In Memoriam

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

I don't know how to begin. I am heartbroken and I cannot say anything to soothe and comfort my wife whose eyes are swollen from crying all day long. Yes, our darling Thimma is dead. And he should not have died this way.

Four days ago, I let him out in the morning, as I did every morning. He had come into the bathroom as I brushed my teeth and begged to be let out. Our sweet-faced charmer, he could get us to do whatever he wished and desired.

He was not trained to be an outdoor cat. But when we moved into our new house three years ago, he got into the habit of marking his territory in the basement by liberally squirting in a corner of our snug house. I tried everything that I could think of to try and get him to stop, including getting him cat doses of Prozac from the vet, fencing the backyard in the hopes of keeping him within bounds, buying a steam vacuum cleaner to rid the carpet of his extra pungent markerů but no, my feisty, handsome, adorable boy cared nothing for my attempts. He always played by his rules and his playfulness prevailed and seduced even the hardest, stone hearted, cat-averse visitor to our house.

Finally, we figured a safe way out, we thought. We would let him out for his little saunters in the neighborhood and we could see that he confined himself to about three neighborhood yards, spending his outdoor hours peeping from beneath the bushes in our elderly neighbor's yard. We kept the garage door open about half a foot and he would be back sometimes quickly after completing his morning 'ablutions'.

Sujaya, my wife, would not let him out for more than an hour and if he tried playing hookey, she would go out with a packet of treats and as soon as she opened it, even if he was hiding somewhere far away he would come running. He was full of cat talk and his 'uh-ohs', meows extending into a treat-demanding song, or let-me-out-now song kept us marveling at his powers of sweet persuasion. He was not like our other cat, Subba, who is a quiet, retiring kind of guy. Thimma was all play, affection and distilled cat beauty and presence.

Sweet Thimma flanking the camera-shy Subba

On Wednesday, when I let him out, I never thought that that was the last time I would see him alive. My wife called me at work to tell me that he had not returned for two hours and that she had seen some dogs in the backyard of our elderly neighbor's house. She had never seen those dogs before and she was scared that Thimma might have been chased away or bitten.

I went home for lunch and took out the packet of treats to see if I could seduce him back. I wish I had gone round to the back of our neighbor's yard and walked into her yard. But I had lulled myself into a false sense of the limits of Thimma's survival capacities. That was because Subba, who had been let out by a friend who was house-sitting once, had gone missing for a week. But he returned one night just before I turned the lights off at the back and I was so overjoyed. The Gods had been kind to him and more than him, to me. I had gone around our little town posting fliers at the local Walmart, at various veterinary clinics and even calling the local radio stations to ask them to announce my missing Subba. Subba did not have a collar and he never used to be let outdoors unsupervised. If at all he went out, I stayed with him and would bring him back after 15 minutes. My wife, who was then in Mysore, had gone to the temples and lit camphor and prayed and my mother, very fond of animals herself, had equally beseeched the Gods to keep Subba safe. And Subba returned. I thought Thimma had gone wandering like Subba had and that he would return as Subba did.

But Thimma had been bitten by the dogs and had gone hurt and crawling to the thatch of tall grass in my neighbor's yard to lick his wounds. Why didn't he come crawling to my house? I would have tended him and I would have nursed him back to health. What makes our pain and our sorrow so intense is that he may have suffered in the cold and that he must have wondered in his cat's mind and heart why we had left him in the cold, lonely and abandoned. My poor Thimma, such a sweetheart, did not deserve to die like he did.

The one satisfaction that my wife and I have is that our neighbor found him and we brought him and buried him in our backyard. We will grow a little garden where he lies.

I wrote a poem once about Thimma coming and waking me up in the mornings -- his paws on my neck and face and his big, beautiful, loving eyes peering into my sleep-drugged face. I had thought that I would have Thimma's attention for at least sixteen sweet long years. Thimma was six when he died. May my sweet, beautiful boy be rushed by the Gods to the heavens where he will live happily for six thousand eons.

Originally published on Tuesday, December 4.

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