Warmth of wintry bed
Is of warm promises made
‘I do’ when we said.
Four years back said ‘yes’
To wear the wedding dress
Just like a princess
Lights flashed as we decided
To stay together.
Now four years later,
When I see you so near,
O! It is clear
There is no place here
On earth I would want to be
Without you by me.
In every step of our lives, we say goodbye to our friends and families at one time or another. ‘Goodbye’ is a word that inevitably follows a ‘Hi’. We say hello to so many people from the time we take our first breath and then we say goodbye to them knowingly or unknowingly as we gradually take our steps into the future. We hold human relations and the humans who are part of those relations close to our hearts. Friends, grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and all those who cannot be categorized are always hard to say goodbye to. In the midst of all these, little do we realize that we say goodbye to many more elements that go unheard or unseen and almost always are never thanked.
The first bench in our first class, the playground of nursery school, the innocence of childhood, the stairs of high school, the dear books and clothes we part with to make space for new ones, the warm bed in our parents’ house when we leave home for the first time, the first mobile phone, the first car, a destination we return from after a long vacation, the festivities when they end, every loved moment with our first pet are just some of those elements that pass by unnoticed. When I left north India in the beginning of this year, left Gurgaon – a city I almost despised – I did not know that saying goodbye even to a place you never liked can hurt and remain somewhere deep inside. A few days back, I realized that a city is not just a place; it is all about the elements it comprises. So, in my case, it is the apartment with the large terrace, the innumerable sunsets, my voiceless friends like the pigeon and the stray dogs, the park across the street, my long reading sessions, the taste of warm food in chilly winter nights, the sound of guitar that echoed through the rooms that I miss today the most about Gurgaon. I have said goodbye to them and can never return again.
I went back a little further in time and I felt I said goodbye to so much more: I said ‘bye’ to my favorite festival – Durga Puja, one month ago. I had to say goodbye helplessly to my kitty Sandy, when I put her in grave three years ago. I had said goodbye to my favorite Indian destination, Kerala, four years ago, after a long vacation. I had said goodbye to my first job during recession five years ago. I had said goodbye to the fields and trees and the long balcony of my college 9 years ago. I had said goodbye to my school church and the beautiful sound of its piano 12 years ago. And I have said goodbye to so many things and elements and seasons in between without saying thank you.
I realize now, that I say goodbye to every breath, every time I breathe and with it I say goodbye to a part of my life. I know now that I will not let anything that touches me, pass by, without saying thank you before saying goodbye. I believe every non-human has feelings and if it has made a difference to my life, it has helped me live through another day. A thank you or a goodbye can never be meant for humans alone. These two words are for everything that makes us what we are today – living or non-living, tangible or intangible and very thing in between, that help us live through each day and give us memories to live with, tomorrow.
On the afternoon of 21st June 2011 I was returning home from my parents’ place knowing that I will not be back for a few weeks now. The drizzle had stopped and I decided to walk home from the main road and I love this walk as this time of the day is usually very peaceful with most people preferring to stay indoors. As I turned round the corner, to my bewilderment I saw a tiny kitten, drenched and shivering and meowing in a small voice – trying frantically to get attention from passersby. But alas! no one cared. My eyes met his, and then in a split second, the poor creature was at my feet, rubbing and meowing and stretching. It was … so very lovely. His grey-black coat was wet and he was shivering from the cold. I didn’t know what to do but something from deep inside asked me to pick him up and there he was, in my arms kneading my palms, reaching for my face as if he has found a long-lost friend, as if he was waiting for me, as if he knew I would pass this way… as if we were destined to meet.
I knew I would face a tough challenge trying to convince everyone at home to keep him…I knew there would be objections but I did not think twice and holding the sweet little bundle in my arms, headed for home. I sneaked into my room, hoping my in-laws would not see the kitten. I offered him some milk. He was terribly hungry and drank most of what was offered to him.. but perhaps due to starvation and dehydration, his tummy soon started giving trouble. I had to take a decision, now that I knew the kitty was unwell. I spoke to my in-laws but they refused to keep him as they did not want to keep another pet after the death of their beloved German Shepherd.
I could not give the kitty away or leave it on the road knowing so well that he needed me and he was only a month old perhaps and an attachment was already forming between us… I could not let him go!!!! I was in tears as a decision was needed to be made urgently and no one would help. I knew the only way to save his life was to give him to a shelter perhaps but it was already quite late in the evening and none of the shelters would answer calls. So I had to keep the kitty for a night or two until I could find a permanent shelter for him, but how could I keep him?
Making a call to my mom seemed to be the last option and I pinned all my hopes on this. My loving Sandy, my pet cat of 5 years, had passed away last December due to some unknown reason and this had left my entire family emotionally shattered. We had decided that there would be none other to replace her… there will never be any one as beautiful, as loving, as warm, as understanding as Sandy. I was worried that my mom may just say “NO” about keeping this little kitty… even for a day. But somehow, when I told her the details and explained the urgency of the situation, she agreed to keep him for two days. I was overjoyed and soon got a shoe box and after making holes in them, put the little baby inside. I went out immediately and took a cab to my parents’ place.
That entire night and the whole of the next day, the kitten didn’t sleep for a moment as he was too frightened. I sat up whole night; giving him medicines for his troubled tummy and holding him close to keep him warm. He kneaded on my skin and nibbled my ear lobes all the time … perhaps he thought I was his mother! O! How wonderful it was to hold him, to feel his warmth and to know that his shivering has stopped. He was happy to be here, to be with me and my parents.
For the next three days, I tried to contact every friend and shelter manager but luck never favored as everyone refused to take him. Looking at the situation and for the love they felt toward him, my parents eventually decided to keep him. Now, he has got a loving home and very caring parents… he loves my mom’s lap and all the food given to him… he is now a part of my family, a part of me. He enjoys each day as it comes… he is growing up to be extremely playful and affectionate!!! We have named him “REX” but “KUTTU” is what we call him at home as he is so very cute!!!
I don’t think there is anything in the world as satisfying as giving a homeless a home, someone hungry some food and most importantly, someone unloved, the love that is craved for.
So what change have you made to the world, in your own way? Would love to hear your story.
A little more than a year ago, I had to leave my hometown for starting an independent life. My husband had to relocate to the Millennium city of India, popularly known as Gurgaon, for his work and I had to make a choice between: (A) going away from my family members as well as a stable life; and (B) staying away from my husband and letting him pursue his career in a new city, all by himself. The decision was tough to make. But when I had married, I had taken another decision – of being with my husband and never to leave him. I have always believed that marriage is more about “togetherness” than “stay-apart-ness”. The decision suddenly became easier and I packed our bags and all our memories and bid a teary “good-bye” to my dear old Kolkata.
The western world perhaps can never fathom the feeling of staying with one’s parents for almost 29 years and suddenly leaving them behind, unattended, lonely and sad. But in India, the scenario is quite different. Most of us not only stay with our parents for all those years before marriage but also, with the in-laws after marriage (this is mainly true for women). Leaving all the pampering and love behind and taking the first steps toward the unknown is not an easy task and so, it was not easy for me too.
Gurgaon winter was bad, when we finally arrived – cold and chilly and dry – everything that I detested. Filling an empty house with warmth is what we decided to achieve first. But my husband would go away for work, and I would be all alone – no one to talk to or share smiles with, no one to have lunch with and no one to give company but the emptiness of the rooms, the warm sun in the sky, the chirping of birds and the greens of trees nearby.
Gradually I began to rediscover my relationship with my husband, now that only two of us were together. Cooking, cleaning, washing and watching loads of movies – I found the new side of my husband – a true friend who would help me in the kitchen, in buying groceries and even drying out clothes. Very few Indian men would do what my husband has done, and there were days when I felt a great sense of gratitude toward him for being by my side.
Winter went by and a new season made our lives miserable: the unbearable Gurgaon summer. Skin burns, burning water, burning room, burning air – the world seemed to be on fire. My days at my new work place eased out difficulties but the city seemed to be asking for life’s blood. The scorching heat gave way to flooded streets during monsoon and the city seemed to be afloat perpetually. I longed to get back home to the monsoons of Kolkata – the misty mushy smells that emanated from the wet soil had been a part of all my growing years.
The monsoons and heat seemed to linger for eternity. The discomfort was accompanied by fears of the hungry monsters lurking around the dark corners waiting for the first evil strike. And then, suddenly the tide changed for the better. I got the news of the possibility of our return back to our hometown. Today, the possibility has changed into a reality. My home beckons me with love as I await to paint myself, yet once again, in the color of its warmth.
It was a humid monsoon afternoon in June in Kolkata six and a half years ago. The drizzle was warm but soothing and something positive was in the air. A week was still to go before my birthday and I wasn’t anticipating the happenings of the day, which was going to be the most memorable day of my life.
After my class got over, my friend asked me if I would like to visit an acquaintance, whose health was not particularly well. I thought over the matter and finally decided on the positive. The drizzle had stopped briefly and we took a local bus to our destination. As we got off and walked through the labyrinth of narrow lanes that constitutes this area in central Kolkata, I saw numerous kittens and puppies playing happily. The little faces glowing with cheerfulness. I wanted to pick one up and cuddle it (as I usually do) but we were running late. We reached Edwina’s place in another fifteen minutes. At the gate, we were greeted by a sleeping little kitten – the fur was golden, not very fat and seemed to be dreaming of rats. “So cute!!” was what I said when I saw it. As this was my first visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see a team of cats in the house – on the table, under the chair, on the cupboard, sleeping on the television, a few on the bed and underneath too! It was a real treat for a cat lover like me.
After having inquired after Edwina’s health, we were ready to leave. Suddenly someone tapped on my shoulder. It was Edwina’s sister, Flory, who had by then, placed an orange colored basket beside me. I looked at my friend in bewilderment and then at the basket. Inside I saw the same little golden kitten I had seen at the gate. It looked at me with wide brown eyes. I was in loss for words and on looking at my friend again, I was told that the kitten was my birthday gift!! I couldn’t believe my birthday gift could be so beautiful – a kitten named ‘Sandy’.
Perhaps she was unhappy that day, having to leave her birthplace and home – I will never know. But I was happy – incredibly happy. She was my first pet. Although, I had longed to keep a cat in the house, ever since I was little, my wish was granted only after all these years. It was a blessing brought to me by the little drizzle drops from the heavens above. I had always been so lonely, being the only child of parents- with no siblings to play or quarrel with or no pets to hold close. My loneliness found a way out and in came a feeling so joyous, brought by my little Sandy.
She cried and cried and cried all the way to my place. I didn’t know how to console her, didn’t know if she would ever like me. I bought some milk and hoped she was like it. Accompanying this feeling of happiness was a thought of the unexpected. I dreaded the reaction of my parents, as they never wanted a pet. “It is too much of a responsibility”, they would always say. At last, I reached home and showed my new gift to my parents, who were astounded. As I opened the basket, Sandy leaped over and ran to the balcony for her first poop in my house. My parents were angry at the unexpected turn of events, but still were amazed to see that Sandy was trained already for her toilet requirements!
We spent hours observing her as she spent her hours looking around, trying to get familiar with everything new. I knew she missed her home – “It would take time”, I told myself. She cried and meowed relentlessly and when I tried to cuddle her, she would jump off my lap. Perhaps she didn’t like me! That night I made a bed for her beside mine, but around mid-night, I could not find her anywhere. I was scared, very scared and wondered if I lost her or she has died. The next morning, I searched everywhere with a torchlight, and there she was – behind a cupboard – snoring!! What a cute sight that was! Wish I had my camera ready back then. She had little food that morning. Around afternoon, she started playing with everything small – paper balls, strings and bells – anything she could find. She explored the house and began climbing up to the bed, on cupboards and on the T.V. Then she would slip and fall and roll over and jump up again. We could not stop ourselves from laughing our hearts out, trying to keep up with all her mischievous ways. I could not help myself from adoring her – her tiny soft paws, her pink nose, her large brown eyes, the golden sand-colored coat, and the little white socks on her hind legs and the white triangle on her neck.
That night, as I sat on the bed combing my hair, she came close with a tiny soft “Meow” and climbed up on my lap for the first time – sitting and purring with her eyes half closed. I was truly, most happily surprised. She had accepted me – as her friend and companion. She gave me a new life away from my loneliness. Sandy came to me as a bundle of joy, taking a little step at a time into my deserted heart. Then she lay on my lap with her face toward me – her paw playing away with my curls and slowly dozing off in my arms wrapped with my love. Now, all the curls remain, paws that played with them are missed terribly in so many ways.
Time went by and she grew in size … she was my child and I was happy to see her grow. My lap was where she preferred to sleep – my lap it was that gave her peace in pain during all those terrible nights of illness. She looked at me with her ever wide eyes to know if I understood what she felt. She understood that I knew it all, the very moment she looked at me. For nights together, I would hold her close, to let her know that I loved her and needed her no matter what; to let her know I knew her pain and something cut inside of me every time she cried.
I saw my little Sandy growing up … from a toddler into a beautiful teenager. She had her fan following too. It was a scene right out of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Sandy would sit at the window, while beneath the window, on the terrace of our neighbor sat her beau – a fat white cat, who sat their all night singing sweet songs of love, admiring his beautiful lady. We were much like any conservative family and would never let our pretty princess step out of the house. We did now know that the wooing of her lover was too much for our beloved princess to resist. One early morning, when all were sleeping, my Sandy eloped by jumping off from the window of our flat on the fourth storey. We spent sleepless nights and agonized days searching everywhere for her. But we did not get any trace. After 10 long days, my dad spotted Sandy on a nearby road and when he called out for her, she ran to him, jumping onto his lap at once! How merciful God is, we all thought and thanked heavens for bring our Sandy back to us.
A few months went by and she looked healthier and prettier than ever before. One evening, as she sat on my lap while I stroked her, I noticed something strange. Something was moving inside her tummy!!! I was awestruck when I realized that my baby was pregnant with her babies!! I could not hold back my joy and declared it to the world. My friends told me they were eager to take the kittens once they were born. Sandy grew closer to us those days, never stepping out of the house, preferring to sleep on my lap. She was only 10 months old on 4th February 2007 when she gave birth to a litter of four kittens. I had missed witnessing the birth as I was on my way back from office. When I entered the house, the proud mother came out of the corner where she had just given birth and called out to me. I was amazed as I realized that she wanted me to go close to her and see her babies – we could read each other’s mind so well!! I did as she wanted me to and I saw them, little pink kittens too delicate to move. Sandy looked at me with love and extreme pride as I stroked her head and purred to her heart’s content as the babies fed.
My new job as a granny began as I, with my mom’s endless assistance, started to take care of the babies of my baby. They grew so fast and healthy – playing, rolling, screaming, loving, eating and sleeping. My world was centered on them and nothing else in the world mattered. This is when, we realized that Sandy will always get pregnant and our house was too small to keep more than one cat at a time. Her vet advised on neutering Sandy and one day in May, she was taken away to the hospital, while her kittens – Jelly Belly, Bitty Kitty, Popcorn and Bon Bon – were given away. It was one of the saddest of all the sad days that were yet to come.
Sandy stayed at the hospital for about 4 weeks, during which, she did not wish to meet any one of us. She was heartbroken – her trust in us was broken perhaps. She refused to eat well and only slept quietly and in sadness. She did not know, till then, that all her kittens were gone. When she was brought back, she looked scared, sad and lonely. Had she taken away my loneliness into her life? Perhaps, yes. She searched everywhere for her kittens. She cried for hours and refused to eat. For the first time, I was unable to read the hollow expressions of her eyes – she came to me and cried, she called me and took me to all the corners where she had lived with her babies. I was helpless and did not know how to console her in her time of utter agony. There was an untold madness about her as she began going out and staying outdoors for hours – sometimes for two to three nights at a stretch. I could not believe that we had done this to our baby but this was a point of no return.
Things started deteriorating from this time onward. Sandy would come home on certain nights bleeding from paws as her claws had got ripped off. The bloody and painful nights seemed endless. Suddenly she started losing weight alarmingly. She would cough and sneeze and get terrible breathing problems. The wheezing never stopped and I spent several nights giving medication and holding her close. She would look at me with those same hollow expressions – now with touch of profound sadness and pain. But despite it all, she never forgot to give me company during my bad times, heartbreaks and illness. She would sleep with her face close to mine when I cried; she let me hold her for hours almost taking in all the fears inside; she licked my cheeks when they were wet with tears. She was always the truest friend – knowing exactly what I felt, comforting through the gravest of times, when the world turned its back on me.
One night she could not breathe or eat or jump or walk. We rushed her to her vet the next morning. She was diagnosed with acute dehydration and the worst form of asthma along with a condition of the heart. He said, “Had you not brought her at this time, she would have died within 3 hours”. I was shocked to know that my baby’s condition was so serious. She had to be put on saline and numerous intravenous injections for a week, before she got up again. Her health made her unhappier and she stopped playing. She looked out of the window for hours and slept for most of the remaining time, although, she was as affectionate toward us as she always had been. We could not stop her from going out, and this made matters worse.
After a year and a half of the diagnosis, my wedding date was fixed and somehow, Sandy realized that I was going to leave her. She would stay close to me as she tried to convey something that I could not understand. I knew my parents would be able to take care of her. But, I had to leave her and this was something I could not evade. Then at last, the day was there and as I was being adorned with ornaments and my face was being painted with make-up, Sandy never left my side even for a moment. She looked and looked and looked at me, sometimes staring strangely. She could sense the importance of the day and it made her sad and aloof. The look in her eyes I shall never forget. When we left the house for the venue, she cried for a long time. But I could not turn back. I could not look at her. It was too painful a moment for any of us to bear.
From that day onward, for each day that went by, Sandy waited for me at the door – waited for me to pick her up and love her like I did. She looked terribly sad and extremely happy at once, every time I went home. She felt my absence every moment, and my mom used to say – “Sandy doesn’t go to your room any more. She stays with us all the time. It’s only when you come back does she go with you to the room to be able to be close with you”.
I prayed for her and health every day. On the Christmas Eve of 2010, I had decided to attend the mid-night mass with my husband. That evening, Sandy behaved strangely – she sat beside me all the time and meowed continuously. She kept looking into my eyes. Again, I failed to read those expressions. I got ready to leave for the Christmas Mass and then, suddenly, Sandy wouldn’t let me go. She stood at the door, pulling at my clothes, as if to drag me inside. She longed to stay in my lap. But unfortunately, I had to let her go, I had to put her down and leave. As I sat in the Church as the clock struck 0000 hours and the Reverend announced Christmas and wished us all, I prayed for my Sandy’s good health and long life and companionship with me.
Two days later, at 00.30 hours on 27th December 2010, when I was at my in-laws, my phone rang. It was my dad on the other side. All I heard him say was, “Sandy has left us forever”. I could not believe my ears then, I cannot believe those words now after two long years. I could not come to terms with the brutal fact that my best friend had left me at the age of five, without having me by her side; without letting me hold her one last time. Sandy went away leaving me forever in the deepest sadness and loneliness of all. The everneverness of this emptiness can never be filled by anyone ever.
As we drove to the cemetery the next morning, with me holding Sandy on my lap – her eyes no more wide with wonder, her paws motionless, her nose not so pink, her body no more soft – I could not help but feel guilty – utterly guilty for not having been able to do anything for her; for having left her to deal with her loneliness when I married; for not having understood her completely; for not being able to be the best friend that she always has been and forever will be even in her absence. The loneliness I feel now is the punishment I deserved for, perhaps, not loving her enough.
But I know she will be with me, in every breath I take, in every beat of my heart, in everything I do, at every turn and every step. Sandy will shine forever through all the darkest nights, and stay with me till the end of my time. I will wait every moment and all the lifetimes, for her to return, to come back to me – not as anything else, but only my ever sweet Sandy.