25 Nov 2018 18:16 IST

Mouse in the house

Encounters with rodents and other animals can be as hair-raising as meeting a tiger in the wild

The other day I found a mouse in my washing machine. Yuck! Turned out it was deader than a dodo and had been for almost as long. Yuckier! While Anjali’s screams in short bursts provided the background score, I provided the how-to in a voice-over resembling the staccato firing of a cough caught in antibiotic vapours. The third number of our three-woman recce party was Kumuda, bahadur jawan, who stood in the front lines, stuck her head and hands into the pit of washing carnage, cleared out and picked up the offending mess-maker, and held it up like the holy grail, declaring: “See! It’s a dead mouse!” There was wailing rather than cheering following this trophy waving as the team set to work on the cleaning up operations. That’s how that day began.

It was a decisive moment. By unanimous consent, our strategy was: Fire the washing machine.

A trap is set

Filled with satisfaction at having taken this momentous decision, yours truly, the commander of operations, went in for a bath. She opened the cabinet to pull out the shampoo bottle only to find herself staring into a pair of beady eyes. The commander beat a hasty retreat to the corner of the bathroom to get as far away as possible from the rodent officially known as Mus musculus, fondly called mouse, wrongly referred to as rat though often displaying a pretty ratty character. The commander aborted the bathing mission with one shaky pouring of the cleansing waters and scooted post haste from the battlefield, shutting the door behind her.

For the next two hours, the unvaliant commander kept a lonely vigil outside the door. Inside, clearly, the enemy was scouting about for, suddenly, Mus appeared through a hole in the door — yes, there’s a hole at the bottom of the door where moisture has eroded the defences. The commander immediately went on red alert by jumping on the bed. The enemy rushed back to its camp. In an act of singular bravado the commander secured the hole with a stone. “Now let’s see where you go, Mus musculus!” the commander said, laughing inside her head like Gabbar Singh without the moustache but all the rasping irony.

Meanwhile, Kumuda jawan returned with fortifications. A mousetrap hooked up with a delicious slice of onion. After much deliberation, commander and soldier — the cowardly third member had long since deserted the scene — found the spot. And there the mousetrap sits, mouseless up until now. The enemy has escaped, perhaps to return with more troops. Meanwhile, fresh and longterm strategies are being planned to prevent a carnage — who will win, who will lose, it is impossible to predict, but it will all begin with firing the mouse.

Bringing back memories

It seems that humans and mice share 92 per cent of their genes. Chimpanzees and humans share 98 per cent. So, if we’re descended from the apes, then mice are surely our first cousins. I guess you could say they are the Kaurava to our Pandava. In a manner of speaking. Of course I know we don’t look anything like each other, even if sometimes we imitate our cousins, you know, by being mousy or ratting each other out or just simply sitting at the computer. Hmm?

The Mus musculus adventures brought to mind another momentous man-animal conflict that raged in the commander’s home in Noida, then not yet associated with the Buddh race track but definitely already the playing fields of political Mafioso. All was quiet on the home front that Sunday morning: Dad was being dad dusting away, Mom was being mom fussing in the kitchen, Husband was being his surly self, Wife was being wife lost in a book, and Bua, well, little Bua, aunty to the whole world age no bar, was bustling about noisily, being the exception to the quiet on the home front that Sunday morning. Suddenly, busy Bua screamed and everybody dropped what they were doing and ran to where she stood, behind the wire-netted grille door in the bedroom, looking out into the tiny backyard. “Look!” she said, pointing a long crooked finger. Our eyes followed her finger to its tip and then beyond. There stood a dragon, staring right back at us.

In seconds the domestic party dissolved. Dad went promptly back to his dusting. Mom hopped into bed. Husband ran to the bookshelf and started looking through the 20-volume International Wildlife Encyclopaedia in an effort to identify the creature. Wife ran to the living room and curled up in a corner of the sofa feeling herself literally grow cold with fear. Bua stood rooted to the ground, her gaze locked with the dragon’s.

Dad looked up from his dusting and shouted to call so-and-so three houses away. He has a gun, he said. Nobody stirred. So he stomped out himself and got the man with the gun, clearly pulled right out of bed, togged in pyjamas and banian and wielding a rifle in his hands. He marched into the house and up to the bedroom door. There he cried halt, leaned against the wall, and surreptitiously pushed forward the rifle. He refused to enter the bedroom. This was as far as his bloodthirst would go.

What to do?

The dragon, meanwhile, paced up and down, now looking into the bedroom, now into the kitchen, bedroom, kitchen. Hearing all the commotion, all and sundry walked into the house to watch and cheer. “Shoot the bloody thing!” shouted Dad. “No! It’s endangered!” screamed Husband as he continued to flip though the encyclopaedias. “Do something!” yelled Wife. For once, Mom was silent. Unusually. The man with the gun remained glued to his position. “I can’t!” he said.

“I can!” said Bua. “Give me hanky. I will easily catch it!” She made a sweeping motion with her hand. Just like that.

It’s true. Bua was a champion lizard catcher. She was four feet nothing but she caught them with her bare hands. This creature was just about two or three feet longer, that’s why she needed a handkerchief, she said, her eyes blazing with the spirit of adventure.

Well, as it happened, the man with the gun went home, followed by all the onlookers after they had tired of watching the dragon pace up and down and there being no action. The family calmed Bua down and then calmed down themselves. The day went by. Nobody went into the backyard. By the following morning, the creature disappeared. Much later we figured that it was a monitor lizard that had probably lost its way in the maze of houses in Sector 14, Noida. There were reportedly many monitor lizards in the vicinity of Delhi airport. But even now, though, my blood runs cold at the memory.

But seriously, what do you do when you meet a mouse in the house?