Rats are part of every day life. From chasing rats and catching rats to being part of the rat race, there is no escape from them, physically, metaphorically or literally.
Yesterday night I had been reading the brilliant satire Doctor Rat, by William Kotzwinkle and the result of it was that the entire night, big and small rats chased me all over the house. The moment I stepped out, I almost crushed a tiny mouse sitting thoughtfully on the staircase. No sooner did it hear my footsteps, it jumped from the staircase on to a scooter standing outside our house.
Before I could salute the survival instinct of the tiny thing, and the alacrity with which it jumped, I was distracted by a trundling- rattling-clanging sound. I shuddered at the prospect of the return of the prodigal, I mean that persuasive milkman, who had persistently stalked me, pleading, cajoling, persuading me to try the milk that he sold, at least once. “Try maar lo, ek baar”, being his refrain.
But no, it was the garbage man on his jugaad and another milkman, one whom I had never seen so far. A milkman with blue milk cans, not the orange ones that the earlier milkman had so unabashedly flaunted. It was still dark, and sleepy, half-hearted chirps cheered me on, as I walked with slow, diffident steps. Flanked by trees which appeared like scary silhouettes in the dark, it was the sound of sporadic twitters, and a sudden flapping of wings that appeared slightly reassuring. What was that? A sudden crackling buzz of a dragonfly?
Slowly the somnolent trees woke up and it appeared as if the branches were stretching themselves, touched and caressed lovingly by the rays of a new dawn. The reluctant sun had finally made its appearance and was greeted by a crescendo of exuberant chirps. In a frenzy of excitement, an emaciated dog polished off all the water in the bird bath. This was followed by a string of highly indignant chirps, hearing which a tiny pup scurried to the safety of a tree and started cowering there. People had started heading towards the pigeons with bags of grain and I could sense an eager anticipation in the restless pigeons.
The same birds are there every morning, but every morning offers something new, it is always a new discovery, a new sight, offering a novel insight. Well, did the tiny rat peeping from behind a tree know that I had been reading Dr. Rat? Suddenly a man, whom I had never seen in the neighbourhood, appeared before me with a mousetrap.
“I don’t know how to tackle this rat menace! So many of them! There are at least three in every room.”
“No! We live in a three bedroom apartment, so we have nine rats!” he said with a slightly superior air. I wondered at the archaic civility of the rats and why they never stepped into the living room or the kitchen.
The expression on his face could have made any rat in the vicinity scamper away in panic. Yes, one skinny little rat, eavesdropping from behind a black car, did scurry for cover!
“Oh, for a rat-free world!” the stubbled man in green lowers, exclaimed with a grotesque grimace, while I stood watching a cat stretching itself under the awning of the tea kiosk with a lazy elegance.
I rambled on for at least a couple of hours, and by the time, I headed back home, it was almost office time for many commuters. Suddenly the surroundings started resounding with horns, screeching of engines and harassed cries of office- goers, dashing towards their offices, clutching desperately on to their office paraphernalia.
Ah, the human rats had now replaced the smaller ones and had plunged into the mad rat race – with briefcases, laptops, neckties, business suits, salwar kameezs and frantic heartbeats. Now human rats had taken over and were rewriting the rules of the rat race in full flow – running , walking, nudging, jostling, pushing, colliding. That popped another question in my mind – do rats push each other in a race or rather push out others to make way for some?
‘And out of the houses the rats came tumbling;
great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats
Losing not a second, I also jumped on to the overcrowded bandwagon. The race has to go on – man or rat, this way or that.
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