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4 Dogs, 12 Cats, 5 Cows and More – My Story of Growing up in a House Full of Pets in the ’50s

4 Dogs, 12 Cats, 5 Cows and More – My Story of Growing up in a House Full of Pets in the ’50s

Shibani Datta writes about life in a house full of pets in the '50s and what the experience taught her.

I was born in Imphal, and grew up in a sprawling house that my father had built over a hundred years ago. It was an oasis, our house nestled in the midst of rose gardens, vegetable patches and towering trees, in particular a mango tree that was a bit of local legend. We also had a pond beside our house, where we spent days sitting by the bank or swimming in the waters. It was a beautiful time, growing up in the lap of nature.

What truly set our home apart were our assorted pets. We were 10 siblings and our animals shared our life’s joys and sorrows.

Shibani Datta with her favourite dog

We had four pets dogs — Prince, Top, Tommy and Billo. They were our friends and protectors. Once, when my younger brother Gopal was only four years old, he fell into the pond. No one else was around, but our dogs jumped in and brought him to safety. Another time, one of my other brothers who was even younger was dangerously close to a snake. It was again our dogs who saved him.

Next on our list of favourites were our many, many cats. We had dozens of cats at home and many kittens too. Imagine trying to get all of them to have their meals! It’s often said that dogs and cats don’t get along. But we have watched our pets play with each other all day, and it was a source of unlimited delight.

Did you think that was all? We also had five cows – Kali, Lalli, Chitra Godhuli and Manghli. We had two goats who we named Locket and Lama, and their kid would play around our yard all day. I think he fancied himself a deer, but our laughter knew no bounds when we watched him sprint.

The Better India & The Care Shelter have partnered together to bring an animal rescue van to Bangalore. If you #LovePawsitivity, support this campaign.

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Living with animals can be a source of learning as much as joy. Our pond was filled with a variety of fish, and we would take our fishing rods and try our hand at fishing.

Angling taught my siblings and I a great deal about patience and concentration.

Shibani’s brothers with a fish from their pond

As we honed our fishing skills, ducks and swans would gently wade on the water offering us their peaceful company. Incidentally, we had a small poultry farm too — our favourite was a multi-hued rooster with the biggest crest I have seen. It might be hard to believe, but he would actually puff up and start dancing on request.

Over the years, we developed a relationship with animals that did not need words to express our love for them. I remember when our cow Mangli was stolen. Incredibly enough, she found her way back. The thieves followed her too, and insisted she was their cow. As a test, my mother challenged them to call her and feed her. They failed miserably, but as soon as my mother called out, Mangli rushed to her side.

If our pets were in pain, so were we.

The Datta Family in Imphal

We reared bees in our beehive, and every month we would collect honey from it. It was terribly upsetting when we found some of our bees dead one month. After all, each of our animals, birds and insects, and even the plants and trees in our garden, all served to show us how man and nature can co-exist in harmony.

Our house was built on the eastern side of Imphal river and not very far from the royal palace and the Shri Shri Govindaji and Hanuman Temples. The early morning bells of the mangal arti would wake us early in the morning and during winters, all the children would gather by the river and head to the temple. There were around 3,000 monkeys around the Hanuman Mandir, and while they struck fear in the heart of other visitors we simply thought of them as our ancestors.

Among my friends, one of them had a pair of deer at home, and we would often play with them and feed them grass and gooseberries. We grew up surrounded by the beauty of nature, and life was free of any pressure.

I wonder if it is my time with pets that attracts me to animals even today, after decades have passed and we have left our home behind. Kittens follow me around our neighbourhood in Kolkata where I now live, dogs settle themselves outside our doorstep.

I usually go around giving away lone kittens – and the occasional cat – to loving families in my neighbourhood.

Trees, flowers, animals and birds – they are sensitive, and really not very different from us. Living close to nature made us realise how important it was to maintain the fine balance of nature. It taught us the need to protect and preserve nature, and it can do the same for everyone.

The Better India & The Care Shelter have partnered together to bring an animal rescue van to Bangalore. If you #LovePawsitivity, support this campaign.

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(Written by Shibani Datta)

About the author: Shibani Datta is a Bengali writer, whose works have been published in books, little magazines and journals. Growing up in Manipur in the years post-independence, she also worked as a teacher and researcher. She presently lives in Kolkata with her husband, bestowing love on her terrace garden and teaching children in her spare time.

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