They live among us.

by aditimittal

This appeared on the Times of India Editorial Page dated Aug 25th, 2014

My cousin is angry, they have taken away the bowl of water she keeps outside the building for stray dogs to drink out of under the pretext that it breeds mosquitos.

“What about the two garbage cans right there- do those not breed mosquitos?,” she demands angrily at a society meeting.

“Garbage cans will not bite our building members”

“And neither will the mosquitos apparently,” she mutters under her breath.

The dogs have stopped getting clean water, now they drink stagnant rain water from the potholes where mosquitos breed.

On my way to work, I share a rickshaw with a cockroach. It was sitting on the shelf below the drivers handle and I think it noticed me staring. It stopped and turned to me, his feelers still rocking in a violent rhythm to the bumps on the Mumbai roads. The rickshaw driver was not aware of it at all. So I indulged in what I would like to believe was a dangerous stare off with this cockroach (but I was not wearing my glasses so it would qualify for a squint off) I felt resentful that it was riding all the way from one end of the city to the other without sharing the cost for this expensive rickshaw ride. I imagined it smirked at me and then exited from the hole in the metal near the head lamp and probably rode the rest of the journey belly down on the lamp with the wind in his feelers.

Every time the house help does not appear for more than 3 days, squiggly, thin lines of ants find their way to my dad’s study desk. They crowd at the base of pen stands and and in the pages of books. They would pour down in thousands, little tiny red/black/brown dots travelling at breakneck speeds towards something as impractical as a ball pen. Silly ants, ball pen ink is not tasty or nutritious, but every time it happens I cannot stop staring at their wasted effort. They don’t even realise that just two rooms away was my kitchen with a bountiful feast of fruits on the dining table and ketchup bottles on shelves.

The fish market near my house is ruled by 4 cats, all who have a variant of the word “Maushi”, which means mother’s sister in Marathi. I don’t know what it is about cats that makes people want to make them our relatives. The 4 cats, as cats are vont to, could not care less about our ‘relationship’ with them, as long as there’s scraps of fish involved.

Ahmad Sharif, a rickshaw driver once told me about monsoon nights where as soon as it starts to rain, the strays on the road jump in to curl up on the back seat. If it gets cold they sometimes dig into the seats ripping up clumps of coir, cotton and exposing the wooden seat frames to snuggle in further. He sighs:

“It costs me Rs. 300 to fix it every single time but it’s not like they’ll stop feeling cold if I tell them it costs me Rs. 300, right?”

Despite Disney’s and Pixar’s attempts to make insects cute (with movies about rats cooking and ants spewing little allegories for life) the default reaction to sharing our world with these creatures is hand to chappal, and chappal to insect. Gone are the days of rolled up newspapers because technology has brought us, the mosquito racket, (which are unfortunately not tiny rackets used by mosquitos to play mosquito tennis). We’re squished and swatted and screamed down houses because they suddenly make themselves known to us by scuttling across the room. We spray and apply dangerous medicines that could damage our bodies because we want them dead.

Maybe this is not about us or them. They live among us, but maybe it is just that we live among them.

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