I am not a cat person. I have never have been one since childhood. We lived in a sprawling house in Madras in a big joint family and the gardens, the garages and haystacks were always full of animals. When I was probably two or three years old, there was a dog, a very old pom called Teddy at home but it died when I was very much a kid. That was the last pet that was at home. We had a cow shed for a while but that too seemed very long ago. And then there were the unwelcome guests - cats, monkeys ..why I had even seen a mongoose as well besides the rats and the other rodents. The cats used to frequent our place very often . Even today I can hear the squirrels send out an alarm call when a cat prowled in the neighbourhood. The cats and us - well. we had an arrangement. The gardens, the compound wall, the terrace, the outside staircase - they could roam freely all over these areas , but they were strictly not allowed in our house. And thus we had a live and let live relationship and my indifference to them continued and they ignored me. But marriage eventually changed all that.
My in laws in Bangalore are however deeply attached to cats. And one cat was part of the household. I was initially a little annoyed to find that their cat refused to accept boundaries as the ones in Madras had done. This one was always on my favourite couch or sitting on my chair at the dining table, or even worse, used my rug rather happily. The cat was faithful to my inlaws, curling at their feet and listening to their commands , while my mother in law insisted that it called her " Maa". instead of " Meow."
The cat, I called it Bekku Mia, as it received the maximum respect in the house. And its favourite duty was to follow my father in law downstairs to the road, or to accompany him all the way up the stairs inside the house, if it spotted him in the distance entering the building. We learnt to leave each other alone ; later tolerance turned to mutual liking and then we learnt to appreciate each other's finer qualities. Beku Mia was a funny guy and he often tolerated the other members of the house, including my husband and played pranks to keep us entertained. He would never enter the kitchen, never create a mess and would announce his presence only when he was hungry. He was lazy and was happy being fed than chasing rats. And his favourite activity was to snooze the whole day long. My mother in law was the first to support him. " Papa, he would be hunting all night long, let him sleep now..do you want some milk now ?" she would ask him lovingly .
One fine day, he brought another guy to give him and my inlaws company, as if he knew his days were numbered. The camaraderie continued for a while, but Beku Mia would clearly indicate to the other guy that he was the pet and hence special attention was reserved only to him.
Soon time passed by and Beku Mia fell ill. The family recounted the many days he had survived after a spate of ill health, but it seemed like his nine chances were over . One sad day, he succumbed to his illness and departed Beku Mia had come home as a kitten in 1998 and he was with us until 2011, the longest stint that a cat had ever stayed with them. His friend left us as well , leaving my inlaws mourning. A photograph was left near the mantel piece which was his favouite place.
Part 11A year went past us and not a day passed without a reference to Beku Mia. My father in law missed him the most but he was averse to more pets, lest attachment took over his life. And one day, we heard a little " Meow" near the window sill. A carbon copy of a younger version of Beku Mia stood before us. A kitten, barely a few weeks old which looked exactly like Beku Mia had found its way home. The eyes were different said my inlaws, but I am no judge of identifying resemblances among cats. So, we had our new Beku Mia who was well on his way to being pampered and spoilt.
He played his cards well. He knew his masters were my inlaws and would only listen to them. He would run away on seeing us and would shyly avoid any new comers. He entertained us with some new tricks. Playing with a ball was one of his favourite antics. But what fascinated us was that he would accompany my father in law everyday to the door, when he saw him leaving the building. He would stand on his hindlimbs, reach out the latch with his forelimbs and open the door for him And this privilege was only given to my father in law. Six months passed and Beku Mia became a fixture in the house.
However tragedy struck again. My inlaws had stepped out for a few hours and only a kitchen window was open in the house. When they returned, all that they saw was the scene of a battlefield. It seemed like Beku Mia was hunted down by an older cat and there was blood and hair all over. There was no sign of either cat. We looked around, checked with neighbours, visited vets, looked at every starving, battle weary cat and kitten and wondered if Beku Mia had left us again . Theories flooded . Some said that cats had nine lives and so it was nursing itself somewhere in its own haven. We waited with hope. Months passed. The yoga teacher offered to give us some kittens from home. The maid brought another wild kitten which looked similar to Beku Mia. It jumped from table to chair to mantel piece to the window, drank the milk and jumped out of the house. And four months went past us.
And suddenly, out of the blue, a Meow was heard from the window sill. Beku Mia had returned home after four months. Plumpier, braver, he was still the kitten that had fought valiantly against the older cat. And it barely took him time to find his way around his old home. He seemed to have licked his wounds and nursed himself back to good health. He rallied around my inlaws as always, opened the door for my father in law, allowed my mother in law to ruffle his head, but stared at us with his big innocent eyes . We were amazed that a cat, often not known for his loyalty and attachment would find its way back home to those people who had taken care of it as a young kitten. Beku Mia has grown up today to fight his own battles, but he still remains pampered in my in laws house. At this point, he must be enjoying his afternoon siesta.