What struck us was how skinny he was. The mother was not seen around much and we wondered what he ate. Associating age-old stories how cats like to drink milk, we started giving a little milk twice every day. Then a friend advised that most cats are lactose intolerant and so curd or buttermilk is better.
That’s how this kitten with a magnificent coat like a painting of black pebbles on snow white, got us wrapped around his little finger. The name changed from Kitty to Kittu Master (KM) when we figured he is a boy.
We have heard of house-cats but for the free-spirited animals like cats, I could not imagine a life inside an apartment. I sought help to vaccinate and neuter him. That way he may have a healthy life, we will feed him, have his momentary expressions of love, he will have his freedom and independence and a bigger space than a flat as his territory.
As I spoke with more people in order to take him to a vet, I realised the high pressure to own him. A gentleman from an organisation focused on animals suggested that I must buy a cage, take him to the vet and feed only cat food. Several phone numbers gathered and I called many. I even stopped a total stranger, a lady walking on the nearby road as she was wearing a t-shirt that said volunteer for animals or something like that. For someone who has never had any experience with a pet or a vet, I did not know how to go about doing it. KM was not a kitten, would not sit inside a box. Nobody could help me take him to a vet, which is a big weak link in the space of animal care for strays. Then the lock-down happened.
Kittu master was a fussy eater, sometimes he would eat rice, or the chapatti and sometimes not at all, we started trying a little bit of cat food, wet and dry and that worked. One time he got a piece of chicken, it seemed he relished it. Some days he would wait for us near the stairs or on the doormat. Some other days, he would come at his own sweet time, telling us clearly that he is his own master. One day we found a dead rat near his food bowl. Cat’s way of saying thanks. We said thanks too. He went around playing with his catch.
Once when he did not show up for dinner and breakfast, I began getting worried. I wanted to check the CCTV camera to see when he was around last. But thankfully, by evening he was back demanding his meal.
KM would sit around and watch the children play. He will sit on the middle of the road and look like he owns it. The children too came to be less scared. He started having a large fan following. Another couple who have a house cat also started feeding KM in the evening. I specifically arranged for a packet of milk to be delivered during the lock down. A neighbour going for groceries bought us the first packet of cat food. He was gaining ground, winning people.
Couple of months into knowing him, one afternoon when I was looking out of the window I saw another cat and it looked like KM knew her. I could not figure whether a sibling or girlfriend, but there was much love, KM was extremely friendly while she looked bit apprehensive, and much healthier than KM. She seemed trained, comfortable with human touch and could be an abandoned cat, we thought.
She soon started appearing with or without KM during meal times. Named Pudgy, it became hard to keep her away from KM’s food so we started bringing another bowl. She will eat a little from hers, get all inquisitive about KM’s, would finish hers quickly and attack KM’s. KM with his philosophical curiosity would look here and there, up and around and wonder about the birds and bees and each sound and by then his bowl would have become empty. Only once in so many months, did KM put his hand up to keep Pudgy’s head out of his bowl. My husband had to physically lift Pudgy so that KM could eat his portion.
Soon both of them got two bowls of food, a mix of dry and wet cat food with few pieces of chapati. Buttermilk from one bowl. Early morning every day at around 5:45 am, they will be near our door. Again in the evening by 16.30, they would be hanging around our building. They took the boundary of our building to go further. We don’t know where they went, if someone fed them that side, or they went to sleep. They will go with serious urgency. At times slept on the boundary looking like a melting cushion.
KM liked coming inside the house. On some occasions when he quickly sprinted in before we could shut the door, he went to all the rooms and bathrooms, on the bed, under the table, sharpened its claws on the carpet and had to be chased to go out. One particular time, he climbed up the mesh door of our window from outside, thinking I guess it may take him inside since he could see and hear us. That window does not open as the Tata Sky cable comes through it and is a 20 feet fall to the driveway. He kept mewing but there was no way for us to help. He finally managed to somehow jump back to the metal railing and we both sighed in relief. Following which, he flattened a big flowerpot and took a sound nap, exhausted with the adventure. But tried the same thing again the next day. We started keeping the curtains drawn so that he does not see us inside.
Territory can sometimes be such a wretched thing. There are about 5 to 6 stray cats in our area. I found KM in particular cornered by a bigger, huger, angry tomcat. Twice I was around to intervene when he was accosting KM. Tomcat gave me a dirty “I will see you” look.
At some point, I had again reached out to cat friendly community for adoption. To which I got no response. But some pet lovers gave me advice on deworming, how I may try get them into a cage and such. I was also told that quite a few pets are abandoned. So if the cat is safe in the neighbourhood and is getting food, that apparently is a much better option.
On the 4th of June, Kittu Master did not turn up for breakfast. Usually it’s Pudgy who is hanging around and KM joins in few minutes. As he had once vanished for two meals, we thought he would be back. That morning during our walk, I had seen that very same tomcat. He had wound marks on his body. I got a creepy uncomfortable feeling. He stopped, turned around, and gave me that dirty look again.
It was evening and KM was not back. All those children who were used to KM and Pudgy being around were searching for KM under every parked car and around.
Someone had seen his body near a garbage dump close by. As if he was sleeping.
I have a feeling it was the tomcat.
Kittu was very inquisitive. His curiosity showed on his face. He knew drama, the rolling on the road in the worse possible dust was one way to get attention. To try to trip you from under a car cover was the other. To chew on every hole of the car cover, make it bigger and bigger and play pick-a-boo was another. He was agile. In a split second, he would be on top of the Frangipani tree with high hopes to catch a bulbul or a myna or a sunbird. He could stand like a meerkat. His face had expression, annoyance, naughtiness, smugness, sleepy, he had a face that showed it all. Theatrical.
Pudgy now looks lost. She does not walk on the boundary anymore. Only appears around meal time. Wonder what she was wanting to communicate when she also started rolling on the ground. She never ever did this before. In fact, she would look at Kittu with a sober amusement when he did these antics. Is she asking where is that fellow who did these tricks?
Kittu Master got love. So many people have asked us about him and expressed condolences. I have got pictures from so many phones. He did not die hungry or unloved or abandoned. The children told us that they prayed to god to look after him. We miss him. We miss that black and white coat, winking from below the car cover, on top of the tree, rolling on the dirty sand.
He has left us Pudgy Kutty who looks like is with babies. She follows us, with what my husband says is the ultimate show of cat affection, tail up with its tip twisted.
This is the closest we have got to cats. Happiness and heartbreaks.