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Desi Kids Teens & Young Adult

Pa got his transfer order to move to Secunderabad Cantonment in the spring of 2016. I remember Ma breaking the news to me with a serving of chocolate cake, grinning from ear to ear. She was a city girl, and after two and a half years of being stationed at Dinjan which was nestled among the tea gardens interspersed with gigantic trees, with very rare trips to nearby Tinsukia, must have been relieved at the prospect of moving out. In the following months, she had packed her crockery with great care, placing everything that tinkled and sparkled neatly in their cartons and fitting them like blocks of a Rubik’s cube in black trunks. Slowly, all the colourful things on walls, floors, and furniture too had made their way into the black trunks. Then, on one fine summer morning, the trunks were arranged like matchboxes in a truck and sent to Secunderabad.

I was 10 at the time, and my parents had taken me to watch The Jungle Book at the station movie hall, which screened movies every weekend. I was allowed to sit with my friends, as we were set to say goodbye to each other in a couple of days. After the anti-tobacco advertisement and the national anthem, the movie was screened. Fifteen minutes into it, I had turned into Mowgli. Everything afterwards was such an adventure. I didn’t care much about my popcorn being gobbled up by Rohit or my orange juice being slurped by Zarine. The movie got over much too quickly. As Pa drove us back to the guest house where we were staying, the fireflies lit up the ink-black high grass on either side of the road. I hoped to see a pair of yellow eyes. Rumour had it that a black leopard lurked there in the dark.

I was used to shedding the memories of a station off my back like a snake shedding its skin, once it was time. Otherwise, it would be too painful. But the yearning for yellow eyes stuck to me. My new home in Secunderabad too had wilderness around it. It was surrounded by tamarind, neem, and plumeria trees with patches of grass here and there. A few peacocks and pigs visited our backyard when the household was quiet, but they were no match for the magnificent black panther. My hopes of a Bagheera finding me were dwindling.

I got busy with school, and cricket coaching and tried to make new friends. Ma was happy with her regular outings into the city with her new group. Pa was immersed in hospital work. On a few afternoons, I was left in the care of bhaiyya (buddy assigned to Pa). He was a robust fellow who could dig up the backyard for a vegetable patch single-headedly, plant seeds, and pull out any weeds as soon as they appeared. On such afternoons, he allowed me to get my hands in the soil and study the worms, ants, and bugs that thrived there.

That’s when I spotted him first. A black kitten hiding behind a row of jasmine bushes. I tried to approach him but he ran away! The next day, after school, I saw him sitting near a circular patch of holy basil plants that was visible through the mesh door. I opened the door, and he ran away again! The day after, I saw him scratching the bark of the night jasmine tree. In my desperation to befriend him, I took a brick of butter from the fridge, opened the backdoor without a sound, and left it for him there. After I had retreated, he came near it, licked it twice, and didn’t turn up at my doorstep for three days.

Ma was not superstitious. She did not believe a black cat crossing your path is a bad omen. She was just not a pet person. Like with most of my secrets, she came to know about my new one within days. Like with most of my inclinations that didn’t suit her, she tried to rectify this one too.

“Don’t you have your schedule packed with school and all the other activities? Where do you have the time for a pet?” 

I knew better than to argue. When the battles were fought on the home turf, it was Ma who always had the last laugh. But this Mowgli was not going to give up on his Bagheera without a fight. The fact that here Bagheera was the cub and Mowgli the mentor, made my resolve only stronger.

I saved the bits of chicken from the curry and fragments of fish from the fry and offered them to Bagheera. I had to stand at a distance, and watch him nibble at it with his eyes closed and whiskers moving up and down. I knew the first time he did that, we were meant to grow together.

Soon, whenever I strolled in the backyard he crossed my path repeatedly, rubbing his soft body against my shins, cooing like a baby, and demanding food. I had a secret stash of cat food bought with my pocket money and fed him. He sat like a bunny on all fours and purred when I petted him on his back while he ate. It made my heart melt like butter on warm toast.

Pa caught me doing it first, and then he too was caught in my Bagheera’s charm. My pocket money was saved.

Ma saw the packages of cat food arrive through Amazon and conceded to having Bagheera fed on the porch. She ended up feeding him most of the time, and loved it!

Bagheera became a fluid fixture on the windowsills of our home. He would jump from outside onto the one in the room I was in, and lie down there; we were separated by the mesh but enveloped in warmth. He would jump up to the kitchen windowsill as well when Ma cooked something delicious, which delighted her no end. He liked to sleep rolled up in a furball on the chajja during winter days, his coat shining like ripe jamun.

Bagheera would wait at the doorstep in the morning when Ma opened the door, for his food. Afterwards, he would sit with his back to the mesh door, watching the birds and the butterflies that flitted in the garden. My eyes always lingered on his D-shaped back as I ate my breakfast. Then, he would disappear into the woods and come back only when he was hungry. I think Ma liked this about him, he was very independent.

On lazy Sunday mornings when I sat on the porch while he ate his food, and stretched his back afterwards, he would come to me, playful and elegant all at once. He would vibrate his tail and then roll over on one side, close his eyes, and purr when I ran my hand along his side. Then he would roll over to the other side. All the while being too shy to make eye contact. It took him months to look me in the eyes and talk!

On one cloudy morning, he brought a visitor. Another kitten. He persuaded and encouraged him to cross the threshold of the garden hedge and approach the porch to ask for food. I watched with a mixture of pride at his kindness and jealousy at his newly formed kinship. I am ashamed to say I drove the brown kitten away. I was not ready to share my Bagheera with anyone.

Bagheera did chase and catch the mice on several occasions in our backyard. It was never a ferocious attack, more like he was playing hide and seek with his prey! It was not a pretty sight. But that’s how he was supposed to live.

On some nights, I could hear him tumble into things and make angry noises at other cats. On the mornings that followed, he sported various scratches across his head and legs. Ma said that since he had become an adult these things were to be expected! After one such particularly nasty incident, his right ear was almost torn apart and he hobbled on his legs. It was painful for me to see him suffer like that. Pa got some medicine that Ma mixed with his food and he recovered slowly. I pleaded with him, “All the jungle is yours; you can fight everything you are strong enough to defeat. But for the sake of the child who fed you, never get into unnecessary fights”. And prayed every night that he wouldn’t get into another fight.

Months rolled into years and it was time again for us to move to a new station. A teen now, I could no longer shed the memories I had made as easily as before. It was hard to part with the place and friends. But the hardest part was bidding goodbye to Bagheera. After many discussions at home, we had decided it was best for him to stay in the wilderness he was born in, and not take him to the concrete jungle we were moving to.

After every box was loaded, and every pot removed from the porch, two blue ceramic bowls remained near the foot mat. I ran my hand on the velvety back of Bagheera as he enjoyed the goodbye breakfast. And whispered to him, “I know you are a jungle cat, and a kitten no longer. But I hope the doors of this house open for you again.”

May 26, 2022 05:12

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18 comments

Beth Jackson
01:16 Jun 04, 2022

Oh Suma, this was so beautiful and so sad! Beautifully written, it really pulled at my heartstrings! Thank you for sharing. :-)

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Suma Jayachandar
01:44 Jun 04, 2022

Thank you Beth for your kind and uplifting comments. Really appreciate it.

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Chris Morris
10:25 Jun 03, 2022

I couldn't help but think about my own daughter who would absolutely love to have this relationship with Bagheera! Beautifully written, well done.

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Suma Jayachandar
12:00 Jun 03, 2022

Thank you for taking time to read and offer kind words. Truly appreciate it!

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Cindy Strube
17:44 Jun 01, 2022

Aww - really liked the tone of this story! 🐾 I fell for Bagheera too. He reminds me of one of our two kitties, with the velvet fur. And this line is so vivid:”shedding the memories of a station off my back like a snake shedding its skin”. Very enjoyable!

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Suma Jayachandar
02:15 Jun 02, 2022

Thank you so much for the reading and commenting! I truly value it.

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10:33 May 31, 2022

How I Got My Ex Husband Back.. Am so excited to share my testimony of a real spell caster who brought my husband back to me. My husband and I have been married for about 5 years now. We were happily married with three kids, two boys and a girl. Four months ago, I started to notice some strange behaviour from him and a few weeks later I found out that my husband is seeing someone else. He started coming home late from work, he hardly cares about me or the kids anymore, Sometimes he goes out and doesn’t even come back home for about 3-4 days. ...

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Riel Rosehill
07:53 May 31, 2022

Damn, I cried at the end! I have a thing for literary fiction with cat and human relationships, got two books like that on my dressing table right now so this was right up my alley. I loved how everybody, even the mother liked the little black cat at the end - this story was so wholesome and heartbreaking at the same time.

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Suma Jayachandar
08:05 May 31, 2022

Thanks, Riel. Yeah, I too have a soft spot for the paws. And the heartbreak is real. I truly appreciate your reading and commenting. I totally loved reading your second dragon story. I'm a bit delayed in commenting but heading there :-)

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09:52 May 30, 2022

A beautiful story, Suma! It's well crafted and utterly believable, which made it resonate with me emotionally. A cat's affection is not always easy to win, but there's nothing quite like it. :) And there's nothing more painful than leaving them behind (or letting them go). You are a wonderful writer and I look forward to reading more.

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Suma Jayachandar
12:02 May 30, 2022

Thank you so much for your kind words, Shuvayon! I'm glad you found the story relatable and believable. That really makes me happy:-) What you say about the cats is true. There's nothing quite like its affection.

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Michał Przywara
02:40 May 30, 2022

Watching a movie and wishing it was real -- especially as a child -- is very relatable. I like the twist here where mentor/mentee is flipped too. And on that note, I like that the mother was the last to accept the kitten, and then "She ended up feeding him most of the time, and loved it!" Sometimes we don't know what we want until we have it. In a way it mirrors the kitten's behaviour. It rejects the humans at first, then gradually takes some risks, then learns they are safe. Perhaps considers them family. It's a charming story with a bit...

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Suma Jayachandar
04:56 May 30, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Michal. You are so right, saying goodbye to an animal is even more heartbreaking. Coz there is no way of knowing whether he has understood the goodbye and continues to do well. Congratulations once again on your well deserved win 🙂

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Michał Przywara
05:25 May 30, 2022

Thanks :D

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Zack Powell
05:08 May 28, 2022

Creative interpretation of the prompt, Suma! I hadn't even considered exploring the relationship between a person and an animal. That's a lovely dynamic. Glad to see someone else used a Disney movie (they're pretty common knowledge for most people since they've been around so long, and they're well-written movies so there's a lot of directions you can take them for these prompts). Great parallel between Mowgli and Bagheera in the movie versus Mowgli and Bagheera in this narrative (especially liked the wild-child Mowgli bit when the kids were...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:43 May 28, 2022

Zack, you already know that your feedback lights up my day! Always encouraging and positive :-) At present, my family is moving from one place to another. And this is my heartfelt homage to Kitty(We never got around to naming him) one of the stray cats we had the privilege of bonding with, in this station. I was overwhelmed by the feeling of never seeing him again and the next morning this story just wrote itself. ( So, that's why two entries this week). Thank you for reading this and appreciating it. I highly value your feedback.

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Anissa Waterman
07:37 May 26, 2022

You write the most beautiful stories. It was sad she had to leave her Bagherra. I loved the movie Jungle Book. Great writing for this prompt.

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Suma Jayachandar
11:01 May 26, 2022

Thank you so much for your appreciation! It is really uplifting 😊

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