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Through the Glass…………….

July 28, 2011

As soon as we knew we were moving to India, we made plans to take our cats with us.

Unfortunately, our one cat is diabetic and it really didn’t make sense for her to be on a plane for over 24 hours without access to water. I wrote a very fun resume for her when we were trying to find a place for her to live. If you want a chuckle, you can read it here. A lovely family adopted her while we were gone and spoiled her rotten.

We decided it would be very helpful for the kids to have their other two beloved furry siblings with them – and, not for nothing, someone else was going to be cleaning out the litter and wiping up the inevitable furball throw-up. Yeah. In case it’s not painfully obvious why that was awesome, you can catch up here.

Our first attempt to get the cats to India was a colossal fail. I do not heart United Airlines and if you want to be mad at them too, you can read about that here.

Now that you are all caught up on the history, let’s get back to the story.

Eventually, the cats made it all the way across that big ocean. Alive and well and very confused – kind of like the rest of us.

They settled in quickly and were very well cared for.

But our staffs initial reaction to them was hysterical. They could not believe that we had cats as pets. I should explain that cats aren’t really kept as pets in India. There are tons of stray cats on the streets but it is very rare for someone to actually bring them into their home, feed them, care for them, and make them a part of the family. To love them.

I guess it’s hard to worry about stray animals too much when there are so many stray humans without food and shelter.

Someone also told me that Indians consider cats to be bad luck. I cannot verify that, but it might be true.

Cats are so rare as pets that India does not even have a manufacturer of cat food – at least not one that delivers Indian cat food to any of the pet stores in Delhi –  there may not be an Indian dog food manufacturer either because most dogs are simply given table scraps. The only cat food I could find was imported and ridiculously expensive.

Good thing we brought, not one but two, very large cats who really like to eat.

When we first moved to India and lived in an apartment, the cats very rarely saw the light of day. But then number one hubby found us a house and the cats had access to glass doors at ground level. (We did not feel comfortable letting them actually go outside because there were hawks in the area and tons of stray dogs and cats.) Our cats seemed happy enough to just look outside and they immediately discovered that they were not alone in the world. That other cats lived just beyond that glass horizon.

The difference between our American house cats and the Indian stray cats was nothing short of amazing.

Ours – big and fat and shiny – not a scratch on them. Loved and cuddled. Not afraid of humans in the least. Not particularly fond of every single human, but not one tinsy tiny bit afraid of them. No front claws.

The strays – little bitty – boney – ears ripped – dusty and dull fur with patches missing – never touched by humans hands and terrified of people.  Their faces looked more alien than feline – too wide at the eyes and too narrow at the lips. And their bones nearly poked through their fur. They would never survive without their claws.

They did love our patio though. Largely because it always had a bowl of fresh water and some very expensive cat food on it. The shade from the scorching sun didn’t hurt either. And it was enclosed by a gate, so the dogs could not get in. I wonder if they felt safer in it. But I believe they must have been curious about our cats too.

They would sit and watch each other through the glass.

Part of our morning routine as humans was to put food in the bowls for the cats outside and watch them slink in and get breakfast. It was always fun to see who came first and we worried when one of them didn’t show up for a few days. We noticed who had new scratches and delighted when kittens arrived one morning. We counted them and named them and wondered if we could catch even one and bring it inside.

The pet store that carried the cat food and the cat litter I liked best was not very close to our house. So, I would often send our driver to pick up several packages of each.

This means that the cook, housekeeper, guard, gardener, driver, and the man on the moon all knew just how much money I was spending on these ridiculous creatures that pooped and threw up in the house. And I am sure they compared that to their own salaries and calculated in their own minds what they could do with that kind of money. To us, it wasn’t a hardship – but to them it could have been all the difference in a nicer house or better schools for their kids.

I am not sure why I am stuck on the thought of all of this. How anorexic the stray cats looked compared to our literal fat cats. How the staff must have been fascinated and miffed by the resources we dedicated to them.

One day, our cook was finally able to say out loud what he must have been thinking for months….

Francis: Ma’am, why do you feed the outside cats such expensive food
Me: They look so hungry
Francis: They will eat your leftover rice
Me: I guess that never occurred to me. Let’s try it.
Francis: Duh.

We did try it. And those cats had grown too accustomed to the the tastiness of the meat flavored cat food. They merely picked at the rice.

Francis was not about to be outsmarted by a street cat. He started adding leftover gravy to the rice. They were happy once again.

One of the things that struck me was that those stray cats never got any fatter. They knew what “full” meant and never seemed to gorge themselves.

I guess that is what was hardest about helping others in India. It was easy to feel taken advantage of. To feel like generosity was expected. Those cats came and took only what they needed and left the rest for the next cat who might pass by.

But now that I am once again an ocean away from the struggles of so many, I am left to wonder why I didn’t do more. How I might better define the lines of graciousness that I was willing to tiptoe around but never fully cross over. I am not sure there is an answer but I am sure I will always question why those of us with too much (including myself) aren’t more generous to those with much too little.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. lalita permalink
    August 4, 2011 12:31 am

    i love the way you write! keep up the good work!

  2. Girlsmom permalink
    July 29, 2011 2:50 pm

    Hmmm. The first thoughts that come to my mind here is why we volunteer to help others When it is to help them help themselves. Tutoring an underprivileged student, or raising money for the pta. I think these thoughts are ultimately where our welfare system came from. Unfortunately this help is no longer coming from our hearts so we don’t get to appreciate the giving. And somehow the recipients see it as an entitlement. Love to discuss this further over a glass of wine.

  3. July 29, 2011 9:41 am

    very nicely written post. But being from India, couple of things surprised me!
    My granny had 5 cats at home 😉 I have never heard people think of cat as evil:) We have Cats as pets and many stray cats come home and people feed it. Of course people do not buy cat foods but give them fish/chicken whichever we cook at home . In India, you get the fresh fish/chicken , not the frozen ones. So, cats usually feast on them.:) About the appearance of the cat, since they are not fed anything to grow them or make their hair furry, they look their natural self.
    I see lot of generalization in your articles from your experience in India, when I read them, I feel may be the locality you stayed in/places visited had such an impact on you. I am not saying these things are not there in India, but not completely agree with generalization of it to entire country. I think it is like staying in a area which is filled with criminals/abusive and commenting that entire US is like that.
    However, it is very nice to know your point of view on thing.

    • July 30, 2011 2:07 pm

      Hi Prathima

      I know you are a writer too so you can appreciate how written words can come across differently depending who is reading them. I don’t mean to generalize – and I am sad it comes across that way – I actually hope to share my specific experiences and my sometimes unique reactions and how they impact me. And please know I did not mean to imply that Indians think cats are evil – just that many Indians had told me that they see them as bad luck – two very different things. Heck, many Americans aren’t so fond of the felines either. I just meant to point out that the most of the people who saw cats in our home didn’t completely appreciate/understand why they are so important to us.

      India was an amazing experience from a number of standpoints – but it didn’t have to be India that made me see the world differently – it could have been anywhere out of my comfort zone. India just gave me the opportunity to see a world that is upside from everything I knew – that doesn’t mean that India is wrong in any way at all – just that it is very very different. And I feel extremely blessed to have not just visited India, but to have lived there.

      Thanks for following along!

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