Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful, cream-and-white Persian cat and other exotic cats, in a posh bungalow, along with their human Mom and Dad and their ill-mannered, spoilt brat.
This cat was my Mumma.
My story begins when I was three months old.
One day, Mumma was playing with me and my four siblings near our driveway, when the brat drove his car over her legs.
Mumma screamed the loudest we’ve ever heard.
The five of us rushed towards her. She was unconscious and bleeding profusely.
When this brat had similarly injured a boy some days ago, his Dad immediately took the lad in and bandaged his leg. He called the boy’s parents and gave them money. Everyone was happy.
It seemed the rules were different this time.
They called the vet, a horrible man who had poked and prodded us when we’d visited him last week.
He said, “She’s badly injured. She’s thirteen and too old to breed further. Better free her from this misery. Put her down.”
I wondered what he said, but it didn’t sound nice.
The five of us were forcibly pulled away from Mumma and to our horror, the brat’s Dad shot her with his gun. She lay silent and still.
That day, I learnt that we were lesser beings. All lives didn’t matter.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to live here anymore. I’d always hated the brat. Now I hated his Dad too. But what can a tiny kitten do?
I looked around. No one was watching. I quietly slipped out into the garden, squeezed myself out from below the main gate and ran. I was free.
I’ve never been outside my little world and the noise was deafening. Big bad vehicles swooshed by. There were lots of people rushing around. Everything looked dangerous, but I didn’t want to return to Mumma’s killers. So I hit the side of the road and ran on, till my legs refused to move. My stomach growled with hunger. I started crying loudly.
People passed by. Some didn’t notice me, some did and ignored me and some of them called out to me and walked away after seeing my fear and distrust.
Then SHE came along.
The moment this young woman saw me, her face lit up. Something in her told me I could trust her. I let her take me in her arms.
She carried me till she reached a gate. She opened it and entered. I saw a small two storeyed house inside. Her home!! I had this feeling that this was to be my home now.
But the adventure wasn’t over yet.
She entered the house on tiptoe, holding me. I saw a young man in the living room watching TV. She tried to sneak upstairs past him, but I thought I should let him know that I’m part of the family now. So I yelled out, “Meow!!” In cat language, that meant, ”Hi there!!”
The girl froze. I felt her hand turn cold and stiff. He turned and saw me. And screamed.
I shrank back into her arms.
“Dada*, please let me keep her, pleeease..,” she began to plead, “she looks so lost and hungry. And see her face – she’s not a stray. She’s Persian – obviously someone has lost their pet. If they come looking for her, I’ll return her, till then please.. let me keep her..”
“Have I not told you a thousand times to keep your obsession with animals outside the house?” He thundered. “No pets here, understand? Throw that thing out – NOW!!” He gestured wildly at me.
“Dada, pleeease,” Shuili was crying now, “I’ll keep her away from you.. promise.. “
Dada somehow couldn’t bear Shuili’s tears. He grunted a yes and walked out of the room. Shuili hugged and comforted me. I purred for the first time after running away.
Shuili took me upstairs to her room and gave me rotis and milk, which I gobbled up greedily. She brushed my coat – oh, how I loved it. I curled up on her bed and slept off. Ah, bliss. I was the Queen of this house now.
The next few days were a roller coaster ride. Shuili gave me toys to play with. She also taught me to use the little backyard garden and the cat litter. I explored the entire place. It was small – a living room and kitchen downstairs, two bedrooms upstairs and a terrace on top. One of the bedrooms was mine, which I shared with Shuili. The other belonged to Dada and was always closed. “Otherwise that damn cat will enter.” Oh, how I longed to explore that room…
Shuili named me Cookie. “Cream and white Cookie,” she would say. I resembled my Mumma.
And yes, Dada had a name too – Shivin.
I soon discovered that life here was anything but peaceful.
Shuili loved animals and birds as much as Shivin hated them. Shuili would feed stray dogs on the road every evening, making me jealous. She would feed birds on the terrace every morning. So yummy – the birds, I mean. When Shuili read my thoughts, she kept me out of the terrace on mornings.
Both of them left home in the morning and returned in the evening. I would miss them the whole day.
Once every few days, they would be at home. Those days were exciting. Shivin screamed every time he sighted me. “Get that damn cat out of my way!!” But Shuili’s tears always silenced him.
Shuili had a friend – Lara – a young woman who was sweet like me. She was also Shivin’s girlfriend. How do I know? Well, we understand a lot more than you people think we do.
Whenever Lara met Shuili, she would talk nonstop.
“Shuili, it pains me when I see how some people treat pets. Firstly, they purchase or import some exotic breed which cannot adapt to the Indian climate. Then they groom it, trim its hairs and sensitive whiskers because they don’t fit their notions of beauty, chop its nails to keep their own selves safe, make it wear clothes and what not and flaunt them. Once they become old or ugly or injured, they just abandon them. My blood boils when I see this – all lives matter to me. I take them to that NGO in the next building. I’ve also kept some of them with me because I love them too much. Thank you, Shuili, for helping me get donations to maintain them.”
The conversations between Shivin and Lara would always begin lovey-dovey and end in an argument.
“Lara, I love you. After that plane crash took my parents, you and Shuili are all I have. I want to marry you. But you must let those animals go.”
“Shivin, don’t be selfish. They’re my children.”
“You know I hate animals. You choose.”
And Lara would leave in a huff.
Lara would discuss Shivin with Shuili. “He’s so selfish.”
“Yet you love him.”
“Yes, he’s helped me through tough times. But I won’t leave my pets. They were already abandoned once. They shouldn’t suffer separation anxiety again. And what about my feelings for them?”
This went on for months, till I reached adulthood. My presence would always calm the timid Shuili and the sad-faced Lara – and infuriate Shivin, much to my amusement. To him, I was the “damn cat”.
Shivin was the grumpiest human I’ve ever seen. He would shoo away the tiniest of birds outside the window and grimace when he saw Shuili feed dogs and birds.
His grumpiness only strengthened my resolve to make my way into his heart one day. I knew that his attitude was the cause of trouble for both the women in his life – and mine. As the beautiful, intelligent Queen of this house, it was my duty to take care of my subjects.
One evening, Shuili returned home agitated.
“That Abhishek.. that good-for-nothing son of a rich crooked man – he’s one of our clients. He proposed to me today and threatened me with dire consequences if I refused.” Where had I heard that name?
“Don’t worry. He won’t harm you.”
But Shuili remained worried all the time. I could sense it. I snuggled closer to her every night to comfort her, but deep down she was tensed anyway. I had a weird sense of foreboding.
One morning, I didn’t want her to leave. I kept rubbing myself against her legs. When that didn’t work, I jumped onto her lap when she sat down to buckle her shoes and refused to move. That didn’t work either. She left. I kept howling all day, pining for her.
She didn’t return that evening.
Finally, I heard the key turn in the lock. She’s back, I thought. I excitedly bounded up to the door. It was Shivin.
I didn’t know then that this was the last time he would scream at me.
He searched the house for her. Then he made some calls. Soon, Lara came over.
“Lara, she’s not responding to my calls or messages. Let’s go search for her.”
Before they left, Lara hugged me and gave me food, but I didn’t touch it. I was also worried about Shuili.
A few hours later, they returned, blankfaced.
Suddenly, Shivin’s cellphone buzzed. He answered it.
He collapsed on the sofa.
Lara took the phone. What she heard left her shaken. But she managed to pull up the distraught Shivin and stepped out with him again.
They returned the next morning – without Shuili. I looked at Lara. My eyes asked her, where’s Shuili?
She replied, “Shuili will be back soon.” And she burst into tears.
The next few days saw Shivin and Lara come and go at odd times. They also dealt with plenty of grim-faced visitors, whom I avoided. They were so tensed that Shivin didn’t even say “damn cat” anymore. He just ignored me. Lara fed me, but I could barely eat well. Where was Shuili?
Finally one morning, Shuili arrived, asleep on a stretcher with bandages over her head and leg. She was laid out on my bed and a young woman was brought in to take care of her.
The next day, Lara disappeared.
Shivin resumed his routine of going out in the morning and returning at night. I guarded Shuili when he was away, calling out to her, asking her to wake up. But she didn’t.
Shivin continued to ignore me, till one day I decided that enough is enough.
I waited for him to return home and flop himself on the sofa, exhausted.
I called out softly from the kitchen door. It startled him. He looked up.
I moved a step forward. Then another. And another. And called again.
It was the first time he had called me by name. I ran towards him. He moved back.
We continued staring at each other. I won. He spoke.
“That Abhishek – he and his goons attacked Shuili and left her to die, you know that? She told us everything before losing consciousness. I recorded it. I’m fighting the case in court now. I want justice for her.”
I just kept looking at his distraught face with concerned eyes. He kept on talking.
A few minutes later, he went into the kitchen and brought me a roti to eat. I was surprised.
“Eat. And sleep.”
He disappeared into his room and locked it.
The next morning, he gave me some milk and left the house. My appetite returned.
Night after night, before Shivin sat for some time in front of Shuili, he poured out his feelings to me. I could understand. Sometimes, communication transcends language barriers. I wanted to comfort him, but he maintained his distance.
“Cookie, they postponed the hearing again.”
“Cookie, I took an advance from office to pay the advocate’s fees. But I’ll fight till the end.”
“Cookie, the media is hounding me for sound bytes. I hate it.”
“Cookie, I’m so frustrated.”
“Cookie, when will Shuili wake up?”
“Cookie, I miss Lara. She’s in her native village. Her Dad’s bedridden. The place doesn’t have a cellphone network.”
One evening, he looked happy. “Cookie, they arrested him. Here’s a treat for you.”
The next day, he was frustrated again. “Cookie, he’s out on bail.” To my horror, he started sobbing.
I must comfort him, I decided. I moved close to him and called out. He jumped back in terror.
The next moment, he gingerly put his hand on me. Soon, I ended up on his lap.
That night onwards, he did not lock his bedroom door.
The barriers were finally broken.
Shivin continued telling me the day’s events. His frustration was increasing, but he pulled on.
Lara returned one day. “Dad’s better now, after two months in hospital. I’ve kept a nurse for him.
Shivin and I perked up on seeing her. We’d missed her.
Another breakthrough came one day when Shivin returned home very happy.
“Cookie, the media attention worked. Our case has been fasttracked.”
The next morning, I heard voices downstairs. I peeped down and to my horror, saw Shivin in conversation with the brat’s Dad. Has he come for me? Nooooo.. I hid myself in Shivin’s room.
I could hear snatches of the conversation.
“You can’t put Abhishek in jail. I know the best lawyers. Let’s stop this game. How much do you want?”
“Don’t bribe me.”
“Then you’re responsible for the consequences.”
The brat’s Dad walked out.
I then remembered. The brat’s name was Abhishek.
That night, I snuggled even closer to Shivin.
It was 3 am. I woke up. It was my playtime.
I was wondering what to knock down tonight when I heard a noise downstairs. An intruder!! Shivin was sleeping like a log. I thwacked him on the face till he woke up.
Just then, the intruder entered our room.
It was one of the brat’s shady, cringeworthy friends. He aimed a gun at Shivin.
I remembered that Mumma had been shot exactly in this way. Not again.
I leapt up at lightning speed and knocked off the gun.
But the intruder was fast too. He kicked me. I yowled. He retrieved his gun and shot me.
I felt a stabbing pain in my leg. Blood spurted out. I saw Shivin throw himself with all his might on the intruder. Then all was dark.
I awoke to find myself on a soft, comfortable bed in an unknown place. Lara was sitting in front of me. So it was her house.
My injured leg was bandaged.
Lara confined me to this room. She left home every morning after a caretaker arrived. The caretaker would leave when Lara returned in the evening.
Lara would then take me out for some time. That was when I met her other pets.
She had a huge and toothless old Alsatian.
She had a cute brown one-eyed puppy.
And there was an ordinary mongrel whose hind legs had fused together below his body after an accident. He walked in a sitting position, by dragging himself. My heart went out to him. I thanked God he wasn’t in Abhishek’s house – he’d have been shot.
There was a talkative parrot in an open cage.
There was an old female cat, who reminded me of Mumma..
And there was a robust, handsome Persian male. I heard Lara tell someone, “He was abandoned when his owners shifted abroad. He’ll make good company for Cookie.” Good? I was in love already.
But where was Shivin? What happened to Shuili? Lara kept telling me something, but I couldn’t understand.
Weeks passed. My leg got better. Soon, I could walk and run. I was no longer confined to the room. But I longed for Shivin and Shuili.
One fine evening, the normally sad-faced Lara sported a bright smile.
I wondered why, just as Shivin entered the house.
I was so surprised that I just kept staring at him for a full five minutes. His left hand was in a sling. There was a scar on his forehead. And he limped.
Lara then went out and returned, with a smiling Shuili on a wheelchair. My joy knew no bounds. I promptly jumped onto her lap, entwined myself in her arms and kept screaming at Shivin.
“Cookie,” Shivin said, “you know, you saved my life that day. After he dared to shoot you, I pinned him down, but not before he shot me as well. The matter got so much media attention that he’s finally in jail, along with Abhishek. And then….”
He stopped and smiled sheepishly when he saw the amused expressions of Shuili and Lara.
Later, after dinner, Lara came over to Shivin. Her sad face was back.
“Shivin, you had repeatedly asked me to choose. Now that the three of you are back on track, I want to tell you my choice.”
Shivin looked at her expectantly.
“Shivin, I’m not leaving my pets. This is my small way of giving them a better life. Our marriage may not work if I sacrifice their company – they’re my passion. I would rather be single or marry an animal lover. I’m sorry. But I’ll remain your good friend.” She pulled out that shiny ring I’ve always played with, from her finger and held it out.
Shivin took it. Lara looked away. I knew she was stifling her tears.
Shivin caught her right hand and slipped the ring back onto her finger.
She looked at him, surprised.
“Your pets are coming with us.”
Shivin just gave one of his rare smiles and patted me on the head.
Looking at the love and happiness on the three faces in front of me, I sat up, proud and straight, like the Queen I am. I’d finally achieved my goal. And, as they say in fairy tales, we lived happily ever after.
Dada: respected elder brother
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