A hot summer day
I was 12 when I first met them. It was summer vacation. Palakkad was as hot as ever and I was cocooned inside my bedroom, reluctant to get out until the sun decided to hide in the west.
I had never flown a kite in my life. I hadn’t even seen one up close. Being the kid without much demands, I never asked my dad to buy or make one for me.
But this day was eventful so far. I had found a kite tangled in one of the coconut trees in our house. After a Herculean effort, I managed to remove the kite from the tree. It was badly torn. I started reverse engineering that to find out how a kite is made. And I started making one in my bedroom.
I don’t remember what made me go out through the front door. Maybe I was contemplating where to go to buy the thread for the kite. When I came out, I heard a faint high pitched meow. I looked down to see two small kittens; the tiniest ones I had ever seen. One was white with patches of sandalwood color like that of Marie biscuit all over its body. The other one, the one which was meowing, was the color of an old tree trunk with patches of white all over. Her head was completely white. They were so cute and their meows were so innocent that I immediately rushed inside to tell my mom about the two visitors outside our house.
She raised her eyebrows, because she somehow used to sense when someone opens the outside gate, so much so that our calling bell was rusty due to the lack of use. She might have been wondering how they managed to get inside without opening the gate! Then I told her that the visitors were not human and introduced them to her. She asked me to come inside, took some milk from the fridge and some bread crumbs. She gave me a couple of used coconut shells to pour some milk and give it to the kittens. We loved watching them lapping the milk and eating the crumbs.
The day went so fast with us watching them play and run around. (The kite was shoved away in a corner.) They were so cute. In the evening, we had some visitors. It was some old friend of mom’s, who now lived in Coonoor near Ooty. She had come with her daughter and her niece, who happened to be my mom’s student. I don’t remember their names because it’s been a long long time now. My mother and her friend went into the old-buddy-chitchat. I grabbed the opportunity to talk with the girls. After some time, I decided to introduce them to my two new friends. This was the moment when I named them. The girls asked me the names. I said, “I don’t know. I think I’ll name them….Tinku and Pinku”
Tragedy struck that very day to the twins. My mother was very apprehensive of letting an “animal” enter the house. So I, reluctantly, had to let them stay outside at night. The next day I woke up, my mom forbid me and my brother to go out. I asked why. She said that Pinku was dead. She was mauled to death by a tomcat in the night. It was too late before they could understand what the weird voices outside were and save her. Tinku managed to hide in a small hole, but Pinku was not that lucky. I was asleep, oblivious to all that happened outside. I didn’t see Pinku’s body, but the behavior of Tinku was really disturbing. She looked frightened, all her fur standing up, like our hair do when we have goose bumps. She was making sounds which were freaking me out. She had also arched her body weirdly like she had a hunch in the back. My mother was crestfallen because she thought she was in a way responsible for Pinku’s death. That single incident made Tinku closer to our family than we all had imagined.
Tinku grew up as months went by. But she had a baby-face even when fully grown up. She was kept inside for a few days until she was big enough to manage herself. After that she was generally outside. But we always kept a window open for her to hop in and out whenever she wanted.
Like a typical cat, she once tried to steal something kept in the kitchen. My mom caught her red-handed and beat her with a stick. She seemed to understand, and she never stole from our house again. She also had brought a couple of dead birds and a large fish inside the house to eat in peace. We, being strict vegetarians for life, couldn’t tolerate this behavior. Mom beat Tinku each time and after three times, she never brought her food inside; she would always finish her quarry outside the house.
It was my mother who was more attached to her than anyone else, followed by me. When we would watch TV together in our couch, Tinku invariably used to jump and sit on my lap or by my side. There was one person she would stay away from, however. My brother liked to subject her to experimentation. For instance, he would throw her to a vertical tree trunk to check how she can clutch with her paws onto the trunk. And he would drop her from a good height to see if she lands on four feet.
Mom used to give nicknames for her like “Vadivaal” (Literally meaning Stick-Tail) because her tail was straight up when she was around my mom, “Chena” (Meaning Yam) because she used to look like one when she sat with her feet hidden under her body, her body color giving a distinct look of Yam.
She used to respond to several of our instructions, the funniest being when my mom calls her to catch a house lizard. She would come running if she is at earshot; she would jump and catch the lizard, then take it out and eat it.
As days went past, she gave birth to three cute kittens, which were named Kariman (Because of the fair amount of black on his body with white patches here and there), Paandan (This one was the negative print of Kariman – black patches on white body) and Puli (Because of the conspicuously cute streaks of tiger-like stripes)
Months went by, maybe years. I don’t remember when she bid farewell to us forever. It was difficult for me to let go. She still remains in my memory, in a special place where my human friends have not been able to grab a seat. She was my first and last pet.