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…)

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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)    

The fuzzy cat

So I’m sitting at my table, it’s early morning (earlier than usual for me, since I am NOT a morning person) and I’ve just had a couple of pan-toasted chapatis and a mug of sweet tea for breakfast. It’s a bit chilly, after the surprise rain we received in Karachi during the last couple of days, so I fetch my snuggly old hoodie and proceed to comfortably peruse my blogs and do some moves on Scrabble before getting on with my list of chores for the day.

I’m distracted by a familiar scratchy, gravelly sound outside the study door, and I smile, knowing what this means. No, it doesn’t mean Freddy Kruger is around. It means Fuzzy the cat is being a good boy and using his litter tray.

You’d think that’s only natural, right? Cats are SUPPOSED to ‘powder their noses’ in their designated space. Wrong. Sometimes a fuzzy black half-Persian tomcat decides he wants to break the rules.

Exactly four years ago, Amu stamped her little foot (not really, but it sounds cute) and demanded a pet cat. I tried to reason her out of it of course. Having a pet is a huge responsibility (and I would know, since I have a looooong history with pets) and knowing Amu, I had a feeling she wouldn’t have the patience or the time to look after it.

I humored her though, and after a week or two of daily pleading, I spread open the Sunday ad section of the newspaper and pored over the pet column, with Amu sitting next to me. It turned out there were quite a few kittens for sale! We jotted down a number and made a phone call to get the whereabouts of a semi-Persian pair of kittens. Amu nagged and nagged until we got in the car and drove off to look for the house of the gentleman selling the little felines.

Finding the place was an adventure in itself, but as we parked outside the house and rang the bell, Amu and I wondered what we’d find. Someone came up to open the gate, and a youngish boy with greasy hair greeted us and ushered us into his garden. We walked over to the patio and saw the most adorable sight! Two tiny little gray furballs hurtling after a ping pong ball and swatting it back and forth with their little paws!

Amu and I just looked at each other. If she has an ounce of my genes, (and I think she does), we both felt the same thing. A mix of heart-melting delight and longing was shining in Amu’s eyes, and I knew she was in love with the first scruffy little kittens she encountered on her quest. As Amu clung to my arm and mouthed silent pleas, I asked the youngish boy how much he was asking for one of them. He quoted a sum about three times what I had in mind, so I told him we would go home and have a think and get back to him later in the day.

Back home, Huz and I had a pow-wow. I thought the guy was asking for too much money and it wasn’t worth it. Amu was blinded by love and couldn’t think straight, of course. Huz warned us of the consequences of having a pet cat. What if it wasn’t potty-trained? What if we wanted to go on a holiday, who would care for it? What if it demanded too much time and commitment? Who would take it to the vet? These, and many other questions were debated, but Amu stuck to her guns and assured us she would love it and care for it and we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. And then she threw in the trump card. She was lonely.

That did it. So, against our better judgment, we went back to the greasy boys house, handed him a wad of cash in exchange for Sam, the tinier of the two siblings, feeling guilty for taking him away from his sister and playmate forever.

It was evening as we drove home with a new addition to our little family, and we stopped on the way to buy some things that we had never bought before. Cat food! And cat shampoo! It felt like the gateway to a new world of groceries and products had just opened up for us, and it was kind of cute and amusing to be buying things called Whiskas, or Me-O, or cat litter that came in kilograms, in a sunny yellow bag that said Thomas.

The tiny kitty perched on my knee during the ride home, while Amu leaned over the seat to pet him. He seemed quite comfortable with us, and didn’t seem scared or bewildered by the suddenness of this strange new experience.

Back home, we let him roam around and explore the house and entertained him with things that normally delight kittens. We thought of giving him a new name, since he now had a new life. I can’t remember now if we re-christened him that night or the next day. I was stuck on Prince Rustam for some reason, but Amu decided on Fuzzy. We all approved, and hence, it stuck.

That first night we made him as comfortable as we could, and made him a bed out of a cardboard box lined with newspaper. We wondered if his mom had taught him anything, and imagine our surprise when we witnessed the first bit of evidence that he had been rightly and properly schooled in the way of cats! Out of all the places he could have chosen to relieve his tiny little bladder, he picked a spot on some newspapers we had left lying in a corner for just that purpose. Oh, what a relief! Now I wouldn’t have to worry about learning how to be a mommy cat! Little Sam/Fuzzy knew his business, and by the time we got him a proper litter tray, he took to that immediately as well.

The new addition

We couldn’t sleep very well that first night, Amu and I, as we were worried about Fuzzy being alone outside in the living room. So we ended up staying awake till 5 in the morning, keeping an eye on the little thing as he prowled around, and once again I thought to myself ‘what have I let myself in for’. One does tend to get anxiety attacks when one is sleep-deprived. But after a week or so, we all settled down to happily co-exist, man and beast.

It seems the little beast got a bit too comfortable sometimes, and there were ‘episodes’ where he was too ‘lazy’ to walk all the way over to his litter to relieve himself. Cat piss is a nasty, nasty business involving odours that are very hard to get rid of and have a propensity to linger, as I discovered to my horror. I had a penchant for having a clean house that smelled fresh and lovely, like washed laundry, so imagine my shock at realising how little control i had over my cat’s bladder!

He merrily proceeded to pee at least once a day on something he really shouldn’t. Like the sofas. The rugs. The bean-bag. The comforter. The floor. The newly-installed carpet in Amu’s room. The bathroom mats. You get the picture. The cat was out of control!

I scrubbed and cleaned, and neared the edge of tearful despair, contemplating driving him to a faraway location and abandoning him, or giving him away. Obviously, I couldn’t be so cruel. But I was decidedly not as loving as I should be towards a pet, and remember smacking him on the head a few times until I did some research and learned that’s not a very good way of teaching a cat not to do bad things. I consulted my upstairs neighbour, who lives with six cats, and asked for his advice after tactfully inquiring about any peculiar behaviour he may have encountered in his brood of kitties. He told me about a fabulous product that de-odourises pet ‘accidents’. You just spray it on and let it break down the molecules in cat piss that cause the odour! Apparently, cat pee contains a high concentration of urea, about twice as much as dogs, and that’s what gives it such a strong smell. They can’t help it, poor things. They’re just evolved that way. It’s useful for marking their territory, and keeping unwanted enemy cats at bay.

That’s what we thought was wrong with Fuzzy. We thought he was unusually insecure about the stray cats that prowled around our building, yowling their heads off and busily marking their own territory outside our doors. Of course he could smell their pee. So he went into counterattack mode. Either that, or he was trying to attract some romantic interest his own way….

We marched him off to the vet to have him….(gulp!)….neutered. Now, neutering is supposed to be a fairly simple procedure in male cats that have normally built external genitalia. But our cat chose to be different. The vet felt him up and declared him to have a condition called monorchidism. In other words, he only had one descended testicle! The other one was somewhere in his abdomen, developing at a much slower rate than its twin. Nevertheless, poor Fuzzy had to undergo not just the scalpel, but an utter invasion of his privacy, and needless to say it was a difficult time both for us and him.

It has been four years learning how to live with our cat. He’s been through vaccinations, de-fleaing, de-worming, operations, antibiotics, and many trips to the vet for checkups. You must be wondering if the neutering made a difference. Well, it didn’t. Ultimately, we just had to be very vigilant, make sure his litter tray stayed clean enough for him not to turn up his aristocratic little snub nose at it. We roll up our rugs and protect our sofas with plastic coverings every night, and every morning we unroll the rugs and put away the plastic. We chase Fuzzy to his litter every time he starts sniffing around and acts suspicious. Sometimes he pees on the plastic coverings, so I am to be seen mopping and de-odourising every so often. But at least it isn’t so difficult now that we have accepted this gruelling labour as part of our lives. As you can imagine, Princess Amu doesn’t lift a finger. In her defense, the poor girl has to go to school, so she is forgiven.

So you can imagine, dear readers, the joy I feel when I notice, or hear, Fuzzy using his litter tray of his own volition. It’s a daily triumph to see him do that.

Okay then, my writing for the day done. Time to go unroll those rugs….

how does one stay mad at a cat that looks at you like this?