|Jalebi, an indoor cat, who is now forced to fend for herself in Islamabad|
As I walked to Attari, the Indian side of the border, after a rather extended stay of about six years in Islamabad, the solitary thought that plagued my mind was: will I ever go back?
Following our sudden exit from Pakistan, it seems like an impossible task - almost as impossible as finding forever homes for our many rescued street cats, some of whom we were forced to leave behind.
We met some of the loveliest people during our stay and would value our association with them for life, yet I wouldn't want to cross the border for them. I would want to go back for Itty, a little kitten, who was poisoned by someone four years ago and timely intervention helped save her. I would want to go back for Jalebi, Chicklet, Chocolate, Chammak Challo, Hero, Kaalo, Nargis - the list is long. I would want to go back for Rocco, a pup with severe fungal infection who was left at our gate some years ago.
I have always been fascinated with cat and dog stories, especially the ones caught between two unfriendly security posts: Saadat Hasan Manto's "The Dog of Tetwal" who wagged his tail happily at both Indian and Pakistani soldiers but sadly "died a dog's death"; I am intrigued by the female dog that Sarah Singh captured in her award-winning film "The Sky Below", the one who criss-crosses the India-Pakistan border near Pul Kanjri, a small village near Amritsar, for her lunches and dinners.
When I heard about this dog, I wrote to Singh requesting her to send the clip of the film where the dog appears. "I was there during the mid-day sun, and against this metallic web of lines, a black female dog edged her way through from one side to the other, negotiating the twists and turns of the barbed wire in a manner which suggested her familiarity with the routine. A deft approach by hungry dog in the rising heat," she wrote.
"...got to the fencing that denotes the border area of the two Punjabs near Pul Kanjri, a small village about 20 km from Amritsar - quite a lot of barbed wire that weaves in and out and circles around itself as it creates a barrier about 10 ft high and 5 ft thick - with an electric current running through to fry those who test the division at night..."
Just as I was stepping out of Pakistan, I, too, noticed a little black dog wagging her little tail at the Zero Line. She let me touch her and also shyly posed for a picture before disappearing into the greens of Pakistan. She breezed in and out of "the enemy country" making me so envious of her freedom. No wonder they call her Lucky!
Lucky made me think of a late friend's suggestion, who always dismissed my worries of crossing over with our pets with his seemingly funny, "You cross first and ask them to follow". Unfortunately, my pets were not so Lucky!
We rescued over 20 cats (and fed many more) and three dogs in our stay in Islamabad. The first set of cats, who turn six on September 20, came to us when they were three weeks old. Our fourth rescue is from near Lal Masjid and we lovingly call him General!
Often we would get asked why we kept so many cats and that too jungle ones. Once a security officer came to our place while my husband was away. He sat me down and after a lot of dilly-dallying got to the point. "So what is the R-E-A-L reason for keeping so many cats?"
Security officers meant to tail us, whom we fondly referred to as Bhais, followed me around in the neighbourhood when I went barging into houses to rescue kittens who were too small to scale walls, or when our outdoor cats went missing; or as on one occasion, a kitten stuck its head into a washing machine tube and we were called to pull her out.
After the first few months of following me around on the kitty-spotting and kitty-rescuing mission, the Bhais, I think, finally realized there was no hidden agenda in my expedition to the neighbours.
Once we had a dog trainer over for Rocco. The Bhai stopped the trainer after his session with Rocco, and asked, "Are you training the dog to attack us?" The trainer, who was pushing to extend his session from a month to three months decided against it.
We were also not so lucky vis-a-vis the Bhai brigade when a Pakistani lady offered to adopt Itty. She came home to see Itty, liked her and was taking her home in her car when she got chased and stopped by the Bhai at the end of our street. The lady was bombarded with questions on her association with us. She drove back, dumped Itty back into our house, and left with a resounding, "I don't want so much trouble for a cat!"
Getting a home for street cats, who are of mixed breed, is not easy on either side of the border. Itty never found a home again. This prettiest cat in town is the one I would go want to go back to Pakistan for. Also, Chiclet, the little kitten we rescued from the neighbour's washing machine; Chocolate, her son, whose only interest in life is food; and Chammak Challo, a semi-Persian cat, who sashays down the street with the toms fighting to get her attention.
Much as I love quoting Orwell's "two legs bad, four legs good", for Pakistan, I'd like to change that to "two legs good, four legs better"!
(The post was first published here: