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What My Cats Taught Me About Life

I write this post in grief. A stray cat, Smokey, whom I nurtured from kitten hood, has been missing since January 20th 2022. She was last seen electrocuted at the transformer which is just outside my apartment gate. I did not know of this incident until 24 hours later. The night security guard, who saw it happen, told me that she got up and walked away after falling down from the transformer. This information was corroborated by the KEB personnel who came to restore power.

I don’t know if she is alive or dead, but having seen a small pool of blood at the accident spot, I fear the worst. I have been looking for her in the neighbourhood for the past three days. I can’t help but recall how much I have obsessed over Smokey, and her mother, for close to two years. I will tell you why.

The story of how Smokey entered my life is unconventional. Although I loved cats, living in an apartment complex meant that I couldn’t keep one at home.  I never imagined that Smokey would become such a huge part of my every day routine. The cats and I where on our own paths which crossed unexpectedly. And eventually, they left the most lasting impression on me. 

Smokey was born to a mangy, feral cat in my apartment basement circa March 2020. She had 5 siblings, none of which survived. It was lockdown time, and the mother cat found safe haven under parked cars in our small apartment which has around 30 houses. But disease, and maybe predators, resulted in all but Smokey passing away within a few weeks of being born.

I have always been a cat lover, so when I saw only Smokey surviving the litter, I decided to start feeding her and the mother cat. I named the mother Lucy, after Lucifer, because I was horrified at how she ate up one of her own kittens. I also intended to get Lucy and Smokey sterilised so they don’t go around reproducing and adding to the stray cat population. So, feeding them was the only way I could ensure that they stuck around in the basement. Unfortunately, this ended up becoming Smokey’s greatest weakness. She never learnt how to hunt, and was entirely dependent on me for food.

Flashback to May 2020, Lucy was an extremely skittish and shy cat. She was terrified of humans, but she was very much in need of food. She was very young, and this was probably her first litter. Initially, my feeding sessions were sporadic. I did not even know what to feed her. I wasn’t aware of the different types of cat food available in the market. But, Lucy used to follow me around in the basement. Since it was the lockdown, watching her and Smokey was a good way to pass time. I gently persuaded them to shift from under a neighbour’s car to my car, so nobody in the apartment would chase them away. From milk, to rice, to egg, to cat food, I gradually upgraded their meals. Smokey was growing up under the loving care of Lucy. She had the same temperament as her mother – she was scared of humans, albeit, a little less. She was never a lap cat and hated being held. She would do a funny act of coming near me, and suddenly running away when I bend down to hold her. I don’t know if she did it on purpose or because her feral genes. Despite that, I continued my feeding and play sessions.

 

This closeness between mother and daughter continued for over a year. Usually, mother cats distance themselves from their kittens after about 6 – 8 months, but not in the case of SmoLu, as I call the duo. Meanwhile, I was becoming a better pet parent. I was feeding them healthy cat food. I made a small cat-house for them to sleep in, where they would spend all morning cuddled together. I could never figure out what they did at night or where they went, because they would not remain in the apartment basement after supper. We have a huge open area beside the apartment, so they probably spent the night there. I even installed a CCTV camera near my car, to watch over them and understand their behaviour. The CCTV had a limited coverage area. I learnt quite a lot from the recordings. For instance, there were several male cats that visited the basement. 

 

2020 and 21 were like no other. Covid was ravaging India and the world. Everyone’s daily routine changed forever, with work from home becoming a permanent thing for IT employees. This also widened the gap between people who had cushy desk jobs and those who had to slog it out.

Since I could work from home, I spent a lot of time with SmoLu. In between meetings, I would go down and watch the two of them together. Smokey would ask me for treats or food every time she saw me. She was a mischievous and curious darling. She was extremely talkative, especially around meal times. Both of them would wait for me near the lift, in the mornings. They would come running towards me if they weren’t near the lift. When I would return home from outstation trips, they would come running towards me. Smokey would mewl loudly seeing me, demanding to be fed. She would inspect the car often, and the joke was that the car is hers, and not mine. Her curiosity never faded. Lucy on the other hand was very stoic. The only feelings she ever showed was towards Smokey, who was always by her side.

For close to two years, I have ensured that they were fed. This was not always easy, because if not me, it is my mother who would have had to go down twice a day to feed them.

I was obsessed with SmoLu, because that is how cats grow on you. They have immense character, and take no shit. They aren’t easy to please or fool. It took me almost a week to trap Lucy to get her neutered. With Smokey, it was relatively easy, and I was glad that she was neutered before she got into heat. Another time, I had to take Lucy to the vet, where she scratched me so badly that the scars on my hand haven’t gone.  

A couple of incidents stand out in my brief association with SmoLu. About a year into Smokey’s life, a male cat started to trouble these two. One day he picked a fight with Lucy and chased her away. She was gone for a week. I assumed that she was dead, because the security guards, who are my eyes and ears where the CCTV cannot see, told me that they saw the male cat chase Lucy into a drain. I was terrified that the same would happen to Smokey, and I brought her home to keep her with me. She was not at all happy in her new (comfortable surrounding), and wanted to be left back downstairs. We spent several sleepless nights fostering her, much to her displeasure. She would incessantly cry all night.

Thanks to the CCTV footage, I got to know that Lucy was back in the basement after about a week. My joy knew no bounds, because I had presumed she was no more. Unfortunately, she was not the same cat after this incident. The trauma made her aloof towards Smokey, who was still a young kitten at heart. Smokey never understood why her dear momma was hissing and swiping at her. It was heartbreaking to watch Lucy grow colder than she already was. But until the very last day I saw her, Smokey’s behaviour towards Lucy remained the same. Lucy was her everything.

Smokey also had her share of disappearing. Once, she was not to be seen for almost 2 nights, and I was sick with grief. But she was back in the morning, her usual self, asking for food like nothing had happened. Of course, she was terribly, terribly hungry. In fact, Smokey’s disappearances became more frequent than Lucy’s. Especially around the full moon. New tom cats started to enter the basement, and Smokey was terrified of all of them. She never learnt how to fight, unlike Lucy, who can hold her ground. Smokey was extremely good at hiding from danger, because after all, she spent her childhood playing under cars and getting into the bonnet.

I like all animals a lot, but I have a special corner for cats. Unlike dogs, where everything is always lovey lovey, Lucy and Smokey’s temperament was closer to that of humans. Lucy had her mood swings, while Smokey was curious and mischievous. A human should be extremely lucky to earn a cat’s love. They can be selfish, and vile. Once they have eaten, they will walk away from you and look at you like you are a stranger. SmoLu were no different, although somewhere deep inside I like to believe that Smokey loved me back, but only did not know how to show it.

I wonder if I got so attached to them both because of my own emotional gaps. I grew up a single child, with no playmates. My relationship with my parents has always been troubled. I have only my mother now, and things haven’t changed. I always loved animals but could never keep a pet. I have no children of my own, and after my divorce, I never felt the need to experience parenthood. Having seen a parent’s death, a broken marriage, and several ups and downs in life, my emotional temperament is like Lucy’s – stoic. I keep my distance from humans. Only with these two animals, I gave my all. 

So, in SmoLu, I found everything I felt lacking. The bond between mother and daughter was such a beautiful thing to witness. Smol Smokey was my companion, and I spent so much time downstairs in the basement playing with her. I was her pet parent, protecting her from Tom cats, and always on the lookout for tasty, healthy food. I rediscovered my childhood hobby of making electronic gadgets, thanks to them. I rigged up a CCTV system with a long range WiFi network and made them a water feeding station which really helped me keep busy during the second COVID-19 wave.

Being so closely involved with these two strays also meant that I became more aware of the the issues other stray animals in the city face. I was directly and indirectly involved in rescues of animals in need. I regularly donated money for animal welfare. I frequently read horror stories about how humans harm voiceless strays for no genuine reason. I read in the papers how over 50% of new COVID era pet parents abandoned their pets on the street, not realising what it takes to raise an animal. From my own experience, I can say that looking after animals, especially stray cats, is an emotional roller coaster. 

I think all animals are more aware of their mortality than we humans are. They live life, one day at a time. It takes only a little love from our side to receive boundless joy from them. They show no malice, and carry 100% pure innocence which humans lack. Each animal has a different character, like us. Genes, upbringing, environment and individual temperament make each one of them unique.  If you have a little bit of extra sensitivity to the world around, you will see what perfect creatures animals are, compared to us. 

Every time I managed to catch Smokey before her feeding time, I would hold her and cradle her like a baby. She would mewl in protest, and I would give her soft kisses. Because after all, we have only this brief life to show and receive love. Maybe it was always in the back of my mind that this might not last long. I am grateful to her for entering my life. 

Sleep well, my baby, wherever you are.

UPDATE: SMOKEY CAME BACK ON HER OWN A WEEK LATER. SHE WAS SUFFERING FROM BURN WOUNDS ON HER PAWS AND FACE. I TOOK HER TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY AND GOT HER ADMITTED. SHE RECOVERED BEAUTIFULLY!

Popular OLX Scams and Why They Still Work

Olx is a website where you can put up new or used stuff on sale. I don’t think Olx really monitors the quality of the items you post, so you could claim anything in your ad. .

Scammers are always on the prowl on Olx. Whether you are a buyer or seller, it won’t be long before you come across someone trying to rob you of your money.

Olx Buying Scams

Here is how con-men start their conversation when you have something on sale:

The seemingly harmless message is start of a long scam where you are tricked into sending your item to an address outside your city before receiving payment.  And the money for your item? It will never reach you. But the con-men will send you screenshots of fake bank transfers to show you that they have paid you. This is an old trick, and I generally just delete these messages.

Olx Selling Scams

Then there is the other type of scam – where you are the buyer and you come across a product and the price is tempting. In fact, it is too good to  be true. For example, this camera and lens is selling at half the price of what it is supposed to be selling for:

Just to see how far this seller would go, to scam me, I chatted with him on WhatsApp. The conversation that ensued was full of inconsistencies. Of course, I knew this was a scam, but I was curious because the seller’s ad on Olx mentioned that the product is in my city.

In the first two screenshots, the seller tries to convince me that he is selling a genuine product. He says he can deliver it to my place. He even shows me the bill.

The items in the bill did not match the products he had advertised for, but let’s not kill the fun right here, shall we?

After a lot of insisting that I would like to inspect the product, the seller relented.

He very confidently asks me to come to Arunachal Pradesh to inspect/buy the camera. Maybe he thought I’d fall for the authenticity of his words. But I did not, because he had told me he can deliver the product from Arunachal Pradesh to Bangalore in one day. So I asked him.

I decided to let go at this point of time because clearly, he was being very stupid. The distance between the address he mentioned, and my house, is 3000 km. And there are no direct flights.

Why Are There So Many Scams?

There are so many scams on Olx because there are a LOT of very stupid people on the internet. When I sell stuff on Olx, I always come across such people. Some are ill-mannered, some can’t read, and some just have a lot of time on their hands.

Here are the types of buyers have come across on Olx.

The Ones Who Lack Manners

These types of people are the most popular ones on Olx.  In the recent times, thanks to low-cost smartphones and cheap Internet, a lot of Indians have gone online. And the way we Indians behave online for everyone in the world to see. I think as a nation, we are by far the most ill-mannered people.

On Olx, you will find a lot of people who don’t believe in greeting, thanking, or closing discussions. Their messages are an example of how our education system has completely failed in teaching  us about basic courtesy.

Not closing a discussion is very common on Olx.

The Ones Who Try to Act Smart

This is the second most popular category of Olx buyers. They think they are smarter than you, but their words and actions don’t really prove so.

The dumbest of this type goes to Amazon, types the name of the product you are selling, and tries to prove to you that your product is over priced. Until now, all the people who have behaved this way with me have either not looked for the correct product, or not included everything I am offering on sale when searching. And it is not like Amazon is the hallmark of safe buying. There are sellers on Amazon who ship from overseas, but don’t mention that clearly in the description.

Another way of trying to act smart includes comparing products purchased in India with Indian warranty with prices abroad. For example, if you are selling a product which was purchased in India and has local, country specific warranty, it is not fair to compare the price of the same product in the international market where the price might be lower, but there is no warranty available in India. So it is never an apples to apples comparison.

 The Desperate Ones

I feel sorry for these guys. Because they very badly want what you are selling, but don’t want to pay for it. So they first lowball, and then try to justify their price.

These guys all have some theory that if it is a second hand product, the cost automatically drops to half or lesser, even if it is a day old.

The Ones Who Cannot Read

Even after you take great pains to put up all the details about your item in the Olx description, there will be people asking you very basic questions. I wonder if these people have a language problem, or reading problem. Here are a few examples.

Does it Have to be so Taxing?

The reason why I created this blog post is to show how a useful platform where buyers and sellers can meet to mutually benefit from each other’s needs (of selling and buying) has turned into a complex and dark place where Sigmund Freud would have loved to hang out.

When a seller puts something on sale, all they expect is to find someone who matches his expected price. If he doesn’t find such a buyer, it is up to the seller to lower the offer price or decide not to sell the product.

Thanks to the kind of people I have come across, online selling is a mentally draining activity. One must be prepared to get cheated, offended, abused and trolled by people who just don’t understand basic decent behavior and courtesy. All this only ends up sucking you of your energy and time.

But this is the direction in which all social media networks are headed, right?

 

I Lost Access to My Instagram Account

Instagram can be addictive. What happens if you are locked out and you cannot get your daily dose of the gram? It happened to me over a weekend. It was my own doing, but I also realised that Instagram has an unconventional way of verifying an account to restore access to it.

Before continuing, here is my Instagram handle. Follow me for photos from the beautiful outdoors of India. https://www.instagram.com/pixelshooter/

So here is what happened.

Instagram Two-Factor Authentication

I turned on two-factor authentication for my instagram account a month ago. I access my account from multiple devices (home, work, phone etc). Sometimes Instagram goes overboard with anti-spam protection and prevents me from performing legitimate actions. I even got shadow-banned for accessing Instagram from my desktop, but I fixed that problem. If you are interested in knowing how, drop a comment down in this article.

So with two-factor authentication, I not only wanted Instagram to secure my account, but I also wanted those silly “Action Blocked” messages to go away.

Instagram’s two-factor authentication requires you to enter a code in the authentication screen, after you log in using your password. This code can either be sent to you via text message, or is generated in an app such as Google Authenticator.

At first, I choose SMS based two-factor authentication. But due to delays in receiving the SMS, I turned on Google Authenticator based two-factor authentication. When I did this, Instagram sent me backup codes. Backup codes are to be used when you don’t have access to the authenticator app. And I did not save the backup codes. This proved to be a grave oversight on my part!

I had to reset my iPhone which is the primary device where I have the Instagram app installed. All data, including the Instagram and Google Authenticator app was wiped out when I reset my phone. After reinstalling Google Authenticator I could not complete the setup process because I did not have access to the Instagram app. This meant that I was effectively locked out of the app!

Instagram Support Interaction

I contacted Instagram via the login screen on the app. I promptly got an email which had an amusing set of instructions.

They wanted to see my selfie! And if my Instagram account had no pictures that showed my face, I would never be able to access my instagram account!

Now, this is a really strange way for a company to offer support to its users. What if you are a photographer who posts all sorts of photos except one of yourself? Or what if you were handling the account of a popular brand? How do you prove to Instagram that you are asking for legitimate help? From this email it was clear that Instagram expects you to have photos of yourself in your account. Who would have thought so!

Luckily for me, my feed had 2 photos where my face was clearly seen. So I emailed them a selfie with a piece of paper that had the information they wanted.

I immediately got another email asking for more information. This included details which I had to recall from memory.

At this point, I had many questions.

  1. How will non-technical users of Instagram know details such as whice Operating System they used to sign up for their account?
  2. Does Instagram actually expect us to remember such details?
  3. If Instagram is meant for selfies, why are they so big on security? After all, their own two-factor authentication scenario did not take into consideration what happened to me.
  4. Why can’t they just send a code via SMS to complete the authentication process in a situation where the user does not have access to Google Authenticator?

Actually, I don’t remember when I signed up for Instagram. I certainly don’t remember what OS or device I was on. So I provided them with information on how I currently access Instagram. As of now I am waiting for a reply to my support query. I may never be able to access my account. I will update the outcome here.

UPDATE:

So after another email where Instagram said some idiotic stuff, I got access to my account. I would like to believe they relented because I questioned their logic – what’s the use of protecting the privacy an account that may never be accessed ever again?

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