Anybody else remember that gem provided by Cartoon Network called Sheep in the Big City? The show’s incessant reference to oxymorons? Private Public and General Specific? Didn’t you love it? Well, actually, I hated it because most of those adult jokes (by which I mean they were too mature) flew right past me.
But anyway, putting aside any fanciful walks down cartoon memory lane, I would like to segue into a discussion of animals of a very different kind. Real ones as opposed to animation, belonging to the rodent family, and having very evil eyes that I would have thought to be signs of the coming of the end of the age. Oh yes. Rats.
I have long had an association with these creatures. From around the age of ten when we moved into our grandmother’s house and I realized that at late hours of the night, dangerous creatures would come out and wander around the kitchen, mutilating pots, pans, sufurias; munching on loaves of bread, and leaving their tiny droppings everywhere. Half the time I lived in fear, expecting to come down with the bubonic plague as though I were a peasant in the Middle Ages who had to make do with one bath per week.
I amused friends in school with tales of our mutant rats. In fact, they were so evolved, so far above the variety Cartoon Network tried to feed us time and time again, that I subconsciously began to think of them as R.A.T.S. In full: Rabid Apocalyptic Threats to Survival.
Once I found one outside in the compound, dead. I poked at it using a pitchfork. Such a huge thing. The size of a small cat or a baby chihuahua. Strangely, I found no gratification in the act, for where one pair of red eyes was extinguished, another hundred dwelled within the home.
In high school they became my main tormentors. For the two years that I spent in boarding school, they instilled fear in the girls in my house. A week would not go by without a scream of “Panya!!! Uuuuuwiiii!” The brave ones like myself would march out, broom in hand, only to scurry back into the room at the sight of a disappearing tail.
In second form, things got worse because of a hole in our dorm room’s roof. The R.A.T.S. were relentless. They used their teeth to tear holes into my beautiful bags, eating their way through my snacks and boring holes into my milk such that the smell of spoilt milk filled the interior of them. What was left could not be salvaged. The thought of bubonic plague consumed me. At night, they fell on me. One. Two. Once. Twice. Soon, I would go to bed covered with my blankets from head to toe. No lotion on my feet, they might gnaw my little toes off one by one. I nearly became an insomniac, drifting off to sleep only to be awoken by the sound of scratching and fighting upstairs. The R.A.T.S. had fashioned their own Valhalla above us. The mortal had they decided to toy with was me.
I wrote to a tearful letter to mum. Get me out of here. The reasons were many, but chief among these were the rats. She realized how serious I was when I came back home with suitcases full of holes, one of them a gift bestowed upon her by a relative years ago. It was supposed to have lasted twenty years. The R.A.T.S. cut down on its life span by half.
Whenever I remembered those days, I would sigh in relief should any thoughts of regret have entered my head. Better here, I would say. Better here than there, where the R.A.T.S. tormented me.
But their reign of terror did not end. They banished me from my balcony when our flats were under construction. Every night I would look longingly at the night sky through the window. So many stars to be seen, so many unseen. Damn those rodents.
And when I tried to read Orwell’s 1984 only to give up halfway because I knew Winston’s downfall would be brought about by his fear of rodents. Damn you Winston.
And when I was watching Kareena Kapoor’s Heroine in which she had a friend nicknamed Rats which immediately had me suspicious such that I was screaming at the screen, “Don’t trust her, Kareena! She is going to stab you in the back!”
And how I could never truly appreciate the movie Ratatouille when it was released. A rat cooking my food? Bleeeeurgh!
So when last weekend my brother and uncle recapped some of their favourite methods of getting rid of the pests, I listened on in fascination, feeling not an iota of pity for them. Well, there was an iota. But nothing more.
Of course, feeding them to the cat was high on the list, a good option, humane even. An apt demonstration of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. Only that the cat in question disappeared after a while. They conjecture that the cat was eaten by the rats. The rats, in this case, were the fittest. Rats 1, Cats 0.
And there was the drowning. Things became a bit dramatic here. Imagine waterboarding a rat. This is what psychological warfare does to us. And when the victim of our sadism opens its tiny, whiskered mouth to breathe, you give it your best Brad Pitt Fight Club sneer and intone in your best New Jersey mob-goon accent, “You wanna talk. Time for talkin’ is over, sonny,” before plunging it beneath the surface as its little paws struggle for life.
There was poisoning. Never a safe bet given how many of us still drop food on the floor before picking it up and popping it into our mouths since “germs are not aware.”
And of course, the coup de whatsit/cherry on the proverbial cake. Traps. A few tens of shillings in the market. Cheese is too expensive as a lure. Try some ugali, or better yet, metal. It turns out though, nobody ever seems to want to use traps around here. It could be because Jerry always escaped in Tom and Jerry. Or, it could be, we just want to kill the damn bastards.
However, all hope for their species is not yet lost. They are as cunning as they are irritating. For every rat the humans have caught, there live ten thousand more. The battle has reached a stalemate. These days if they happen to catch you awake at three o’clock in the night, you end up hanging out like buddies. They nibble on a hunk of rice on a used plate at the far end of the room and you say, “Would you like a drink with that?”
And you realize, folks, as you stare at them as they nibble on your leftovers–as they survive; that these things are not R.A.T.S. They are simply rats. Thus, evoking the expression in the photo above, I say this: love them, hate them, want to kill them, at the end of the day they are just rats. It’s not a nuclear bomb. It’s just rats.
If you’re thinking this whole ridiculous story was a metaphor,I say this: isn’t everything in life a metaphor? But then again, and I feel I must lay stress on this, it could just be another case of R.A.T.S. just being that. Rats.