The day we came to stay in our new house, Kalindi received us. She was on the steps. Two friendly, green eyes gazed at us. “What a beautiful black cat”! said my younger sister, Meeta.
I almost rushed and picked up the soft, tiny creature and said, “Let us call her Kalindi. This is our cat, a present, a prize.”
Kalindi: Anjali R. Soparkar
Kalindi did prove to be one and in no time was a celebrity. She had her own discipline and yet a way of endearing herself. In the afternoon when Meeta and I returned from school, Kalindi would be at the gate. Arching her back, she would lift her black, furry face and greet us with those green, smiling eyes. When my mother served us our meals, Kalindi would perch on a stool and watch us. She was never greedy, never in a hurry to have her meals. My mother, however, would hasten to place Kalindi’s bowl of milk and rice on the floor. She would gracefully get down the stool, glance at my mother, at both of us and then bury her face in the bowl till she licked it dean.
“Ma, she thanks you,” Meeta would say. My mother would smile.
“Kalindi understands everything,” I used to tell my mother very often. In fact, I was convinced that Kalindi understood. Otherwise how could she sit quietly by our side when we were doing homework. She did not mew then, nor she did play. But in the evenings and on holidays, when we were in the frontyard, she made us run around, hiding behind the bushes and playing with the ball, her black, bushy tail up in the air. She was so playful! It was great fun to have her. Gradually even our parents started caring for her and loving her. Our friends too liked her.
In the evenings when my father returned from work, if Kalindi was not around, he would ask, “Where is Kalindi?” And there she would be at his feet. Meeta and I were always ready with some story about Kalindi.
The other day, I was standing on the sidewalk in front of our house, about to cross the road, when Kalindi stopped me by coming in front of me and getting in between my legs. I bent down and looked at her. A speeding motorcycle passed by. I lifted Kalindi in my arms and ran into the house to tell my mother how Kalindi had saved me.
My mother said, “Samir, watch Kalindi when she crosses the road. She will pause on the sidewalk; look right and left and then cross.”
“Oh, Ma! Our Kalindi is so intelligent. She is just wonderful.”
Believe me, she was wonderful. One Sunday afternoon, Meeta and I got into an argument. This turned into a quarrel and then a fight. She had taken away my pencil and my eraser. I was furious. I pulled her arm forcefully and raised my hand to hit her. That was when Kalindi jumped on me, mewing loudly. When I lowered my hand, she gently licked it, looking at Meeta. She ran from me to Meeta and back to me. I read Kalindi’s message – I now understand her language – she is your younger sister. Be kind to her. Tears ran down our cheeks. I picked up Kalindi and hugged her. Meeta also held her close and said, “No, no, Kalindi, we will not fight, at least not in this way.”
Very often I used to wonder why we loved Kalindi so much; how was her world, her cat-world? I would find my own answers. It was because Kalindi loved us so much. Her world was our world, a common world; a world of love and friendship.
Then we began our vacation. We were eagerly looking forward to our grandmother’s stay with us in our new house. My granny was a very sweet person. She knew exactly what we all liked to eat. She was a competent lady and could cook so well. At night she would tell us stories, till we fell asleep. Her visit was an occasion for us. She was gentle but firm.
So granny came with plenty of toys, books and sweets. “Oh, thank you, thank you, granny. We have something for you.” I ran to the backyard and rushed back to granny with Kalindi in my arms. I put her on the floor. Granny looked at her. “She is our Kalindi, our friend. Isn’t she a beauty? Isn’t she cute?” I said.
Granny stared at us intently. “A black cat?” she said.
My heart sank! Did granny not like Kalindi? Meeta could also sense it. She and I hastened to tell granny in so many words how wonderful Kalindi was, how she loved us all, how we loved her. But granny was not impressed by our talk. Kalindi, on her part, mewed softly. “She greets you, granny. She welcomes you. She loves you! This is her language.”
Still granny was quiet, with a question in her eyes. She asked, “Does this cat belong to this house?”
“Oh, granny! This house belongs to her. She was already here when we came. We all belong to her,” I said.
Granny’s look became sharp. She said, “A black cat is not a good thing to see in the morning.”
I felt increasingly worried. I lifted Kalindi and ran to the backyard. Meeta followed me. We both sat down under the big mango tree, cuddled-Kalindi and said, “Granny is very good, Kalindi. She does not mean all that. Please, please teach her to love you.”
The sunny days of the vacation started. But for Meeta and me the sunshine had almost gone. It was as if we were under a cloud. We made plans, behaved well and tried to please granny in every possible manner. Our only object was that she should accept Kalindi. Our parents also had realized that granny had not taken kindly to Kalindi.
Poor Kalindi! She also understood. When granny removed Kalindi’s mat, stool and bowl to a distant corner of the back verandah, there was no protest, no disobeying. Wherever granny raised her voice, Kalindi would step back and retire to her corner. When we sat with granny and listened to her stories, Kalindi would be nowhere near. When we were playing in the frontyard, we would call her, “Come, Kalindi, granny has gone to the temple.” She would join our game but as soon as she heard granny’s footsteps, she would retire. That was our Kalindi! She tried her best not to give any offence to granny.
After her bath, granny would sit in the puja (prayer) room. Before going in, she would say in a stern voice, “Bahu (daughter-in-law), see that Kalindi does not come in here. Put her out.” But Kalindi was already out of the house.
“She respects you so much, granny. She does not disturb you in any way,” Meeta would say.
“Granny, she is like our Keshar, the calf,” I would add. In our hometown, in granny’s house, there were cows and calves. Keshar was granny’s favourite. Keshar was also black.
Granny was not convinced. She would take her rosary in hand, turn her face away and close her eyes.
We did not know what to do. We loved granny. She was so good to us. She told us many stories of how black cats were no good. But Kalindi was good. Not only good, she was wonderful. She was special to us. We loved her. She never complained about the change. Those quiet, green eyes, still gazed at us with tenderness. They never revealed to us what her inner feelings were. But Kalindi, we knew!
Granny avoided Kalindi. More so early in the morning. Since granny got up very early in the morning, Kalindi would be shoved off to the small half-built coal-room in the backyard for the night.
Not that granny was unreasonable. She knew how dearly we loved Kalindi. “I just do not want to see that black cat early in the morning, before I do my puja.” Therefore she took every precaution. We learnt from our parents that when she got up in the morning, granny placed a palm on her eyes, slowly walked to the bathroom and back, entered the puja room and only after prostrating before the deity, did she open her eyes.
Then came my birthday. Granny was very happy. It also happened to be New Year’s day as per the Hindu calendar. The previous day she made elaborate arrangements. Sweets were prepared. Colorful flowers were ready. Granny made beautiful strings of jasmine buds.
In the evening, granny called me. “What do you want, my dear, for a present?”
I just looked at her, wordlessly. Neither Meeta nor I felt enthusiastic about the coming day. We were down in spirits. Our friends would come. Would Kalindi be allowed to be with us?
I just said, “Oh, nothing in particular,” and extricated myself from her hold.
Before we went to bed that night, granny came specially to me and said, “I will wake you up and we will have the New Year’s puja.”
Next morning, granny did wake me up. I opened my eyes but I could not trust them! There, in the doorway, stood granny, with Kalindi in her arms!
I rubbed my eyes and called out for Meeta, mother, father. This was no dream. Granny was lovingly caressing Kalindi! I did not want to wipe my tears. I clasped granny and asked, “What is it?”
“Nothing, just nothing: I will tell you later. Or your mother will tell you. Are you happy, my dear?” she asked.
Do you know how this happened? My mother told me. The night before my birthday it rained heavily. After granny saw that Kalindi was locked out of the house, safely, she retired for the night. It started raining. She woke up remembering her flower basket and jasmine strings. Obviously the buds and flowers needed fresh air. She went to the puja room, opened the ventilator and returned to bed.
In the morning, with her usual precaution she started her day. With a palm on her eyes, she went to the puja room, prostrated before the deity and then opened her eyes. Lo and behold! Right in front of the deity, lay Kalindi, quietly dozing. She had not disturbed any arrangement; she had not touched the sweets in the tins. Everything was in its place. My granny had prostrated before Kalindi in the dark, on that New Year morning.
Granny waited for a while. She looked at Kalindi sitting majestically in front, lifted her and called out for my mother, “Bahu,” she said, “Kalindi is my birthday gift to Samir. The rain made her come inside.”