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By Hatch Khazvini


I run my office out of a room on the roof of a large house in the southern port city of Chennai in India. I have a small human family (wife and son) and an extended family of several cats. The three of us are inveterate animal lovers.

Outside my office room is the terrace of the house, which is divided into three portions.

One afternoon I heard the mewing of kittens. I went out to take a look and saw two little kittens in one of the lower sections of the terrace. One was black and male and the other was white-and-ginger and female. Their mother had obviously chosen the terrace of the house to have her litter for safety reasons. These two were big enough to move around but not big enough to take care of and protect themselves. Any attempt to approach them was answered by fierce hissing and spitting from the female. As I saw no sign of the mother, I arranged for some milk to be left for them every evening.

Three days later the kittens were missing, but I could hear one of them mewing loudly and piteously. I couldn't identify the source of the sound and it was dark, so I decided to return the next morning (Sunday) with help. Sunday morning saw my wife, my son and myself on the roof, making a frantic search for the kittens. The mewing was still going on without the slightest break. We finally discovered that the kittens had fallen down the open drainpipe leading off the terrace. We had no idea how to get them out of there and decided to bring in expert help. We called our indomitable and caring vet., Dr. Priyadarshini Govind, known to all as Dr. Priya. She, being a Christian and still dressed for Church, arrived in 10 minutes along with her Man Friday.

Then the rescue operation began in earnest and went on for almost an hour. There was much display of courage and acrobatic skills on the part of Dr. Priya and my son Fa. As the drainpipe opened on to the first floor terrace below, and there was no opening on to that terrace, Priya and Fa had to jump down on to that terrace. Then with her bare hands she reached into the pipe but found that the kittens were stuck some way up. Moreover, there was a terrible smell coming from the pipe, which meant that one of them was almost certainly dead. By this time we had been joined by several more rescuers.. the landlady who lives downstairs and her two maidservants.. who all had a part to play. After a long struggle, Priya pulled out the dead and decomposing body of the female, which had bloated and was blocking the pipe. Only then could she reach the male, who was alive and was the one doing all the mewing. The moment she brought him out he stopped mewing and lay in the palm of her hand, looking up at her contentedly. There was a round of applause and the kitten was taken into my office and given a bath by Dr. Priya and my wife. Priya said, 'This one is Special!'. Then she said, 'He's black as a cinder, isn't he?' and so he was named Cinderfella, which was later shortened to Fella. We took Fella home and had to give him several more baths, as he'd been lying on the body of his dead sister for more than 30 hours and the smell just wouldn't go. But eventually it went, and his voice, which had become completely hoarse, slowly returned to a sweet little mew.

Fella was a turning point in the life of my family. Not only was he stunningly beautiful even at that tiny age when kittens, especially males, are gawky-looking, but he took to us almost immediately, and had a very high intelligence level: he was potty-trained just hours after we rescued him, he knew how to TALK to us.. ask for his fish (and give those darling little meows while he ate, if we gave him a treat like Tuna now and then), ask for his sand-box.. he was the most fastidious little kitten about cleanliness. He played with us.. especially me.. constantly and joyously. From his dingy and dangerous home in the drainpipe, he found a cosy and secure home under the bed in the guest bedroom (that bed is closed on all sides and only has enough space between its bottom and the ground, for a kitten or smaller creatures to enter). When I came home for lunch every day, he would be there, secure under the bed. I would call his name, and very soon that tiny black body would slither out and he'd sit there on his haunches, looking at me with those big bright eyes, his head cocked to one side. Every morning Di (my wife) would wake Fa up with Fella.. a great way to get Fa quickly awake and ready, Fella fooling around on his bed while Fa ate his breakfast before school. The only thing that made him any different was the fact that he couldn't speak English.

Two weeks later, at about 5 am., I was brought suddenly awake by Di's screams. I ran out of the bedroom just in time to see a tomcat running out. We live in an apartment on the second floor, so we had this cat flap built into the front door so our cats could come and go.. cats hate to be confined indoors. The stray tom had, incredibly, entered our apartment through the flap (the once and only time that a stray got in) and in a flash had attacked Fella, right in front of Di's eyes. He was always kept locked up in the guest room, but that fateful morning , responding to his pleas, my wife decided to let him out, thinking he was safe because she was with him. After the attack Fella's delicate little body was crippled.. he couldn't walk or sit up, and lay there mewing piteously at us. We rushed him to Priya's clinic. She took one look at him and her face fell. She gave him all the possible emergency treatment she could and then we took him home. For the next three days, we took turns to be constantly at his side, give him his medication, clean him when he soiled himself, and constantly reassure him.

He was a great lesson to us in how he quietly and patiently bore his terrible suffering. All he asked from either one of us (Di, whom he KNEW was his mother, and I, whom he KNEW was his father) was to be near him constantly, and we never once left his side. On the third day his eliminative functions failed. And his abdominal bloating would not go down. He kept scrambling to sit up on his front legs, but after a while he would fall over on his side once again. I won't detail the extent of his suffering nor the extent of medical care he received. I'll just say both were 'maximum'.

On the fourth morning after his 'accident', we took him (as we did every morning) to Priya's clinic.. and this time the look on her face was grave. She decided to aspirate his stomach contents, which Di resisted, weeping ('I don't want him to suffer any more').. but I shooed her out, held him down while Priya put the needle in. What came out was blood. It was then that we realized that he had suffered an internal injury and a vital organ was damaged, and that was what was causing the bloating and the pain, not stool or urine. The decision was taken. I walked out, Di was there when Priya, the very Priya who had so dramatically saved his life,  gave him the lethal dose, and Di cradled him in her arms and kept calling to him softly, Kutta, Kutta, (that was her term of endearment for him, meaning 'Little One') and she says he looked up at her once and very gently, without any struggle, went to sleep.

We buried him in a corner of the garden downstairs, with the little toy dog that he loved to play with. If you looked at the grave from our balcony, with the flowers scattered around it, it looked like a little shrine. And for days and days, we wept for our Fella.

Now here's the point.. the world is full of cats (as it is with human beings), the world is full of abandoned and suffering strays. The three of us suffered such unbearable, wrenching grief over this one and keep asking ourselves why. What was it about him that touched us so very deeply? I don't know. Maybe it's because we rescued him from one bad end only to lose him again so soon. Maybe because, as Di says, he gave and took more love to and from us in two weeks than is usually taken and given in a lifetime. Maybe he was just an angel passing through. Maybe he was a lesson. To us he was our child, who filled our lives, so very briefly, with such light and joy and then was so cruelly snatched from us. We prayed so much, we begged God for his life, but it was not to be.  For weeks we agonized over why God allowed us to save him from a horrible end in the drainpipe, just to be killed by his own kind. Was it, as some friends said, so that he would experience a little joy, comfort, good food and a loving home, so that he would not be alone or hungry when God finally took him. We rationalize all these ways, but the pain remains, his darling little face keeps appearing before me and I hear his musical meows which always ended in a question mark (meow?). Was he less of a creature than a human being just because he did not have human language? He had just about everything else, often of far higher quality than human.. a sheer, sweet beauty, (he was, physically, a true work of the Art of God), the purest of love, innocence, trust, forbearance, guilelessness, joie de vivre, tenacity... He was too beautiful for this cruel world; and this was the unkindest cut of all.

But the story of Fella had yet another twist.. Read on..


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