By Sahej Marwah Jan. 21, 2021
Tough love was the only love language that existed in our house until my brother got home a stray kitten. Very soon, my stoic father was suddenly brimming with kisses and mushy nicknames, and my mother started treating him like her third born – now she doesn’t eat until he does. Unbeknownst, the pet had opened the floodgates to our emotions and expressions.
I grew up in a quiet household of a disquieting nature. Everyone within these four walls walked on their toes around one another, afraid of setting off any alarms. Tough love was the only love language that existed here, and not all of us had learnt how to speak it. For 21 years of my life, this had been the case. Until, one day, my brother got home a kitten.
He had promised that it was a temporary setting; we would only foster this Garfield-looking munchkin until we were sure that he faced no immediate danger from his mother. This ravenous mother, in a rampage, had started consuming her own babies. I was resistant and as is typical of me, started weighing all the pros and cons. The cons outweighing any means of my getting emotionally swayed: Who will clean up after him? Who will take him to the doctor? Who will pay for all his food and litter? These were all very rational questions as far as I was concerned. My brother willingly assumed responsibility for all of them. I was promised that I would have to do nothing but love the kitten, something that hasn’t changed even today although it took me some time to get there.
In July 2018, we welcomed the terrified kitten, whom we now consider a third Marwah sibling. Apart from the human duo, there was now a purring creature that also, characteristically, walked on its toes. He was named Orion and then Oru following the arbitrary nicknaming tradition in Indian households. My father warmed up to him immediately which was surprising to us all. With the introduction of this new family member, my father was suddenly brimming with kisses and mushy nicknames that made absolutely no sense at all (both, the names and his behaviour). A man of 6 foot 3 inches, he was always looming. The intimidation of his height often made way to his behaviour as well. Of course he loved us, but it was a love that came with expectations, as all love does. But the rules of love for Oru were different.
There was nothing you can really expect from a cat – unlike a dog, a cat doesn’t shower you with attention, licking your face and running around you with his tail wagging. Yet, somehow he became my father’s favourite child; his love for the kitten became truly unconditional. Turns out, he had always wanted a kitten but my grandma had never allowed it. This became the first time that we heard about his childhood.
In July 2018, we welcomed the terrified kitten, whom we now consider a third Marwah sibling.
Next came my mother whose initial reaction was fear. She, very dramatically, claimed that this “descendant of the tiger” would occupy no space in her house (or heart) because it would only mean more work for her. “I have just finished raising two kids, now you want me to raise another?” As she eased into feeding him and sceptically touching his ears from time to time, Oru had made his way to mama’s heart and her lap before we knew it. Now she won’t eat until he does. Indian mothers, I tell you. Watching how willingly she adopted and adapted to this kitten, I had no option but to accept Oru.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cats. Whenever I come across them on the street, I politely caress them and am greatly delighted if they displayed any modicum of affection to my ankles. But I had also been the youngest in the house for a very long time, a throne that would soon be occupied by another. Along with that, I wanted to shirk all possible duties that came with a new-born baby such as him. I resisted until one day, due to a bout of food poisoning, I started throwing up in the kitchen. Hearing me retch, this little man came trotting as fast as he could and stood by my side until I was done. When I went to my bed to lie down, he slept next to me. My brother claims that all the hours I had spent sleeping and recuperating, Oru hadn’t left my side. I had been bewitched; body and soul.
With Oru now as the centre of attention, I noticed an interesting shift in the way my parents and even my sibling conveyed their love to him. Every minute that Oru was not in their sight, they would fret. If he fell sick, they would sit by his side and wake up at odd hours of the night just to make sure he was okay.
There were plenty of reasons for my family to surrender to Oru’s charm but the fact that he could not speak the same language as we could played an important role. The violence of words can only be felt if you know what they mean. His meows only translated to conjectures. We did not know it then but Oru became the string that tied us together, he was the star atop the Christmas tree. He had incited a mid-life emotional development in my parents. In their 50s, their love poured from the want of a sense of duty and nurturing. Our love for Oru had become all-encompassing. We photographed his every yawn, panicked over every belch, and rocked him like a newborn – it did not matter how silly this seemed. I learnt that it was okay to love like this. If Oru pooped outside his litter, we couldn’t ask him to pick it up so he could learn for himself. Here, tough love would not do.
The violence of words can only be felt if you know what they mean.
As for me, I had never known what it was like to be the elder sibling. After we established Oru as a member of the family, I became the middle child, a designation that I accepted with pleasure. I finally had a younger sibling to pester and annoy, and to carry around in my arms. In every free moment, I inundate him with kisses much to his chagrin. After all these years, I have finally understood my childhood with my brother. Oru had put things into perspective.
His presence in the house meant coordination from the four of us. We stopped being victims of this self-imposed toughness that came with love. Unbeknownst, he had opened the floodgates to our emotions and expressions. If we could express it to him, we could express it to one another. He forced us to stop being units and come together as a team. (Especially when we had to give him his medicines. It takes three to hold him down and one to do the feeding.)
We had gotten the cat home when I was a little over 21 years of age. Today, I am 24. He has been a part of our family photo for 2 and a half (human) years which in cat age translates to 26 years of age. I am glad to assume the position of the youngest once again. However, I will continue to pamper him, as will we all, like he is the baby of the house. Because he is.
Sahej Marwah likes to have a finger in every bowl. She spends her time baking, writing, editing, podcasting, and pampering her cat. It's safe to say that she is now running out of fingers and is open to donations.