My daughter is studying advanced art in Canada. After about three months she called us to break the news, that she was not staying alone anymore. It is not unusual for a 20 year old to decide whether to stay alone or not, in Canada but down here in conservative South India, it is still a concern. 

But when she announced that her companion was a cat, I breathed a sigh of relief, but my wife’s blood pressure went up by two notches. My wife is scared of cats, she is mortally afraid of them. She believes that their scratch would create tetanus or rabies, their hair is certain to induce allergic asthma and many other unforeseen diseases. The professional father spending most of his time in the hospital, mostly unavailable at home to educate teenage daughters regarding basics of healthy living was the first to get the blame. 

My resourceful daughter e-mailed a full medical certificate of the cat, duly signed by a vet trying to prove that the cat is healthier than Sylvester Stallone, but there was no sign of end of cold war. Being such a major international conflict issue, as per the Geneva Convention, I ended up supporting my wife.

Last month, I managed to get a chance to go to Toronto, on my way to a meeting in the US and spend a week with my daughter and her feline companion. I did not want to get caught unprepared, so I ‘googled’. Wikipedia told me that there are 80 million cats as pets in the US and 8 million in Canada, 40 % of households have a cat as a pet. I learnt more about cats, their sharp night vision, highly sensitive acoustics, as also their weakness for food. I knew this could be my trump card, to befriend and manage the cat if everything fails.

It was dusk by the time I reached her apartment at Toronto. She opened the door and I hugged her. Through the corners of my eyes I saw him. A furry miniature of a tiger, he was eyeing me more critically than the immigration officer at the airport. After a few hours of suspicious look the Canadian cat slowly started coming close to me, sniffing the unfamiliar Indian scent. “Ohh dad,Thadiya (Fatty) has started liking you!” announced my delighted daughter. 

Next morning, my daughter had to go to college early, leaving me alone with the cat. I applied all the techniques of Pi towards Richard Parker, the tiger (after all tiger and cat belong to the same family). I tried talking to the Canadian cat in Malayalam but that did not do much to straighten out things. By noon my daughter called up to say that she will be late and asked me to have lunch and not wait for her. After lunch, I changed my plan. I went to the store and bought a packet of ‘Meow-Mix’, a premium brand cat food for 5 dollars, enough to buy chicken biriyani(Indian garnished rice) for the entire family back home. I came back, put some of the food in his bowl, but he was not to be seen. I looked all around the apartment. No sign of ‘Tomcat’. I did lock the front door well, so there was no chance of a runaway. I looked again. Under the sink, over the table, in the bathroom, on the window sill, but he was missing. I was slowly getting worried. It is not nice to loose ‘kitty-hawk’ within twenty-four hours of my arrival.

 Finally I called my daughter over the cell phone. “Ohh dad don’t worry, he must be sleeping behind the fridge because it is warm there”. My daughter was right. Mr. Cat was snoring happily behind the fridge. I coaxed him out of his slumber, showed him the food with some shoo shoo…he went close to the bowl, sniffed the food and went back to sleep. I had no options left. My daughter came back at 3 pm, with some sandwiches for both of us. She patted and cuddled the cat for five full minutes, and took him to the bowl, and whoa, like a good boy he started eating. When I told my daughter what happened, she said, “daddy don’t worry, he always waits for me and never eats till I come back.”

Somehow, by the end of day three, he started sleeping close to my bed, and accepted food from me. The next morning when I had to throw him out from under my blanket, I knew that the Canadian carnivore had accepted the Hindustani hospitality. As I was ready to pack my suitcase, Thadiya jumped inside the open suitcase. I shooed him away, but my daughter said it was his way of telling me not to go.

My flight to US was in the morning, and I had to leave early. I called my daughter back from Toronto Pearson airport before boarding the flight. She said, “dad, Thadiya is crying.” Can a cat refuse food, or request you to stay back, or even cry? I don’t believe it, but my daughter does. And it is this belief that matters in a partnership, it keeps a relationship going.

A cat cannot cry, that much I was certain; but on occasions, they can make an adult feel like there is a lump in the throat and an irritation in the eyes. Beyond cultural barricades.

I learnt something from an animal, if you callThadiya an animal. Did you?

Tiny Nair cardiologist 


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