Animal People

Malika assigned a very important duty to me the other day as she was about to leave from work a little earlier than usual. She handed over a little tupperware box with dry cat food and asked me to feed a kitten just a block away on my way to the station. Of course I obliged, but little did I know, that when Malika had warned me this one is loud, she meant menacingly LOUD! The kitten, probably about 2 months old, screamed when she saw me and perhaps smelled the food. Of course, wary as they come, this one hovered around but kept distance enough not to be touched. As soon as I put the food down for her, she stopped showing any sign of recognition at all.

When I gave up my cats in August, I was torn. But I realised very soon after that that relationship went beyond spending time with them. It taught me minute nuances, about how not just every cat, but every animal has a personality of his or her own. How some love eating Gujarati friend snacks, and some insist on sleeping with their legs suspended in the air and the quirks never stop! What also never stops, is their love for those who choose to care for them and love them. And they have myriad ways of reciprocating this affection.

One finds several people within the folds of the extended family, friends' circle, workplace and more, the lack of this very understanding. And then, if you are picky, then you get lucky and a trend begins in your life to come across the most special 'animal people', as I like to call them. People, who transcend the space of mollycoddling their pets as if they are lesser, dumber beings, and learn to be compassionate towards them and respect them as really, superior beings. I have been thinking about all the people with whom my bond has strengthened because of this very love and openness to embrace the world's creatures. This post kind of serves the purpose of acknowledging the presence of these special people in my life as well as documenting their presence to serve a case in point that goodness prevails not just despite all odds, but sometimes simply to defy unfounded biases.


When I was about to move to Bombay  (Summer 2013), my friend Kshitij expressed the desire to adopt a pet. He had been domiciled here for a while longer. However, despite being an experienced dog person, cats were quite a mystery. I suggested cats, and he didn't mind the idea. I decided to speak to a representative from YODA who had posted a couple of pics. When I hit the dial key post punching the girl's 10-digit number, it turned out I already had Malika's number stored on my phone. It took my Goa holidaying mind a while to figure out how this was so. It turned out Malika and Paroma, another animal person I knew from Pune, knew each other from before! Paroma had in fact given me her number when I was looking to adopt a second kitten myself.

Malika ended up sending me a bevy of some of the cutest kittens ever - grey, ginger, white, combos and black too. And then she sent me a snap of a pair. A grey-and-white and a jet black one. I decided to push the cause further with Kshitij now. Get two, I said. He was already petrified - horror stories about kittens scratching had reached him before my experienced suggestion. I sent him all the photos. Kshitij took more than a couple of days to decide. Much reasoning followed. He was unsure of the black kitten, but the rest, as they say, is history!
They came as Cherry and Berry, they're now Kshitij's regal Amar and Prem!

In the course of those few days of coordinating the adoption, I also discovered that Malika and I were going to be colleagues at my new workplace! I was thrilled. I had at least one other cat aficionado to look forward to! Malika also volunteers with World For All which helps find homes for kitties and pups - both strays, as well as abandoned. Those who perceive these animal welfare volunteers as a particular type would be shocked by the lady's high-fashion diva-like oomph. Clearly, cliches are no more the norm when it comes to recognising from a crowd, just who will turn around and pat and feed a stray.


Another such digression is Nikhil, a software engineer, an avid photographer and a new daddy on the block. A few months back, Nikhil tells me on a phone conversation, 'I spent all last night at a police station.' I froze. His wife was expecting and only his dogs were at home to protect her. He got involved in a brawl with some local goons who had been harassing some street dogs in the locality and preferred to take the legal route, which veered along a meandering and rather messy route.

I have only seen both his Indian mongrels in pictures. And it seems only natural that ever since the arrival of his daughter, the cuteness quotient on his FB timeline has tripled. From volunteering at adoption camps, to caring for stray dogs around his house, to obliging to feed my cats while I was still in Pune - Nikhil is the epitome of compassion when it comes to the four-legged heroes. His affinity with the creatures is infectious. While I worry sometimes about his slightly maverick ways and them affecting his family, obviously, he has trained his guard companions well.


The biggest surprise, however, came to me when I moved to my second house here in Bombay. About three weeks into the move, I discovered that my roommate Manjari has two Singaporean turtles! They would mostly bobble about in the aquarium tank, but every once in a while, they'd rise to the rock to sun bathe.

Amy, my roomie's Singaporean Red Eared Turtle

The only other person I knew who had a pet reptile was Jatan, back in Baroda. Somehow, turtles are even more fascinating. You'd think, them with their weird feet would make them rather inept at walking on marble flooring. Then you remember that they swish onto sandy beaches to lay eggs, hibernate. In the past few months of my stay in this house, I've begun to discover several aspects of their personality - familiarity, a little mischief, gay abandon and comfort are as much them as us or conventional cat & dog pets. In fact these days Amy, the female turtle even comes to my room and hangs out with me (not to mention bang her head or shell into practically all surfaces vertical!). It is at times like these when one realises you can gauge the personality of a person by the pet they keep...

My Professor from Baroda

My earliest animal people, however, happened to be closer home. When you're about to enter the gates to this lady's house, you spot a standard pet owner's warning sign with a twist - 'મગર થી સાવધાન' ('Beware of Crocodile'). Of course, there is no such ferocity in their backyard. However, their house was always abuzz with several urban species including a cock-&-hen, a crow, cats and dogs. The cats and dogs continue to be part of the residence. What is most fascinating, though, is the household's constant interaction with monkeys.

Most of the city's colonies of monkeys travel from one side of the perimeter to the other in the morning in search of food and a free terrace or tree top on which to play and rest during the day. they follow more or less the same trajectory back in the evening to return to their safe haven by night. Prof. B's house falls on this trail. Apart from being a regular ER for several of these creatures who hurt themselves, her daughter has even spared a room in the house to rescue and take care of one of their young ones when it went astray. The open space around the house, the trees and the rugged, un-manicured garden all invite you, along with these charming personalities. A Sunday brunch with all three - Prof. B, her husband and daughter and their lovely companions should be an experience for every animal lover - whether a resident of the city or a visitor. If Baroda needed an alternative animal lover's paradise, this family would be its first patrons!

I distinctly remember the day I became an animal person. It started with a cat, really. However, your affinity to animals can never be absolute. It also involves the embrace of the people you love, including family. We used to have a cat that roamed the house like Sphinx. At some point, she was ousted for having bitten me. Soon after, I left home for my MA in Hyderabad, where I met a dog named Sundari (with a loud bark and a lot of bulk, the name was only because she was white - I know, lame, but the poor bitch is stuck with it for life) guarded the women's hostel and Appy, the only woman who truly loved her. I have moved a few cities since, and had cats of my own too.

They say like minded people naturally gravitate towards each other in a new environment. I have begun to judge the hell out of people who do not like animals around them at least at all times. My space is incomplete without them. Even if just my mind space.


Rishabh Agarwal said...

I wouldn't say I am an animal person.. But found this beautiful :)

Priyanca Vaishnav said...

Thank you so much Rishabh! :)