Inside view Society

Cats, rats and mangoes

Illustration: Sreejith R Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R Kumar  

Thanks to an enterprising mango seller, Swachh Bharat gets some leeway on a crowded road

Why is it that all kinds of things get deposited outside our gate or our compound wall? If it isn’t a bag full of chicken refuse, an offal offering, it is a dead cat. Or a dog chooses to breathe its last there. The other day the lady from the corporation came ringing the bell to announce the demise of a cat whose carcass had been deposited outside our gate, awaiting its last rites. Someone with a whacko sense of humour had fitted the remains into a plastic bag and covered it with gift wrap paper.

This thin, wiry lady was a nice sort whom nature had endowed with a voice that was disproportionate to her size, a voice with the timbre to drive cats and dogs bolting to another destination. Unfortunately she comes upon them only after they are dead. In a tone that carried the news of her discovery to the whole neighbourhood, she said she had arranged for the corporation van to take the decaying cat away. “That man used his bare hands to scoop it up,” she revealed, lowering her voice to a stage whisper that reached the corporation worker who grinned and looked down at his bare hands that had doubled as a shovel. I looked at him in awe.

“We do this only for your husband,” the lady made it clear. “He’s a good man who offers us tea.” She gave an approving cackle. Who makes the tea? I wanted to ask.

Now she pointed a bony finger at the small heap of garbage on the other side of the road, the responsibility of another corporation ward. Though under normal circumstances, hired hands of one ward do not raise a finger or lower a broom to help the workers of another ward, she said she would clear it, this once. “For your husband,” she repeated.

As I’d expected, she wanted a match box to set fire to the assorted rubbish and against my better judgement and for want of other options to get rid of the waste, I gave her one. I have them handy but of course she attributes the supply of them to my husband. “Tell him I got the match box,” she grinned. Leaving her to her incendiary pursuits, I escaped to the kitchen.

A little later she banged on the gate with an urgency and force that threatened to loosen it at the hinges, yelling for me at the same time. This frantic dual summons indicated some calamitous discovery and I reached her at a gallop, all prepared to see a dead horse. “Look! A dead rat on the opposite side! Big rat!” she exclaimed, eyes shining. “And stinking. Normally we don’t clear stuff that is another ward’s responsibility but I will do it for…”

“... my husband,” I appropriated her refrain, nodding my head. I had got it. “Who stands tea for all of you.”

The corporation man used his bare hands again to transfer the rat to its mobile mortuary. He was tipped. My husband appeared at this point and tea was served. The van left soon after and the lady left too, with my match box and a broad smile.

Now she faces competition. For the last few days, a young chap selling mangoes has planted himself by the road on the other side of our wall. A catty acquaintance who had seen this while passing my house called to ask if I’d taken to selling mangoes now. I hated to disappoint her but confessed it wasn’t I. “Anybody can use the roadside,” I said. She cut the call.

Given the advantage of an education, the mango guy, with his clear, loud voice, persuasive arguments and energy-sapping persistence in repeating his recital, would have made a good teacher. “Fresh, native mangoes!” He yells. “Sweet, tasty and straight from the trees! Have a slice. No pesticides used. Organic.” The word ‘organic’ is the clincher. Buyers cough up the steep price he quotes, though sceptics swear they can get the smell of chemicals.

His continuous, ringing sales talk to every passing pedestrian and vehicle gets on our nerves but it appears to be the price we have to pay for a comparatively clean roadside. Besides, his presence has been a deterrent to animals who wish to rest in peace there.

A subdued corporation lady knocked on the gate. “There’s some garbage at the corner,” she mumbled, pointing vaguely into the distance. I turned to get the match box. “Have tea,” said my husband.

A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academician and author of the Butterfingers series. The author can be contacted at khyrubutter@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 12:51:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/when-swachh-bharat-got-some-leeway-on-a-crowded-road/article18437041.ece

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