Yesterday morning, I came back from Bangalore at 9.30 am. It had been a weekend of six am flights--some down time in Bangalore on Sunday--but mostly, hectic, hectic activity. The readings went well, there was press and I felt a bit like a conquering heroine, book four all laid out in my mind, anxious to get back to work.
Usually, TC waits for me by the door. A lot of people ask me what happens to the cat while I'm away. I've been lucky to have help who genuinely like him, I've seen them chat to him, stroke his head, and he, in turn, butts his head against them, and waits for them to come in through the door, his tail swishing. I do an experimental away-for-the-weekend trip, don't tell them when I'm coming back, and then check in on him later, to see if he's well fed and watered, and for the most part, all he needs is someone to top up his food and water (two bowls of water in the summer, placed in different parts of the house, if there's no one to keep giving him fresh water) and to have the occasional chat with. In this regard, I'm so much more suited to having a cat than a dog, cats are creatures of habit, he doesn't care so much who's home, as long as he has food, and shifting him to another place would mean two days of trauma. When I was in England, summer of 2010, I left him at home for two months, giving friends the key, and they reported back to me, "Yes, he's alive and happy."
ANYhow. So, yesterday, no sign of the cat. Sometimes he hides, so I did my usual on top of cupboards, underneath the beds, but didn't see him. I wasn't too worried, he's a master hider, I've been panicked before and he's just strolled out of some crevice or shadow in which he concealed himself for the last 12 hours. I should've called him Houdini.
But then I noticed the window to my study was open. Let me tell you about this window. It's got a pretty heavy glass front, which you can open with some pulling. After the glass, is metal grill, teeny tiny rectangles. My cat had not only gotten the wood and glass bit open, he had squeezed himself through one of the little rectangles and gotten out.
Never underestimate an inside cat's fascination for the Great Outdoors.
I heard a miaow from the distance. My house has a little open space off the bedroom, I think it was originally for a washing machine, it's blue tiled, and has no glass to the window, just a metal net, but that's where I keep my cupboard and shoes and random boxes of things. Through this window, you can look into the terrace of the house adjoining it, and that's where my cat was, peering at me, miaowing hopefully. He had gotten on to the terrace of my house (locked, but with glass missing just wide enough for a cat to squeeze through), jumped on to the neighbouring terrace and couldn't jump back.
Many people want a pet and decide not to get one because of the "responsibility". I got TC on a whim, and I can honestly say that if it was now, I probably would've talked myself out of it. But he is one of the best decisions I ever made. Sure, he makes me mad, and I think I might have been a better housekeeper if there wasn't cat hair and poop and pee to deal with, but he keeps me grounded. And sane. Once you get a pet, you make the time. It's not a decision you have to weigh in your head a hundred times, because once you have your cat, you realise how easily your life can fit around the cat. I'm not saying be an irresponsible pet owner, but I feel we've made this such a weighty issue now, OH MY GOD, I DON'T HAVE THE TIME, that we're forgetting that animals can be squeezed into your regular day without too much fuss. Food, water, love. That's pretty much all you need. If you're really working a demanding job and have no time to babysit a kitten, get an older cat, they're already toilet trained and honestly, will give you HOURS of amusement. I promise. Especially if you want to be a writer. There's nothing like having a cat around to kick start your dormant writing needs.
Cat people are generally a completely different kettle of fish from dog people. We're not the people being up in arms online about you "not liking our furry children". For one thing, dogs might equal children, but cats are more like.. oh, needy roommates. We don't care if you don't care for our pets, our cats are wonderful, unique beings and you don't have to like them all, just like you may not like every person. We're not anal about our cats--you don't have to like them to like us. This also we know--if you spend time with our own personal, particular cat, you'll realise how awesome he or she is. I have a lot of friends who come in to my house warily, "I don't like cats" they say (can you imagine saying that to a dog person? You'd be killed) and within the course of the evening, my cat will (obviously, being the contrary animal he is) make a beeline for that one person who doesn't like him, and usually, the rest is history. Catstory. Plus, self cleaning, auto toilet trained.
All cats also have their inner jerk. I've seen mine, sitting on a table, lalala, and then, just casually, reaching out his paw and pushing everything on the table to the floor. Lalalala.
Back to my TC story. Called my landlord a zillion times, of course, he never picks up, in fact, I don't hear from him all month until the 1st, when I get a text, the same text, saying, "Rent due. Pls. tell when to collect." That's my only interaction with him, no matter if my house is burning down or I need a phone number. He just never answers. So, I went round the back. This particular patch of Nizamuddin West just about escapes being in the basti. You can see the basti all around it, the big Nizamuddin mosque is next door, the basti people come in and park their cars all the way down the road, there's a sliver of barbed wire on a wall, but that is all. From my house I can peer into the basti, two steps to the left, and my rent would be halved.
The landlady is a grumpy old lady with a thick mustache. She gave one of her helpers the key to the terrace next door, but also gave him strict instructions to make me leave the terrace ASAP. I found the cat quite quickly, lurking in a toilet, and grabbed him, preparing to take him down. He gave an almighty kick, scratched me in the stomach and leaped out of my arms into an AC vent. He gave me one backwards look and then fell into the vent, all the way down. This was made of heavy plated iron, super hot inside and on such a day, he would suffocate rapidly. Briefly, I heard him miaow from far below me.
"Okay, off the terrace now," said Old Minion.
"HELP ME," I said.
"I can't help you, she's told me to send you off the terrace."
I ran downstairs, calling to my cat at every wall, but no sound came through.
"I'm going to have to unscrew this," I told Young Minion.
"You can't do anything without checking with her," he said.
MUCH back and forth later, the landlady came out again. "Oh, he fell through the vent," she said, "Yeah, he's probably gonna die." I've never come so close to shaking someone. The vent led into an AC, I believe, which was in a room that was locked. "We can't open it," she said, "There's a cupboard in front of the door."
I think I would have just collapsed in one panicked mess on the ground just then, but my maid appeared. She'd been looking for the cat since 6 am, terrified at what would happen if I came home and found him missing. And she began to galvanise the basti.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by people, all wanting to know what had happened. AC mechanics appeared. "I don't like working for this man," said the mechanic, indicating my landlord, "He never pays as much as he says he will." "I'LL PAY YOU WHATEVER IT TAKES," I said. And a woman looking at me sympathetically said quite sharply to him, "How can you think of money at a time like this?"
"Yeah, how CAN you?" chorused the basti.
Shamed, the AC mechanic began to look for his screw driver. In the meanwhile, the landlady's minions, previously uninterested, began to look alarmed at the lack of neighbourly goodwill. Hostile looks were tossed towards them. The landlady called me. "Your cat is in a cupboard," she said, crossly, "He's YOUR cat, you go get him." I could have kissed her, mustache and all.
Sure enough, there was TC, cowering in a cupboard, and when he saw all the people surrounding him, he decided Cupboard was Home and he was never ever going to leave it. I pulled, I yanked, but every time I loosened one paw, another hooked around the surface. He was suddenly Octopussy.
The huge men surrounding me were all like, "Oh no, he'll bite us" so it was me and the maid, working side by side, yanking him out of there. We got clawed and bitten, but we got him home, unbroken, except for a patch of fur that must have fallen out with the stress.
There aren't any major animal rescue stations in Delhi. There's Friendicoes, but they don't have the equipment to deal with a situation like this. Fire stations should technically be able to help, but I haven't tried. With people generally being mistrustful of domestic animals--and callous about their treatment, if you're in a similar situation, and I hope you never are, the best way to deal with it is to get people around you involved. Even if it's an animal no one can imagine loving, like a cat--I think explaining that my beloved DOG was in an AC vent might have led to slightly faster reactions--you need to humanize yourself and your animal. Don't be the rich urban brat who lives a life of privilege, no one knows you, and no one has to help you. Remember that there are still taboos about animals all across this country--an old maid of mine refused to go near my cat because she was like, "If he scratches me, I'll be cursed."--and people here are generally not comfortable with animals. But if you ask for help sincerely, chances are you'll get it.
[On the other hand, the people who own this house are a piece of work. Even if they didn't "get" it, what a thing to say. It explains a lot about why this house hasn't felt like home since I moved in, the landlord essentially looks at his tenants as money. Not that he has to be involved in everything, but there's no warmth or human connection, and the whole building is a bit like that, even the people on the first and second floor who have bought their homes from him. I'm not saying everyone has to get together and have parties or even pop over for a cup of sugar but it's SO every person for themselves that it's quite exhausting.]
List of animal rescue helplines in Delhi by Jaagruti.