Have you heard of cat cafés around the world? From Tokyo to Paris and from Taipei to Budapest, there are cafés where you can enjoy the company of feline companions while sipping your cup.
I haven’t been to a cat café. But in Mumbai, I found a cat laundry shop.
“It’s best to leave things to experts rather than experiment with your precious fabrics”, proclaims a newspaper clipping pasted on the wall of Indian Express laundry shop.
Established in 1940 and located in the busy Colaba market, close to the Mumbai landmark Gateway of India, Indian Express is not only a laundry shop with a long history. It is also an abode of compassion.
Several cats linger and sleep outside the shop. A water bowl is placed on the pavement for them. Painted on the bowl with curly letters is a fitting statement: “Spoiled rotten and loving it!”
There are more cats inside the shop. Some of them walk around in light steps, curling their tails pleasantly, while others nap undisturbed amid the piles of laundry.
The scene always warms my heart as I walk by. And one day, I stop by to ask: how did a laundry shop become a safe haven for street cats? I receive a smiling welcome and end up spending a wonderful afternoon learning the story.
“The shop owner’s daughter likes cats”, explains Umesh V. Amin. ”Seven years ago, the owner’s daughter saved a street cat from distress. She persuaded her father to allow the cat to stay in the shop.” That’s how Indian Express became home for the yellow-striped Babli, who now sleeps soundly on the upper floor. It seems like a proper spot for the shop’s first cat: from there, Babli can easily monitor all the goings-on.
Over the years, many cats have followed in Babli’s paw steps.
In the courtyard at the back of the shop, timid Koyal hides behind an old ofï¬ce chair. Rajnikanth, namesake of a popular actor, strides in and looks straight into my camera while one-eyed Kaani jumps on a side table and waits as Amin’s colleague Ranganathan Kanavde pours kibbles on a plate. Lolled on another table is Lata Mangeshkar, named after one of the brightest stars of Indian ï¬lm music. “Because this cat’s voice is so sweet”, Amin says.
Indian Express is a safe haven for about fifteen cats altogether. “During the rainy season, the cats sleep inside the shop”, Kanavde explains. The staff also take care of the cats’ vaccinations.
What do the customers think? Waiting for her clean laundry on the counter, a young woman tells me that she loves cats and that she really appreciates how they are cared for here.
According to Amin, the majority of customers are positive about the cats. “And those who do not like cats, come back nevertheless. They can’t find better service anywhere else!” he laughs.
Text & photos: Maria Jain