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All in a rat’s life

There they go again: blaming us rats for everything. The other day, I heard the old man living in my flat read out to a visiting friend from his computer: “U.P. cops blame rats for missing cartons of seized liquor from police station, case filed.” Both the man and his friend guffawed. And the friend said, “Yes, it is always rats and mice at the root of everything, or at least so we think. At any rate they are always at the receiving end! Remember the Panchatantra fable where rats are said to have eaten up a trader’s iron weights and balances in safe storage?”

I bristled in my dark corner. Every rat child knows the Panchatantra story, which it has heard from its mother. That is how the child learns about human duplicity. I remember hearing it from my mother: A merchant goes bankrupt. He decides to embark on a long journey. Before leaving, he gives his stock of iron scales and weights to a merchant friend for safe keeping. Years later the man is back and asks his friend for the return of his scales and weights.

“Sorry, I don’t have them any more,” says the friend. “They were eaten by rats.” The man, to borrow a rather derogatory phrase from the human language, smells a rat. “I understand,” he tells his friend.

“By the way,” he continues, “can you lend me the services of your boy for the day?”

The friend agrees. The man takes the boy and hides him in a cave. In the evening he goes to his friend and tells him the boy had been picked up by an eagle and carried off to god knows where. The friend goes to the king and complains. The king summons the man and questions him. “Your majesty, such things can happen in a country where rats eat iron scales and weights,” he says.

But that is not the rat child’s favourite bedtime story. That honour goes to The Pied Piper of Hamelin. True, the Piper lures all the rats in town to the Weser river nearby and drowns them. Sad indeed! But again human duplicity asserts itself and the civic authorities do not pay the piper the promised sum.

I don’t know where the country U.P. is or who is its king. I hope he will punish the real “rats” and save our name. I hope the man in my flat will somehow get to know of it and regale my children with another good bedtime story. All in a rat’s life!

pmwarrier9@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 8:48:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/all-in-a-rats-life/article34400700.ece

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