It was a dark and stormy night. The city was Mumbai, the time 1am.
My husband and I had been out with friends, and as they dropped us back to our seaside apartment in Colaba (where we lived for nine months) we’d invited them to step out of the idling taxi to catch a glimpse of the fishing slum we lived next to.
As our friends shook their heads in disbelief at the rubbish-strewn “beach” and the shanty homes teetering along it, a flurried movement in a crumpled fishing net near our feet caught my eye. A rat, surely. But as I peered through the rain haze, I saw the fuzzy ball for what it really was. A miniscule, ginger-striped kitten, tangled in the net and without the strength to pull itself out.
“Please don’t pick it up!” my cat-allergic husband pleaded as I took a step towards it. “You’ll get a disease!” my sensible friend yelped as I took another. Alas, their pleas fell on deaf ears and within seconds the kitten was in my arms. I was aware that he could give me worms (which he did) or rabies (which he didn’t, thank shiva). But I simply didn’t care, because it was love at first pat.
Within minutes, he was inside our apartment. Within days – days filled with force-feeding, anti-worming medication and flea-baths – the tiny bag of bones was walking and mewing and looking like he just might make it. Within a week, and despite my promise that we’d give him to the cat rescue service as soon as he was well, Hindi had become our adopted baby.
We may have saved Hindi’s life, but he made ours in Mumbai.
Watching him chase Mumbai’s humungous cawing crows on our balcony provided hours of belly laughs when we needed them most. Taking him for visits to the homeopathic vet who lived in the building next to ours (who, incidentally, I once heard prescribing St John’s wort to a dog who’d been vomiting for three days), educated us on the plight of the millions of unloved critters wandering Mumbai’s streets. And when Mumbai’s social injustice, its maddening bureaucracy or its deafening chaos reduced us to tears, a squeeze of Hindi somehow made everything ok again.
Like all epic love stories, this one had to come to an end. For family reasons we had to leave our Indian home earlier than expected and, having discovered that sending Hindi to Australia would mean putting him through six months in quarantine, we decided to say goodbye.
Thank goodness for that photo we’d taken, just for a laugh, of Hindi with a bindi on when he was still at his most minute. My husband turned it into an “adopt me” poster, which was shared around the media company he worked for and eventually got picked up by a lovely Indian family.
Six months after our arrival back in Australia, the Ranjis still send us photos of Hindi every couple of months. But as much as we miss our Indian stray, we no longer mind that he’s still in the country we fell for, completely and utterly.
Because the best gift Hindi gave us throughout our time in magical India, was an excuse to go back.
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