I love animals, and my eight years in India gave me the opportunity to see a variety of them on a daily basis. India’s holy cows held a certain grace as they meandered the streets and stuck their heads into roadside shops for a free feed. The underfed horses pulling carts about town were depressing yet quaint. The monkeys were so human-like I could have watched them all day (except when they entered my home uninvited to steal fruit from the kitchen). The toy-like squirrels that scampered up trees were cute. Even the scabby stray dogs on every street corner tugged at my heartstrings. The pigeons that shat on my terrace were not my best friends, but I could live with them. But if there was one animal I could never live in harmony with, it was the rat. I hate rats, which was a problem considering their abundance across India.
Hopping out of the car at the fruit and vegetable market one day, I walked around a bird feeding on a dead rat in the gutter. Just metres away, in broad daylight, rats were crawling out of holes in the broken pavement to feast on garbage scraps (let’s be honest, there is plenty of free-flowing rubbish strewn across India). Inside the covered market rats crawled over piles of vegetables and scurried underfoot as customers haggled over the price of produce.
At the cinema rats dashed under chairs, having a party in the popcorn droppings. I spent an entire movie with my feet tucked up on my seat. On an overnight train I attempted to sleep as rats scuttled across the carriage floor. So I wasn’t surprised to read a newspaper article stating that a grand total of 97 rat catchers are employed in the Rat Surveillance Department in New Delhi and the number of rats caught by them in the past ten years is zero. The men were either sleeping on the job, or it has something to do with Hindus holding respect for the rat, the animals believed to represent foresight and prudence.
There is even a rat goddess, Karni Mata, namesake of the famous North Indian Karni Mata Temple or ‘Rat Temple’ which houses 20,000-odd rats. Don’t ask me how an Indian friend talked me into visiting, but I paid my respects, along with many Indian pilgrims, by walking barefoot through the temple. Rats scampered over my toes. Rat poo crunched under my soles. There were hundreds of them enjoying a fiesta in the bowls of food and milk laid out, which some pilgrims ate and drank afterwards in the belief that it is a blessing to consume food already sampled by a rat. I did not follow suit.
Despite paying my respects at the rat temple, rats began to plague me at home. A furry vermin dashed across the living room floor one day, and I woke up one morning to find the bathroom hand soap resembling a golf ball, miniscule bite marks covering the surface. My maid found a stinking, decomposing rat behind the sofa and shrieked in fright. And then there was the bandicoot rat that took up residence in the garden. It was the size of a cat. Despite my husband’s attempts to flush it out of its huge hole (which resulted in flooding our neighbour’s garden as water gushed out the other end of the burrow), the rat persistently remained.
I went into Operation Rat mode, laying rat poison all over the garden. I set a wire cage trap, although the largest one I could buy wouldn’t even fit this rat’s head. My husband shoved broken glass and stones down the rat’s hole to cage it in, but we’d wake every morning to see the hole had been re-excavated.
“Call a pest control company,” my friend suggested. “They laid sticky mats in our house. You put food in the middle of the mats and the rats get stuck on the glue and squeal. The pest guys come and remove them.”
The company came to my house, they installed the mats, and they left. But the only things caught in our sticky mats were a few unsuspecting geckos & insects.
We never got rid of that persistent bandicoot. It got rid of us eventually when we moved house.