“Hey just saw this. How about rats? We have rats all over our office.”
This was our designer Indu Manohar responding to my email soliciting ideas for a seriously long overdue community post. What followed in the email was Indu’s breathless proposal for what I believe to be our most vital community post thus far. To adequately bring out the grandeur of this tale, I will proceed in an ancient bardic form, separating the akam (the inner landscape) and puram (the exterior landscape). Normally, akam poems are concerned with love and the personal (in this case, our anecdotes with rats) and the puram poem concerns war, the state and worldly affairs (in this case, the rat in an urban context). Let’s begin with the proverbial thalaivi, Indu in this instance.
“My electric car is currently facing rat biting problems, so I came by cab today. I also offered a rat from office a lift to my house last week. No joke. I stopped to open the gate of my house and it ran out from under my car and disappeared into my garden. I don't know if it was a home rat that went for a day trip to work, or a Leela rat that decided to move.”
Our modest garden rat, possibly hearing echoes (well, this a bit of a stretch but rats do have incredible hearing) of an ancient, far more ambitious trail left by their ancestors who followed the human migratory patterns, sailing with us over the oceans, settling and thriving where we did. Our other office rat, a distinguished fellow, promptly feasts on any crumbs we leave behind and helped himself to an entire packet of Grand Sweet and Snacks’ asafotieda infused potato chips one weekend too. Our attitudes towards the garden rat are reminiscent of the ambivalence that the devoted feel for their preferred deity, samples these lines written by Nammalvar in the 9th Century CE
“While I was waiting eagerly for him
saying to myself,
"If I see you anywhere
I'll gather you
and eat you up."
he beat me to it
and devoured me entire.
my lord as dark as raincloud.
my lord self-seeking and unfair.”
Two winters ago, I found myself embroiled in a battle of wits with perhaps one of the most wily individuals I had ever met, a rat the size of a bandicoot plaguing my apartment. Mine was a largeish, old apartment located two floors above a bakery, the ideal abode for rats. The rats never really bothered to come up as their needs were taken care of downstairs. Atleast I’d not noticed them upstairs and my comestibles seemed untainted. However, that winter the bakery shut shop, the owner had defaulted on a few month’s rent and it turned out he hadn’t paid his share of the water bill which meant the BWSSB promptly came by to cut off our water (well, mine, as the first floor was rented out to a call center that didn’t really seem all too perturbed by the lack of running water). It was then I first encountered my nemesis, let us name it Ishtar for purposes of simplicity and cheap symbolism.
Poisoning and trapping the rat was out of the question because I’m uncomfortable with the notion. I decided that it would be a war of attrition, in the style of Fabius Maximus, depriving Ishtar of all resources so it would find it prudent to seek another home. Weeks of living very carefully, taking out the trash diligently, sealing all my grain and vegetables, leaving not a tiny drop of water on the floor, all went to naught, as I would come back home only to find Ishtar peeking at me from under the fridge, tauntingly. I figured that a scorched earth policy wasn’t enough, so I decided to seal all entries and exits, only to realise that this meant nothing to a rat, they find a way where God does not will a path. Eventually, a month went by, a month that seemed like something out of the Parallax View and those other Pakula paranoia thrillers,and Ishtar just quietly moved out. This didn’t feel like a victory, it just felt as if Ishtar was on their way to better prospects, the next big thing.
But how did our rats become so emboldened? While research on rats is very, very hard to conduct as this article shows, given their subterranean existence and society’s taboos about them and their reputation for spreading disease, our designer Indu has some answers;
“We all kinda know why the urban rat population is so high. It's because the urban dog population is so high, so not too many cats. And the dog population is so high because the vulture population is so low. When our vast number of dairy cows go to die in the carcass dumping fields outside cities, the dogs thrive. The vultures have all died out because of a drug called diclofenac that's given to old cows to ease their pain. Immediate renal failure. 99% of Indian vultures have died since the 90's. I can go on. Vultures are a bit of a pet passion of mine.”
And how do they move and enter our homes?
In cities, rats can enter buildings through openings as small as a quarter. They also may “vertically migrate” upward and enter residential dwellings through toilets. Because rats often make their way into homes from parks, subways and sewers, they can transport microorganisms they pick up from decomposition of wastes, thus earning the colloquial nickname of “disease sponges.”
Unlike humans, rats are not limited by the density of their population. In population biology, they are referred to as an “r-adapted species,” which means they mature rapidly, have short gestation periods and produce many offspring. Their typical life span is just six months to two years, but a female rat can produce up to 84 pups per year, and pups reach sexual maturity as soon as five weeks after birth.
However, we are yet to truly understand our rodent friends, society is still mired in largely antiquated notions of rats. And no, I’m not appealing for you to fall in love with rats- that’s bizarre. What me and my colleagues (this is a WLW endorsed statement) humbly ask of you is to simply consider the rat..
Indu Manohar and Satyavrat Krishnakuma