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! 😉

A little piece of heaven

When we moved back into our sweet old apartment after a year away, I had this idea that we really needed to focus on our wellness. I had a strong desire to create a space in the house that would be dedicated entirely to movement and yoga. I use the word ‘create’, because no such space existed heretofore. There was one room which had a lot of potential, but a lot of things needed to be done for it to feel calm and zen, and in retrospect those changes couldn’t have been made to manifest if we had never made the weird decision of moving away. But I shall leave that for another post.

Ultimately, we ended up with new flooring, a lovely medium brown tile that resembles wood, I recall it was called walnut. We removed an ugly dark brown aluminium window that overlooked a balcony, broke the wall till the floor and installed a white UPVC door that could be easily opened inwards. A white picket fence was crafted and installed along the balcony ledge to create a more sheltered haven for plants. This added a most pleasing element to the entire room, as the fence partially obscured an ugly PMT with all its accompanying jumble of wires extending every which way. It also provided the perfect trellis for a pretty yellow-flowering vine I’ve had for years, which miraculously survived the move. The balcony was painted a rather bold shade of dark grey, I just knew the green of the plants would contrast vividly against it and happily I was right. My vision was to create a little forest, with juxtaposed foliage of various shades of green, pink, yellow and maroon. Every time we draw the curtains or open the doors now, we are able to welcome in lots of nature and the outside can merge with the inside. Soundproof white windows were installed to drown out the weekend noises in our immediate neighbourhood, and the room feels a lot more peaceful for the first time in fifteen years.

We painted the room a soothing shade of white, with just one wall a light shade of lilac. It was a fraught decision because I wasn’t sure if it would look right, in fact I thought it was wrong for the longest time. But the addition of white wispy curtains on a bamboo rod, really brought it all together with the soft pastel blue of the L-shaped sofa, the vintage mint-green of the TV console, and a deep bookshelf I painted a light but bright blue. An architectural snake plant graces the corner, and a row of spotlights illumines a triptych of cloud paintings made by Amu on the wall above the sofa. A few simple hand-woven rugs in complimentary colors makes the room even cozier, and adds some padding on the floor for yoga. Our three rolled-up but ever-present yoga mats are always neatly lined up next to the TV in an old wicker basket that once housed Amu’s toys.

We removed half the four glass sliding door panels along one wall and bricked in the ensuing open space to create a greater sense of privacy. The two remaining panels were polished and re-installed, and that was it. Huz and Amu finally understood that the mind-boggling 180-degree change they were witnessing was actually the physical translation of something that was only in my head all along.

I love the fact that we get to enjoy this space so much more now, and use it with so much appreciation and gratitude. This room had always felt disordered and chaotic to me, full of furniture that didn’t belong there and added no value to a piece of prime real-estate, with its west-open breezy windows and bright afternoon sunlight giving way to golden hour before sunset.

Perhaps this is what stagnation does, when you feel so stuck with what you have but cannot change until something big happens to shake you out of your zone. We had intended to change the flooring of only one section of the house before moving back in, and it did not include this room. But then we thought, why not? We wouldn’t ever get the chance again. Of course, ultimately we ended up digging up the entire apartment , it was simply inevitable, and actually our entire home feels transformed just by changing the tiles. It was a huge, destructive, noisy, messy, labor-intensive process and it honestly felt quite scary while it was going on. And it took a lot of time, but it got there finally. It isn’t perfect, but it looks great to me.

I have often thought of our home as a spaceship, hurtling through time and space, the changing sky and seasons. That’s the feeling I get as I daydream through life, looking out the windows. God(dess) knows I have daydreamed a lot here, but the house now feels more like a ship, navigating the wild ride which is the planet in the grip of a sea change.

We refer to this newly incarnated room as our yoga room and we use it every day at different times for this very purpose. But we also end up inviting visitors here, it now being the prettiest room in the house. I think it indeed is the calm zen of the color palette and the healthy plants that made my niece recently exclaim ‘this room feels like jannat!

And so it happily is!

Under the net

“There’s something fishy about describing people’s feelings,” said Hugo. “All these descriptions are so dramatic.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I said.

“Only,” said Hugo, “that it means that things are falsified from the start. If I say afterwards that I felt such and such, say that I felt ‘apprehensive’–well, this just isn’t true.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I didn’t feel this,” said Hugo. “I didn’t feel anything of that kind at the time at all. This is just something I say afterwards.”

“But suppose I try hard to be accurate,” I said.

“One can’t be,” said Hugo. “The only hope is to avoid saying it. As soon as I start to describe, I’m done for. Try describing anything, our conversation, for instance, and see how absolutely instinctively you….”

“Touch it up?” I suggested.

“It’s deeper than that,” said Hugo, “The language just won’t let you present it as it really was.”

“Suppose then,” I said, “that one were offering the description at the time.”

“But don’t you see,” said Hugo, “that just gives the thing away. One couldn’t give such a description at the time without seeing that it was untrue. All one could say at the time would be perhaps something about one’s heart beating. But if one said one was apprehensive this could only be to try to make an impression–it would be for effect, it would be a lie.”

I was puzzled by this myself. I felt that there was something wrong in what Hugo said, and yet I couldn’t see what it was. We discussed the matter a bit further, and then I told him, “But at this rate almost everything one says, except things like ‘Pass the marmalade’ or ‘There’s a cat on the roof’, turns out to be a sort of lie.”

Hugo pondered this. “I think it is so,” he said with seriousness.

“In that case one oughtn’t to talk,” I said.

“I think perhaps one oughtn’t to,” said Hugo, and he was deadly serious. Then I caught his eye, and we both laughed enormously, thinking of how we had been doing nothing else for days on end.

“That’s colossal!” said Hugo. “Of course one does talk. But,” and he was grave again, “one does make far too many concessions to the need to communicate.”

“What do you mean?”

“All the time when I speak to you, even now, I’m saying not precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond. That’s so even between us–and how much more it’s so where there are stronger motives for deception. In fact, one’s so used to this one hardly sees it. The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.”

“What would happen if one were to speak the truth?” I asked. “Would it be possible?”

“I know myself,” said Hugo, “that when I really speak the truth the words fall from my mouth absolutely dead, and I see complete blankness in the face of the other person.”

“So we never really communicate?”

“Well,” he said, “I suppose actions don’t lie.”

……………………………………………………………………………..

“All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.”

(The ‘net’ in question is the net of abstraction, generalization and theory.)

………………………………………………………………………………

In my need to chronicle time, a memory or an event, an emotion or a feeling, I sometimes cringe at the idea that I’m playing to a gallery. How much of what I bother to write about is an accurate representation and how much is written for effect, I don’t know. The above passage from Iris Murdoch’s ‘Under The Net’ encapsulates my vaguely formed thoughts about the subject so beautifully and with such economy.

This is the reason I think I fell silent on my blog for so long. Perhaps this is why I find words to be so inadequate to describe the upheaval, the turmoil, the confusion, the ferment that my brain has had to wrap itself around in the recent past. One wants to make sense of things, one needs to write to gain clarity, one needs to SHARE to find support and validation, to reach an understanding audience….yet…..I wonder how much one manages to convey is raw truth and how much comes across dramatic. I write for the most part, I hope, without guile, I often say too much in my need to communicate. But very often I say too little, due to inhibition, or due to the sheer impossibility of finding the language to describe feelings that at the moment were simply an intimate knowledge of one’s heartbeat.

I had a strange out-of-body-like experience the day after I wrote my last blog post. The baldest possible way I can say it is, Hasan visited me. I can’t say it was a dream because I have never had a dream like this…and I am known for the vividness of my dreams. This felt too real to be a dream. If it was a hallucination, this was a first for me.

The context must be made clear first, if I am to chronicle this event at all. I was absolutely alone at home for the first time in ages. There was no electricity and I was struggling to sleep despite having been sleepless for two days. It was too warm under the blanket but I had to keep myself covered as there were a couple of errant mosquitoes in the room trying to bite any exposed skin they could find. My eyes felt strained from being trained on too many screens for too long. My mind was full of Hasan as I had spent most of my time replying to comments and thinking about all the things I could say but didn’t. I had also had an eerie conversation that night about ghostly visitations with a dear friend who lost her mother seven years ago. She often tells me I will see signs that Hasan is still around.

In retrospect, I must have fallen asleep around 5 am or so. What I remember is being awake in the dark stillness and reaching out my arms. And then I saw Hasan, and he was with me, and I have no words to describe what I felt in my heart. I just held out my arms and he came over and gave me the biggest hug I ever got from him and I kissed his forehead, and then he was lying down right beside me, and I just stared at him in what felt like wonder and disbelief. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling that can only be described as happiness. I think we talked in telepathy. Time had stopped…..it could have been a short while or it could have been hours. But what seemed like too soon, he got to his feet and was standing at the foot of my bed and I thought, “Where are you going Hasan?” And Hasan had that usual nonchalant yet reassuring look on his face as he replied, “I just need to go out for a bit,” and he gestured toward the door, but then I watched him as he went out of the window and stood on the ledge right outside before walking along it and disappearing. I got up to see where he had gone to, and my window was the window that was mine when I lived with my parents. I couldn’t see where Hasan had disappeared to but when I looked down, I saw a stray dog sitting calmly….and I think I felt reassured.

Dawn had broken when my eyes opened and I lay absolutely still, listening to my heartbeat. If I use language to describe what I felt at that moment, I would say I felt confused, fearful, happy, horrified…and so bereft. I felt so aware that Hasan had been with me just now, that he had just left the room. I half expected to see him climb back in when I looked at my own window, but the blinds were down and the curtain was drawn. I can’t describe the physicalness, the intensity of what I went through then. Deliriousness mixed with pain. Convulsive sobs. I’m thinking hard right now, to be accurate about then.

This is what I believe: Hasan came to give me a good proper hug because we had been awkward about hugs. That was one of the first real regrets that tugged painfully at my heart when my brain tried to comprehend reality. I also believe that he was on the verge of turning into a young man who was okay with hugging his aunts, me in particular. I think I can live with this. My sisters and I have had the whole metaphysical conversation about the deceased visiting those who have let go. Fatu is jealous because Hasan seems to be visiting everyone in their dreams except her. But then, she has had her own share of Hasan-related ‘signs’. I want to write all about those too. Closure? I don’t know what that means really. But there, I said it. I’ll still wish we could have danced the awkward aunt-nephew dance some more.

To talk or not to talk? That is the question.

 

12439135_10153296455064109_7927799047210683277_n(1)

 

No.

It didn’t happen Hasan..

There was no 6 am phone call on the 12th of January..

We didn’t tell Amu, numb with shock..

We didn’t jump into the car and make our way to the hospital, sobs turning into moans of bewilderment..

I didn’t see your mother walk out of the gate like a sleepwalker, turn around and see me running towards her, didn’t see her stunned face crumple in disbelief, didn’t catch her as her knees buckled…

The four of us didn’t huddle on the dewy road outside the hospital, crying, watched by curious bystanders..

I didn’t get in the ambulance with your shrouded body, stroking your covered hands and face, trying to memorize the feel of you..

I didn’t stare at my sister in anguished silence as she looked into my eyes uncomprehendingly, desperately, saying ‘maaro dikro…maaro DIKRO….’…

I didn’t hear Lumyah crying out ‘But he’s only thirteen…..!’…

You didn’t just die in your sleep Hasan my boy…

Your parents didn’t tuck you into your blanket and spend an uneasy, sleepless night in their own..

Your father didn’t ruffle your hair in the morning and realize something was very wrong..

Your mother didn’t scream all the way to the hospital as she floored the accelerator on your car…

We didn’t just bury you Hasan..

You can’t be gone my dear jaan…

We can’t ever know what didn’t happen.

hasans grave

 

 

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…)

Fuzzy vs Mini (part 1)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fuzzy after a bath does not look quite as voluminous, in fact he looks downright weird. Was that why Mini did a double take when he trotted into the kitchen to find his food bowl? Was it because she couldn’t place the new smell of wet rug and a hint of shampoo?

Mini was near the food bowls when she caught sight of Fuzzy approaching. I had my eye on her and was about to pick her up and whisk her away to another room, but hell broke loose so fast my reflexes stood no chance.

There was a low, menacing, animal sound and I couldn’t tell which cat it was coming from. It seemed to be a part of the atmosphere of the kitchen. Mini looked like she had just caught her own reflection in the mirror, hair standing on end, back arched, ears rolled back. Fuzzy’s body language was that of a lion about to jump on his prey.

They attacked each other simultaneously it seemed. Mini should have run and hid under something, but she stayed her ground and fought.

Flashback to 1980. Nine year old me, trying to intervene in a cat fight on behalf of Noni, my first cat. Noni was so worked up he sank his teeth into my hand to get me to let go of him so he could chase the other cat before it got away. I still remember how the shock of that bite made me nauseous; I threw up in my mother’s aunt’s sink and when I looked up into the mirror, my chocolate-brown face looked gray.

‘O shit o shit o shit o shit’ was all I could say as Fuzzy and Mini grappled, flesh memory from 1980 preventing me from putting my hands in the line of fire. Below is not a video of Mini and Fuzzy’s epic battle, but it will create a suitable ambience as you read on.

I could not believe this terrifying scene was unfolding right in front of my eyes in my own house. Mini soon realized she could not defend herself against Fuzzy’s strength and I suppose her anxiety made her lose control of her bowels. She couldn’t help pooping as the fight continued. I shouted to Huz to come help while helplessly pleading with the cats to stop it stop it stop it! There was poop and pee everywhere and the freshly bathed Fuzzy and Mini were both rolling around in it. Huz finally managed to get Fuzzy to withdraw a bit, using a towel to swat at them and a long-handled broom to nudge Fuzzy into an enclosed corridor. Meanwhile, a dazed and frightened-out-of-her-wits, poop-covered Mini dashed off to hide behind the curtains

It had been a long day full of chores, I was exhausted, palpitating, and my hands were shaking. But the house was a disaster and it took an hour to clean up not just the area where the fight took place but the entire trail of Mini’s trajectory as she shot to safety. The poor little thing had to be bathed as well, and that too with cold water as there was no hot water and no time to heat it on the stove. But I dried her off fast and she hid under Amu’s bed thereafter.

Then it was Fuzzy’s turn to be cleaned up again, and I couldn’t help cursing myself for being in such a stupid situation. Stressed and full of despair, with no clue how to deal, my brain filled with conflicted thoughts. On the one hand there was Fuzzy, who couldn’t be sent away or abandoned despite the problems he created. On the other there was little Mini, whose future was clouded in uncertainty whether she stayed or not.

Huz, being the clear-headed problem-solver, saw only one path of action. Mini must go.

IMG_0124

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.

DSC_0347
Fuzzy follows kitty

DSC_0352
kitty marches up to Fuzzy unafraid

DSC_0356
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)