Meri Billy – My Cat


I love my cat. She is my princess and the apple of my eye, my twinkle in the sky that makes me smile every time I think of her. Yes, as crazy as it may seem to some people, this post is dedicated to my cat; my feline friend who, more often than not, provides me with some modicum of sanity on many a days when I am still challenged by this city.

Maitri is her name, which in Sanskrit, appears to have several meanings and connotations: loving kindness, compassion, friend, etc. She is all of the above and has provided me with immense kindness, compassion and companionship, especially now more than ever. I first got Maitri when I moved to the USA in 2002. I have always had animals in my house, all of whom were rescued from the streets of Dubai. People would often think of our home as an animal shelter. At any given time, we would have 4 dogs and 3-4 cats and it was a riot! We all loved animals – my mum, dad, sister and myself, and it has stayed the same to this date. My sister and I turned vegetarian, by our own volition, when I was 13 years and she was 11. My parents then followed suite. Hence, I have never known a day in my life, since the age of 10, without an animal at home (It was when I was 10 years that my sister and I wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking for a puppy. Santa listened, and I had our first pet at the age of 10).

When I landed in the USA, by month 6 of still trying to figure out life in San Francisco, I decided that I just had to get a cat. There was no other way around it and I went over to Pets Unlimited, an animal shelter in the Fillmore, and “fostered” a cat. Yes, the intention was to foster an animal till it was strong enough to return it to the shelter which would give it up for adoption. But did it just end with fostering? Hell no! 3 weeks down the line and I convinced my partner that since I had gotten so attached to her and she to me, it just wouldn’t be fair to return her to the shelter, where she would be all by herself again! He relented and the 4 week old brat became a permanent member of the family.

Fast forward to 2011 when it was time to pack up and move to India. There was just no doubt in my mind that Maitri was coming along for the ride. Despite people’s qualms about how she would adjust to India or their ridicule at the crazy idea of taking Maitri all the way from cool, quiet SF to noisy, HOT Mumabi, I stood in my conviction that she would be alright. Here is a picture of her that I shot last week. She looks damn alright to me:

Her first month in Mumbai and the cat would be under the bed 25 out of 24 hours in a day. She was terrified by the noise and strange sounds that pervaded every corner of the house. She would barely come out from under the bed, unless coaxed with treats, and even that was a struggle. Besides, it was probably much cooler under the bed and she would lay her belly flat on the tiled floors, being soothed by them.

Meri billy (my cat in Hindi) greets me every time I come home, be it any time of the day or night. The moment the key is in the door, Maitri is at the door, gazing at me with her big black eyes. All my challenges of the day, my dealings with idiotic people, my struggles with navigating traffic, and my irritation with the hot, harsh weather, just bubble away when I see her countenance.  Here is another picture of her sprawled on the bed:

She just loves sleeping on papers and will make every attempt to find a bunch of papers, make a nest of them, and plop herself in it. Here is another picture of her all curled up in a room with the air conditioner on – I don’t think she really likes the AC:

Just yesterday, I got the shock of my life. I came home at around 8:30 pm and was a little surprised to not see Maitri at the door. I thought she was probably hiding under the bed, and so I dropped my bag on table, rolled up my sleeves and looked under the bed. Nada! Then I looked in her usual spots – on the sofa, on the bed, under the bed in the other room, under all the closets, in the fridge (yes, she has been known to have been locked in the refrigerator one time in SF…..I’ll leave that story for another day), and in the toilets and balconies. I did this whole sequence twice and then started panicking. I then recalled that I had left the cabinet in the kitchen open to put back some utensils. When I opened the cabinet, out came Maitri, not a peep from her, as if nothing had happened. The woman had been in there for over 6 hours!!! She went to her food bowl, sniffed it, and hid under the bed. A little later, I had opened the closet in the bedroom and had left it open for a while, as I was on the phone. After being done with my chat, I almost shut the door, but was prompted to check if Maitri was in there. Right enough, there she was in the lower shelf of the closet. The woman just won’t learn:

In the Closet

In the Closet

There have been days, when we had the Indian summer of October, when it has been really hot and humid – almost unbearable. Here is a picture of Dame Maitri just lazing about, without a care in the world:

This is another picture of Maitri having just gotten up from her afternoon nap, having cuddled under the sheets, and peering out of it in time for her afternoon snack:

And one last story to conclude my tribute to Maitri. Maitri, for the first two months, did not like the maid one bit. I think it’s probably because she was not used to having someone come into the house everyday and the maid, as lovely as she is, has a loud voice and when she calls out the cat’s name, you would think she was shouting at her. Plus, the added commotion of someone sweeping the house and mopping the floors 6 days a week, may have irritated Maitri who was already trying to deal with the external noise pollution. In any case, I had to make a trip to Delhi for 4 days and that’s when Maitri and the maid bonded. Now, Maitri comes out and watches the maid go about her work, and let’s the maid talk to her, even though I still think she sounds like she is shouting at someone.

A few days ago, I caught this lovely image of the cat looking outside the window in anticipation of the crows, and the maid looking at the cat. It was a sweet moment:

On that note, suffice to say that Maitri is better adjusted than me in Mumbai, I love her to death, and am so grateful that she is on this journey with me. She will be 10 years old next March and will celebrate her first Indian birthday.

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