Baby Loaf. The story of the cat formerly known as Maharani.

The windows of hope



Note: I must start at the beginning by saying thanks to Gia and Erika Badami and Zai, Inzia and Iffat Jivan, our neighbours who looked after Baby Loaf along with us at the start and gave us to courage to make him our own. And to all my readers who have written in over the months wishing us well and giving me loads of advice and encouragement. I could not have done this without all of you. AND Kainaz who gave me the most wonderful gift ever by so lovingly welcoming him to our house. To both our mothers who have not freaked about this. 

"It was the drawing room window and the view looking onto the gulmohar trees outside that had attracted me to our apartment when the broker showed it to us for the first time. This view made sure that I did not rest till we made this apartment our own. It was literally love at first sight. As it was with you.

We have spent a couple of years in it since then. I have discovered that there are squirrels that frolic in the trees outside our drawing room. They greet me every morning when I get up and stand by the window to sip on a cup of warm water. Now you often join me and have a sip from your water bowl when I do this. Not that I had ever asked you to. Many in body, one in mind as the saying goes. We have more things in common. We both love our sense of space. Our naps. We both love to nap on our bellies. We are picky about what we eat. You love crunchy dry cat food. I, Mukhorochak jhal papdi or any crunchy namkeen. We do not let anything come in the way when we want to eat.


We both love to look out of our windows.




I discovered many lovely things about the other windows in our house too once we moved in. I found peace in the windows that I look on to from my writing desk. It is kept in my study that doubles up as our guest room and the mothers’ (grandmamas’ now thanks to you) room. There is a gulmohar tree to greet me when I look out of this window as well.  It feels as if the crows sitting on its mighty branches want to brainstorm with me when I sit to write.




Our bedroom windows look onto old Bandra houses. Houses with courtyards. Courtyards which have Crosses and benches, where little children gather with their grandparents in the evening to play. When I look up from these windows, I see the blue skies and birds soaring up there. This cheers me up if I happen to be unwell or am in pain and am resting in the bedroom alone.  Looking out of these windows when I wake up from my afternoon nap fills me with a sense of serenity which is so different from the sense of ennui that I would feel earlier at dusk.





When we had first moved in, I thought that the kitchen would be one room which would always be dark. There had been some construction above the window when new floors had been built which blocks the light there. Then I began making breakfasts and lunches in the kitchen and discovered that the window offers lovely ambient lights to take food pictures. The trees outside the kitchen window centre me when I cook. At times, I get  Alexa to play western classical music or some classic rock when I cook. That is the Bengali in me.




As it is clear by now, I love the windows of our house. I love the way they connect me with nature and the world outside. I love how snug they make me feel. How they open my mind.


Then the day came when we netted our windows. 


Pigeon nets, to make sure that you did not fall out and hurt yourself when you went to the windows. All our unhindered views were gone. Our world view had become chequered.



I saw you sleep on your mom's (K, my wife and now a bona fide cat mom) quilt on the bed the evening we got the windows netted. Curled tightly. Holding your legs with your hands. Eyes tightly shut. You looked so vulnerable. 


Any doubts that I had about putting the nets over the windows I so loved, were washed away at that moment. I realised that I would do anything to protect you, for we were lucky to be chosen by you.




My dialogues with Baby Loaf


I often talk to Baby Loaf and what you read is an example of that.

Who is Baby Loaf? He is the cat/ kitten formerly known as Maharani. 

If you still do not know what I am talking about, then I guess that you do not follow me on my social media channels. My Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds since mid-November have been all about him after all.




The funny thing is that, while I love animals, I was not really fond of cats before this. K herself was wary of all animals/ pets. She told me that she had once thought of getting me a puppy to cheer me up when I was in a low phase in life. This was at the start of my journey of my trying to be a food writer. 

Neither of us was too convinced about whether we could take on the responsibility though. We do not have kids and have spent our life together in a fairly laissez faire manner. Unlike my brother and sister in law with our little niece - staying up for midnight feeds, going through toilet training, waking up early for school/ play school, doctor visits, vaccine booster planning, holiday planning, etc - were never a part of our life. 

So, how did we become pet parents suddenly? That too, of a cat?





Let me write a letter to my niece here, which I have not done in a while. She loves our Baby Loaf and does video calls with him. You can read it too and get to know our story.

Things to keep in mind dear reader: Jethu means father's elder brother in Bengali. An affectionate term for jyathamoshai. Jethi is his wife. Short for jethima. Pet owners refer to themselves as mummy and daddy when it comes to the pet.




Dear Kimu,

If you were to ask jethi, then she would tell you that the story of Baby Loaf began one evening in November 2019. Possibly the 11th or 12th as the first Instagram picture that I have of him is on 13th November.


The early days. 


I had apparently come home that evening and told her, "there was a cat outside the lift on the ground floor. It came up to me and started nuzzling my feet. I told the cat, "listen I am not a cat person," but it didn't stop.

When I say 'nuzzling,' what I meant was that he rubbed his cheek against my legs. I later learnt from cat parents on Instagram and through articles on the internet that rubbing their cheek against something or someone, is how cats mark their territory. How they stake their claim. Tell the world that you are their's.

That was the day, Baby Loaf had claimed your jethu as his daddy.




 I spotted Baby Loaf at our lobby quite a few times over the next few days. He would come and nuzzle my feet the moment I walked in. As if he was waiting for me. He would walk up a few steps up with me at times. 

One day I tentatively patted him. Now, the thing about your jethu is that, like your dadu (my father and her grandfather), he loves dogs. I pat and pet and cuddle dogs whenever I see them. I have done so with the deer at the Nara Park outside of Kyota too. I do not remember having patted a cat before this. Which is why I was a bit tentative about it. The moment I patted him, Baby Loaf rubbed his cheek against me again. It felt like heaven. I came home and excitedly told your jethi what had happened.




I then realised that a little terrace outside the second-floor landing was where he stayed. One of our neighbour's had put a small toy house for him with her mother's expensive scarf (according to her mom :) as a rug and he would settle there and made it his house.

I would take the lift to the second floor and then come down to the landing to meet him. Then take the lift and go home. One day I decided to stop that and walk up all the way. From someone who would take the lift even to the first floor like Poh in Kung Fu Panda, I became someone who climbed all the way home like the Tigress in the movie.

Then I began to sit on the steps and chat with Baby Loaf about my day and he would nuzzle my thighs with his cheek. I do not sit on the floor otherwise because of my back-pain worries, but I never gave this a second thought when I sat with him.

Baby Loaf has come into your life to make you stronger, fitter and to fix your back, concluded your jethi. 




This is when I began to refer to Baby Loaf as Maharani. I thought he was a girl. Let us not get into why.

He was so elegant in his demeanour. His fur was almost snow white and he reminded me of the Maharani Gayatri Devi in her later years and I began to refer to him as Maharani on social media. 

I spent a fair bit of time at the landing playing with him. I saw that there would be plates of cat food left by our neighbours for him. They have cats in both their houses and were looking after him but could not take him in though they wanted to, as they both had a full house.

A few days later I struck me that I should not be a friend with no food benefits. I walked to the newly opened store near our house and bought a pack of cat food. I came back and walked up the steps with it. Saw Baby Loaf and told him to wait. I went up to our apartment and then came back with a scissor, the bag of pet food and a plastic delivery box lid. I cut open the pack of dry food. I put some of the food (which looked like colourful pebbled) on a plate and Baby Loaf began chomping on it. He made a hard crunching sound while eating though and I wondered if this was right.

I called my friend Bonnie, who has a few cats of her own too, starting with one they call Meowjit.

"Hi Bonnie," I said from the steps. "I just bought some cat food and it seems really hard. Should I cook it? Or soak it in water first?"

She assured me that it was fine the way it was and that I need not do anything and over the days that followed gave me lots of advice on how to deal with Baby Loaf. Her golden words to me were:

It's good that it is independent. You should never take in a pet till you are sure about it. It is worse to take in a pet and then abandon it just because you could not handle it or changed your mind.

Inside outside cat


It is a good sign if a cat flops in front of you and shows his belly.


'Why don't you take Maharani in,, said one of our neighbours who was looking after him as did some on social media. 

I was not mentally ready for this. Plus, Jethi is not comfortable with pets. I thought it was best this way, with all of us looking after him, and I was happy to be the lead parent.

Baby Loaf began to follow me up and would try to enter the house when I went home. I would stall but he darted in one evening. I quickly went in and pulled him up and out. "Kainaz won't like it," I said.


Slow blinks by a cat are called 'kitty kisses.' Their way of saying I love you.


Then he slipped in home one afternoon. This time I let him stay for a bit before letting him go out. He soon began to drop in often. First when only I was there at home. Then even when jethi was there. 


Our first selfie. He is such a poser.


Once I was at a restaurant and about to have dinner when jethi put me on video call to show that he had come in. 

"What do I do next," she said. This was the first time the two were alone in the house together. They managed rather well!

The frequency of his daily visits to our apartment increased. He would come in and nap till late at night. I would then open the bag of food to wake him and take him down. It broke my heart but I was not ready to keep him home yet. I felt that he was safe in his little home at our landing.




Then he slept over one night at our place. Then another. And another. Going out in the morning. Jethi would see us play and smile, but not touch him as she was scared. Once I had gone on a work trip and Jethi said Baby Loaf came in, walked around. Went to my study. And the bedroom. Saw I wasn't there and then left.


On my desk when I was out of town. They love familiar scents.


Thus, began Baby Loaf's life as an 'inside outside' cat. During which I took him for his first vaccines. Assisted by one of our young neighbours, after we popped him into a basket. 'Maharani' is how we registered him at the vet’s.

Homecoming


The next chapter of this story was written on 6th February. Your father's birthday and the day before mine.

I was about to leave for Pune to spend the day and Jethi was going to join me there from Goa. Baby Loaf had stayed the night with me. I put him outside the door before I was going to leave. I had left food for him and informed his other cat parents downstairs about our overnight trip.

I was in the shower getting ready to leave, when the phone rang. It was one from Team Baby Loaf, calling saying that Baby Loaf had been sprayed with Hit insecticide by people in the building who were objecting to his being there!


His first night after he moved in for good

Yes, as you grow older, you will realise that we humans are not the nicest of species around. The good thing though, is that young folks like you can change it. It was two young girls after all who took Baby Loaf to the vet where he was given saline to flush out any poison that he might have ingested. This was after another neighbour had taken him home first and wiped him with a cloth, but when we called the vet she said that we needed to wash him as cats lick themselves to clean up and would ingest the poison. I took him home and gave him a bath with a mug of water and the jet spray first (it wasn't easy) and settled him in before I left for Pune. Your jethi was boarding the plane from Goa when she heard what happened.

Turning poison into medicine





"We will buy a litter box the moment we return and we will keep him at home from now," she said. That's what we did with our neighbours downstairs looking after him for the two nights we were away, and that is how Baby Loaf's homecoming happened.

The moment we returned, I went out and bought a litter box and litter, and his own food plate and water bowl. This was the end to plastic (takeaway boxes) in his life.


Baby Loaf looks bemused as I laid out the food kindly sent by the ITC Hotels for my birthday. Coincidentally, this was the day he moved into our place and made it for quite the festive dinner


As each day passed, he began to explore more of the home and found spots to snuggle in. There were times each day though when he meowed to go out, and that broke our hearts. I wish we could tell him that we love him and that this is for his safety. That the world outside is not as innocent as we would have liked it to be. That we need to be alert at all times.




Gender reveal party


"Make a clean break," said Dr Nicole at Happy Tails when I took him to her for his second vaccine and asked if I should let him out occasionally. "It is better for him if he stays inside as he will be safe that way," she said.

She would know. She is after all the one who took one look at him when I brought him in and said, "he is a boy and not a girl. Mulga, mulgi nehin."

"What do you want to call him," she asked me while I sat looking shocked on the sofa.


Cat Loaf


"Baby Loaf," I said. The name jethi had given her when I had told her that the pose that he looks to sit in is called cat loaf.

How did the doctor know that Maharani was a boy? Ask your jethi. Or your parents.


The day we found out that Maharani is a he and became our Baby Loaf


It has been more a month and a half since Baby Loaf has been with us. He sleeps during the day. Comes to say hi occasionally when I am working at my desk. As he did while I was writing this.





He wakes up after midnight. We do not always allow him in the bedroom as he climbs on us and jethi cannot sleep. When awake, she loves to pat him and he comes and rests his head on her lap. You would never have guessed that she was once scared of pets. Boy cats are more affectionate said Dr Nicole and if you ever thought that cats prefer to stay aloof (as I once thought), Baby Loaf would prove you wrong.




I step out of the bedroom at around 6 am every day and give him his first breakfast. Then I go back to sleep and we we open the door when either of us wakes up and gives him his second breakfast.

He then gets on the bed and nuzzles my feet to reiterate his 'claim, on me. He then puts his head on jethi's lap, for she is his mummy, and that is how our days begin now. Life is beautiful, is what I tell myself when this happens. 



Here's hoping that you can come over and meet your little brother soon. He is waiting for you.

Love,

Jethu

Comments

Noorjahan Momin said…
Awwww... This is such a cute post Kalyan Da... While reading it I realised that it all started in Nov 2019 whereas I felt that it has been real long since BabyLoaf has been a part of our lives. He is adorable. And it is amusing to see you as a Cat-Parent ������
Unknown said…
Such a lovely post Kalyan, really enjoyed reading it. Almost makes me want to have a pet. Almost..as I'm not mentally prepared for it yet, getting there.. ;)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@noorjahana momin: thank you so much. Yes, seems like he has been a part of our lives forever. I am more bemused than amused :)
@unknown than you :) when it has to happen, it will happen :)