Once upon a time, I used to frown upon people who pampered their pets. Why are they wasting their time and money on animals, I used to wonder, when there are millions of humans in need of care? It is a reaction many immigrants have to American pet mania. After all, I grew up in India where mangy cats stole milk from babies; where rabid dogs bit children, prompting a series of injections in the stomach.
Everything changed the day my son brought home a kitten. Cali, he called her, after California. She is not staying, I declared. But she stayed, climbing on curtains and chewing the sofa into bits. I don't remember the exact moment my consternation turned to attachment. Perhaps it was the day I returned from a trip to find Cali running excitedly to the door to greet me. Perhaps it was the day she meowed good morning to me.
I know what you are thinking. But Cali does talk. Her greeting meow is totally different from her hungry meow, or her "let me out" meow. She understands language too. She follows me when I call her; she sits on my lap when I ask her to; she obeys when I say stop or sit. Sitting on our fence, she recognizes me from far away, and calls out to me as I walk home. Sometimes when no one is around, she is the one who stands between me and melancholy and despair.
Cali has given me a window into the animal world. I wonder what she sees when she looks at a flower or runs hungrily after a bird. I marvel that she is so agile with her limited color vision.
I understand now why Americans, who no longer live in close-knit communities, love their animals so much.