The Incident of the Cat Litter

April 14, 2014

Once in a way, you come across a weekend that just knocks the stuffing out of you. This past weekend was one such. The events that unfolded this weekend could actually be told in four parts, but I’m going to leave out the least eventful two and treat you, dear readers, to only two parts. Get yourself a cup of coffee (or green tea or whatever) and settle down, because I am going to tell you all about it.

The Incident of the Cat Litter

The problem with keeping cats, instead of dogs, is that you need to do something about their litter. And I’m not talking about the sweet little babies they give birth to, but to the disgusting brown yuck that they eliminate into. You know – pee and poop.

So you do get some commercial cat litter, but I don’t know what it’s made of, and I’m pretty sure it’s expensive. And I doubt it’s biodegradable. And seeing that I’m married to this environmental nutcase, who collects every scrap of paper and plastic to sell it to the kabadiwalla (recycling guy), not to mention assiduously composting our kitchen waste… well, I obviously can’t think about using non-biodegradable kitty litter.

So we have been buying vast quantities of coco peat to use as litter. It’s actually a very good kitty litter – it’s lightweight and very absorbent, a good natural fertilizer, not too bad at absorbing odors, and extremely cheap at Rs 4 per kilo. I use about 2 kilos per day for our two boys. The only problem with this solution is that nobody bloody keeps coco peat. Gardening stores keep only some kind of highly condensed blocks that you are supposed to dissolve in water and use in the garden – not suitable for litter, obviously. Coco peat is made from the husk of coconuts, and in India, especially in south India, coconuts are big business. So we have the Coir Board of India and they keep infinite supplies of coco peat. Only hitch is, you have to go to Kasturba Road to get it. So that’s what I spent Saturday afternoon doing.

Now, to really appreciate what follows, you have to know me. I’m the sort of person who manages to not get lost only if I’ve been to a place at least 20 times. And even then, it’s chancy. I can get lost in a shopping mall, and not even a new one, and it doesn’t even have to be very big. I have a long and terrible history of getting lost. I got lost more than once in Italy, I managed to get lost and lead our whole party astray in the Himalayas, and I even outdid myself by getting lost in Chandigarh, the city I grew up in, and in a part of it I ought to have been extremely familiar with; a part I was, in fact, extremely familiar with – but that doesn’t mean I can’t get lost.

It was only the third time I was going the Coir Board. I know Kasturba Road alright, but I haven’t really had too many opportunities to drive there. Still, get on to MG Road and keep going straight, it doesn’t get easier than that. And even I can find my way to MG Road after 16 years in Bangalore.

The first time I went to the Coir Board, Amit drove, I got off across the road and he went all the way to Kanteerva Stadium to do the U-turn to get on to the other side. By that time, I had crossed the road (no easy task, since there’s a six-foot high barrier running all the way down Kasturba Road, to prevent people from crossing), gone to the Coir Board office, placed my order, got the sacks, paid the money, got the bill, and was waiting on the pavement outside to load the sacks. Perfect. No problem at all.

The second time I went, I had dropped the kids off for Saturday afternoon tennis. I dashed across to Kasturba Road, did the whole U-turn thing and parked on the roadside (a strict no-parking zone) and got the sacks and paid up and everything and got back to the tennis court only 5 minutes after their tennis class ended. Not bad at all. (It helped that I had taken precise directions regarding the u-turn business from Amit just before I started. And in my defense, it’s not actually just a u-turn. It’s kind of like you have to do this huge left-turn, right-turn circuit around Kanteerva stadium.

Still, I had done it all by myself, so the third time, I thought, would be a breeze. It was after the kids’ Saturday tennis and I had Amit in the car with me and the kids as well. No stress. I dropped Amit off across the road from the Coir Board and breezed off to Kanteerva Stadium to do the U-turn.

Now, you really need to know the city to make sense of what follows. If you don’t, here’s a map that explains how I wound up in the places I did, but it doesn’t really convey the flavor.

To cut a very long drive short, the first time I got lost I wound up in Cubbon park, then found myself driving past the Vidhana Soudha and almost wound up in Shivajinagar (!!!) before managing to find my way back to where Jewels de Paragon used to be – that is, the intersection of Kasturba Road with MG Road. All good – only 20-25 minutes wasted. Of course I had called Amit by then and told him that I was at the Vidhana Soudha – and I would have given anything to see his expression of bewilderment right then.

So anyway, 25 minutes later I was breezing past Coir Board again, still on the other side of the road, with the same u-turn looming up again. The first time I’d gone wrong by ignoring the kids’ directions and doing what I thought Amit had instructed me to do last time (which was more than a month ago). This time, I promised myself I would trust the kids – they clearly have better navigation skills than I ever will.

So I followed Tara’s directions to the letter and soon enough found myself on NR Road.

I don’t know about you other Bangaloreans out there, but for me, Nrupathunga Road, Silver Jubilee Park Road, and all those other roads over there are the stuff nightmares are made of. I’ve almost never been there (perhaps once) and all I know of that area is that it leads to some mystical place called City Market which is like a Bangalorean black hole – if you stray near, you get sucked in and are never heard of again.

What’s worse is, not only is that area always crowded, it’s also full of *expletive-deleted* one ways. Here I was, waiting at a traffic light on a road that was clearly taking me in a direction diametrically opposite to where I wanted to be, and my only option – my *only* option – was to go straight. What’s the point of a traffic light where you can only go straight??? Haven’t these people ever heard of left turns, right turns, and most important of all, u-turns?

So I stopped on the roadside and asked some random guy the way to Kasturba Road. “That way,” he said, point back the way I’d come.
“Yes, fine, but how do I get there?” I asked in exasperation.
“Just go straight, you’ll come to City Market, you can do a u-turn there,” he said, moving off to catch a bus.

Great. I went straight and a lovely-looking flyover emerged, beckoning me warmly. It was broad. It was empty. It was oh-so-inviting. I can just imagine how Odysseus felt when the sirens called out to him. It was all I could do to exercise my self restraint to the utmost and drift to the left of the alluring flyover. Later on Amit told me that it would have taken me most of the way towards Mysore, leaving him high and dry on the pavement with only 10 sacks coco peat for company. (At this point, I should also tell you that I had been low on petrol when we started from home two hours ago and by now my situation was perilous. I had money; all I needed was a petrol bunk. On that alluring flyover to Mysore, I would likely have run out of petrol long before I found a way off it and to a petrol bunk.)

Ultimately, of course, I did find a u-turn and then I found my way to Corporation circle, and another red light (somewhat to my relief). At just that moment, Amit called. “Where are you?” he asked tersely.
“I don’t know!” I wailed. “Um… there’s an LIC building on my left.”
“Ok, good. Go straight. Don’t take the next left, or you’ll wind up at the railway station and another whole bunch of one-ways-“
The light changed. There were plenty of cops around. I cut the call abruptly and started driving, trying to remember what he had been telling me about the next left. (I blank out directions when I’m in a panic.) It didn’t help that the kids in the back seat were continuously throwing helpful hints and unhelpful questions at me in rapid succession. “Oh, I know that building. DIdn’t you come this way already? You have to go left here. No, go straight, go straight. Isn’t that where Vidit lives? What are we having for dinner?…”


When I finally pulled up at Coir Board, I had been driving around in circles for an hour! I had taken the kids on a city tour that included a drive-by of Cubbon Park, High Court, Vidhana Soudha, SJP Road, City Market, and just narrowly avoided City Railway Station and Mysore. And I still had a tiny bit of petrol in my tank.

The Coir Board guy who had been waiting patiently to load the sacks of coco peat smirked at me and muttered under his breath, “Waste. Waste!” (You have to be a Bangalorean to understand that one, too.) Amit, much to his credit, didn’t laugh, didn’t explode, and in fact, reacted only with profound relief tinged with resignation. Which is just as well, because after that he drove us to Chitra Kala Parishat and managed to get lost on the way. Not as spectacularly as me, of course, but I am a hard act to follow.

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