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The curse of the Tree Frog

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Making themselves at home Tree Frogs
Making themselves at home Tree Frogs

JANAKI LENIN

If I thought the two-storey house we built on our farm in the shelter of a magnificent banyan tree was for us humans, I was sadly mistaken. During the first summer, I was pleased to see a few tree frogs make themselves at home. With their dainty feet tucked under their bodies and their large, beseeching eyes, I didn't begrudge them tenancy.

But then, the word obviously got out amongst the frog clan, and great-great grandchildren, cousins twice-removed and grandmothers-in-law moved in too. Pretty soon every ledge, book, mug, and framed picture was occupied. Some even moved into the soap dispenser of the washing machine, others into the wash basin outlet pipe, yet others ensconced themselves in the cistern of the flush tank, and many more were neatly tucked in the narrow space between wall and cupboard. In a fit of benevolence, they left us a bit of space to live our lives.

Half a decade earlier, I had spent a year in the city and couldn't afford a cat or dog as a companion. Instead, I adopted a petite tree frog. In the pantry where he lived, I left a basin of water for his ablutions and the light on at night to attract insects for his meals. It was a responsibility-free relationship: the pet frog didn't expect me to walk, feed, or train him. His entire existence was eked out in that tiny humid room; outside the window was a crazy concrete jungle where he had little chance of surviving. Although we didn't exactly spend cuddly moments together, I felt some comfort having the tree frog around. All was well until one day he was killed by a falling book. I felt terrible for not having foreseen this calamity.

But the karmic offshoot was that now, the Curse of the Tree Frog was upon me as surely as the ancient Egyptian Curse of the Mummy. If it was just space the frogs wanted in our new home, I would have held my peace. But they angled their bottoms strategically outwards and indiscriminately targeted the counters, tables, towels, and even dinner plates. In some rooms, dried frog piss streaked the walls. Sitting on the toilet was a special gauntlet, for huddling unseen below the rim were more frogs. They played “BOO” with unwary guests by slapping themselves on the most vulnerable part of the body. One big mamma frog drizzled pee on anyone unfortunate enough to switch on the overhead bathroom light. Tired of having to use a dark bathroom, towels stinking of froggie runs and cleaning plates several times a day, we declared an admittedly gentle war on the leaping blighters.

We spent one Sunday catching all 289 of them in plastic bags and releasing them in neighbouring wells. But it was all for naught. They may be tiny creatures, but they sure know their way around. Their fine-tuned homing instincts brought them back even before the last one was removed. Not only that, within 24 hours they were all back at their favourite spots; it was as if they had never left. I bowed to their superior talents.

Several sneaked under the door of the corner cupboard in the kitchen, staking ownership of wok, pressure cooker, and blender bowls. Yesterday, when I was frying garlic, there arose a strong stench of… no, it couldn't be… tree frog piss! It had taken me a million years to just peel a few garlic cloves and I wasn't about to waste my remaining life peeling more. So, I added extra spices to mask the odour. I can't be sure if the compliments that followed were the result of my expert cooking or that undercurrent of… shall we say, the chef's secret ingredient!

(A fortnightly column about life on the edge of the jungle with Rom Whitaker. The author can be reached at janaki@gmail.com)

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