Friday, 26 June 2015


This is how Emma was brought to the back terrace
“You haven’t written anything about Emma,” Zainab complains and the others join in to voice this massive omission on my part.

“Stray cats give you a heart-break when they die. Remember Roseee?”

“But at least we now remember everything about her. We have memories,” the Lilliputians pipe in. 

“Please write Emma’s story.”
Emma with mama Rosee and sibling

I think about it. Maybe they are right; if you love someone as elusive as a stray cat then you learn to live with it. You can’t hold on to stray cats, but then, you cant hold on to people either. But memories…yes.

I go out to our back terrace. There she sits, lapping up the cat food that I had left in her plate. Emma has lost weight. She is a big cat now, and she is a mother cat. I remember the day she was born…

It is a story of cats. It is a story of two generations.  It is a story that happens on the back terrace that has become home to two and now three generations of cats.

'seems like food'  grown up Emma spots a mouse
Emma was among the four kittens in Roseee’s second litter. Most probably, she was born on March 29’2014 because this is when Roseee had vanished for an entire day. 

We saw Emma when Roseee brought her kitties to our place, all four of them. They were endearing, the kittens. But Emma was the one that stole our heart away. Zainab was then reading Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ and decided to name our favorite kitty after Austen’s spirited heroine. 

The kitties were still sucklings when Roseee died. While we were able to find homes for the other three, we couldn’t give up Emma for adoption. It was selfish of us, I know. We knew Emma could never be a house cat at our place because many people (adults) in the land of Lilliputians are allergic to cats.

But we needed Roseee’s daughter in our lives. We wanted someone to keep Roseee’s memory alive

Emma was a playful kitten, but she grew up to be a loner. Unlike her mother, she doesn’t much like being cuddled. And she never developed a taste for the qwwalis of Nusrat Fatheh Ali.

I remember the day when she had her first encounter with a mouse. It was in the basement.

It was an hour-long chase that left the onlookers wondering who was chasing whom. When Emma pounced upon the mouse, it jumped. And when it jumped, Emma retreated. After half an hour, the mouse decided to call it a day and sat immobile daring Emma to catch it. And what did Emma do?

No, she didn’t grab it. She just sat there and tried to solve cosmic mysteries. In the end, the mouse gave up and crawled inside its hole. Since that day, Omar has dubbed Emma as ‘a loser cat.’

But Emma is not the preying sort. She has a bit of Roseee’s Sufi soul in her.

She has also inherited from Roseee her love of nightly ramblings
  on the rooftop.

“Emma, let’s go for a walk,” I say to her every night.

Now mother of two
And she jumps up the stairs, three steps at a time. On the rooftop, she mostly just sits there and thinks her own catly thoughts while I walk and think some human and some not-so-human thoughts. It’s quite an un-intrusive companionship. The way I like it, and also perhaps the way she likes it. 

During our hour long silent musings, there also comes a moment when she tries to stand on her hind legs. For me, it is a kind of signal. I go near her, she puts her paws on me and I pat her, talk to her, and tell her about the things that I tell only to her.
Emma's kitty

And like Roseee, she is a stray cat. Will remain one. 

A month ago, she vanished for many days. She came back very sick and very pregnant.

She is better now though still weak. Her kitties are feeble.  But she is here, and the story goes on. Our back terrace witnesses all.

Emma's kitty

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

90 Days of Freedom

Forced Confinement: Preparing for exams
There is a palpable sense of excitement in the Land of Lilliputians. 

“The freedom!” I can see the words written over their faces as the Lilliputians slog around their books to somehow weather the slings and arrows of exams.

“Summer holidays. We will have 90 days!” Omar’s eyes shine with the possibilities of unlimited freedom and that too for 90 days.

“What do you plan to do?” I ask, some of the excitement rubbing in on me.

“I will get hold of the TV remote and will keep it in my pocket 24/7. I will sleep with a remote in my hand and will immediately turn on the TV when I wake up.” Omar has dark plans up his sleeve to make up for the ‘externally’ imposed deprivation.

Now I am curious. What plans the others have?

Saif’s plans, predictably so, revolve around cricket.  “I will play, play and play,” he enthuses and circles his arm in the gesture of throwing a ball.

Zainab is the literary type and intends to read every book by Percy Jackson.

Roshan has ambitious plans. “I will write a book of 500 hundred pages. And I am not telling anyone what it will be about; somebody might steal the idea.”

Mobby is the philosophical sort, or maybe he is a practitioner of Zen. “I will think about it when holidays start,” he says calmly, sage like.

Freedom for the Lilliputians isn't just about freedom from the constraints of school; it is more about with being able to do what they want to do.

I wonder if this type of freedom is the prerogative of childhood. With time, wouldn't they, imperceptibly & unconsciously, internalize limitations imposed by society, norms, and the dictates of bread and butter?

And how much we adults will contribute in teaching them to bow under the pressures of conformity?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Rooster in a Lota

“I need a lota, I want to make a rooster out of it,” Omar informs me.

I tell him it seems too far-fetched an idea. But Omar is adamant, even surprised that I can’t see the obvious.

“It is a ready- made rooster; you just need to do a little bit of work. Just look at this, it’s a rooster’s neck,” Omar brings a lota and points towards the spout.

I try to see it with Omar’s eyes and yes…the lota does seem like a rooster in making.

And then, I am put to work. A bottle of glue, a paint brush, a cotton roll and some chart paper are placed before me. And I am told to follow the instructions.

“Now with the help of this paint brush cover the lota with glue, don’t leave any uncovered area,” Omar instructs and warns.

I set to work, diligently so. Obediently I follow the instructions that are constantly being hammered into my ears.

Lovingly I make the rooster’s white round body (it’s a fat rooster) and triangular face, tenderly I fashion its wattle, its comb, and its tail with red glazed paper, and gently I stick a red button on its triangular face to help it see.

“Do we need to cover the big hole in the rooster’s belly?” I ask my instructor.

“No,” he chuckles, “we will put golden eggs inside it and then my rooster will lay eggs.”

Sure. Everything is possible. All you need to do is to see the possibility of a rooster in the good old lota.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The First Poor Person in the World

 I hide inside my blanket and listen to the rain knocking on my window panes. Flu always makes me want to hide somewhere dark and warm. A hangover from my prenatal life, I guess. 

Omar comes and snuggles into my bed. “You are so boring! Why are you sleeping?” he asks.

“Yes, boring and not well,” I murmur from inside my cocoon.

“What should I do?” Omar asks and then defines the boundaries within which my answer should fall, “just don’t tell me to do these three things: sleep, eat, study.”

This is Omar’s standard question. A constant refrain that we hear throughout the day and, if he is awake, at night too.

“Okay. Maybe you can stand upside down and look at the world in a new way,” I say and emerge from the darkness of my shell to face Omar’s glare.

“It works,” I tell him from my own experience.

“No, suggest something else. I am bored.”

“Listen to the rain and think about the children who don’t have a warm bed to snuggle into,” I try to change the track of his thoughts.

The comment makes him pause for a while. He thinks and then asks, “Why are some people poor?”

“Because some of us have more than our share of wealth.”

“But tell me how it all started. Who was the first poor person?” he asks

Omar’s questions often make me acutely aware of my limited knowledge.

“I don’t know,” I confess.

“If I only had the time machine! I would go back and find out and then stop that person from getting poor. It will easier to do so with just one person. No?”

“I think so.”

He again ponders for a while and then comes up with a thesis that explains poverty.

“It is all because of money,” he says.


“Because the rich have the money and the poor don’t. If nobody had it then everybody would be equal,” he explains.

My constant sneezing has muffled my brain, but I try to understand Omar’s logic.

“I have read that people used to live in caves. When I look at the pictures of cave people, they all look the same. There were no rich or poor people because then there was no money. Everybody could pick fruits from the forests and eat,” Omar supports his thesis and then declares:

“I think cave period was the best. It must have been so much fun, and you didn’t have to study,” Omar says and then hops out of the bed. Probably he has figured out what he wanted to do. Perhaps he has decided to build a time machine.

Maybe Omar would allow me to test drive it. I also need to find out a few answers and relive certain moments.

Till that happens I will hide inside my own dark places ‘so much nearer home.’

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Games Children Play

  “You are the bad guys. You will drop the bomb and then police will come. Got it?” I hear Saif's instructions crashing in through the window of the dining room where I sit and sip Yemen’s special mocha coffee.

Bomb? Police?  Sounds familiar. I peer through the window. Mobby and Omar are carrying bombs, aka footballs, that they have to drop somewhere. They are trying to mimic menacing expressions. They don’t succeed.

“What kind of game is this? Can’t you play something nice?”

They look at the frantic woman standing behind the window and laugh.

  “We are playing Tabliban, Talibaan. We will drop the bomb, police –Zainab and Roshan- will come but they won't be able to catch us,” Omar outlines the rules of the game for my information.

“And then I will come and capture all of them. Because I am really powerful,” Saif tells me how the game will end.

“And who are you supposed to be?” I ask.

“I am Raheel Sharif,” Saif says and they all run away to begin the game.

I wonder about their new heroes. And I wonder how insidious are the narratives that get reflected in the games that children play. And then I wonder some more about how quickly the new national narrative is built.  Or is it the old one? Rehashed, re-packaged?

I don’t understand much. There are things I am not good at. But I am getting better at brewing a perfect cup of mocha coffee. Some Consolation.