People often ask me who my best friend is. I find this to be one of those problematic questions, difficult to respond to: how can there be a singular? what are the parameters? is this specific to a decade? a continent? Usually, I just offer a meaningless quip: "Oh I have none: people have better taste" or "They knew too much; I gave orders" or something equally meaningless.
However, upon reflection, I have to say, my best friends are my non-human cohabitants, beings other humans often mistakenly refer to as "pets."
My non-human cohabitants offer me company, should I tire of my own, and demand I make no more effort than to ensure mass-produced, processed, store-bought food be available in their feeding spaces.
My relationship with the cats, for instance, is extremely intuitive. They sense when my back hurts more than can be soothed with Tylenol: between sleep cycles, I inevitably find warm, purring bodies nestled exactly at the epicenter from where the pain radiates. More mornings than I can count, I have woken up with the realisation that the back of my knee and calf is curved deliberately just so, that a feline body may fit perfectly there.
The cats, too, have trained me well. I do not need them to use words to know when they are in mood for a snack, in need of solitude, or consumed by wander-lust. I know the precise angle to move so that the cat is more comfortable on the cushion. I've computed, to the last inch, the amount of unfinished quilt a sleepy cat needs draped on the floor so her slumber may remain undisturbed by my needle.
My daughter is growing up faster than I ever thought possible, and I know my house will be too small for her soon. With every parent, I share the horrific, nightmarish prospect of a house without my child, compounded with the added isolation of being a single parent. I find myself trying to listen to what such silence would feel like, but my birds ensure that every moment within and immediately surrounding my living space is filled with their busy chatter, their whistles, their opinions. I do not need television: their daily dramas, fights, and wooing suffice. It also reassures and comforts me, somehow, that they recognize and greet me as one would an alien visitor: essentially benign, if vague and incomprehensible.
Of course, as is my wont, this relationship on my side is fraught with immense guilt at the despicable, unspeakable cruelties my species regularly visits upon theirs, not the least being my robbing them, namely the cats, of the most natural right of any living being: to procreate, because they are "fixed" since I am a "responsible pet owner." But then, like my daughter likes to remind me, I am subject to my nature, and would feel guilty even if they were the dominant species in my household, which, she again points out, they are!
I don't know if my life is enriched because I live with felines and birds because I can't conceive of an alternate existence. But I will concede to this: my roommates do root me, anchor me with the absolute conviction of belonging within my house.
As I stood in the kitchen of my mother's house in Baroda (India) on my last visit there, I saw a cat being offered a saucer by a little girl who lived in the house behind ours. This is one of the images of my personal collage of what Home means to me.