WE’LL MISS YOU, BUTTER CAT
It was almost as if she was waiting for us to adopt her. There she was, perched next to the senior citizen’s corner in the Air Force Naval Housing Board colony where we lived. I guess it was the incredibly beautiful pair of transparent green eyes and the captivating ‘meow’ that snared my wife. As a lifelong fan of pets, I did my best to hold back my exuberance. He vaulted into Madhuri’s hands and entered our lives like he belonged.
As parents to two young boys, we were often besieged with pleas to adopt pets. Abhishek and Akash would go chasing after any form of life. Even grasshoppers and frogs were produced for parental consent. Being in the Armed Forces, having a pet or two was not uncommon, dogs being the pets of choice. We managed to dodge our boys’ repeated requests by convincing them that we would surely keep a dog just as soon as we move into that two-acre bungalow (which usually comes after several promotions!). Just how we instantaneously decided to adopt this beautiful 8-week old kitten while living on the sixth floor in a city high rise beats me even now. Must have been those mesmerizing eyes.
The last time I played daddy was over six years back. It was again time to run errands, fetch the essentials, get the baby’s bed ready and, of course, prepare a litter box instead of looking for nappies and diapers. He took to our house like fish to water, potty training and all. At last, our children had their first real pet. They promptly classified her ‘Mesopotamian Wild Cat’ from some internet website and were quite disappointed when the Vet sagely marked her ‘mongrel’ during the maiden vaccination!
True to what my sons read in TINKLE magazine, she would sleep most of the day and night, 80% of the time, to be precise. She was like a heat seeker, always finding the warmest of cozy places. Her waking hours were mostly spent either whining for food or in over-indulgent grooming. She would get into the most difficult corners of the house and chase mice where there were none! Give her a crumpled paper ball and she would turn the house into a playfield…And just as suddenly, she would clamber into her favorite perch by the window to catch forty winks. The children were uncovering feline vocabulary by the day. Poocha, poochex, Miss Meow, Nimmu, Radhi, Radhika….her names changed depending on the time of the day. Somewhere, I think, Butter Cat stuck, for sheer softness.
Our pangs of guilt at leaving her alone at home for most part of the day was assuaged somewhat by the fact that she would spend most of the day sleeping. The twinkle in her green eyes and her sleepy swagger at the kids arriving home from school marked the joyous reunion of siblings. She welcomed ‘dad and mum’ with the same ‘marjari asan’ later in the day. Her total submission with a perplexed wink when I used to muzzle her soft underbelly made the rest of my day. Our kids were quick to point out that unlike dogs, cats own their masters. Nimmu surely did. She always got her milk and breakfast before my bed tea. I couldn’t, after all, purr and charm like she could.
She kept adding to her repertoire of charms with each passing week. Snuggling between the sheets at night, cozying up to the boys when they were watching their favorite cartoons or doing their homework, playing the rough and tumble with me, clambering up and tumbling down the bedroom grills, she stole everyone’s heart. Scores of scratches and red scars running down my forearms were testimony to her feline approval of the games we played. Strangely, she always made it a point to pull in her razor sharp claws while playing with the boys. She was always buzzing around our two brats and their friends when they used to come over for sleepovers.
By the time she turned four months, she was already working on her jailbreak. Any time the door opened, she would be out like a flash, only to be lovingly bundled back in by doting siblings and parents. Perhaps, we never understood her innate desire for freedom. Looking out for Nimmu before opening the main door became standard operating procedure in the house. This, I guess, only strengthened her resolve to break out from the gilded cage which our house had apparently become. Infrequent guided tours of the colony and cradled excursions to see off the kids to the school bus did little to quench her craving for freedom.
Slowly, her play envelope expanded to the balconies and ledges. We trusted her surefooted gait and the old proverb ‘cat with nine lives’. She had already wound a way around our balcony into the neighbour’s. Sometimes, she would be returned with thanks by our friendly neighbour into whose house she had quietly slipped, with the advice ‘maybe you should feed her more!’ Back home, Nimmu’s bowls were usually always full of the most modern (and rejected) cat food. She used to feast on bony chicken pieces and the occasional sausage left over by the kids, leaving us to sometime observe that she is probably a dog in cat’s clothing!
She finally found everlasting freedom. On one of her usual escapades during the morning rush hour, she did not make it back from the neighbours’ in time to catch the school bus. Rushing back into our house to see off the kids rushing to school, her claws not at their sharpest, she slipped off the balcony.
She did everything right, flipped horizontal, braced herself, almost assumed a ‘canopy’ posture. “Nimmu’s gone”, I screamed! “Don’t worry dad, he’ll be fine, I have read it in Tinkle”, my son shot back between sobs as he raced downstairs with me. As we learnt to our dismay, dropping six floors is not kind, even for a cat. God knows how we sped downstairs hoping against hope that she would shake herself and walk away from the fall. It was not to be. Her grace in the final moments is something that will stay with us for a long time. In a matter of seconds our short love story with this feline wonder was over.
Enjoy everlasting freedom, Nimmu. We’ll miss you Butter Cat.
We lost her in Mar 2010 after a short and joyous relationship of just over six months. This story featured in The Times of India in 2010 (under Soul Curry).