The most fantastic cat (animal series part 2)

The most fantastic cat

We had the most fantastic cat. I know you think your cat is fabulous. But really, it can’t be. Ours not only ate all but one of the rats, it sometimes brought a little tail or an ear as an offering for us. It had the most generous, giving heart.

She would wake me up on school mornings, by curling her warm body around my neck and make little purring noises in my ear. Then it did the same with my brothers and sister. A shower after that was necessary, because smelling like a street cat isn’t the best way to make friends. But cat smells aside, it was the loveliest way to start the day.

Then when we would come home, it would alternatively sit on our laps while we ate our meals or watched TV. It really enjoyed being cuddled when not hunting. It was hunting a lot though. For practice, it would sometimes sit on the top edge of the door, make a wild cat sound and pounce on any visitor that came through. Our neighbors thought our family was a bit cuckoo to be keeping this cat. She looked quite menacing with her black body and green eyes. Plus as indicated,  she pounced on them, any chance given.

Our cat kept getting fatter and fatter with each passing day. I started calling it ‘fat cat’. ( we had never really given it a name). One day fat cat wouldn’t stop meowing. She just wouldn’t. If we left it alone, it would drag her fat self towards us and nuzzle against one of our legs.She kept inviting us back to her resting spot in the store room. So finally we followed her there.

She lay down in her usual resting spot and kept looking our way to make sure we weren’t going to leave her alone. Then feeling safe and loved, fat cat gave birth to two adorable kittens.

She was the most fabulous cat that ever lived.

( The good part of the story ends here, the sad part continues. Stop here if you like happy endings, continue if you don’t mind a little bit of reality)


Once the kittens were born, she let us hold them immediately – placenta and all. As they grew to be a little older, she went in full training mode and started to teach them hunt. One of the kittens died quite suddenly one evening. The cat was inconsolable. We thought we would bury the kitten for her, to take the pain away.

She cried for days, looking for her dead kitten. Finally our gardener suggested that we dig up the dead kitten and let the cat say goodbye to her in her own cat way.

So we unburied it. The cat sat with her for the longest time. Then using her mouth, the cat picked her dead kitten up by its neck and left.

She never came back.

Her other baby kitten, less than a month old, was left behind to take care of us.


My experience with silence

Between July 7th and July 17th, I attended a meditation course in Hereford, UK. The technique being taught there is called Vipassana. Although I had heard of it before, my interest in going there had little to do with Buddhism or Vipassana as such. I just wanted to go some place silent. And this, the camp offered in abundance.

For a period of ten days, one had to take a vow of silence of body and speech i.e. no talking by words, eye contact, gestures etc, no reading, writing, Internet, TV, phone etc. I was so drawn to the idea of getting away to some place quiet that I honestly didn’t question what I would be doing if I weren’t talking..

The first day

I was a bit late in getting there and when I arrived the practice of noble silence had already begun. I was shown to my room quietly, when my roommate walked in. I opened my mouth but she made a quietening gesture.. so I shup up. I hadn’t realized that I would be sharing a room with a girl.I didn’t know her name or anything else about her. It DID feel strange, but in an amusing way.

Five minutes in to the course, I was already sitting the meditation hall in my assigned spot. I tried to copy the others with their folded legs and serious straight backs and tried hard not to make eye contact with the 130 others in the hall. Half or them women, the other men. The men and women areas were completely segregated except for the meditation hall ( where they sat on one side and the women on the other). I was quite nervous the first day and happy not to talk. We were given instructions on exactly where to focus our attentions while meditating and I did my best to concentrate on that..and waited for five pm. Five pm was dinner time, where new students could get a fruit. Even though that fruit would be the last meal of the day, I wasn’t waiting for the gong to ring because I was hungry, it was just that my back couldn’t take all that sitting on the the ground like that. I did have a cushion but still…


Over the course of the next five days, I settled into the routine. I was waking up at 0400, getting in to the meditation hall by 0430 ( which honestly, I only managed to do once) and then on it was just more meditation through out the day. There was a simple vegetarian breakfast at 0630 and a lunch at 1100, cooked by old student volunteers. The only voice we heard were from the teacher ‘Mr Goenka’ from Burma on tape, giving instructions during the day and explaining the philosophy behind Vipassana for an hour each evening. I was really getting in the discourses, it wasn’t so hard to ignore the others and my back was getting stronger. Hours and days were melting in to one.

I had read that the first few days are the hardest, so I was surprised to see that I was doing okay. There was a small forest area ( segregated of-course) with neat signs saying things like ‘ female course boundary ends here’. It made me smile and reminded me of my school in Abu Dhabi, which was the last place where boys and girls were segregated as such.

I don’t know if I can explain the mediation technique philosophy properly – but suffice to say, it did me good. It didn’t include any visualizations or mantras. It wasn’t Buddhist, but taught the meditation as per his teachings. It was a very simple method on how to observe the body and ignore the mind for 11 hours each day. (I do intend to write more on this later, when I find the words for it.)

There were things that I did find hard of-course. And I found them much harder as days went by. My mind which I was supposed to ignore, did not want to be ignored.There were thoughts there that were insane, stupid, silly, non sequential.. I wasn’t hungry, but I would think of a Deli Luca calzone in detail, and suddenly switch to mobile widgets, to the state of world refugees, to the itch on my foot, to where my next job would be and of-course I just couldn’t stop thinking about sex. 🙂

A few days in, the images in mind, which also I was supposed to ignore, were so sharp they were real. I made paintings in my head. I wrote songs. I also, am embarrassed to say, surfed in my head. I literally typed out URL’s and went on imaginary websites. I learnt my mind is really quite wasted. I spoke with others after the course was over and they had similar thoughts and sensations at different times. Those into music had constant tunes and songs playing in their heads at the strangest times.

However, the deeper I went into the meditation, the worse things got. Day seven onwards was hell.I am glad I did it. I wouldn’t want to be without the simple truths I learnt of myself during the meditation. But it was no longer easy to reign in my mind. It just felt as though it was attacking me from within. I also had severe chest pains. They would go away eventually when I would stop meditating or thinking about them. But they were there lurking below. I was also finding it hard to entertain myself in the five minute breaks. It rained constantly, so it wasn’t possible to walk in the forest the same way. I felt things should be getting easier.. yet here I was. The course was almost over, and instead of me finding lightness and joy, all I felt was pain and desperation and loneliness. Its only now, when the course is over, that I can appreciate what I learnt hiding underneath all of those surface feelings.

I learnt that I could withstand the bad stuff on my own with a calmness of mind and spirit quite unknown to myself.

Some other stuff

The banana story

So as I said above, we would all be able to get a fruit at five. There were apples, pears, oranges or bananas. Choosing which fruit I would have for dinner was one of most exciting moments of my day! I bet it was the same for others. So anyway, a few days in, I really wanted a banana. No more apples, oranges or pears. Just one decent looking banana. Like really!

Unfortunately there were fewer bananas and they would be the first to disappear. Every day I would wait in line for my turn. By the time I reached the fruit basket, they were gone. 😦

Then one day, my turn came and there WAS one last banana in front of me! I COULD take it. As I had been observing my body in meditation all day, I cold sense how much it wanted it. But then I looked at the long line of girls behind me, and I couldn’t help but think that if I wanted it so badly, someone else probably did as well. If I take this banana, someone else won’t get it.

It seems absurd now, but it was such a momentous decision. My mind was furious with myself, but I didn’t take it. I couldn’t. I didn’t see who did take it either. It was just one of those moments that was so trivial but I don’t think I will be forgetting it anytime soon:)

My roomie

I had a lovely roommate. As I had come late, and the silence had already begun, we didn’t get the chance to introduce ourselves. She was young, pretty, white, smiled even though she wasn’t supposed to smile at me, was the only well dressed person at the camp and had a jar of face cream with Russian letters at the night stand. That’s all I knew for the ten days. It was hard not to speak when we were alone, but really, we didn’t break the rules at all.

Of course I wondered who she was. I pictured her as a shy, meek, eastern European girl. I mean she had a cream with Russian looking letters. And she was smiling shyly all the time. Plus she was quite feminine, and that’s how I separate western Europe from eastern in my mind.

The thing that really warmed me to her, was on day seven I had eaten lunch quite quickly and gone back to my room to sleep. My chest hurt like a mad persons, I couldn’t talk about it and the only thing that helped was to keep it pressed hard. My roommate came by to get something from the room, saw me asleep, and figured there was no way I had eaten yet. So she brought some lunch in to the room, and quietly left.

I could hear she had come in and gone, and I could smell food. I saw that a food plate had been placed on my side of the nightstand and she was nowhere. I ‘assumed’ she brought it for me, but how could I know? I was very amused:). I went in to the forest to look for her. She saw me walk towards her and could see I was about to open my mouth. Then suddenly both of grinned so widely, it was all understood!

I returned the uneaten plate to the canteen and we went on being quiet until the last day.

She turned out to be a not so shy, full of life girl from Sydney who made music for a living! She had assumed I was Brazilian 🙂

We talked non stop, all the way to London.


Gautam – Superman for a day

We locked him up on the roof once. No idea why. We were six, all under the age of 10 and I guess before internet, this is how we had fun. I suppose you could consider it equivalent to posting silly nonsense on someone’s FB wall.(Lavoonie: reference)

Anyway I digress. We locked him up and shouted out from below – ‘Haha, you can’t come down!’

Gautam looked aghast from the roof. He scurried down the steps to find that the door at the bottom of the stairs really was locked.

So he did what only a 4 year old would do. He jumped.

And as he jumped, he said ‘I don’t need the stairs, I am superman, I can fly!’ 6 kids saw him fly from the roof and land with a thud on the ground below.

Mouths and eyes wide open. With Respect.

I cannot recall exactly what happened afterwards. Ofcourse he fractured his ankle and there must have been parents, and hospitals and casts and punishments. All I remember is the jump.


His belief that six kids were not going to stop him was far stronger than the necessity to succomb to circumstance. I cannot say if that was a smart thing to do or not, but I am all set to test this logic in 2012.

If I end up with a cast, I hear you can get it in color now.


Like a lizard

My sister, her best friend, a lizard and I shared a room during college. We had the beds and it had the walls. My sister and friend were human size, the lizard was the size of my hand in length.

It was beige, skinny with big black eyes and a longish tail. Sometimes it had a friend for company, and sometimes they did things. But most of the time it was on its own – just stuck to the walls and doing its best to keep them from falling.

Unlike my other two roommates, this lizard was quite un-demanding. I didn’t have to feed it or talk to it or love it or be nice to it (smirk;). It was just there.

Yesterday I was painting mugs at an art shop. I painted the the lizard on one of the mugs.I wanted a reminder that sometimes its okay to do nothing and just be there – lizard-like and undemanding.

ps: To make it stand out on a white mug, I painted it green rather than beige. Added a little more meat around its middle and shortened its tail.

Let the truths parade in disguise
Left to fend for themselves
the truths just look like lies


When my father bought my mother a cow (Animal series part 8)

The milkman used to deliver milk every evening at 7 PM. One day my mother made him an offer. She offered to pay him as much as he liked if he stopped mixing in water to the milk he delivered.

The milkman contemplated this for a second and then shook his the Indian way. You know – so it could mean one of three things: Yes, no or maybe. He really just meant no – the temptation to mix in water would be too high.

My mother, in response, shook her head in HER special way that meant ‘”¤#”%¤#%¤#&&’. And that in any language means only one thing.

So to make sure that their four children got decent milk to drink, my father bought my mother a cow. It was a terribly exciting time.

The cow came with a man, who came in twice a day to take care of her. He let me (try) to milk her once – and I still remember the kick I got. I remember her being brown and warm – but not very huggable. Mostly I remember the mooing and her looking as if she had something else on her mind than me, while all I did for the first few days was think about her. Early lesson in unrequited love.

Anyway, the cow in the house didn’t quite work. It’s a lot of work, even with a cow man.

Soon she was sold or donated or something I don’t remember.

Now my mother buys milk from the supermarket. The skimmed, watered down kind.


The rats won’t leave me alone.

I swear, it’s been following me around forever. It was there, living under the seat of my parent’s sofa – with its three little baby rats. You could hear them squeak under you. It was in the winter clothes trunk eating up all my winter sweaters, including the blue school sweater which I loved. It ate the money out of my mother’s money box.

It was even in school, in 9th grade, in tiny cages in the biology lab.

My parents got one too. It grew humongous and ate bread under the table during dinner. Even the cat loved it.

Then I moved to Oslo, and WHAT absolute relief there was, when I leart there were no rats in Oslo.
What a fabulous feeling it is to live in a country with no rats! But suddenly, people started to make movies about them. Stuart Little. Rattatouille. Narnia. Douglas Adams was perhaps right about rats ruling the world.

Yesterday I saw one look at me outside my London flat. This little brown thing squeaked, it saw me, and then scurried under the car otside my apartment.I shivered,my hair stood up on my head and I gave myself a little shake

Maybe the rats aren’t going away.
Maybe they will always stay
But I will get over them, really I will.
And that will be one beautiful day.



I called my mother yesterday and asked ‘How is the weather today in Dehradun?’.

She said it’s picture perfect.

There is a cool breeze blowing and the sky is bright blue. You can see the white peaks of Mussourie in the distance.The trees are full of ripe red lychees, your favourite berries are growing all over the backyard and we are having watermelon for dinner.

And I say to myself – what a wonderful world 🙂


Do you know where the parrot came from?

I recall that around the time I was 12, we had a green parrot with a broken wing. We lived in a flat on the 7th floor of a tall building, surrounded by other tall buildings and no trees. We did not have a balcony, so it could not have flown in. Still, the little green thing was there and it ate out of our hands.

Then one day the parrot’s wings grew back and it flew away. Or maybe it died, and my mother ‘said’ its wings grew back and it flew away.

If I ask where the parrot came from, I might also inadvertently find out the truth about where it went.

This is the truth, but also an analogy.

Dare I ask.


The 2nd happy thing

When you leave a country, you leave a lot of real life people behind and their life changes and your life changes. Its all very distressing and leads to a sense of displacement.

Somethings however stay the same. NewYorkTimes is just as good a read in Oslo as it is in London.

Mr Paul Krugman
Nicholas D Kristoff
Gail Collins
Sunday magazine
and to the lovely Modern Love column I love waking up to.

Thank you for the continuity you provide to my Saturday mornings – no matter which time zone.

Annoying update: Who had the bright idea to charge for NYTimes???!