A Street Cat Named Minu

I can’t remember the first time I met Minu. He was a scrawny, dirty cat with black and whitish fur. He has been a stray in our neighborhood for a long time. The thing I remember the most about Minu is when I came back home from the university or work, he would always be there downstairs to greet me every day. He would walk around my legs while petting me with his body and his tail would be upright with content. And he wouldn’t stop until I petted him back. I never got such a warm welcome even from my pets at home!

We used to give him food every day. My father was against it completely because it dirtied our staircase. We live on the second floor and our neighbor from the third floor also gave Minu rice, curry etc. on old newspapers like us. Several others of the building also didn’t like it since the food attracted other stray cats and they ended up fighting inside out building. Another reason behind people not liking Minu was that he was a sickly cat. He was tiny for a tom cat and it took him a long time to eat. He was pale and had some sort of skin disease. Maybe he was just old? We are still not sure.

My sister and I really liked Minu. He was so friendly to us. He really wanted us to adopt him. We could tell because he never wasted a chance to express his affection for us! But we already had a cat and we were allowed to keep only one animal at a time. We also didn’t have contact with a decent vet at the time. Even my mother and Mashi who stayed with us gave him food every day. But Minu was still a stray. He stayed on his own in our neighborhood and surprisingly he was a thug cat! He got into fights with other tom cats to keep his territory and always managed to dominate them! Even though he was always the physically weak one! Minu had a fighting spirit through and through. But whenever he came to meet us, he became this mushy, cuddly kitty. He was adorable.

One day, Minu did not come and mew outside our door as usual. Morning passed, afternoon came. He still wasn’t there. I started to get worried. I looked around our building from the windows and finally I saw him sitting alone behind our building. It looked like someone had peeled off most of his skin from his back. I was completely mortified. I called him but he couldn’t even look up. Mashi and I went downstairs immediately, walked through the dirty narrow passage between our building and the one next to it and then finally got to the small space behind our building. When Minu saw us he started mewing. He finally managed to get up and followed us from there to upstairs.

We didn’t know what to do. As I mentioned already, back then we didn’t know any good vet; we had to figure something out by ourselves. It looked like someone poured hot water on his back but we weren’t sure. Most of his fur on his back was gone and we could see his red flesh. We finally put some corn flour on his back since it’s supposed to heal wounds. He didn’t seem to like it that much. He eventually managed to eat some food and left.

He didn’t come back for several days. We were pretty sure that he was dead by then. I remember how helpless and horrible I felt for not being able to help this tiny, dirty ally cat who just wanted a home. Unfortunately, this is a feeling I am too familiar with. Every day I see stray cats and dogs on the streets of Dhaka who need someone to look after them. People here rather buy fancy breeds paying a shitload of money who often don’t even live that long anyway since they aren’t local and natural breeds. But to be fair, people who buy exotic breeds just as a status symbol often don’t really care about animals anyway. So strays are better off on the streets than ending up with that sort of people. But people in general, for some reason, don’t see that if you take care of a stray, it can become as beautiful as any exotic breed, if not more.

Miraculously, Minu came back several days later. He still had the horrible wound on his back but he at least wanted to eat. During the course of the next few days we tried different stuffs and finally figured out that aloe vera juice worked best for his wound. We have several pots full of aloe vera plants at home. We would cut a leaf, peel its one side and smear the slimy extracts on his wound. He would protest a little and sometimes lick off a bit of it, but it was working. Mashi patiently put on aloe vera on Minu most of the days for several weeks. His wounds were finally healing. After several months, he was good as new! His wound healed, his fur grew back in patches and he was again the over-loving scrawny cat that got into fights with big tom cats and managed to hold his ground against them!

We fed Minu for a year or so. Then something disastrous happened to our family. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. She is ok now but we went through a period of utter chaos and instability that lasted for almost a year. Since my mother was the one who fed Minu after I started to work, he had to go back from the door of our home in an empty stomach. We finally decided to shoo him off. We were also scared that Minu might spread diseases as he was sickly and shed a lot fur.

We still saw him every now and then in our neighborhood. There was one last time when he petted me when I got back from work one day. After that we seldom saw him. Eventually, he forgot about us and didn’t recognize us anymore. Or maybe he did but was angry with us. I think I saw him sometime this year as well. But now he is a complete stray. Wherever he is, I am sure he is doing just fine because he is a survivor. Because his movie human persona would have been Michael Corleone!



A Bat

I was having a very busy and stressful day. My father got back home at around 9pm (in Bangladesh, you usually live with your parents until you get married or move to another country). He called everyone in the house and told us to gather around. Then he reached for his laptop bag and brought out a tiny grey thing from the front pocket. It was a baby bat! I am still not sure if it was a fruit bat or insectivorous bat, but it was a bat for sure. It couldn’t fly even when we put it down. It crawled on the table and shrieked when it was held by hand.

My father then told us that he went to the income tax office and on the tenth floor he saw the poor little bat crawling on the floor and people chasing it to kill it. He took the bat, put it in the bag and brought it home. But none of us knew what to do next. I know how to take care of kittens but I don’t have a clue about what to do with a baby bat! My sister tried to feed it milk from her finger but it didn’t work. I vaguely remembered that bats eat bananas. So I told my sister to google it and turned out they do (the fruits bats do at least). So our housemaid fed it tiny pieces of banana from her finger! That was the first time I properly saw its face and oh my god … the baby bat was adorable. It had black beady eyes. The baby bat was so small! Also, I was amazed to see that our housemaid, Mashi, took it upon herself to feed the baby bat. Even I was too scared to touch it. The baby bat shrieked a lot when she was trying to hold her properly but it became quite after eating a little bit of banana.

So tiny!

After it was done eating, I brought out my cat’s plastic basket that had tiny holes on it and a lid, put some paper and old cloth in there, and put the bat inside. Then I did a bit of research online on how to take care of baby bats and found out that lost baby bats are often dehydrated. So I filled a tiny bottle cap with water and put it inside. During my research on bats, I also found out that bats can carry a few types of diseases and a friend of mine also told me the same. I then contacted an animal rights group, who told me that I could try keeping the basket open near a window for the night and see if it flies away. Sadly, they don’t take in wild animals. In fact, I don’t think there is any animal rights organization in Dhaka that takes in wild animals. There are few to begin with and they mostly work for dogs, cats and other domestic animals.

As I was somewhat certain that the baby bat was not injured, I suggested to release it. When we went to take it out, we found out that it was hanging upside down from the side of the basket and sleeping! That just melted our hearts. Who knew how long it was since it ate and how tired it must have been. It could have also been injured or sick internally, which might not be visible. So we decided to give it some time to rest and keep it for the night.

In the morning, we fed it banana again and then I attempted to feed it some milk. I found some YouTube videos on how to feed tiny bats and discovered that you can easily do that with a cotton bud. So that’s what we did. Mashi wrapped it in tissue papers, dipped a cotton bud in milk and then put it on the baby bat’s mouth. It instantly started to suckle on it! Its tiny little ears were moving and it closed its eyes while suckling on the cotton bud. That was the first time I realized how adorable bats are, even though they look scary from a distance.

Mashi feeding milk to the adorable little bat

But I also felt really bad about keeping it captivated inside a basket. I couldn’t keep it out in the open because my cat, Foxy, would attack it and also because it tried to crawl to corners which might be out of our reach. But inside the basket it would cling to a side for hours and it just looked so sad. My mother was also concerned that it might spread diseases or fleas. The vets in Dhaka barely knew how to take care of the big mammals, let alone bats. So there was nothing else that we could do except release it. Taking care of baby bats require professional expertise and there is none in our country. Also, it seemed like the baby bat is not injured and wanted to get away. So, with a heavy heart, I let Mashi take it away and leave it in a nearby garden. Apparently the moment she put the baby bat on the ground it crawled away superfast and got out of sight. I don’t think the little bat can fly …

It feels terrible to leave a helpless animal this way. Then again it seemed extremely frightened and uncomfortable with us around too. As far as I read, bats cannot be domesticated. Even if you keep one as a pet, it will always be frightened of you. I am not sure if it’s true. Maybe I am just trying to feel less guilty about it. But I think it was the right thing to do. Freeing the baby bat gave it more chance to find other bats to live with, as bats usually do, and also learn to survive on its instincts. Because often I see that once you domesticate an animal and keep it indoors all the time, they become too dependent on humans and forget their animal instincts.

I wish I could take care of it …

A Joke

I started my morning reading the Prothom Alo – the most widely circulated newspaper of Bangladesh. The headline says: “Opportunities of employment has decreased: Recent BBS workforce survey.” No big shock there. But it might make you think twice if you look at the findings in detail. Currently there are 2.6 million people unemployed in Bangladesh. More alarmingly, employment rate is highest among the most educated – 9 in every 100 undergraduates or post graduates are unemployed. Ironically, only 2.2% of the uneducated are sitting at home. The article actually says that in Bangladesh, you have better luck finding a job if you are illiterate!

And it makes sense. I see this every day around me. Most of the people I know who are currently unemployed (including myself), are either Master’s or Bachelor’s degree holders. Whereas those who are from less affluent families, have received no or very little education in their lives, are all earning money; no matter how little the amount is. The reason for this is high expectation.

I, myself, is an apt example of this crisis in Bangladesh. I started to work full-time the next day of my last exam of undergraduate studies. The job did not pay much. I knew nothing about the job market or work environment. All I wanted was to gain experiences. I worked as an intern for six months and it paid almost nothing. Eventually I got better opportunities and started to earn more. For various reasons, I decided to enroll in a Master’s program. I ended up quitting my job because I couldn’t handle both work and studying at the same time (many others can but I am lethargic). I also began to look for opportunities of further higher education in a European country. Anyone who has ever applied for higher education abroad from a developing country knows how time-consuming and depressing it can get (or maybe it’s just me). I got accepted to a university but with no scholarship. So I couldn’t go.

Then began my search for a job here in Dhaka. But unlike last time, I was not willing to start from scratch all over again. I cannot work as a lowly intern again! I cannot work just anywhere! I am a highly educated person now for heaven’s sake! I want to work in a specific sector related to my field of study and interest. And this is the problem. This is the problem that has been holding back 9% of the highly educated people. And I cannot blame them. I think the same way. But I can also see it was a wrong decision to only pursue higher education, especially when I focused more on it than trying to find ways to get a new job.

And the funny part is this figure of 9% unemployed rate among the highly educated is what BBS (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics) says . The real percentage ought to be much, much higher (anyone who is aware of the ‘accuracy’ of BBS data knows this). People in Bangladesh just accept it as a fact that if you have the money to pay for it, then you must get a higher degree, at least a Master’s degree. It is a social norm here. We don’t even stop to think and ask ourselves: do I really need this degree? We continue fooling ourselves thinking this degree will ensure a better future. In reality, what really matter are networking, proper connections and specific skills that one should have acquired.

This social norm as well as this type of unemployment scenario are partly the creation of the absurd education system of the country. It forces us to be confined within the boundaries of text books with mostly bad teachers. It teaches us to conform to the system, to follow rules, to think within the box. It teaches us how to be good kamlas. It teaches us nothing about how to deal with real life and how to improve networking skills. It doesn’t encourage us to be innovators and entrepreneurs. The enrollment rate is very high in primary level education in Bangladesh, which the government shows off to the world as a huge achievement of theirs. They have managed to increase the quantity of education, not its quality.

Thus we end up thinking, ok, so I just have to pay lakhs of taka then one day it’ll pay off. But does it for everyone? The way we race with extreme competitions to reach that finish line seems like a never-ending marathon. I am fully aware that finding a job is not the only point of education. But the system needs to be changed in a way that actually helps  people to build their careers.