How hunt for missing cat highlights Kashmir’s growing pet love

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Duldul. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

The stressful search didn’t remain confined to Srinagar only. Even pet communicators were consulted for any clue but it never helped.

In one of the archetypical alleys of Srinagar’s Chota Bazar area, Alfarakh arrived at her store in an uneasy mood. Sporting a long blue-shaded designer pheran, the self-starter sat on a chair, stared at her phone and started detailing the pet-bond that changed her life.

In the trauma-ridden post-abrogation era of Kashmir—when pets became new stress-busters in the caged valley—Alfarakh’s younger brother one day brought home a 40-day-old male kitten they named Duldul.

The “bundle of joy” fulfilled the siblings’ long desire of parenting a pet.

Alfarakh’s family warmly received the new member who equally grew attached to them during lockdown.
Being a Persian-Siberian crossbreed, Duldul was more of a Siberian cat than a Persian one. The pet liked to explore. And this exploration instinct had already troubled the kitten a lot.

Duldul had fallen from the third floor of the family house twice. “Luckily, Duldul survived both the times,” said Alfarakh. “Moreover, the kitten didn’t like cuddles and frequent touches. But I was the only one who could touch and pamper it anytime.”

On December 16, 2020, when Alfarakh was watching YouTube, Duldul for the first time sat on her lap. Experiencing this for the first time made the pet mother emotional, she said: “I embraced Duldul and it became my darling forever.”

The beloved kitten enjoyed all the freedom in the house and used to live in any of the rooms of its choice. With no restrictions, the pet would take nap on windowsills, stairs and sometimes even go to attic. The kitten had very peculiar yet punctual habits.

While sleeping in Alfarakh’s room, Duldul would wake up at 3 in the morning and knock at the parent’s room. After sleeping there for exactly one hour, the kitten would again start meowing and come out.

“The kitten was a walking alarm,” Alfarakh recalled.

Perceiving this cat characteristic in platonic manner, Alfarakh believes that Duldul wanted all the family members to pray ‘Tahajud’ (night prayers).

“We humans believe in giving and taking,” the pet mother said. “But the bond that we share with our pets is purely unconditional. You don’t expect anything from them in return, neither can they say how much they love you. This is the pure and sacred form of love and attachment.”

For her pet’s safety, Alfarakh would even request everyone, especially during Ramzan, to pray for Duldul. “They would react in funny ways,” she recalled.

But all those prayers couldn’t prevent the inevitable — eventually making Alfarakh a pitiable pet parent.

The night after her pet sat in her lap for the first time, Duldul went to her brother’s room. The kitten started whining in front of the closed door before Alfarakh heard a ‘strange’ meow at around 3:30am.

She went down, and brought Duldul to her room. In the morning when she woke up, she found her pet’s litter box surprisingly clean. This made her skeptical and she started calling him. When he didn’t respond, she searched every room, every floor, terrace, garden but she found everything except Duldul.

“The thought of my pet running away,” she exclaimed, “was not even in my farthest imagination!”
From here a pet mother’s struggle to find her pet son began and she witnessed a world which she never knew existed.

From neighbours to shopkeepers, she looked for Duldul everywhere. While going from door to door, she met with the same question, they used to ask jokingly, “What! Are you asking about you lost cat?”

“It’s a very rare and costly breed!” Alfarakh would angrily respond.

This distressing cat hunting didn’t remain confined to Karan Nagar, Lalbazar and Hawal areas only. When a Kashmir based NGO told Alfarakh about pet communicators, she immediately contacted them.

“In the initial stage I didn’t believe that people can actually communicate with animals,” she said. “But there comes a time when you want to do everything possible in your domain to get your loved one back.”

Doing sessions with pet communicators was not an easy task. They would charge her Rs 1500-2500 per session. After getting some clues, she got more excited and would do four to five sessions per day.

The search for Duldul was exhausting Alfarakh physically, mentally, emotionally and economically.

Since the little cat was no less than a child for her family, Alfarakh’s mother cried for a week following his disappearance. She even used to blame herself for not taking care of the pet until her daughter reminded her—“It’s destiny.”

“The journey has taught me many things,” Alfarakh said. “It showed me the real faces of some people who don’t have a little understanding of what a person with a lost pet is going through.”

During her search, she even heard different theories. Some pet communicators and shopkeepers told her that Duldul had been hit by a car. But the very next moment they ruled it out because Duldul had brown patches on underbody, while the cat killed in accident was purely white in appearance.

These theories haven’t stopped yet despite a year already ending in elusive search.

At her store, Alfarakh still has a ray of hope that Duldul will someday show up in her room.

“When I go to my room, I still check if Duldul had come back,” she said while looking at the photograph of the lost pet in her phone.

“A ray of hope is still alive in me and that’s the most hard and hurtful experience.”

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