Thinking like a rat

I walked into the laboratory that morning and was told that the hematology automated cell counter had stopped working. A few frantic calls and a day later, the technical person from the company came over and repaired the instrument. The problem — rats had gnawed off some wires inside the machine. And when we looked we found that the ‘poison cake’ that the pesticide company chap had kept was in its place untouched. This was so frustrating.

It reminded me of the time when I had first joined Sevagram. We had just been married, and the quarter that we had been allotted on campus was in Birla Nivas. Now this was a British style building with tall walls and a terracota tiled roof. It was not unusual to have old timers from the faculty walk in and tell us, this quarter is where my daughter was born. We later discovered that this building had served as the first hospital and sanatorium in the pre-independence era. Our quarter had apparently been the labour room then.

Years later, when the new hospital was built and the medical college came up, this old building was walled off wherever possible and a dozen quarters were constructed out of it. No two houses were the same. We all shared a common courtyard where we grew vegetables. The one room which served as the bedroom and study was huge and high. The good thing was that the high roof kept the bedroom cool in Sevagram’s searing summers. The kitchen was narrow, dark and windowless. The roof leaked when it rained. The living room was the old corridor of the hospital and still had mesh on instead of a solid wall. Water would pour in when it rained. But we hardly had any furniture in the early days of setting up a household. And we were happy with what we had.

A week into staying there, we realized that any packet with food items kept in the kitchen would be attacked by rodents. So we got rat poison and placed the black ‘cakes’ around the house. On day one, apparently some small rats ate the poison, but worse, we never knew where they ended up until they started stinking two days later. That hunt was terrible, as we had to sniff our way through the rooms.

But after that day the rat poison ended up being untouched. Rats apparently are very social and any information about dangerous things is quickly communicated to other members of the species. Now, nothing was stopping the attack and we were getting frantic. Every morning I woke up with a frown seeing the disaster in the kitchen. Potatoes would be nibbled. Plastic bottles ended up being chewed up. So we rushed to Wardha and bought a dozen steel boxes to store our stuff.

Once or twice we caught sight of one particular aggressive rat racing up to the roof and realized that we were up against a huge specimen that had crawled in from the fields. This one was inquisitive and adventurous. One morning we woke up to find that the rat had learnt to open the steel dabba and eat up all our cookies. It happened again and again.

Until my husband had a brainwave. He placed the rat poison in the steel boxes and shut the lid firmly. Sure enough, the next morning, the lid of the steel dabba was off and the whole poison cake was missing. The big fat rodent was surely hungry. And yes, it never came back again.

Sometimes, you have to think like a rat to deal with them. It makes me think about the rodents who are gnawing away at the fabric of this democracy, stopping at nothing. Wonder what mastermind can stop their pattern of destruction.

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