The Stray Gem
written by: Vrunda Moghe Dev
Our residential building in one of the quieter suburbs of Mumbai was a small one with only a few residents occupying it. However, it boasted a lot of trees and bushes which is perhaps why many stray dogs and cats liked to sit around in the compound. Many cats found the bushes an ideal place to hide, and the tree barks provided them a chance to sharpen their claws and also practice their innate skills of climbing and chasing squirrels. The dogs were happy resting for a while in the cool shadows of the trees. Although only a couple of residents were actually animal lovers, the rest of them did not shoo the animals away.
We have actually lost count of this fleeting animal population, but some strays remain in our memory because of their unique characteristics and antics. We noticed a spotless, robust, white tom cat across the street and when I called out, he crossed the road in a stylish gait and entered through the gate. His eyes were of light green colour and he appeared to be domesticated. Perhaps someone had left him to fend for himself. His eyes were expressive though his mews were soft. The light green colour of his eyes made us name him Peridot.
He hung around in the area making short visits to our building. Once my daughter who is more fond of canines dared to lift him and bring him to our apartment. He just mewed loudly and turned tail and ran downstairs. Thereafter, each morning he parked himself outside our main door. When I opened the door to get the newspaper, he’d look at me and if I called him, he would step in. Later, he took it as his right to walk in. His visits barely lasted for half an hour. He first ran towards the drawing room window to chase pigeons and did manage to catch some much to my chagrin. Later, I began to close the window as soon as he entered our house which made him sulk in a corner for some time. Then he would bask in the balcony taking in his quota of Vitamin D. We realised that his tastes were of a true Brit and he came towards the dining table if we were having toast, butter, and cheese-which he relished with his heart. It was followed by some milk. Then he would leave for the day. He rarely made a second round. During the time that he spent with us, he did not like to sit on anyone’s lap but sat near a chair or a table.
The true tom that he was, he loved to take up fights with other male cats in the area, and each morning he appeared with either a bleeding ear or a bloody nose and an injured limb. Then it was my duty to take a cotton swab dipped in betadine and clean his wounds. If Peridot spotted the cotton in my hand he would hide in the most inaccessible corner of the hall. He did not hide if he saw a brush in my hand as he loved to be scratched and groomed. However, the spotless appearance lasted for only a short time as he loved to inspect bikes and cars from underneath. In his previous birth, he must have had some connection with bikes as he loved to perch on parked bikes except during the rains.
Peridot had some strategic mannerisms. If the watchman went after him with a stick, he would just lie flat as if in total surrender. The sternest security man was disarmed. He waited for some fish pieces from the fishmonger who sat near our gate. If the man lifted his basket without giving Peridot anything, he would let out the angriest mew. After his fish meal, he would cross the road and walk into the swanky club opposite as if he was its most privileged member.
There was something very intriguing about his behaviour. On some days, he never turned up for his daily breakfast. Then after a gap of says four or five days, he would turn up and sit in front of me with his head bowed as if to demonstrate his guilt. If I ignored him, he would lie near my feet and place his head on my foot as if asking for pardon. It really wrenched my heart. After I patted him, he quickly shed his penitence and went about asking for food!
During the Corona lockdown, educational institutions had begun to hold classes online. My granddaughter had made a cozy corner with a floor cushion and a small table for the laptop for herself. As soon as she went into her room to attend the lecture, Peridot followed her and sat next to her, looking at the screen as if he understood the subjects of physics, chemistry, or English. His attention span lasted for one lecture and thereafter he got up to go. This was something I had never experienced before. Some of our earlier cats sat around when music was being played but listening to Physics?
Peridot must have been coming to our house for about four years or so. He had endeared himself to all. He began to look frail. The problem was to catch him to take him to a vet. However, the medicines advised by the vet over the phone were given to him whenever possible but there was not much of hope. He came one evening and sat with his front paws on the feet of my granddaughter, staring at her. Perhaps he was trying to convey something. On another day, when my daughter was sitting on the floor, he sat in her lap- something he had never done before. Those were perhaps the signs of his wishing to say goodbye.
One evening, we waited for him near the gate, but he didn’t turn up. A couple of days later, we heard of a white cat found dead a few buildings away. It was difficult to come to terms with his absence. How a stray cat had become so much a part of our lives is something I cannot fathom. Peridot, what a gem!
Vrunda Moghe Dev
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