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Updated: April 6, 2012 19:32 IST

My Husband and Other Animals — The frog call quiz

JANAKI LENIN
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CALLING FOR A MATE One of the noisy racketeers Photo: Janaki Lenin
CALLING FOR A MATE One of the noisy racketeers Photo: Janaki Lenin

“Hear that faint little payn… payn…? What's that?” demanded Rom with all the exacting authority of a school master. I concentrated for a few minutes to pick out the right frequency from the racket and ventured hesitantly, “Ramanella?”

“No. Try again.”

“Uh…fergusoni?”

“No, of course not.”

It was the first night of the monsoon, and a zillion horny male frogs and toads were croaking loudly and insistently. Faint, high squeaky notes vied with loud, insistent ones, while deep, low-pitched calls punctuated the din. To Rom, it was a complete big band orchestra to be savoured, individually identified and enjoyed. He is so animal-fixated that he presumes I share his obsession.

At that moment, all I wanted to do was sleep.

It was past 10 at night and we were both lying in bed, wide awake from the cacophony. A pond next to the house was the arena of amphibian sex so we had unenviable high fidelity, surround sound with subwoofers and supertweeters. The air reverberated so much even my ear plugs throbbed in time with the racket and I pulled them out. I suffered both, the froggie calls to mate and my mate's persistent tutorial on frog croaks. I knew, however, both would shut up in a couple of days. We went through this torturous ritual at the same time last year, the year before and the decade before that.

I gave up. “I don't remember. What is it?”

“But there are only 14 species. How hard is it to remember?”

“It's not as if they call every day,” I wailed. “The last time they did was a year ago.”

“Tomopterna.” “Hear that insistent bek… bek… bek…? That's Uperodon.”

Even as I listened to Rom with one ear, I was wondering how to shut the frogs up. Elsewhere, near forest areas, they were nervous of lights. Here, I've shone Rom's powerful 5,00,000 candlepower spotlight, but the blighters were in the throes of ardent rut to even pause. One sleepless night, I even yelled at them. All I got was a two-second respite. Just a couple of days more, I consoled myself.

In the middle of the lesson on frog calls, I must have fallen asleep.

When I woke up, the volume had turned down considerably, and I half-expected Rom to drone: “That bwaap… bwaap….” Instead he was snoring, perhaps jamming with frogs in his dreams. It was still dark and I lay there wondering why I couldn't remember these calls.

When Rom woke up, I told him my aural memory was poor and there was no point in testing it. Even with music, I can't remember who sang a particular song.

“But you learnt to recognise birds by their song. So what's your problem with frogs?”

I nodded.

Experts kept changing frog names so often that perhaps I had given up not only on their names but their calls too. The truth is I learnt birdsong when Rom and I were courting, and I was out to impress him. Mission accomplished, I had become a lazy slob.

The next evening, as the frog chorus started up, I let out a long-suffering martyr's moan.

That's when Rom made the astounding claim that deafening frog croaks caused the French Revolution. The swamps around Paris were so full of frogs which called all night that the aristocracy couldn't sleep. They had serfs whacking the water hard to stop the amphibians from calling. If any frog so much as peeped, the poor people had hell to pay. The sleepless folk decided enough was enough and revolted.

Smug in his wisdom, Rom concluded: “Thus the Revolution was born.”

Obviously, a desperate adult had tried to get school-boy Rom to pay attention to history lessons.

I said, “Good story, but utter nonsense.”

“And that's why the French are called ‘frogs'.”

“If you find a reference to that story, I promise I'll learn frog calls.”

I may have silenced at least the quiz master.

Keywords: frog calls

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