu vehemently vetoed. But I had cause to rethink my soft spot for him as a worthy adversary.

I was sitting at my kitchen table one night when I heard rummaging sounds. Fuzzy followed me as I went to turn on the overhead balcony light and open the door. On the landing were two cats this time, apparently the black and white building cat had brought along a ginger friend and they were going through our recycling heap like vandals. Ginger saw me and ran off but Black&white stayed and stared back as he squatted on a brown paper bag and proceeded to pee on it. My jaw dropped at his insolent audacity but I couldn’t help laughing a little too.

Didn’t laugh too much when a few days later he left a little pile of poop on a cushion on the bench as a little gift for us. Or this morning when Huz went to fetch the newspaper from under our front door only to find that not only did it have a yellow patch of pee on it but had been torn up as well.

Seems we have a bete-noire on our hands indeed, albeit with a touch of blanc.

 

 

 

Ducks, revisited

Once upon an earlier time, on another occasion when my better judgment had abandoned me for a few minutes, I  fell prey to colourful little dyed chicks. They were being sold ridiculously cheap and I thought Amu would get a kick out of them. At the time, I didn’t think that the chicks would eventually grow normal feathers, would stop being cute, and that we would eventually have to think about getting rid of them. I mean, chickens in a small 6th floor apartment? Really Mun?

Mazzy was shocking pink and Zally was bright green. We kept them in a little cage and allowed them to run around the house a couple of times a day, pooping wherever they went. They pecked frenziedly at their ‘bajra’ at feeding times and had the cutest way of dipping into their water and glugging it, raising their beaks to the ceiling.

To cut a not-very-long story shorter, I gave them away to eldest Sis+nephew, who in turn gave them away to their neighbour, where they were attacked by cats. Alas…the ways of the food chain.

Did I learn a lesson? Apparently not, since fast forward a year or two and I now had two ducklings on my hands.

Hill Park with its duck pond could have been perfect, but ultimately I couldn’t just leave them there. I suppose we were more concerned about their well being since they had stuck around longer and raised more hell than the chicks. I had no desire to inflict them on any of my family or friends knowing how much trouble they were. But no matter what, I couldn’t let Apple and Cherry become cat food. Even though I’m more a cat person than a duck person.

A not-too-distant memory crept into my head. The preschool Amu went to a couple of years ago (when she was 3) had a big cage in the corner of its garden. Had there been ducks in there? It was only a vague recollection, but it was worth a shot. 

Mrs G was the principal, the dragon lady of the montessori circuit, known for her stern disposition and no-nonsense demeanour, since her preschool was one of the most-sought-after. This was where Amu cried inconsolably on her first day, spent a year learning her phonetics, colours, patterns and shapes. This was where she learnt to share a sandbox with other children, and where she learnt to pour water from a jug and how to colour within the line. Parents queued up to have their babies registered here while they were in the last weeks of pregnancy. This way they could at least make the waiting list. It was alleged that babies from Mrs G’s school had a greater chance of getting into The Most Sought After School in Karachi. (Amu did.)

I mustered up the bravado that propels a lot of my actions (I am intimidated by people in positions of authority) and called Mrs G to meekly ask if her bird cage would accommodate two adorable ducklings, and wouldn’t the preschoolers be fascinated by the new additions? I wasn’t sure how I expected her to respond but I am predisposed to pessimism, so when she said I could drop by and talk to the gatekeeper (who was in charge of the birds) and see what he said, I could scarcely believe my ears. I thanked her most profusely and hung up, grinning as I looked towards the balcony where Apple and Cherry cheeped nonstop.

The chowkidar was friendly and helpful and led us over to the bird cage in the corner of the garden. It was actually more of a fenced in spot with wire mesh, a roof and a door rather than a cage. It housed two ducks and a magnificent rooster. One of the ducks seemed to have laid eggs and was busy nesting. We let Apple and Cherry out of their basket to have a look-see. The rooster was long of leg and fleet of foot, and at least five times the size of Apple (the bigger of the duo.) He seemed a little edgy. I didn’t trust him one bit and kept a close watch, alert for any untoward action. Where the other ducks were least bothered, Rooster paced up and down and all around, his coxcombed head cocked dangerously towards the newcomers, his beady eye flashing. All of a sudden he darted straight at them and Apple and Cherry ran for their lives! It was most melodramatic.

In the end however, the chowkidar reassured us that our duckies would be fine and the rooster wouldn’t hurt them, apparently it just had a bit of an attitude problem. We decided to trust his experience and left them there, but all of the rest of the evening my mind kept going back to Apple and Cherry, wondering if they were alright.

We went back to visit them early the next day, and indeed, not only were they safe and sound, they had taken to their new home quite blithely, with plenty of food and space and even a little pond to mess around in. They didn’t come running to say hello though. Hmph.

Did I mention that Apple was the prettier, more extroverted of the two? Cherry always looked pale in comparison and I had read somewhere that the male of the species was always more striking, so I figured Apple must be male and Cherry female.

A few months went by, during which we were regularly given news of Apple and Cherry’s welfare through my brother in law, who went to drop his little one there every day. When I went to see them again a few months later it was startling to see how much they had grown. But what came as a beautiful surprise was Cherry, who had grown the most iridescent blue and green and sleek dark brown tail and wing feathers. No longer was she a mousy yellow. Apple still had a black patch on his head and looked more or less the same, just bigger feathers. So maybe I got their genders mixed up 🙂

When the bird flu scare hit Karachi, I heard Mrs G sent all the birds away for a while. I lost track of Apple and Cherry after that and never saw them again.

This and the last blog post are dedicated to Graham and Heather. I thought I should write about them (Apple and Cherry, not Graham and Heather!) because Graham commented on Heather’s blog mentioning a duck that tossed a proffered salad leaf back at him. Because of my alacrity, I have been gifted a cyber duck—-> (*)>  for luck! Hope it makes me blog more often 😉