It was a winter afternoon and a farmer was returning home. A little freshwater shrimp and a couple of fish were all he managed to catch that evening from the local pond. The thought of fish fried in mustard oil helped quicken his pace along the dirt road. But suddenly he slowed down; he thought he heard a faint purr. Yes, there it was again... a kitten. From his childhood days he had established a kinship with furry and feathery beings of the world and it only took him a second to realise that a kitten was crying nearby. He went looking for it.
As he moved closer, a furry ball revealed itself – a famished weakling. He picked it up and held it close to his chest. Home. This was probably the thirtieth time he was doing this – playing foster father to kittens and puppies. This meek thing was in the best of hands. It would surely survive.
The farmer named the kitten Golu. Golu found a mother as well – the farmer’s wife. At first he refused to eat or drink, in spite the farmer’s wife and children trying all possible tricks. The kitten’s resistance broke when the farmer finally dipped his index finger in milk and put it inside Golu’s mouth. Instantly, Golu started sucking. Soon, Golu started eating meat and went crazy when fish was served.
Within eight months Golu had grown surprisingly big and was up to all kinds of impish antics. He had seen a neighbour feeding his hens. The feathery spheres with their clueless clucks fascinated Golu and he decided to pay them a visit in the evening. The chickens clucked their heads off and their owner came rushing out of the house, armed with a sturdy stick. Confronted by this animosity, Golu fluffed his body, curled his lips and bared his teeth. In the fading light of day, his shadow elongated by the man’s lamp presented a monstrous vision that made the neighbour tremble and scream. Golu quickly took this opportunity to escape, and came back home and nonchalantly assumed his usual pose on the porch of his house – the very picture of innocence.
Another day he chased a little black Bengal kid while its mother pitifully bleated her agony. However, this time he was seen by people in broad daylight. Enough was enough. The neighbours paid his owner a visit to ask him to contain this leopard cub or tiger cub or whatever it was... because it certainly wasn’t a house cat!
But the moment they stepped into the compound of the house, Golu arched his back, his fur stood on end and his teeth gleamed as he surveyed the intruders into his territory.
Not until his mother scolded him did Golu reluctantly settle down. As the list of complaints against the cat poured forth, a verdict was passed. Iron chains were ordered for Golu and from then on, he was to be tied and kept inside the boundaries of the house.
Appeased, the neighbours went back, the hens could be let loose and the goats could bleat and frolic, without the fear of a predator prowling the vicinity.
After almost a year his owner realised there was something amiss. He was as big as dog now... no common cat could possibly grow this large! Golu became uncontrollable when the mating season approached. His yowls filled the night air. Fearful as he was, Golu became a much loved curio, and on weekends village children would make a beeline to visit the striped, spotted cat.
However, within a matter of weeks, word of a pet fishing cat somewhere in Midnapore district in West Bengal got out. The media, getting a whiff of the story, assembled in the perplexed fisherman’s house. Sure enough, here was a fishing cat casually chained to the front door! Alerted by the media storm the Forest Department sprang into action, confiscating Golu and pressing grave charges against the cat’s poor foster father.
When thousands of fishing cats are poached and killed this farmer helped save a member of the species. It is at times like these that conservationists probably wonder where they are lagging. If only the well-meaning farmer had known that this was the endangered fishing cat and had informed the Department, perhaps today he would have won accolades for his selfless act. Perhaps Golu would not have had to bear the sudden shock and pain of this alienation from home and family.
A week after he was confiscated, we went to Jhargram zoo in Midnapore, where Golu was taken. He had not eaten for the first five days and we were concerned about his health. However, the kind and friendly zoo officials there gave him space to recover. He started eating and now he stays imprisoned in a cage in the zoo. Visitors come and go and he waits to feel the comfort of his family again, someday. But will that day ever arrive?